Artist of Old Master Q Hopes to Bring Joy to Readers with His Comics

Old Master Q is a popular comic created by Hong Kong artist Alphonso Wong and his son Joseph Wong. It is part of childhood memories that shared by many Hong Kong people, as well as Chinese-speaking people. Some of the comic artworks have now even become coveted items at auctions. 

A recent example is the selling exhibition entitled Old Master Q 2.0 which takes place at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong this month. The exhibition showcases some early colour covers, comic strips and acrylic paintings from the father-and-son duo. The star lot of the exhibition is the oldest existing draft of an Old Master Q comic cover — Rock’n Roll, one of the rarest works available. The Value has talked to Joseph Wong and Sotheby’s about this exhibition.

  • Jonathan|Jonathan Wong, Sotheby’s Gallery Director
  • Joseph|Joseph Wong the second-generation artist of Old Master Q

Q: The Old Master Q exhibition in 2014 was a huge success. What about the exhibition this time?
Jonathan: We started selling at 10am today (on 9 August). But most of the coloured works are already sold, and half of the black and white works are sold.

'Implication' painting series created by Joseph Wong

Joseph Wong, the second-generation artist of Old Master Q

Q: Why is there a collaboration between Old Master Q and Sotheby’s?

Joseph: About a decade ago, Sotheby’s came to my father and me, hoping to sell some of my father’s original artworks. At first, we wondered if anyone would be interested in these old artworks. But after they made good results at auctions, we realised our works have their meanings to collectors. They have read Old Master Q comics for many years. It was the first time they saw the original works. Sotheby’s, my father and I were all satisfied with the excellent sales performance.

Joseph: I think my father was like a kid with many wild ideas. I hope readers get the same feeling after reading his comics.

In the auction world, we often see ‘high end’ artworks that are worth millions of dollars. Why has Sotheby’s chosen to auction off comic artwork, something that is considered more common and accessible to public? What value does Sotheby’s see in comic artworks?

Q: What value does Sotheby’s see in comic artworks?

Jonathan: People in the business know that summer is our low season. We decided to do exhibitions with cultural themes to showcase things of cultural value, but not necessarily fine art. Old Master Q is a good subject because Asians all over the world know him and many have read the comics when they were young.

The sale catalogue is designed as a comic booklet

Q: In 2008, two sets of Old Master Q’s early artworks were sold at Sotheby’s for prices above estimate. Is the art world starting to welcome comics?

Jonathan: I think there is always a demand for comics. They are part of our childhood memories. They also have cultural meanings and values. In overseas countries, though comics are not considered fine art, they have a long history in auctions.

Jonathan: Some original comic artworks are sold for millions of dollars. I’m not trying to hint at anything. But there is great potential in the market for comic artworks. There are many comic artists in Europe, especially in Belgium. There are also comic auctions, selling works like ‘The Adventures of Tintin’.

Old Master Q is an enduring icon which encapsulates the collective memory of Hong Kong and the Chinese-speaking world. What does Joseph think about this classic comic created by his father, Alphonso Wong? What’s the biggest difference between his work and his father work?

Q: What’s the biggest difference between your work and your father’s work?

Joseph: Our feelings and thoughts in drawing Old Master Q are different. I am not my father. There is no way I can duplicate his character and feelings, so we have two different styles, even in the food we like. He liked Wonton noodles and I like spaghetti.

Work by Alphonso Wong, the first-generation artist of Old Master Q

Work by Joseph Wong, the second-generation artist of Old Master Q

Joseph: My father’s work was mainly published in newspapers so there were certain limitations in sizes and frame. His comics were usually drawn in four or six frames. But I usually work on a complete comic booklet and create some works for exhibitions. So our works are in different formats and presentations.

The painting kit used by Alphonso Wong

The earliest artwork ‘Old Master Q - Rock'n Roll’

Q: Among all the Old Master Q works, how does Sotheby select which work to exhibit?

Jonathan: In contemporary art sales, particular periods or works are important to collectors, so as comic collectors. They want to collect rare and precious works. We planned accordingly and found this earliest existing original artwork.

Q: This is the first exhibition combining an online auction with private selling. Any reason for this special arrangement?

Jonathan: This work by master Wong is extremely precious. We don’t know how to set the price and there is no past record for our reference. We decided to sell it online, allowing people around the world to join and let the market to decide on the price.

The earliest existing original artwork was sold for HK$650,000

Jonathan: The online auction opened on 1 August. It has not ended but the price has now risen to HK$400,000 (on 9 August). We didn’t expect that.

Joseph Wong has created a series of acrylic paintings called 'Implications' to pay homage to his father who passed away in January this year. He painted the works with vibrant colours, which are contrary to the black and white colour in comics, to commemorate the colourful life that his father lived.

Q: The 'Implication' painting series reminds us of contemporary art. Is this the approach Old Master Q going to take in future?

Joseph: I don’t know how people call this kind of works. Maybe it is ‘contemporary art’. But it’s just a name people call them. To me and my father, Old Master Q is something for us to make a living. He called his works ‘comics’.

Joseph: If my father had the chance, he would have made different experiments. And I share the same thought as my father. I want to break the boundary that comics must be in black and white lines. I am looking forward to other new creations. I still can’t say for sure which direction I should go. But I am expecting some new, different works. I am satisfied if our works bring joy to readers. Even if there is only one reader, it means the world to me.

Old Master Q 2.0

Public exhibition: 10 - 25 August
Venue: Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery
Address: 5/F, One Pacific, 88 Queensway, Hong Kong
Monday to Friday|10am - 6pm
Saturday|11am - 5pm
Enquiries: (852) 2822 556