1. Manage My TA


Matt Ames Marvels at the Lasting Legacy of Khmer Comics

To Cambodia With Love

To Cambodia With Love

To Cambodia With Love

View Photos (1)

  • Image © 2010 To Cambodia With Love

Excerpted from To Cambodia With Love: A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur, available from ThingsAsian Press.

After marching around the broad streets of Phnom Penh for the better part of a morning, without any real goal in mind, I decided to have a look inside a Western-style store called Pencil. There in the book section I stumbled across a handful of colorful, eye-catching pamphlets, which quickly revealed themselves as the gorgeous works of art that are Khmer comics.

When I first laid eyes on the comic books of Cambodia, I knew I was in love. They revealed primary colors, epic violence, monsters, and a sense of graphic design that was both crude and creative. Most were written in Khmer, but that didn't matter. Their images of love, war, and mythical beasts-with Khmer script typeset in a bold 3-D format-were amazing. One of the comics I found that day, The Fallen Areca Flower, was written in English, its stilted, charmingly broken text bubbles telling the story of young lovers kept apart by a meddling relative.

That night back at my guesthouse, I decided upon a mission. To find more Khmer comics. The next morning I took a tuk-tuk to the Russian Market and began my search there. Later on, after much maneuvering among stalls in the day's heat, I uncovered the mother lode at the Psar O Russei market. On the second floor, in the book section against the far wall, a female vendor had a shelf chock-full of comics. She must have had over fifty different titles, including some two-part series.

At first, she and her friends seemed a little surprised by me, possibly because the Psar O Russei is the least touristy of the city's markets and sees relatively few foreigners. Even more perplexing, I was interested in reading material I couldn't read. Recognizing a serious shopper when she saw one, however, she pulled out a plastic stool so I could sit and peruse my newfound obsession.

Her collection yielded many wonderful surprises. I found comics with men riding dragons, naked giants hovering over villages, warriors losing arms in battles, zombie women menacing terrified lovers, apsaras floating over ponds, and kings and queens coping with indiscernible yet ominous challenges to their leadership. A few even contained stills from old Cambodian movies, arranged in story format, starring Kong Som Eun, a male heartthrob of the 1960s and '70s.

Throughout the rest of my travels, I occasionally shared my new comic collection with Cambodians as a fun way to break the ice. Outside of Phnom Penh, people were surprised and asked where I'd bought them. A teacher in Sen Monorom even translated Boxing District for me, the tale of a champion boxer who gets mixed up with the wrong crowd. In Battambang, the older monks seemed to think they were trashy, while the younger monks gobbled up the colorful soap operas.

Somewhere along the way, I realized how amazing these comics really were, beyond their immediate visual impact. Somehow, the printing plates for many of these books had survived the Khmer Rouge era, escaping cultural destruction to see resurrection as cheap pop entertainment. In a country that lost so much of its heritage, this one legacy at least had survived.


Khmer comic books
You can start your own Khmer comic book collection by visiting Pencil Super Center on Street 214 in Phnom Penh. The Russian Market, known to all motodops and tuk-tuk drivers, may yield a few treasures, as will the equally well-known O Russei Market. Comic books can also be found at some of the stationery bookshops, such as Peace Book Center.

Published on 11/14/10

Sponsor links

Comments [0]

Add Comment

You might also be interested in

Miss India America

The Many Faces of Atonement at Cinequest 25

Celeste Heiter - cheiter [29,318]

Celebrating its 25thyear, the Cinequest Film Festival, held annually in San Jose, Calif., always offers a unique glimpse into the world of independent films on a global scale. Each year, ThingsAsian...

Destinations: India | China | Vietnam
Topics: Culture | Economy | People | Performing Arts | 20th Century History | War & Conflict
The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay

Book Review: The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay

Celeste Heiter - cheiter [29,318]

Kim Fay's The Map of Lost Memories takes its characters and its readers into a forbidden world of political intrigue and treachery, on a death-defying mission of ecumenical proportions.

Destinations: Vietnam | Cambodia | China
Topics: Travel | Literature | Women & Travel | 20th Century History | Art | Culture | People | Religion | Ancient History | Architecture
The construction of homes remain unchanged. Reeds and Bamboo are used in the construction. The floor is mud caked into somewhat of a rigid structure, which serves as sleeping quarters

An Unexpected Visit to the Original People of Kerala

Yehuda Kovesh - cochinjew [251]

The Forest Dwelling Tribal People of Kerala are a distinct group of people, living in their world, as they have done for thousands of years. In the current rush to modernize unevenly in an India,...

Destinations: Malaysia | Burma | Singapore | Vietnam | India | Cambodia
Topics: Travel | Adventure | Literature | 20th Century History | Traditions | Art | Culture | Food | People | Nature | Ancient History | Architecture
More Stories of Interest

ThingsAsian is an Asia travel website with maps, stories, photos and travel tips contributed by a worldwide community.

©1994-2008 Global Directions, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Contact webmaster@thingsasian.com

Web Design by Dayspring