Book Review: Comic Origami by Syn (Jiahui Li)

Edited by Scott Summers

For a long time, I thought China had no big names in origami creation. Of course, that is just like saying there are no fish smaller than the holes you have in your net. Luckily, Nicolas Terry has started to introduce a selection of incredible Chinese creators by publishing their works as part of the Origami Shop’s exclusive series of books, and “Comic Origami,” by Jiahuli Li (Syn, sometimes written syn∞) is yet another great example of a charming take on many of the origami animals that we all know and love. The moment I saw the content pages of this book, I was hooked. There is a certain cuteness to the models, a kind of irresistible charm. When I saw the book, I knew I had to review it to see how good the folding sequences are.

Since this is a figurative book, I asked Guy Binyamin to join me, and he was as thrilled as I was to get started. Together, we folded about 10 models (out of the 25 offered in the book), and this is what we found.

Evaluating Models

In this review, we are introducing a better scale by which to measure each model and diagram.

  • Reproducibility. How many times do we believe that we will fold this model? Some models are so cute that we will fold them again and again. For others, the test fold will be the first and last time.
  • Room for interpretation. Is this a model that will always look exactly as the author made it, or does it give us the flexibility to add something of our own to it?
  • Technical difficulty. How difficult is the folding process? How many advanced techniques, like closed sinks, will the folder encounter? How complex are the precreases for a box pleated design?
  • Artistic difficulty. Once the model is finished, how far is it from having all the small details in place? How tough is it to make it look good?
  • Efficiency. How efficient is the folding process itself? Are there too many layers? Is it too small for the paper you started with?

The Technicalities

  • Number of pages: 208
  • Number of diagram pages: 180
  • Number of models: 25
  • Languages: English and Chinese
  • Paper Size: A4 (8 by 11.5 inches)
  • Paper Quality: High
  • Difficulty level: Simple to high intermediate (the publisher rates the models intermediate to complex)
  • Where to find it: Origami-Shop

Diagrams

There are three chapters in the book: “Sky,” “Earth” and “Sea.”

Most of the models are two-dimensional and play strongly with color change, which is the main source of their cuteness. There are just a few 3D models that will look nice from all angles.

The models are ordered in each chapter by difficulty and length of diagrams. The shortest diagram is the first in the book, the Dragonfly (46 steps), and the longest is a Seadragon (162 steps). The average number of steps per model is 80.

Diagrams were made by Xy Tao. In general, they are concise and without error. The symbols are mostly standard and easy to understand. I rarely stopped because of unclear instructions, and when I did, it was because the diagrammer didn’t draw a magnifying glass and present an enlargement, and too many details were crammed into a small place. In those cases, I had to use the digital file to enlarge the image and see the small details.

The separation of layers is clear, even without the use of shading. The text is minimal and mainly clarifies visual instructions, “Open sink.” being an example.

I couldn’t find any major mistakes. The only error I saw was a crease line that was as thick as an edge line, and only once.

All in all, the diagrams are excellent.

Folding

(The first three models were tested by Ilan Garibi.)

Rice Bucket (Pelican)

Rice Bucket (Pelican), from 24 cm kami. Folding and image by Ilan Garibi.

This is the second model in the book, and it will get you right into the mindset of the author with no less than eight sink folds and a crimp of multiple layers to make the neck at the end. Neither this model nor this book are child’s play, and you’d better know your papers before you start.

I chose to fold this model first for a very simple reason: It’s charming. I am not sure why the name is Rice Bucket, but the “pelican-ness” of it is so adorable that I had to fold it.

And I did. It is not an easy model. Some of the sinks are complex, and you have to choose the right layers. The last crimp is just too thick, so my paper ripped. Even so, I am satisfied!

  • Reproducibility. I will fold it again once or twice to master the process and even try to memorize it.
  • Room for interpretation. Little. The model is well-balanced but offers limited opportunity for variation.
  • Technical difficulty. High intermediate. There are many sinks, and some of them are closed with many layers.
  • Artistic difficulty. Intermediate.
  • Efficiency. Low. The final model looks simplistic and leaves you wondering: Was that the best way to achieve the result?

Butterfly

Butterfly, from 24 cm kami. Folding and image by Ilan Garibi.

This is a hybrid model combining the new trend of “painting with color changes” and classic figurative design. The butterfly is drawn by rearranging the layers of a complex windmill base (this is my own translation for this base) against the white background. You can also say that this model is formed by a regular process of hiding the excess paper until a butterfly is left.

No matter how you classify this model, it is still true to the way Syn is making origami. There is no fear of complex moves, even with this flat design. The appearance of the wings asks for long, sharp angles, sinks, swivels and inside-reverse folds.

There is a lot of elegance in the final result, but you must be highly accurate if you want both sides to look the same. Those sharp angles are not easy to reproduce exactly.

  • Reproducibility. I will fold it again once or twice to have the best result.
  • Room for interpretation. You can change the angles and shapes as you wish.
  • Technical difficulty. High intermediate; sharp angles, some sinks, and complex swivels.
  • Artistic difficulty. High.
  • Efficiency. High.

Flying Goat

Flying Goat, from 35 cm Grainy paper. Folding and image by Ilan Garibi.

There is a clean simplicity in the folding process that Syn creates. Yes, you will encounter closed sinks here as well, but they feel natural and hardly slow you down or raise the complexity of the model. The Flying Goat has a total of 78 steps, including 55 original steps and 23 steps to repeat on the other side. And still, it is not a complicated model.

As it goes in this book, the model has a unique look and style. Not too many details, but the exaggerated horns compared to the small wings create a comical expression.

  • Reproducibility. I am happy with this model as is and probably won’t fold it again.
  • Room for interpretation. Intermediate. The simplicity of the legs and body calls for modification.
  • Technical difficulty. Low intermediate. Nothing to slow you down. There are some sharp angles, some sinks, and complex swivels.
  • Artistic difficulty. High. Nice finishing is necessary.
  • Efficiency. High.

(the remaining models were tested by Guy Binyamin.)

Shark Ball

Shark Ball, from 30 cm Nicolas Terry’s Agua Papel and white tissue paper. Image and folding (with modified fin) by Guy Binyamin.
The Shark Ball, as folded by Syn.

When Ilan and I first examined the book together, naturally each of us picked our favorite models to fold. This model was not on my initial list (since Ilan called dibs on it first). But since I was planning on folding it anyway, it happened that the Shark Ball was the first one I folded.

The design of this model is unique and refreshing. It has volume, and the color change is very nice. I love the friendly smile and the small eye, both of which are achieved with ease, as the folding sequence is smooth and convenient. In the diagram, the shark actually has a bottom fin near the tail. While folding, I chose to sacrifice the anatomy a bit and use it for locking, although one could fold it and just use glue to hold the model together.

  • Reproducibility. High! The short and fun sequence makes it easy to memorize and fold rather quickly (20-30 minutes).
  • Room for interpretation. Little. The model is well-balanced, and any change will do it harm.
  • Technical difficulty. Intermediate. There is nothing to slow you down.
  • Artistic difficulty. Simple. It’s easy to get a great result as long as you’re fairly precise.
  • Efficiency. Medium.

Pufferfish (with Downloadable Diagrams)

Pufferfish, from 25 & 20 cm Nicolas Terry Duo Color paper. Image and folding by Guy Binyamin. See PDF diagrams.

Another great model!

Just like the shark, the Pufferfish has a wonderful expression and lovely color changes. The paper distribution in this model is not ideal. The model gets quite thick at the top fin while the body stays fairly thin. So it’s a challenging task to get a clean result. My first attempt with 30 cm paper looked horrible, but, to my surprise, using a smaller sheet of 25 or 20 cm actually helped.

  • Reproducibility. High! The short and fun sequence makes it easy to memorize and fold rather quickly (20 minutes). I folded it at least five times before this review was written.
  • Room for interpretation. There is plenty of room for interpretation here, from the shape of the mouth, to the belly, and even the top and side fins.
  • Technical difficulty. Intermediate. There is nothing to slow you down, although the thickness might pose a challenge.
  • Artistic difficulty. Intermediate. You’ll need a few tries before you can get a clean result.
  • Efficiency. Medium.

Just a Rope

Just a Rope (Snake), from 30 cm Nicolas Terry Agua Papel and white tissue paper. Image and folding by Guy Binyamin.

Snakes are a tough subject for any origami creator. There are too few details and almost no room for artists to express themselves. So it should come as no surprise that there aren’t many origami snakes out there.

That is why, in my opinion, this model is genius.

By taking the cartoonish route, Syn was able to create something entirely new and refreshing. The color changes are literally all over the model, which is very pleasing to the eye.

This model gets very thick at the snake’s belly, so thin paper is advised.

  • Reproducibility. I folded the model twice, once for practice and then with the Agua Papel. Overall, I’m satisfied with the result I got, and I don’t think I’ll fold it again.
  • Room for interpretation. Except for the crown and the shape of the head and mouth, most of the model is well-designed and balanced.
  • Technical difficulty. Intermediate. There is nothing to slow you down, although the thickness might pose a challenge.
  • Artistic difficulty. Medium. Precision and patience are key to success, especially at the head and belly.
  • Efficiency. Medium.

Emperor

Emperor (Lion), from 34 cm Nicolas Terry [painted] Vintage paper. Image and folding (with modifications) by Guy Binyamin.
The Emperor, as folded by Syn.

This is a wonderful model, very condensed and packed with detail. Syn just keeps on delivering innovative, refreshing models one after the other.

The sequence for this model is not short, at 100 plus steps, and there are quite a few precreases. Nonetheless, the result is super cute and elegant.

  • Reproducibility. Although I’m quite satisfied with the result I got, I might fold it again with a different paper or color scheme.
  • Room for interpretation. Plenty! I added crimps to the tail and added subtle changes to the mane to get a bit more definition.
  • Technical difficulty. High Intermediate. There are many layers to account for, and the model gets a bit thick.
  • Artistic difficulty. Medium. Precision and patience are key to success.
  • Efficiency. Medium.

Seadragon

Seadragon (Seahorse and Dragon), from Nicolas Terry’s 50 cm Octa paper and 35 cm Washi Deluxe paper. Images and folding by Guy Binyamin.

The best model in the book! Syn kept it for last for a reason. The model is highly detailed; it’s fluid and lifelike.

The color changes on this piece are astonishing and on point. It’s also the most challenging and impressive model in the book, containing many unique and complex folds. At no point did the paper get too thick, and no one step felt problematic.

Combining animals is an idea that has not been explored enough in origami. Sure, there are many models of mythical creatures, but those are already established creatures. There is a risk in making something new. Syn took the golden path by creating something that is still recognizable while sparking the imagination.

  • Reproducibility. High! A versatile model that can be folded from many paper types.
  • Room for interpretation. Plenty! There are many ways to shape and round the body, the backplates and the horns.
  • Technical difficulty. Complex.
  • Artistic difficulty. High. You can fold the model and keep it flat and straight or you can round and bend it for a lifelike natural look. Wet shaping is not a must, but it can certainly help if you’re using thick paper.
  • Efficiency. High.

Conclusion

From the very first moment, we were both drawn to this book. We were captivated by the amazing look and finish of each piece as well as the generous arsenal of 25 models. There is a strict theme throughout the book — color changes, simplicity, cuteness and fun — and it is rarely broken. Syn pulls off everything with an ease that, at times, seems mind-boggling.

The book offers new, innovative and refreshing models, most of which are iconic, memorable and folded relatively quickly. These models are perfect for display and as gifts for your friends.

Bottom line: A great book to have in your collection.

Author Interview: The Five Essential Questions

Jiahui Li, aka Syn.

Q Tell me a little about yourself.

A I’m a 30-year-old bank teller, and I live in Tongliao city,Inner Mongolia,China. I have a lot of hobbies, and origami is my favorite one. In my daily life, I’m friendly and active-thinking. Whenever I see something interesting, I will get ideas for origami.

Q What is the essence of the book? (What makes it stand out, who was your target audience, etc.?)

A “Comic Origami” is a book that collected most of my cartoon-style work suitable for diagramming. Works in this book are cute, and all of them are in two colors. The subjects of these models are animals. I think no one can resist the attraction of cute animals!

Q If I can fold only one model from your book, which should it be and why?

A My favorite work in this book is the Shark Ball. The folding sequence is comfortable, and you can finish a cute 3D shark model with a color-change within 73 steps. Be sure to fold it first! That’s my most satisfying work in the book.

Q Which is the hardest model in the book? What makes it hard to fold?

A I think the Seadragon is the hardest work in this book. This is a 162-step work. You will make precreases for 23 steps, and there are many sink folds in the diagrams. I think this is the most complex model I’ve created so far.

Q What was most enjoyable in the process of the making of this book?

A I think every part of making this book was enjoyable. It was just like watching a child grow up in a very short time. The most enjoyable moment was the time I saw the printed book. That was exciting because it was the first time I made a book that contains only my works.

Editor’s Note: More information on Jiahui Li and his folding style, along with a link to video instructions for his Baby Penguin are available in a Fold article by Daniel Scher.