Old Master Q (老夫子 or Lǎo Fū Zi in Chinese) is a long-running comic (manhua) from Hong Kong detailing the misadventures of Old Master Q and his friends Big Potato and Mr Chin. They’ve been described as the most popular comic book characters in Hong Kong and I think they’re real icons for the Chinese diaspora too.
I remember reading Old Master Q when I was about seven or eight years old, living above my parents’ takeaway in England. Someone had bought these comic books over from Hong Kong in the 1980s I suppose but the flavour of the artwork was decidedly 1970s, all girls in miniskirts with super-long hair.
There wasn’t much text in the four-panel strips so even I as a non-Chinese reader could enjoy them. I found Old Master Q hilarious, full of absurd situations and silliness, and I’m sure that my sense of humour was profoundly influenced by it.
Old Master Q has been running for 50 years and I believe it’s still being published. It was created as a strip in 1962 by Alfonso Wong (Wong Kar Hei), going by the pseudonym Wong Chak, and serialised soon after in 1964. The comic has been adapted into numerous live action and animated films as well as TV series across the decades, such is its enduring appeal.
One of the key elements of Old Master Q, and the most charming thing for me, is how the characters remain steadfastly stuck in a world that’s really always 1960s Hong Kong even though they might be time travelling, in outer space or using mobile phones. They’re constantly navigating the line between traditional Chinese ways of doing things and modern Westernised life. The world might look on in consternation at these yokels but Old Master Q is almost always cheerfully jubilant, even wilfully so.
I once asked my family why Old Master was called Lǎo Fū Zi and my brother thought that it was possibly a pun on Confucius: Confucius is known in Chinese as Kǒng Fū Zi – Master or Teacher Kǒng. Alfonso Wong himself says that Lǎo Fū Zi is a generic title for an old learned person. I think I prefer my brother’s wittier version.
If you want to see more strips and find out more about this true product of Hong Kong in the 60s, have a look at the official Old Master Q website. And I recommend Hong Kong Comics: A History of Manhua by Wendy Siuyi Wong for an in-depth read on the topic, plus tonnes of great artwork.