Sein Myauk Myauk

Sein Myauk Myauk

Sein  Myauk Myauk, the affectionate nickname for “monkey” in Burmese, is often used to describe children playing. It’s a phrase that captures the mischievous nature of young minds.

In the 1990s illustrator Myay Zar helped popularise the phrase through his comic-book creation Shwe Thwe (Golden Blood). Myay Zar’s Sein Myauk Myauk was the main character in the state-own publication, which published bilingual stories about the monkey’s adventures.

Sein Myauk Myauk’s inquisitiveness gets the better of him in each story, making him vulnerable to mistakes and embarrassing mishaps. These “mishaps” aren’t disastrous, but rather provide the moral insight for each story.

Myay Zar’s house doubles as his office, where he has worked for the past 40 year. It is a house centered around his passion for illustrating, with new drawings and sketches sitting beside piles of old copies of the various magazines he’s worked for.

At 65 years old, the cartoonist is not ready to put down the pen quite yet.

Cartoonist Myay Zar draws a cartoon. Photos: Nyo Me                                         Cartoonist Myay Zar draws a cartoon.

The birth of Sein Myauk Myauk

In 1962, after Ne Win’s coup, the Printers and Publishers Registration Law was enacted. The law explicitly prohibited anti-government sentiment in the print media which, until that time, was one of the most diverse in the region. In effect, the law saw the end of privately-run publishers of books, magazines and newspapers.

With the government having a monopoly on the magazine industry, artists and illustrators were limited to working for the few existing state-owned publications. As a result, cartoonists and illustrators turned to government newspapers, such as the The Mirror, Myanma Alin and Botahtaung, which published cartoons two or three times a week.

“Every cartoonist competed for a spot in the few newspapers left, even though they were state-owned,” Myay Zar said. A group of cartoonists used to gather every morning at the Myanmar Alin to read newspapers and draw cartoons, hoping to have their work featured in the next issue.”

In the late 1960’s, a more acceptable alternative presented itself, when the comic book Mhaung Kho (which means “unlawful”) emerged, publishing 32 pages of cartoons every week, without official authorization.

Some bookshops managed to secretly sell the works of the censored illustrators. A publisher eventually stumbled on Myay Zar’s work while browsing books in a book rental shop in Yangon. Amazed by the quality of his work, she asked Myay Zar to draw a new character for a children’s cartoon series. Thus, Sein Myauk Myauk was born.

Myay Zar’s character is loveable, as many cartoon monkeys tend to be, and so the stories were never overtly political. During the early 1970s his reputation grew, until he was eventually approached by state-owned magazine Shwe Thway in 1974. The rest is history.

Challenges ahead

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Shwe Thway, though circulation numbers have drastically decreased since the journal’s heyday.

With a more open and globalised society, comic book consumers have so many more options. Despite the availability of Japanese Manga, as well as everything imaginable online, there is still a demand for Burmese language comic books. Just not ones published by the government.

Like many other illustrators and writers, Myay Zar worries about the impact of foreign-produced publications in Myanmar. “It would be a shame to see local comic books completely disappear, as I’m not sure overseas publications have such a good influence on kids,” he said.

Myay Zar’s hope is that young people will put down their phones and pick up a good comic book, one that’s locally made and illustrated.

From: Myanmar Times