Collaborations by Urface and Tode Kosumphisai. Photo © URFACE
Many fishermen have died in storms and become ghosts haunting the sea. At first, the ghosts wanted to return to shore, but after they found surfboards floating nearby, they no longer wanted to return.
The fisherman story is a part of a project between streetwear brand Urface and ghost comic master Tode Kosumphisai, and features a limited-edition box set that includes a comic book, T-shirt, wallet, facemask, three posters and five stickers. Every item depicts Tode’s drawings of Thai ghosts that people are familiar with such as Pee Krasue (a floating female ghost head with exposed internal organs) and Pee Krahang (a male ghost with two big circular baskets on each arm) as well as unusual ghosts such as those with surfboards and rollerblades.
“I was a bit worried because it was the first time I had drawn cartoons for streetwear. However, since I am skilled in drawing ghosts and other unusual characters, I had no trouble. This project was a bit difficult because I had never seen some of the locations and props before, but I looked them up online,” said Tode.
The documentary One-Baht Ghost Comics by independent filmmaker Santi Taepanich explains that 1 baht ghost comics were popular from 1977 to 1996. Sales started to decline in 1997 and in 2016, many publishers stopped producing the comics altogether due to digital disruption.
According to comic editor and collector Arttakrit Jeenmahant, 1 baht ghost comics were at their peak in 1980 and 1981 with an estimated million copies sold per day. Thai ghost comics are currently available at convenience stores but the price is 49 baht for five stories and 99 baht for 10. Arttakrit said Tode is one of his favourite ghost cartoonists because his work is up to date and has unusual characters. Apart from ghosts, his stories include aliens or monsters as well as other creatures that appear on popular TV programmes and news.
Tode Kosumphisai, left, a Thai ghost comic master, and Arttakrit Jeenmahant, comic editor and collector. Photo © Arttakrit Jeenmahant
Even though the new generation is not familiar with ghost comics, their unique drawings and plots based on Thai culture and folklore attracts them. Teekawat Pattamakome, the founder of Urface, said when his 30-something business partner and illustrator Arak Aonwilai saw Tode’s drawings, he was excited because he had never seen Thai ghost comics before.
“Arak was very impressed with the distinctive drawings of Tode and he talked to me about it. We felt that it would be cool to introduce Thai ghost cartoons to our main target group of 17 to 25-year-olds since they have never seen them before. In the streetwear business, there are many projects with manga but nobody has included Thai comics before, so we went for it,” said Teekawat.
“The day after we talked to Tode about the project, he sent us impressive sketches. Since he is used to working against time, he can draw quickly. I was pleased to work on this project with him because it took me down memory lane into childhood. The project is not only about Thai ghost comics but also involves other forms of cultures such as fonts used for billboards or cinemas in the past. Even though our young customers have never seen Thai ghost cartoons, they appreciate our products and are enthusiastic to find out more about them,” said Teekawat.
Besides reaching out to the young generation with Urface’s collaboration project, several attempts have been made to take Tode’s ghost cartoons to different types of viewer. His current works are exhibited as a part of the virtual exhibition “Ghost In Thai Comics”, organised by Palette Artspace at tinyurl.com/y79sdj9d.
The virtual exhibition ‘Ghost In Thai Comics’. Photo © Palette Artspace
The exhibition showcases work from several Thai cartoonists such as Dan Sudsakorn, Gomesh Karnchanapayap and Jakkrat Suwansakorn. Meanwhile, some of Tode’s cartoons are also available as non-fungible token art, or NFT art, on Opensea, at tinyurl.com/vmszxerx.
Arttakrit said promoting Thai ghost cartoons on the NFT marketplace Opensea is a good opportunity because the market is accessible worldwide.
“Exhibiting Thai ghost cartoons on Opensea is like exploring another world since the website has a global audience, so we should give it a try. We want international viewers to see Thai ghosts and culture in both ‘Ghost In Thai Comics’ and Opensea. Many foreigners know Thai ghost cartoons. At Atakito’s Shop, we have customers from Belgium, China, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan who appreciate Thai ghost cartoons that are portrayed in the countryside. Some new works by Tode depict the renowned pregnant ghost Mae Nak, Pee Krasue, Pee Krahang and people punished in hell,” said Arttakrit.
Tode Kosumphisai’s cartoons on the NFT marketplace Opensea. Photo © Tode Kosumphisai
Chawalit Ekakkarawong, a project management consultant at Atakito’s Shop, who was first interested in making Tode’s cartoons into NFT art, explained that his inspiration came when he realised that young people were not familiar with Thai folklore characters.
“I hired an illustrator to draw a Thai ogre with mixed characteristics of Japanese and Korean ogres. So I want people to be able to access Thai folklore characters easily. When young people see characters they do not know on the NFT marketplace, they can ask their parents about them. Each illustration by master Tode includes things that young people have never seen such as a picture of villagers carrying a coffin and walking through a cemetery and traditional houses,” said Chawalit.
Although 65-year-old Tode does not know much about virtual exhibitions and NFT art, he is willing to keep working on cartoons.
“Ghost comic books are outdated and we cannot revive them due to digital disruption. Thus, I have to adjust to the current trend. My soul is that of a cartoonist. I always want to draw,” said Tode.
Both Arttakrit and Chawalit hope that the NFT market will help cartoonists earn a higher income, which is what they deserve.
“I want Thai cartoonists to display their works on the NFT platform because I believe that many people in other countries value art more than most Thais do and they will be willing to pay more.
Thai ghost comic master Tode Kosumphisai. Photo: Arttakrit Jeenmahant
“Master Tode is 65 years old this year. I heard that age makes the hand stiffer and this makes elderly comic masters have a harder time sketching. Everything has its own time, so we must work on Thai ghost cartoons now. I hope master Tode will draw cartoons for as long as he can, so we will have many examples and references for young illustrators in the digital age which cannot be destroyed,” said Chawalit.
Items by Urface and Tode Kosumphisai are available at urfacethailand.com. “Ghost In Thai Comics” can be viewed at tinyurl.com/y79sdj9d until Oct 15. Tode’s NFT art is available at tinyurl.com/vmszxerx. Visit facebook.com/palette.artspace for more information.
A Thai ghost cartoon by Tode. Photo © Arttakrit Jeenmahant