A group of Vietnamese youngsters has created a comic strip that promises to take the battle to manga and Tintin
The comic, which uses 3D software to accurately reproduce the Hanoi miliei, is also praised for its vivid description of young people's lives.
A Vietnamese comic strip, whose first few episodes have been released online since December, has become a smash hit.
"What a good storyline and amazing drawings," "I'll buy the comic as soon as it is published, for sure," "I can recognize Hanoi and Vietnamese characters right away," are some of the comments by gushing netizens about Dat Rong (Dragon's land) on kenh14.vn, an entertainment website.
Dimension Art, the 10-member group of youngsters that created Dat Rong, decided it would begin publishing after gauging the response to 10 free online episodes, a strategy adopted by Japanese manga comics.
The creators' clever use of 3D software brings the Opera House, Nha Tho (Church) Street, the Quan Chuong city gate, and other iconic Hanoi landmarks to life.
But in all good storytelling, form, however good, essentially plays second-fiddle to content. Dat Rong manages to achieve that balance comfortably.
Its plot is inspired by the Vietnamese legend of Son Tinh - Thuy Tinh (Mountain God versus Water God) in, which one of the long feuding gods fails to win a princess' heart. A peeved Water God has been rising high to attack the Mountain God every year since, causing the flood season in Vietnam.
But one day three youths find out that the clash actually refers to the traditional fight between good and evil. The intrepid students then find themselves embroiled in a thrilling adventure after finding the power of "good" concealed in some items secreted across the country.
For sure, it has not been one-way street for Dat Rong. Some have criticized it for being heavily influenced by manga. Others pan it for failing to educate and being culturally insensitive, pointing to a girl taking off her T-shirt in a public park as evidence of the latter.
"We do not need "˜fan service' [referring to images designed to excite or titillate, including scanty outfits, cleavage shots, panties]," comments one netizen.
"What does a girl taking off her shirt have do with the story? It has no connection with the Hanoi lifestyle or Vietnamese culture."
Dinh Viet Phuong, an architect who heads Dimension Art, shrugs off the criticism saying the aim was not to educate but create a popular work.
He tells Vietweek about a workshop on comics and animation he attended in Japan last year: "The host was really surprised that Vietnamese readers give importance to art and education in comics.
"He said we should keep comics simple and focus on saying a story in the most interesting way.
"We want to create a comic that can make people's jaws drop and keep readers devouring it until the last page. And the success of a comic depends on its circulation, not the number of people who use it as a pillow."
Thus the need for small doses of titillation, he explains.
The comic remains on top of current events by incorporating many of them, as Nguyen Dung Minh, one of the members of the group, explained to the media.
"The story of the mother who found her lost child in the hospital, the wartime underground hideout unearthed at the Metropole Hotel, the floods in the central region, and other news are set in each episode," he said.
"Hanoi teens' habits like drinking tea on the sidewalk on Church Street and flying kites also find a place."
The comic's young writers are particular the characters speak the language of modern youth, he added.
Phuong claims it is a non-profit project which seeks to make good the usual shortcomings of Vietnamese comics, including pedantic conversation, boring plots, and monotonous settings and contexts.
Using the 3D software to reproduce the background and architecture from around Hanoi is the most difficult part, he says, since it requires the drawer to not only be aesthetic but also have an architect's eye.
The 10 members of the group rack their brains to complete the quota of 30 pages a week. Phuong says if things go well, the comics will also be made into an animated cartoon.
But he understands what it is like to go up against some of the big boys of the comic world. "Vietnamese comics are struggling to take back readers from manga, comics from Western Europe, Korea, and China. It's time to do it."
VTC, a local cable TV operator and online games provider, has said it will support the creation of an online game based on the comics if they prove popular.
Dimension Art shot to fame in 2007 following an exhibition of its 3D paintings of the capital's old quarter.
In 2010 Phuong and the group received the "Bui Xuan Phai For the love for Hanoi," award for a 3D clip about the old quarter and French architecture. The annual prize is named for Phai (1920 - 1988) a painter famous for his stunning images of Hanoi.
"We have to grapple with many problems related to production, quality, readers' tastes, and publishing," Phuong says.
"There will be mistakes, but"¦ tomorrow must be better than today."
A girl taking off her T-shirt in a public park in Dat Rong (Dragon's Land) has critics screaming the acclaimed new Vietnamese 3D comic strip is culturally insensitive.