THAILAND - Japan's Doraemon, One Piece, Naruto, Gandum and Pokemon now rule a cartoon-loving world populated by more Asian kids than Disney could ever hope to reach, but it's Thai artists who seem to be colonising that world fastest.
While the beloved Japanese characters serve as their country's cultural bridge to the world, young Thai illustrator claimed the gold medal at the International Manga Awards in 2012, and last year Prema Jatukanyaprateep has done it again.
The competition hosted by Japan's Foreign Ministry, launched in 2007 to recognise the planet's best manga art and promote it further overseas - as if that were even necessary - last year drew 256 entries from 53 countries.
Not only did Prema, 31, win the gold, Thailand's Piyapharch Jeeno, Ruangsak Duangpla and Pittaya Werasakwong shared the bronze. The silver medals went to artists in the US, China and Belgium.
Shigekazu Sato, Japan's ambassador to Thailand - who happily admits he was always reading comics as a child - says he expects manga to become even more popular in Thailand as a result, to become part of the Thai culture that's associated with Japan.
"Manga is representative of Japanese culture. It's part of the pride of the Land of Rising Sun. We publish more than 10,000 comic books a year, which make up about 40 per cent of the global market. And now manga takes several forms, like animation, that have proved popular in America and Europe. Many Western institutes give awards for work in cartooning.
"We will create a 'Nobel Prize' from this popularity," Sato declares. "We want to promote the winners so that their work can be published and sold around the world."
The Cartoonthai Institute published Prema's "Bokbig" in 2012, a funny series of strips about her pet dog Bokbig, a miniature pinscher. "A spoiled dog and an honest boss" is the catchy theme.
"It actually developed out of the thesis I did while studying decorative art at Silpakorn University," she says. "Someone from the Cartoonthai Institute saw the drawings in an exhibition and asked about them. I was planning to study animation techniques in France, though, so I had no time to turn it into a full comic book."
The story, rendered in simple lines and vivid hues, begins the day her father brings Bokbig home. The dog's cheerfulness ensures he immediately becomes a member of the family. Everything goes well until the family gets another dog, Bamboo. The two pooches are expected to be friends, but are instead fierce rivals.
Prema says the judging panel appreciated both her drawing style and the content - the fact that it's about a pet, a focal point to ensure that anyone can empathise with the Thai lifestyle.
She got her start in 2004, illustrating the children's book "Vera and Victor Discover Thailand", published by Sweden's Wirdheim Culture AB. She did indeed continue her studies in France, graduating from Ecole Pivaut University.