What can you do with a comic? Papayep is the independent publication where two artists push their storytelling to the max

Now in its eighth issue, you'll be surprised to hear Papayep is formed of only two contributors, its founders Shang Zhang and Chenghua Yang.

20 April 2021
Reading Time
4 minute read

Concept designer Shang Zhang and animation director Chenghua Yang met ten years ago in the capital of love, Paris. Though they met there, they are both from Hangzhou, a touristic city in southern China, known for a famous love legend that arises between a 1000-year-old snake and a young doctor. The two creatives came to Paris to study, and once they’d graduated and established themselves firmly in the city’s creative sector, in 2016, they founded their own initiative, Papayep. Working as freelancers in animation, Shang recalls, “We saw many friends making cool zines, and we also had many weird ideas that do not work efficiently in the form of animation.” Then, one day after going for a run, Shang and Chenghua decided to create their own magazine.

This became Papayep, an expression of a myriad of styles and stories compiled into a variety of issues. The moment the founding pair got home from their run, they started working on it. Over time, Shang and Chenghua came up with the name, Papayep, a combination of ‘papaya’ and ‘yep’. Aptly, the logo is half a papaya with a big mouth. On first glances, Papayep feels as if it has lots of contributors as opposed to two. The stylistic uniqueness in each comic is striking, a testament to Shang and Chenghua’s adaptability as they take up a variety of techniques to create such different pieces.

Chenghua and Shang have a diverse background in the creative arts. Collectively, their experience spans comics, illustration, board game design, interactive game design, film, televisions, animation and concept design. So it’s no surprise they pour their various creative traits into a publication which is broad as it is beautiful. Now in its eighth issue, the publication remains a platform where “we can explore any possibility of a narrative as well as at the medium of comics itself.” Through a wonderful array of comics – from hyperrealistic pencil drawn comics to ultra contemporary deconstructed panels – the founding pair record what they see and think about daily life and society though the art of comic language. Chenghua tells us, “We want to find out what we can do with a comic.”

The theme for any given issue comes about naturally, Shang adds, “We improvise a theme based on the content of what we have drawn.” Previously for example, this method has birthed the fourth issue, texture; the sixth issue, micro-science fiction; and the seventh issue, phenomenon. As the issues have evolved, so has its content. Over time, it’s become more like a magazine rather than a fanzine, expanding in page numbers while discussing more complex themes such as real estate, suicide in university students, nostalgia in space, relativity and so on.

GalleryShang Zhang and Chenghua Yang: Papayep (Copyright © Papayep, 2021)

Much like all the creative aspects of Papayep, the stories come about collaboratively too. Many of the comics’ inspirations come mid-activity, whether it’s reading an article or doing a chore. Chenghua adds on this spontaneous ideation: “Some are strange, some are absurd, some are boring.” But together, the pair write down these moments and discuss it together, allowing the idea to manifest into something bigger, or spur on a more interesting angle. “This is how we give birth to a story,” explains Shang, giving the example of how, one time, he collected a rock on the beach (a hobby of his) and thought about recording it through a slide projector to capture its various dimensions; which later turned into a comic for the fifth issue of Papayep.

Over eight issues, Chenghua and Shang have juggled Papayep with various jobs, locations and schedules. Throughout a tumult of creative projects from personal animated shorts to interactive comics across France and China, Papayep is an explosion of visual creativity. In the eighth issue, Papayep dives into an eclectic array of visual stories: Not the same is a narrative comic without text, inspired by famous furniture brands and the homogenous design of modern furniture. It came about when a Papayep reader approached the publication with a problem. “He was recruited by a large company for this outstanding talents, but he felt very depressed because of his unique creativity and felt incompatible with rest of the team,” explains Chenghua. In turn, the comic artist wanted to create a story of this ubiquitous tale which seems to happen all around us, “and maybe it’s a brighter future in a different situation”.

Another of Chenghua’s stories revolve around surrogacy, while one of Shang’s features a girl who lives on a shooting star and is guided by the universe. A reflection of his current situation, this comic is an interpretation of his own personal predicament: “whether I go back to China or stay in France”. He continues, “I feel like my life is like a shooting star, it moves a lot, sometimes I’m proud of exploring the world, sometimes I also feel jealous that my friends fit in one place and have stable relationships and a house. I move a lot, my books and collections are all splitting away.”

Whatever’s in store for Shang and Chenghua personally, both hope Papayep continues long into the future with an evolving bold, visual artistic form. Hoping to further push the boundaries of comic narratives, the two hope to compile a compendium for Papayep’s tenth issue, a collection of the publication’s most satisfying works. In other work, they are currently working on a new book with independent comic creators titled Fénomena, a documentation of the theme “outside the city”. With this platform, they also intend to “provide a free platform for outstanding independent authors from different countries”.

GalleryShang Zhang and Chenghua Yang: Papayep (Copyright © Papayep, 2021)

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Shang Zhang and Chenghua Yang: Papayep (Copyright © Papayep, 2021)

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.


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