Upclose with Black Paper
HK Magazine: How did you initially come up with the idea for this project?
Seven: From the get go, and up until the present, the three of us have been really good friends. We met while working at the Commercial Broadcasting Company, where we had the opportunity to work and hang out together, but eventually our duties diverged. We even found ourselves meeting up less often for drinks. So we decided that we’d better collaborate on a project together. After discarding a whole slew of schemes like putting out T-shirts or books or an exhibition, we finally figured, let’s just put out a single piece of paper each month. At first it was a joke, but we did it anyway and set the name: Black Paper. The meaning is, the three of us are all twentysomethings who want to express ourselves. If you give us a piece of white paper, we can turn it into a piece of black paper—we have so much to write that the paper becomes black. At the beginning, our discussion took about two months. Then it took another two months to put out an issue of Black Paper.
HK: What’s the process of putting Black Paper together?
Bu: The three of us discuss the topic together. As you can see, there are around 70 sentences on the page. So it’s not possible to collaborate on each individual sentence—each one of us writes on our own at home. Then we sit down together and edit each of the sentences. A sentence only makes it into the final product if we all give it a nod. So even though we write on our own, the final product is very much a three-person collaboration. For 70 sentences, we don’t just write 80 sentences. We’ll write twice or three times as many sentences. So out of 200 sentences, we edit down to 70.
HK: Do you find that your writing styles are quite different?
Roy: One of us is punchier, while another is more relaxed, more sensual, or more critical. But during the creative process as a group, all of our styles are blended together, and by learning each other’s styles, we gradually become more versatile, bringing more possibilities to this project.
HK: Do you have arguments over the selection of the sentences?
Bu: All the time, over every sentence! We constantly have disagreements about the conceptions, wording and punctuations, and we battle it out.
Seven: There is swearing, but not personal attacks—we swear with a point! [laugh]
HK: So it only costs $1. How are the sales so far?
Roy: When we first started out, we were all kinds of pessimistic about the volume of sales. A zine without any image or celebrity picture on it can be easily neglected, and literature is not a popular thing in Hong Kong. But it turned out much better than we expected. For the first issue, “Black,” we initially printed 2,000 copies but because of the unexpected popularity we had to print more, which was very encouraging.
HK: How’s the feedback from readers?
Roy: I once saw a story on Facebook written by a reader. She bought two copies of Black Paper and read the sentences with her boyfriend in turns outside the bookstore. Although she didn’t mention the content of the paper, we were touched and glad that our words created such a romantic moment for them.
Bu: So we have a Facebook group and people like to tell us which sentences are their favorite ones. Because we number all the sentences, you always see posts on the group wall saying “I really like sentence No. xx.” Now it has become a culture for our fans to name the numbers of the sentences they like. Some greedy ones would be like “I love No. 8, 26, 34, 68...” like it’s the mark six!
HK: What do you want to achieve with Black Paper?
Seven: Black Paper was created as a game for ourselves, but now we realize that our jokish project can inspire young people and enrich their lives. We love to hear that our fans are picking up their pens, thinking of a topic and writing about it—like what we are doing. It doesn’t matter how many sentences you write, five, ten, whatever. It can be a time- and energy-consuming thing to do, but when you read the final work and you actually put a lot of thought into it, the satisfaction you’ll have is priceless.