Thursday, September 20, 2018
I first met Rukmunal Hakim some years ago (circa 2012) at STGCC when he was boothing together with Ario Anindito. They were a pretty savvy pair because they actually attended STGCC as audience the year prior to get a sense of the convention and the market (what sells and what don't) before deciding to purchase a booth the following year. Their prints were spot on and were hot sellers. They figured out what would appeal to the STGCC crowd.
So it was good to see Hakim again at IAF when it first started 2 years ago because it was more of a natural 'home' for him.
I got the chance to chat with Hakim before the craziness start at IAF again this weekend. Do check out his booth with buddy Elfandiary and also the talk show I'm doing with them on Sunday, 23 Sept at La Salle (Room F202) from 2pm to 3 pm. It's called Illustrating in Indonesia and it should be fun. Dee Dee Rakham is helping out with the translation on that day. Tickets available here:
Can you tell us more about yourself and your work?
My name is Rukmunal Hakim. I live and work in Bintaro, South Tangerang. Not far from Jakarta. Besides being an illustrator, I am also a Visual Consultant and Creative Director for 3 Indonesian musicians. I host my own podcast channel, “Podluck Podcast”, which talks (mostly) about illustration in Indonesia. I am also the founder and Creative Director for Gesut!, a collective that moves in the realm of silkscreen prints.
My work talks about a lot of personal experience, and how it intersects with many things around me.
How did you get started?
I started drawing, learning from scratch, self-taught, at practically a late age of 25 years old. And I entered the professional world 3 years later. I’m 34 years old this year, so it’s almost 10 years since I started…
What sort of art training did you receive?
My school is the internet and my colleagues. I learned most of my skills from both.
How is your work different from others in Indonesia and the rest of the world?
It will be difficult for me to explain what is the difference in my work when compared to other artists.
I think, the difference will be seen from the background where we live, our education, family, the references to the music we listen to, the movies we watch, and so on. As a self-taught illustrator, I have a different visual language from those who have an art education. And in the end, the theme brought out will vary, even though most human problems – well, most of them - are almost the same. But the story will always be different.
Is there a Bandung scene? How is it different from Jakarta and Jogjakarta?
If we talk about the 3 major cities in Indonesia in the realm of art, namely, Jakarta, Bandung and Jogja, all three have different atmospheres. Bandung is known as a creative city, which deals directly with industry practice. Whereas Jakarta is an industry, a place where all money is located, and Jogja is a place where we can live as artists in full, and freely.
What is the power and role of illustrations in society?
Illustration is one of the disciplines of fine arts that has good adaptability with other disciplines. This is what gives illustration the special advantage and an important role. Many important and crucial things, such as aircraft safety guidelines, medical books, etc., can be better understood when there are illustrations in them. And this is only a small example where illustration has a role in society.
What do you hope to achieve with your art?
I hope more people can enjoy my work.
How many times have you attended IAF and what do you think of it?
This year is my third IAF (the second time with Elfandiary). My first event in Singapore was STGCC with Ario Anindito, and for me, IAF is more relevant to my profession. And so far the experience with IAF is very fun!
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
IAF is back for the third year at La Salle this weekend. We managed to invite one of my favourite HK comic artist, Li Chitak.
So who the hell is Li Chitak? You know that 1996 Jet Li action movie, Black Mask? That's based on a Li Chitak comic.
The comic is well cooler than the movie. Unfortunately, it is long out of print.
2 years ago, Chitak was honoured by Angouleme Comic Festival with a solo exhibition of his own.
Here's a short interview with Chitak before his visit. He answered my questions in Chinese which I have reproduced here and I included my loose English translation which cannot do justice to the nuances in his replies. Read them out loud in Cantonese!
You are sometimes known as the godfather of indie / alternative comics in HK. What do you think of this title?
[HK is a small place. I was merely doing things that most people won't do. I happened to be at the right place and right time. I started during the golden age of HK comics in the 1980s.
This label is given to me by others. It's just to make it easier for people to accept what is this thing called indie / alternative comics. To me, it simply reflects society's love for labels.]
But is there still a HK comic industry / scene?
[I'm not too sure of that myself. But as long as there are artists drawing, no matter how few, that is good enough.]
What is the mainstream in HK comics now? Still kung fu comics?
[HK comics are still HK comics. Kung fu, gangster...but it's really hard to differentiate what's mainstream and what's not. The market is so small now...]
What is the future for indie / alternative comics in HK?
[I don't know. As long as there are interesting works, that's not too bad.]
How did you start drawing comics?
[I drew some comics books and went round knocking on doors of comics pubishers. That's how i got started.]
What was your first comic book?
[My first comic book was Wisely.]
Did you ever have a 'real' job?
[Not really. I worked for a few months as an artist in a comics company - does that count?]
What are your memories of reading comics when you were young?
[When I was younger, reading comics gave me a sense of mission and energy!
I read everything - from Tony Wong to Ryoichi Ikegami and Ma Wing Shing. But the greatest influence came from Katsuhiro Otomo and Moebius. Now, Moebius! That's the gold standard of what comics can be!]
Did you ever expect to achieve what you have achieved so far? eg having an exhibition at Angouleme.
[I once thought that alternative comics can be commercially successful just like mainstream comics. Ah, the optimism of youth..
Once I started in this industry, it was made clear to me: you have to have your own unique vision. It's all about hard work.]
If you can travel back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
["It's really tough - are you sure? It's really fucking hard, ok!?"]
Do you own the rights to all your comics?
[In the past, the HK comics industry was not so 'civilized'. The original pages and rights were kept by the publishers. Some of my works have been 'taken' away from me. Afterwards, I was more careful to insist I retain the copyright. I guess I have about 70-80% to the rights of my works.]
Name one comic of yours that changed your career?
Tong Men Shao Nian
Would you say Lai Tat Tat Weng and Chihoi are your 'descendants'?
[I wouldn't dare to say that.
Creativity is a strange creature. And influences can come from anywhere, anytime. It's a process.]
Who are the next generation of indie comic artists in HK?
[I don't read many comics these days. But I think overloaddance is ok!
At least it has a heart for the drawings and storytelling.]
Thursday, September 13, 2018
Interview with Paul Gravett, the Man at the Crossroads Part 1
Just who is Paul Gravett? And why is he one of the highlights of this year’s Singapore Writers Festival and why should comics people here care?
Here’s the skinny:
Paul Gravett is a writer, historian, critic and curator specialising in international comics. He has authored books on manga, graphic novels, British comics and comics art. He is the editor of The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics and 1001: Comics You Must Read Before You Die. His exhibitions include retrospectives of Tove Jansson, Posy Simmonds and Jack Kirby.
To say Paul is a mover and shaker in the international comics world is an understatement. Other than John Lent and a few others, Paul is at the forefront of world comics, and not just about works from North America, Europe or Japan.
He co-curated this great show on British comics called Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK at the British Library in 2014 and last year, he worked with the Barbican Centre to launch a world tour of his latest exhibition, Mangasia, the biggest show on Asian comics with original pages and rare comics.
I always wanted to bring Paul in for SWF. While we have lots of workshops on drawing (and lesser on writing and editing), comics criticism is sorely lacking in our current comics eco-system. Good and robust comics criticism can get us to think deeper about this visual medium that engages us and then to write about them.
Paul will be featured in two SWF events – a talk on Comics as Mirrors for Change (a ticketed event) and he will also be on the panel about Comics Events as Connectors, about organizing and curating comics festivals, conferences and exhibitions (a festival pass event).
Comics As Mirror for Change
Date: 4 Nov, Sun
Time: 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Venue: Asian Civilisations Museum, Ngee Ann Auditorium
Comics Events As Connectors
Date: 4 Nov, Sun
Time: 5:00 PM - 6:00 PM
Venue: Asian Civilisations Museum, Ngee Ann Auditorium
Here’s Paul talking about the passion.
1. What are your first memories of comics? (could be a comic strip) What was your first purchase?
Watching Thunderbirds, Tintin and then Batman on TV introduced me to their comics versions. Thunderbirds came inside TV21, a weekly British comics published 100 years in the future which we had delivered to our house. Tintin I first found in the library. The first American comic book I bought was a World’s Finest 80-page giant from Romford market. I also grew up reading ‘The Trigan Empire’ in the weekly Look & Learn. And Peanuts in the Daily Mail newspaper, from which I made scrapbooks of the clipped strips.
2. Yes, Look and Learn is very well remembered in these parts of the world. Lat had fond memories of them too.
What was comics fandom like in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s?
My entrée was discovering the comics shop Dark They Were And Golden Eyed in London’s Soho, through an advert or plug in Fantastic, I think, a British weekly which reprinted Thor, X-Men and Iron Man. My Mum took me and my brother there specially on my birthday. I bought my first fanzine, Alan Austin’s Comics Unlimited and made discoveries and friends by correspondence. I also had a few pals at school who collected US comic books, so we went to a London Comic Mart for the first time in the early 1970s which became a ritual and pilgrimage!
3. Why are you so passionate about comics?
Bonkers, isn’t it? I love their illimitable variety and reiterations. I like what my brain and imagination have to do to make them work, it’s active, puzzle-like, map-like. And I like the fact that they don’t move, don’t have sound and music, they shouldn’t work at all, but they do. I have wearied of moving image, ie TV and film, because they direct, manipulate and insist on you. Comics are a unique performance, different for every reader, and every reading.
4. How did you get into comics reviewing, writing, curating and organizing? Basically being the man at the crossroads…
Through befriending fellow enthusiasts and makers, and sharing our enthusiasms. Reviewing came first for fanzines, then some articles for them too. Then organising with school friends Phil Elliott and Ian Wieczorek the Fast Fiction mail order distribution service and sales table for self-published comics and zines at the Westminster Central Hall Comic Marts as a place to meet. Out of this and meeting my partner Peter Stanbury came co-publishing and co-editing Escape (19 issues, 1983-89). And out of this came my first curatorial role in 1990 when Britain was guest country at the Angoulême Festival (which Peter and I visited starting in 1984). It’s kept developing organically from there. There was never any strategic plan or career path. I have to keep pinching myself, I know I’ve been hugely lucky.
5. Tell us that story of why Eddie Campbell called you that.
I first came across that nickname when I first read the serialisation of Alec-How To Be An Artist. As you know, he gave several people nicknames instead of naming people directly. So Bill Sienkiewicz became ‘Billy the Sink’, David Lloyd was ‘Mr Status Quo’ I think? So it was a surprise and compliment to discover my ‘secret identity’. Thanks to Eddie, I may also be one of the few people to be ‘outed’ by a comic, not that it was ever much of a secret!
6. Did you ever have a ‘real’ job? (ie a salaried job and not related to comics)
Oh yes, I worked for an insurance brokers in the City in London for a year or more, and during this time started up Fast Fiction - to meet and connect people, and bring the burgeoning UK small press scene together, if only once every month or two for a Saturday mart and drinks after.
7. What was the turning point for you? – that most significant comics event, exhibition you organised, comics review or book you wrote that changed things for you? That makes you say this is it. I am getting somewhere…
In 1981, shortly after my grandfather died, I got called in to help out with a new comics magazine, ‘psssst!’. I owe it all to Mal Burns, who produced the UK comics magazine Graphixus and wrote vital columns in UK fanzines giving addresses to order self-published comics, UK and international. We’d met several time at marts and he’d seen how the Fast Fiction table was becoming a focus and dynamo for aspiring creators. I went for an interview and got the job of heading a team to promote ‘psssst!’ on a double-decker bus which was to tour the UK, with a young assistant Nick and a driver Mick. It was a crazy job, a gamble, but I’ll never forget coming home on the train and thinking that my grandfather was looking out for me and giving me this chance. My parents knew how much comics meant to me, they never discouraged it, and I handed in my notice to the brokers. This was the first of many turning points, but I knew there was no turning back. I know that all I have done in comics, all I am still to do, is why I am here.
8. You wrote Manga: 60 years of Japanese comics which was published in 2004. I believe you have yet to visit Japan then? Was it difficult to write that book having only to depend on English sources and translated manga works? When did you first visit Japan and did it change your idea and expectations of manga?
I was interviewed in 2004 by the BBC and they asked, ‘How often do you go to Japan?’ and I replied, ‘Not often enough’! I did have Japanese friends, in London and Japan, to confer and correspond with. The book was a way for me to try to understand manga in a broader, fuller way. I also read and researched a lot about Japan and exposed myself as much as possible. Of course Angoulême and other comics festivals were vital for meeting people involved in manga. Japan was the guest country in 1991, the year after Britain for example. Through friends I also got to co-curate a crazy exhibition for the Magma Gallery in London in 2003, consisting mainly of 1,000s of manga books. The owner, Marc Valli, introduced me to publisher Laurence King and it took off from there. I finally visited Japan last March in 2017 for two intensive, astounding weeks, meeting so many people and arranging material for the Mangasia exhibition. I felt so happy there, above all in a country where comics are (almost) everywhere and (almost) everyone likes them. It’s like Hicksville come true, and not as a remote New Zealand town but a whole nation!
to be continued...
Monday, January 29, 2018
Some of you might have heard that SWF Words Go Round has invited Guy Delisle for their school and public programmes this year. That’s really exciting news for me as I have been hoping for Guy to be invited to Singapore one day. His series of travelogues have been most inspiring. One is tempted to compare him with Joe Sacco as it seems that Guy has been travelling to all these hot spots and troubled zones. But not quite. He explained that how he ended up in these places was by chance – he was an animator previously and thus worked in Pyongyang and Shenzhen. Then as a house husband, he followed his wife who worked for Doctors Without Borders to places like Myanmar and Jerusalem. He is more of an observer than a journalist in these contexts.
His new book is Hostage, his first ‘serious’ book that is not based on his own experiences. You can read Paul Gravett’s review of the book here:
Here’s a short interview with him done via email.
You are French Canadian from Quebec but you are way more popular in France and Europe than in North America. Why is this so?
It is hard for me to say. The distribution of my books in Canada is not as good as in France. I mostly sold my books in the French part of Canada which is not so big.
Your stories are travelogues and in some instances, about being displaced or being out of place. So I’m curious - do you feel more ‘at home’ in France or in Canada? (for example, do you feel an affinity with the works of other Canadian comic artists like Chester Brown, Seth and David Collier?)
I feel at home in both places now. Probably because I have spent half of my life in France. I had the chance to meet Chester Brown and Seth the last time I was at the TCAF in Toronto. I admire both of their works and I was glad to be able to tell that to them. They have been an influence on my work.
You have described your stories more like long postcards or a diary. Interestingly, graphic diaries and autobiographical comics are a popular genre in Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia, and also in Malaysia (the books of Lat and travelogues by younger artists). One could say that you are one of the pioneers of autobiographical comics and travelogues together with Harvey Pekar, Chester Brown, Peter Kuper, etc. How do you think this particular genre would develop in the future?
In the last 15 years, comic books have been able to explore different styles and genres. Traveling books is one of them. Just like in literature, the travelling novel is a genre by itself. Some publishers have a special collection dedicated only to these. I guess someday the same thing might happen with travelling comic books. In France, there is a popular magazine which only publish graphic reportage. It's very good quality. So maybe someday it will be even more specialized and only present some travelling content.
You have answered this question before in the past, but maybe you have changed your mind about viewing yourself as a journalist. But what if I change the question: do you see yourself as a documentarian or a comic artist?
It very simple, I see myself as a comic artist. I do talk in my books about history and politics, but just enough so we can understand what is going around in the country. So, I ask a few questions while I am abroad and I do some research but for me, that doesn't make me a journalist or a documentarian. I see myself more as a popularizer but no more than that.
Were you surprised by your success like how well Pyongyang and Jerusalem sold?
Yes, I was surprised. I received the Best Book of the Year at the Angouleme Comic Festival in 2012 for Jerusalem, but I never imagined that so many people would follow me in the small streets of Jerusalem. The number was beyond my imagination.
Your new book, Hostage – what strikes you immediately when you sit down to read it is its slowness. Is that deliberate?
Yes, totally. I wanted to go for an immersive type of story. In order to get to the feeling of the everyday life of a kidnapped person, I needed to go step by step. So therefore, slowly. That's why there are so many pages.
In her review in The New York Review of Books, Hillary Chute talks about the innovations and experimentation that could be found in Hostage – pushing the boundaries of how one can represent time and the subjective experience. Were you conscious of such experimentation when you were doing this book? Or was it a case of wanting to do things a bit differently from the previous ones?
It is just the way I saw this book from the beginning: an immersive experience based on Christophe André's kidnapping. I wanted the reader to feel the time passing by just like he did and to go through everything he has told me. And the only way to do that was to take my time and to be as close to that reality that I can be.
As I worked on the book I realized it was a different rhythm than the usual comic book. But I had no doubt that it could be done.
Andre tried to get through the days by revisiting his favourite military battles in his mind. What are your favourite military battles in history?
I don't really have a thing for military battles, but since I have spent a lot of time with Christophe discussing his passion, I could say now that my favorite one is the battle of the Abraham's plain in 1759 in my hometown of Québec. One of the only battles where the two generals died during the attack.
Hostage took 15 years to complete. Were there at any time that you felt you were ‘held hostage’ by this book and you need to complete it so that you can move on to other projects?
Yes, I remember thinking that if after so many years it's still there in my head, it's probably worth working a few years to turn it into a book. It is a relief now that it's done.
On that note, what is the next project?
I am working on the 4th volume of the Bad Dad Guide.
Your experience in Pyongyang remains unique and you have talked about how the comic medium works perfectly to capture that moment in history for you. Cameras were not allowed and to take photos is a dangerous thing.
Looking back, did you encounter any really dangerous situations when you were in Pyongyang?
I never felt I was in danger, even though we did some stupid things while we were there. I guess because we were part of the contract the animation company and the North Korean government had together. In that sense we were invited guests, so nothing could really happened to us.
I went to Yangon last year to visit writers and comic artists. At the airport, I saw your Burma book on sale. Have you gotten any feedback about the book from the Myanmarese?
Yes, I was invited for the first comic book festival in Yangon last year but I couldn't go. I heard the books are very popular there. I am very proud to be translated in Myanmar. Not a common language.
What are you looking forward to in Singapore? Any particular food you would like to try or places you would like to visit?
I don't have any plans, I come with the family so I will probably go see the touristy places. I heard the food was very good in Singapore so, I am looking forward to try that.
Lastly, are you really a neglectful parent?
Not all the time. I am working on it.
You can try looking for Guy in schools but that's a hit or miss. Go to the Alliance Francaise on 1 March 2018 instead. He is having a talk there at 7.30 pm, which I am moderating.
Friday, September 29, 2017
Munching with the Moomins: Interview with Roleff Krakstrom, Managing Director of Moomin Characters Limited
The Moomins are coming! One of Finland’s strongest export (way before Angry Birds) and loved over the years by children and adults of all ages, these classic characters will be featured in two Singapore Writers Fest programmes:
A life size Moomin troll will be making its appearance too at the Moomin storytelling by Paula Parviainen, Ambassador of the Embassy of Finland in Singapore.
Sophia Jansson, the niece of Moomins creator Tove Jansson, and the current Chairman of the Board and Creative Director at Moomin Characters Ltd, and Roleff Kråkström, the managing director of Moomin Characters Ltd, will be in town for Finland 100, a celebration of Finland’s 100 years of independence.
I had a short chat with Roleff over the phone about Tove Jansson (1914 – 2001) and her beloved Moomins. Like other Finns I have met in Helsinki and in Singapore, Roleff’s response can be rather reserved. But you can still hear his passion for the Moomins in his voice when I called him in Helsinki on a Friday evening.
What is your first memory of the Moomins?
My first memory of the Moomins was my parents reading the books to me when I was a small child. I was 3 or 4 then. I was very young at that time so I don’t have a very clear memory. But it has become a very safe and comfortable memory for me since then – this image of being read aloud by my parents.
Later, I work with the publisher of the Moomins. I have a very long common history with the Moomins.
How did this long association with the Moomins come about?
I started working for WSOY, the Finnish publisher of the Moomin books in Helsinki. That was back in 1992 or 1993.
I did meet Tove once at the publishing company dinner. She didn’t know me then. I was just a junior staff member. But my impression of her was that she was very kind and a very small woman in size. She was a petite person.
Is this your dream job?
I have worked very long in the publishing company and I am an extremely lucky person so far to only have worked with things I am passionate about.
So yes, you can say that it is a dream job.
In your opinion, what is the appeal of the Moomins? What accounts for its longevity?
What sets the Moomins apart from other licences in the industry is that we are not a manufactured entertainment company like those for anime series. The Moomins have always been about the art and the universal values it embodies. So the stories are about love, courage, tolerance, respect for nature and family. Thus they have been able to travel over time and culture as compared to other properties in the manufactured entertainment industry. For the entertainment industry, it is a default setting to always replace the old characters with new ones. There is always a target audience for them, which is the antithesis of the universal.
For me, the aesthetics of the Moomins is a combination of being brave and respecting your fellow person and surroundings. Often, freedom and bravery lead to arrogance. But in Tove’s stories, the main character solve the dilemma by being brave and also respecting everyone at the same time. It’s not me, myself and I, but by doing and solving things together.
This is very different for the US where you have individualistic superheroes. You can even take it a notch down and look at the children literature. The protagonist’s family gets killed. There is a war and horrible things happen. But basically the protagonist makes it on his or her own.
The Moomins solve things as a family. The character gets into a dilemma. He takes off and have an adventure. He finds something. But the family always come together. He is never alone. The family will always come looking for you just like in the first Moomin book, The Moomins and the Great Flood (1945).
What explains the success of the Moomins in Asian countries like Japan and China? In China, there has been a 300% increase for the retail value of the Moomin brand.
For our Asian success, the reasons are different for Japan and China. In Japan, it is the Moomin aesthetics which is very clear and the artwork is appealing to the Japanese. Tove was influenced by the Japanese masters like Hokusai in terms of the composition and dynamics, so the connection is there.
But at a deeper level, Finnish and Japanese societies are similar in the sense that the infrastructure of both countries were almost completely destroyed after the war. The old way of life was gone and urban society took over. The Moomins resembled the values of the village way of life in Japan and Finland that was dominant only two generations away in the early 20th century. So the stories bridge today’s society and values with the beginning of the 20th century. There lies the appeal and popularity of the Moomins in Japan.
In China, it is different. After years of rapid economic growth and urbanization, the people are in a state of immense wealth. The Moomin stories focused on values and they could possibly serve as a roadmap for happiness.
Moomin Characters and Bulls Press, who does the licencing for the Moomin brand, have formed a new literary rights and brand licencing agency, Rights & Brands, to expand Nordic properties worldwide. How is that doing?
Thanks for asking about that. Rights & Brand has been in business for slightly over a year and we are the biggest brand agency in the Nordic region. We work with over 50 properties and our turnover has doubled in the first year.
We only represent literary properties that represent our values. There must be a value proposition in terms of art, design and they are handcrafted. It is not entertainment.
There is demand for such values anchored properties. We do not want to offer the same things that everyone already has.
It sounds like your properties have a very strong hipster appeal. Has there been any backlash?
It might be but then again our characters, our brands and our legacy are what they are. We do not allow ourselves to tweak it to a mass market product. They have to be true to what they are. We do not alter them.
Sophia Jansson has said that the Moomins have always been like a family business. What is it like for you to join the family and join the family business?
Sophia and I are friends when I joined the company. Now we are married. It was a natural progression. Today I feel very much part of the family where before I was a hired executive.
The Moomin stories are a body of art created by Tove. We manage it and we are committed to it. I am happy that all five of our children work in the group or with companies that we are associates with.
Have there been many offers wanting to buy the Moomin brand?
During my time here, I have only received one direct offer to buy the Moomins, so it is impoosilbe for me to assess how serious it was. It is a very valuable brand and now it is more clearly defined. Rights wise, it is a much tighter package than before.
Are you looking forward to your visit to Singapore?
Yes, this will be our first time to Singapore. We have visited Thailand many times but we have not been to Singapore or Indonesia before.
I didn’t get the chance to talk to Sophia Jansson, but I asked the Moomin trolls for a quote from her. Here’s what she shared:
“My earliest memories of Tove are from our mutual summers together in the Finnish archipelago. They are memories of the family being together, going on picnics, swimming, or other similar activities you do in the summer. Tove was always a warm and welcoming person and never made me feel inferior or like a child that was in the way.”
Thanks to Paula Parviainen, Marina Kelahaara, Laura Karttunen and others in the Finland 100 team for their assistance.
All images: © Moomin Characters™
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Back in the late 1990s, when Cherian George was the art and photo editor of The Straits Times, SPH used to put out The Year in Cartoons books, compilations of the ‘best’ cartoons from the paper. They are similar to the Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year book series. Good for teaching of current affairs and social studies, but they get dated real fast. Quality varies and they serve better as visual guides to review the events of the year. Reminder of what happen to who and when.
Sales were probably not very good and The Year in Cartoons books stopped after a few years. The internet has removed the need for such books when news and images are easily found using search engines. So it is surprizing that SPH took another stab at this – a compilation of the cartoons from Lianhe Zaobao. Maybe they are testing the market. This book was launched at the Singapore Book Fair at Suntec City during the June school holidays and only about 500 copies were printed.
A total of four artists’ cartoons are featured and only cartoons dealing with local topics are compiled here. That explains why Heng Kim Song’s cartoons are not included as he draws mainly about foreign politics and not local events. Some of the topics covered: new PSLE scoring system, the maid situation in Singapore, our obsession with our mobile phones, Michelin Star hawker food, HDB flats being too small, aedes mosquitoes, and so on. You get the idea. Even if you read the papers every day, you can still learn something new from perusing this book as there might be some local news that you may have missed out.
If nothing else, this book reaffirms the fact that the best editorial cartoonist is the angriest one. And so Li Tai Li wins over the rest hands down. You can feel the seething anger rising from the lines in some of his cartoons. He does not jump from one trendy topic (eg. Pokemon) to another – he sets his targets and keeps firing. So he is at his most satirical and critical when he takes on issues about education, this whole notion of meritocracy in Singapore and how stressful a society we are. He touches on the unemployment problem we face, structural or otherwise and he saves his best bullets on the useless young adults who are still living off their parents. He is relentless. Li Tai Li deserves a book of his own.
Some suggestions to improve the book: to organize the cartoons thematically, so that it is easy for the reader to find all the cartoons about a particular topic. To include dates of original publication and to provide some context / background to the events depicted in the cartoons. Memory is short these days. Some of these events should be remembered.
Sold at $15 if you can find it. ;)
Monday, September 18, 2017
Sold at STGCC 2017 but will be having its proper launch at SWF in November (10.11.17, 8.30 pm – 9.30 pm at the Arts House), Book 10 of Ye Zhen’s Singapore Horror Hip Hop, Singapore Pok Kai Zai, is still the most far out comic series in Singapore. Skateboard P and his posse (Snoop Eastwood, Spacegirl and Kate Li, etc.) are still defending Earth from alien enemies. The new super villain is Nonpander Yingjie (where does Ye Zhen get the names from? His enemies in real life? People who stole his girlfriends in the past?) who is instigated by Skateboard P’s archenemies, the time-traveling Warbabies, the main troublemakers of the series.
Since 2008 when Ye Zhen released the first four volumes of his horror hip hop epic, comic readers have been trying to figure him out. Where did he come from? Where did he study comics? Why is he doing comics? And why these type of comics? Singapore Horror Hip hop is totally different from the stuff put out by Sonny Liew, Troy Chin, Koh Hong Teng (circa late 2000s) which are more autobiographical and ‘serious’ in nature. Ye Zhen is simply doing his own thing and you can say he does not quite fit in with the other comic creators or what readers expect of comics from Singapore.
Which, to me, is a great thing. We need variety and diversity in our comics. Even if they absurd and non-PC comics – sexy babes with tattoos fighting renegade aliens together with their Afro boyfriends who look like they are on dope and constantly getting it on with the babes to the sounds of Marvin Gaye. And these are the heroes of the series.
Artwork wise and in terms of pacing and storytelling, Ye Zhen has improved. This is evident since the last book. If you have been following the series, it is getting more fun to read. Even if you are a new reader, you will be impressed by the verve and energy of his lines and strokes.
There is a confidence at play here when Ye Zhen starts the story with our hero Skateboard P having bizarre bad dreams about an Attack on Titan experience in primary school and then witnessing the death of his mother in hospital. Except that he knows it is not his real mother, but “the one in my nonsensical dreams.” But it does not make the vision any less terrifying. There is a certain bleakness when Ye Zhen writes the lines, “I guess everybody has to sleep in a hospital bed at some point. Either sooner or later. As a baby from the start or as a victim of human regression.”
It’s almost social commentary at some point – just before the big fight, Skateboard P and Nonpander Yingjie had a heart to heart talk walking down the streets. They are like a mouthpiece for Ye Zhen and his beliefs: “This country has paid the price for its prosperity. Despite the advancements, we still have a ‘colonial state’ mindset. We have nothing important culturally to call our own but our great wealth. And no amount of wealth can change the fact that we are servants to our colonial cultural masters.”
But it is not clear what this colonial state culture is. Ye Zhen is influenced by Western music, movies and Japanese manga culture (he cited Hunter X Hunter) – are these colonial or contemporary cultures? How have they shaped us and our decisions? Ye Zhen has not quite sorted out what his heroes and villains represent – the status quo or chaos/anarchy? He may need to think harder about his characters and their motivations.
Still, it is still one hell of a read especially if you like Jo Jo Bizarre Adventures and Hong Kong kung fu comics. Singapore Pok Kai Zai is emotionally charged with kinetic energy and almost non-stop fighting.
“Even the best of us have to scream madly at some point. Together or alone, yes sir.”
The book is sold for $15 at:
Kinokuniya at Takashimaya Lvl 3
Comics World at Parklane #B1-22
Ghim Moh Book Corner 929 Ghim Moh Rd Blk 19, #1-239
Books Actually at No. 9 Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru