Zheng Jun’s Tibetan Rock Dog


Dogs rocking out

Rock star Zheng Jun has come out with a graphic novel, Tibetan Rock Dog, that combines his three loves: cartoons, animals, and music.

The story unfolds in Tibet, where a Tibetan mastiff named Metal grows up in a Buddhist temple after his parents and siblings die protecting a peasant family. His grandfather, who learned the secrets of walking upright and speaking human language, trains him in canine meditation and teaches him about his ancient enemy, the Tibetan wolf. A rock musician on a pilgrimage adopts Metal as a son and takes him back to Beijing.

The city is a fabulous new world for Metal: in Beijing, dogs walk upright and have a secret underground realm of their own. He forms a rock band with the friends he meets at obedience school:

  • Metal (麦头) as lead singer;
  • Lead guitar Zorro (佐罗), a short-haired, heavily-inked Great Dane whose master owns a tattoo parlor;
  • On keyboards is iKey, a Labrador. His master started an IT company when he came back from America, so he’s obsessed with the Internet;
  • On drums is Vasily (瓦西里), a rottweiler from a martial arts family;
  • On bass is Wangcai (旺财), a St. Bernard from a Korean barbecue who became a vegetarian after customers attempted to buy and eat him when the restaurant ran out of beef;
  • Dingding (丁丁), a schnauzer whose master is a crosstalk performer, acts as manager;
  • And a golden retriever named Vivian (薇薇安), who is Metal’s girlfriend.

But the big city isn’t a paradise: his girlfriend’s father doesn’t approve of Metal, and when his band, Rockdog, hits it big, he runs afoul of a gang of hip-hop wolf hounds who resent his success. Will he be able to prove that rock music is a worthy pursuit for a dog? Can he save his girlfriend from the clutches of the evil rap artists? Will success come in time to pay for his master’s hospital bill and save his club?


Tibetanized Chinese on the cover of Tibetan Rock Dog

The answers to these questions will come as no surprise, but setting the story in a hidden canine empire is inspired, the art is full of puns and pop-culture references, and the extended fight sequence that takes up half of the second volume is fairly entertaining.

Zheng Jun, who’s credited with the characters and overall supervision of Tibetan Rock Dog, has revealed that a film version is in the works — something like Kung Fu Panda (not a knock-off, since he came up with Metal and friends four years ago). He might also come out with a prequel or a sequel to the graphic novel.

The current story fills 340 pages split between two volumes and was written for kids of all ages, as Zheng explains in the preface:

A friend of mine once said that Chinese children have no childhood. They spend their childhood doing child labor, and are busier than their parents. Children have few opportunities to tell children’s stories, and they rarely dare to dream. His words are a little absolute, but they’re not without merit.

What’s strange is that I discovered one day that adults in China have the opportunity to enjoy the storied benefits of childhood. As masters of our own lives, we are fully able to give ourselves the decent childhood we missed, a deluxe childhood that a healthy, happy individual ought to have. Of course, no one necessarily knows what a deluxe childhood ought to be. I know a few young women who insist on sucking their water out of baby bottles, and who go to sleep hugging Hello Kitty. This seems to miss the point, but a return to youth is always a good thing.

I finally had a deluxe childhood after I became a father. Or perhaps it would be better to say that I took over my daughter’s childhood, but at any rate I was excited and overjoyed to have it. I discovered that enjoying childhood as an adult feels much better than enjoying adulthood as a child. Having a childlike-heart makes you feel happy all over. The two of us raised dogs — big ones — watched cartoons, told stories, read comics, and played with toys. I even tried to work my way into her circle of friends, but I was turned away. Things finally got better after I wrote a theme song for the Kaku TV station, and discovered a language we all share: cartoons, animals, and music. I like animals — I love dogs — and I love cartoons and music.

And it’s a language that crosses national boundaries. From an interview with QQ:

Wang Ke: In addition to having a good story, the book seems pretty commercial. People who like dogs will want to read it, as will music lovers. And adults may want to read it too. You’ve also mentioned that you may bring out foreign language editions. In my opinion, reading this book would be a good way for foreigners to gain a deeper understanding of Chinese culture.

Zheng Jun: The story is set in two different locations. First, there’s the background story of him growing up in Tibet, and then there’s the process of him realizing his dream after he gets to Beijing. These two things will appeal to foreigners, I think. How a Tibetan mastiff makes music in Beijing and, together with a group of other dogs, finally succeeds in his aims. Heavenly Mastiff Yoga, a form handed down from ancient times by Tibetan mastiffs, at its highest levels can enable a dog to speak human language and play an instrument.

This is not the first nod toward Tibet in Zheng’s work. One of his famous early songs was “Return to Lhasa” (回到拉萨).

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