Alfonso Wong Kar-hei was born in Tianjin in 1924 and studied Western art at Fu Jen Catholic University, which was then in Beijing. He moved to Hong Kong in 1956 and started drawing comic strips for several local newspapers under different aliases. He created Old Master Q in 1962 and used the name of his eldest son, Joseph Wong Chak, as a nom de plume. It first appeared in local newspaper columns in the same year.
Old Master Q was serialised in 1964 under his son’s name and was well received. Joseph says most of his father’s original early works were thrown away, ruined or left in print shops after being published in newspapers or magazines. But for an exhibition at Comix Home Base in Wan Chai he managed to dig out more than 120 original four- and six-frame comics and covers from the 1960s to the ’80s.
As well as the protagonist Old Master Q, other characters include Big Potato, Mr Chin and Miss Chan.
In the 1960s, when Old Master Q began, the stories were mainly situated on the streets of Hong Kong and featured typical scenes of people slurping down wonton noodles. As the city was exposed to more Western influence, cultural phenomena such as The Beatles and James Bond began appearing in the stories.
And when Hong Kong’s economy took off in the 1970s and the city became more international, Old Master Q’s life trajectory followed suit.
The strip explores the growing influence of Western pop culture, for example, through Old Master Q poking fun at people’s pursuit of trendy fashions, art and rock music even as he secretly hopes to keep up with the latest fads.
Alfonso Wong created more than 20,000 comic strips, and close to 100 million copies of Old Master Q books have been sold worldwide.
The cartoonist retired in 1995 and migrated to the United States, where he died on New Year’s Day at the age of 93. The strip has been taken over by his eldest son, the “real” Wong Chak.