Mongolian artist Erdenebayar Nambaral recently won the gold award for his manga book Bumbardai at the eighth International Manga contest in Japan. The awards are a special recognition given to non-Japanese manga artists. In the past, they have been dominated by mainland and Thai entries.
Erdenebayar's comic book series is about Bumbardai, a five-year-old boy, and his two friends, Saranaa, a girl, and Sumben, another boy. The books are part of a massive, 20-year project Erdenebayar has started, with the idea of preserving some of his nation's heritage and making it part of children's lives.
Manga is quite new in Mongolia, which, like parts of the mainland, has seen a huge rush of people moving from farms to the cities.
"Making a living as a manga artist is not easy," says Erdenebayar. "Manga art is just developing in Mongolia. In other words, this market is almost non-existent and only recently have Mongolians started to learn about it."
But it is not futile. Mongolia has a young population and so Erdenebayar sees a future when his work will be in heavy demand.
"The day is not far off when this art will flourish in this country," he predicts.
And he may be right. Mongolia has a rich history with a largely nomadic population, but things are changing - fast. Here are a few interesting facts about the country:
- 45 per cent of the population lives in the capital city, Ulan Bator.
- The population is about 3 million - less than half of Hong Kong's population.
- While Hong Kong's land area is 1,104 sq km, Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country in the world with 1,565,000 sq km of land.
Even though the odds were not in Erdenebayar's favour to be a stand-out manga artist, he followed his childhood passion of drawing, which he picked up at a school painting club. "There are no manga art schools in Mongolia," he says, and so he had to teach himself. "When I was a kid, I was really attracted to Disney animated movies, so I joined this art club at school when I was nine." It was then he decided to become an artist and he has stuck to his dream.
Now, at 30 and married with a child of his own, he creates magic with his own, homegrown stories.
While most manga follows a similar pattern, Bumbardai wants to tell Mongolian children about their heritage, about life as a nomad, and about Mongolia's culture and rich history. Erdenebayar believes the unique things about any nation can be found in its lifestyle and culture. His books highlight the special features of Mongolians' nomadic lifestyle, "such as the animal dung that is used as fuel for making fire; dried meat that is used for cooking; the nomadic lifestyle when the people move all through the four seasons with their animals; the traditional dwellings that the Mongolians have been using for many centuries. My books also focus on the mentality of the nomads, their science of life, their relationship with nature and the environment, the link between man and society."
Bambardai books have only recently been translated into both Japanese and English, so we'll have to wait a while before we can get a copy. Watch this space!
Special thanks to Burenbayar Chanrav of the Mongolian Observer for translating the interview