Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Interview with Romeo Tanghal

For DC readers of the 1980s, Romeo Tanghal would not be an unfamiliar name, especially if a fan of The New Teen Titans. Tanghal was born in the Philippines in 1943 and started working in the komik industry after he graduated from high school. He moved to the United States in 1976 to pursue a career in drawing his favourite superheroes. The rest is history. We caught up with him recently and he was kind enough to answer these questions.

Were comics something you wanted to do since young?

Yes, I loved to draw and I copied those professionals in komiks hoping to land a job like them.

What sort of pop culture were you into when you were growing up in the Philippines?

I grew up reading local komiks and imported American comics, listening to the Beatles, watching TV and English movies.

You are a self-taught artist. How did you get started in the Philippines komik scene? What were some of the komiks you drew?

I became an apprentice to one of the komik professionals and learned from him. He is not a popular one here in the US. I first started drawing cartoons until the editors gave me a trial on short love stories and then to serial novels.

Like Tony DeZuniga, Alfredo Alcala, and Nestor Redondo who moved to USA in the early 1970s, you followed suit in 1976. Can you share with us about those early days in the US?
Joe Orlando was the Editor in Chief at DC Comics and he’s familiar with these Filipino talents. When I presented my portfolio, he accepted and gave me my first break which is The Christmas Batman issue. From there on, I became a regular artist doing short stories like the House of Mystery and war stories. Then when Marv Wolfman and George Perez introduced The New Teen Titans, I was available and Joe gave me a trial and I passed. That's how I became the regular inker for almost 8/9 years until they shifted me to ink The Green Lantern.

During those days, DC had a lot of comics and always looking for artist. I was a fast inker so aside from my regular series, I also accepted other titles to do. When my contract with DC expired, I applied to Marvel and that's where I became a regular inker of Fantastic 4 over Rich Buckler. Many editors were having troubles meeting their deadlines and they always asked me if I could help them and I always obliged. I really worked very hard not like other artist who only accept one job at a time.

You are most famous for inking The New Teen Titans in the 1980s. How was the 1980s and 1990s like for you?

Having one serial book is already enough income and I have two with DC and one with Marvel. When animation was booming in California, some artists moved there to work. I joined them and still maintained my regular series in New York. I did storyboarding on the side. I almost worked 16/18 hrs a day and full time freelance during weekend. I have no life but was providing a good life to my family.

Which do you prefer: drawing or inking; team books or solo titles?

I preferred inking because I don't have to do research. There's no Google during that time and the library was the only research ‘home’ for the penciller. Also in inking, I have to give respect to the style of the penciller and just follow their lines. Pencillers get angry when they are over shadowed. So even when I see mistakes, I just go on inking it. And they liked it! Now I have a lot of so-so pages that I'm selling on Ebay, but collectors don't mind because it's history they are looking for. (Check out Comic Art Original Romeo Tanghal on Ebay; I'm a regular seller)

For solo titles, I like mystery short stories. I like it because I could practice on my inking and pencilling too… but they needed me more for just inking. I didn’t get that much chance to draw.

You have retired. How would you describe your career in the comics?

I would say I was the fastest inker and one of the most sought after for hired artist. That just accounted for a successful career. Now that I'm free from deadlines, I have all my time doing sketching and painting and that makes me a happy artist.

Can you tell us more about Sariling Atin Komiks and Maligno. Anything new on the horizon?

Sariling Atin Komiks is a long time ambition to publish. I have a very good novel that's finished and ready to be illustrated, but I ran out of time. I am too old to get back to gruelling deadlines again. No way, Jose. I'd like to enjoy my remaining years a free man and healthy person.
All my kids turned out to be artists too, good ones. But they are doing good as art directors of ad companies and in house artists of Louis Vuitton. They don't dare to tread where I went before. Hehe… they remembered when they were kids and instead of watching TV, I'll bribe them to help me with my deadlines. I put ‘X’ on the pages parts that are supposed to be inked black and they were the one doing it – with no mistakes at all! Fantastic kids.

Which is your favourite title you have worked on? I grew up on your Super Friends so that was very memorable for me.

The New Teen Titans. George Perez and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez are phenomenal! I can't wait to lay my hands on their pages whenever I got them! And they "LOVED" my inking!!! Sorry, i pencilled Super Friends but I never liked my inkers. I could do better.

What do you think of the new batch of Philippines artists like Leinil Yu and Gerry Alanguilan?

These Pilipino artists like Leinil and Gerry are the best of their time. Just like Alcala, Redondo, Coching of the past. New generation of geniuses.

Do you consider yourself as an Asian American comic artist?

I'm a naturalized American citizen now but my blood is still Pilipino. I have worked my whole career as an American comic artist…and was accepted by my peers. I must say: YES!

For more info:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Francisco V. Coching

Francisco V. Coching (1919 – 1998) is known as the Dean of Philippine Komiks. He started his cartooning career before WWII and during the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines, he was a guerrillero (guerilla) for the Kamagong Unit of the Hunters-ROTC resistance organization. His postwar komiks were stories of high adventure that inspired the next generation of komik artists. Unlike many of them, Coching never had the desire to work overseas. He was contented to write and draw his komiks, many of which were adapted into blockbusters.

I had the chance to conduct a short interview with Coching’s wife of 54 years, Filomena Nsvsles Coching who is 90 years old this year, and his grandson, Macoy Coching, 33 years old and a visual artist.

Coching is one of the pioneers of Philippine komiks. But for those in Asia who are not familiar with him and his work, how would you describe him and his impact on comics and culture in the Philippines?

Coching’s exceptional talent had inspired and guided artists, and being the only komik artist to be chosen as a National Artist in the Visual Arts in 2014, filled the gap between fine art and popular art. He is remembered as the “Dean of Philippine Comic Illustrators”, an exceptional artist and a master storyteller.

Did Coching ever wanted to work for Western comics in America, like many of the comic artists he influenced?

Coching never wanted to leave the Philippines to work for any Western komiks.

What was the private Coching like?

Coching was a great husband, a loving father and playful grandfather. His life was his work and his family.

How is the family keeping the Coching legacy alive?

We have held exhibitions of his works since 2009 in different parts of the country, even as far as New York and Hawaii. We have published 2 books, Komiks, Katha at Guhit ni Francisco V. Coching and later, The Life and Art of Francisco Coching by Patrcik Flores, which I recommend.

Lately, we have published 5 of his graphic novels but in Pilipino.

Filomena Coching wrote about her life with Coching in the International Journal of Comic Art Vol 13 No 2 (Fall 2011).

You can read more about Coching here:

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Fear of Comics

Asia always has a problem with comics from time to time. How else do you explain Singapore war heroine Elizabeth Choy’s tirade against horror comic books in the Legislative Council in November 1954. She said, “Something must be done. It is our duty to protect children from the inevitable effects of such detrimental reading material.” Mrs Choy, a teacher, was in illustrious company. 1954 was the same year that the US Senate went after comic books in America.

John Lent has devoted a chapter on Asia in his book, Pulp Demons: International Dimensions of the Postwar Anti-comics Campaign (1999). Here are my examples of once-feared Asian comics that should still be read today.

1. Little Rascals by Tony Wong (HK)

I grew up being told that the policeman will catch me if I were read the violent HK kung fu comics like Tony Wong’s Little Rascals. I remember buying my first issue of this classic comic about street fighting and the gangs of HK at a provision shop near my place, and it was sold to me all rolled up with a white piece of A4 paper. Which meant I bought the comic sight unseen. I have no idea which issue I was buying or what the cover looked like. It was like a secret transaction. I told the shopkeeper the title and he just brought out a copy from under the counter. He did not know which issue he sold me either and frankly, it did not matter.

My eyeballs nearly popped out from reading the comic. There was fighting, gratuitous violence, a rape and murder sequence, secret kung fu training. The fact that it was black and white made it all the illicit and dirty. Needless to say, I never found the next issue and till this day, I do not know if the bad guys had their comeuppance. But this was a moralistic comic. The villains always bite the dust and die a horrible death.

So it is a mystery to me why such values-laden (good vs evil and good wins) HK comics were banned in Singapore in the early 1970s. It was reported that 19,000 HK comics were confiscated and destroyed in 1971. Imagine if these 19,000 copies had reached into the hands of our young and transform their minds, our new nation would have turned out differently.

2. Komplot Penjarakan Anwar by Zunar

Zunar is currently Malaysia’s most-feared political cartoonist. Well, if you walk the straight and narrow, there is nothing to fear from him. But if you are in public office and have broken your promises to the raykat you are supposed to serve, then you are fair game.

On 24 September 2010, Zunar was arrested in his office on the very day his book, Cartoon-O-Phobia was to be launched. All the books were confiscated. The next day he was brought to the court to be charged for sedition. He chose to defend himself.

Zunar: Why was my book being confiscated?
Police: They are seditious.
Zunar: Have you read the book?
Police: No. We just confiscated them yesterday.
Zunar: Then how do you know it is seditious?
Police: Er...

Police: But if they are being sold, they will cause social unrest.
Zunar: You have confiscated all copies. How can it cause social unrest?
Police: Er…

(* not verbatim)

The judge released Zunar there and then.

Zunar is following the footsteps of pioneering political cartoonists like Thomas Nast to take down giants. None of his books are on sale in Malaysian bookshops. You have to buy them online from him. But the printers who print his books are being harassed by the police. And now the authorities are demanding the credit card information of people who brought his books online.

But Zunar is taking it in his stride. The last time I saw him, he was in Singapore for the Singapore Alternative Art and Book Festival in November 2014. He told me while on his way here, he received a call to report to the police for questioning about his latest book, Komplot Penjarakan Anwar (Plot to Jail Anwar). He told them he will report when he get back to KL. Zunar has yet to run away from a fight.

3. Sanmao by Zhang Leping

When the Japanese invaded China in 1937 and ignited the second Sino-Japanese war, the Chinese cartoonists took up their pens to defend their country. While I do not know if any of them were on the Japanese army hit list, the work by the likes of Feng Zikai and Liao Bingxiong were devastating in terms of hitting out at the foreign invaders and boosting the morale of the Chinese readers. But they were not jingoistic as they clearly depicted the pity of war. More than ten years ago, I wrote about these two pioneers in Rosetta Vol 2 (Alternative Comics, 2004).

Another cartoonist who drew about the war was Zhang Leping, who chose to show the impact of the conflict from on ordinary street urchins. He was already famous for his wordless comic strip, San Mao, when the war broke out in 1937. His ubiquitous orphan was sent to war and the cruelty of the enemy was exposed for all to witness. When the war ended, San Mao returned to Shanghai to find a cruel and corrupt capitalistic society. It was a critique of Kuomintang rule and the latter did not take it too kindly.

At the 2014 Angouleme Comic Festival, Fei Editions released the first ever French edition of San Mao comics. I had the good opportunity to chat with publisher Xu Ge Fei and Zhang’s son, Zhang Weijun about the book. (see photo) They shared with me the long process of bringing San Mao to Europe. They were confident that the book would do well in France. Their optimism reminded me of San Mao himself, that little rascal whose indomitable spirit represented hope for China in the 1940s and does so today.

4. Okay, the final one. About a comic that deserves greater attention. A comic that people do not know about. Ever wonder what happen when the censored censors someone else? This is a true story.

Back in 1992, I was the guy putting together the comic pages for BigO. In the September issue (#81), we launched three regular strips. Michael Ng was one of the artists. But the gem was MITA by Johnny Lau, one of the creators of Mr Kiasu.

Some context: Mr Kiasu premiered at the Singapore Book Fair in 1990 to great success. By 1992, it was a bona fide hit. Johnny and his partners, James Suresh and Lim Yu Cheng started Comix Factory and were about to launch another title, The Neow Brothers. So Johnny was hot property. I interviewed him for BigO and subsequently invited him to contribute comics to the magazine again. He accepted.

By this time, Mr Kiasu had come under attack by some members of the public for its portrayal of the kiasu trait and its use of Singlish in comics. Johnny had his fair share of run-ins with the moral majority, the censorship board and MITA – the Ministry of Information and The Arts. He did not take it lying down. And BigO, a rebel rouser in its own right who challenged MITA almost on a monthly basis on what was allowed or disallowed in a rock magazine in Singapore, was the perfect place for Johnny to say his piece. Or so it seems.

Johnny drew MITA, a satirical strip set in Singapore in 2034 where society is run by the Language Police, who arrest people who speak broken English. The top cop is MITA, a cyborg that is a cross between Robocop and the Terminator. MITA shows no mercy. He shoots you if you put a ‘what’ at the end of a sentence, has no qualms about punching a foul mouth woman in the face and rips your hand out if you give him the middle finger. MITA is scarier than Judge Dredd.

Johnny must have been influenced by the Robocop movies and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, released just the year before. The almost gratuitous violence and the noir look also took from the comics Frank Miller released in 1992 – Robocop vs Terminator and Sin City. This is especially so for the latter. Johnny was using heavy blacks, thick lines and the strip had a painted feel. It was nothing like Johnny had done before. MITA was an expression of Johnny’s anger at the censorship rules in Singapore.

All was well for the first two instalments. Then came the third episode, which introduced MITA’s nemesis, Mouth, whose Hokkien bad words have an explosive power. Literally. Two punks’ heads exploded when Mouth swore at them. It was no holds barred for Johnny in how he showed Mouth’s power.

And that was the problem. Look at this page and tell me what you see or ‘hear’.

Anatomy of the third page of the third episode of MITA: in the first panel the two punks realised Mouth was approaching and they were trembling in fear. One of them said, “Oh shoot!” We only see a portion of a silhouette of Mouth’s face. He is in the shadows. (Background sound effect: KA)

The second panel: the two punks are really scared now. “No No”. Mouth is still in the shadows but there is no background sound effect for this panel.

The third panel constitutes the reminding 2/3 of the page. The two punks had blood spurting out of their heads, eyeballs shooting out of their sockets. A gruesome scene. This panel has no borders, as if to imply the explosive power of Mouth is so tekong that no borders can contain it. Background sound effect was a big NA!

An impressive page by any standard. It creates the mystery of how Mouth looks like; we see his power first before seeing him. This page delays his full appearance, which is only revealed on page 4, the last page of the instalment. This was economical but effective comics drawing.

But Johnny was angry as hell when he saw the published comic. You see, the sound effects were not nonsensical. They were the essence of Mouth’s power: KA NI NA! And the power of the page was diminished when you realize that the NI was liquid papered out by the editors of BigO. Johnny was censored by people who were censored by the authorities before.

I do not really know why that was done. Perhaps the magazine had too many warnings from MITA in the previous months. And KA NI NA! might just be a breaking point if they were not careful. But this act of self-censorship broke Johnny’s trust in the magazine. He was so pissed that he tore up the pages of Part 4 that he was working.

That is the real pity of MITA. It was never continued, completed or compiled. But now you know the story. A lost classic in the annals of Singapore comics history.

MITA appeared in:
BigO #81 (Sept 1992) MITA (P) 55/9/91
BigO #82 (Oct 1992) MITA (P) 29/9/92
BigO#83 (Nov 1992) MITA (P) 29/9/92

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Interview with Dave Ross

Marvel/DC artist, Dave Ross will be in town to do a book event at Kinokuniya (Ngee Ann City) this Saturday 9.1.16 at 2 pm. Ross visited Singapore before in the 1980s and am glad to be back in this part of the world. He is here to promote his new book, Freehand Figure Drawing for Illustrators. Be there and get the chance to talk to a pro who started out in the 1980s.

Tell us more about yourself, Dave. Where are you from, where did you learn to be a master of your trade and how did you get into the business?

I learned initially through books, so you might say I was primarily self-taught. Favourite source material - the Andrew Loomis books, George Bridgeman, and to a lesser degree Burne Hogarth. There was also a lot of intensive study of my favourite comic book artists as well. And a little 'osmosis' through meeting comics pros and semi-pros over time, and of course picking their brains! In terms of formal training, I went to Sheridan College and studied classical Animation.

You studied animation at Sheridan – how did that come about? Did you always want to be an animator? What were some of your favourite cartoons and animation movies when you were growing up?

Initially I went to Sheridan to take a cartooning program, but I was 'poached' by a couple of Animation students, and convinced to switch. The classical training I received in the Animation program was invaluable. There were excellent lessons on storytelling/ storyboarding and on drawing freehand figures. The latter stressed natural posing, with an eye towards body language, maintaining equilibrium, or deliberately shifting the centres of gravity under characters when they were in motion. all of this was indispensable later in the comics work. As far as favourite cartoons, I loved the old Disney classics, and in particular their overall colour finish. They were lush, compared to the colour finish in the comics that I grew up with.

Why did you turn to comics instead?

Comics and the amazing artwork associated with them, was always my first love. After spending a couple of years working in the animation industry, I started seriously illustrating short comic book stories, and preparing sample sequences for Marvel and DC Comics.
Who were some of the more established names among your cohort at Sheridan? Do you wish you had gone into animation instead?
Some of my fellow students from Sheridan College went on to become major 'players' in their field - senior animators, series creators, and layout artists. Personally I have no regrets over the choices I made. I followed my first love, and carved out a career for myself.

What was your first work at Marvel /DC?

I illustrated an early story for Marvel centred around Carol Danvers that was written by Chris Claremont. After that I did two major projects for DC Comics - a Batman and The Outsiders Annual featuring the marriage of Metamorpho and Saphirre Stagg and Star Trek Annual presenting a prequel to the first episode of the TV series - purportedly the first adventure of the Enterprise with Captain Kirk at the helm.

Many fans first came across your work when you took over Alpha Flight from John Byrne (also another Canadian) in the 1980s. Was that a daunting task?

Alpha Flight was the first full-fledged series that I worked on. Following in John Byrne's footsteps wasn't daunting, but the work schedule certainty was! The stories were packed with drawing challenges with pages averaging about 6 to 7 panels each, and of course so much of it had to be 'on model'.

What are some of your recent comic projects?

I have recently completed work on a project to be published by Renegade Press called Necromantic. It's an all Canadian production with both the writer Lovern Kindzierski, and the colorist Chris Chuckry hailing from Winnipeg, Manitoba. The finished look that Chris is giving to this book is beautiful!

Are there any creator-owned titles of yours that you would like tell us about?

I developed a series a number of years ago that was published by EVENT COMICS called THRAX. One issue was published at that time.

You visited Singapore and Southeast Asia in the late 1980s / early 1990s – can you tell us more about those trips? From your observations, how have Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia changed?

In the early 1990's I travelled through some of the countries of S.E. Asia, first on my own, and then with my wife Judi. Between us we visited Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. Changes? To put it succinctly - DEVELOPMENT, DEVELOPMENT, DEVELOPMENT!!!

What prompted this recent trip to Singapore and Malaysia?

The first visit was all about sightseeing. I was intrigued by the range of different cultures in the region, and that there was a strong appreciation of drawing and more specifically the art of comic illustration throughout the S.E. Asian countries. In the intervening years I have taken up teaching the craft of Comics Illustration at a post-secondary level. This time around I wanted to share with students some of the methodology we comic artists use to do professional work in the 'industry'. I have a new instructional book, published by Random House that will help them to do just that.

Monday, October 19, 2015

SWF 2015: Interview with Ken Liu

The Singapore Writers Festival is round the corner and one of the guests I am looking forward to to meeting is Ken Liu. You could say he writes science fiction, but he has his own opinion on that. He has just released his first novel, The Grace of Kings, after written many award-winning short stories. He is also a translator of Chinese science fiction.

Q: Tell us about The Grace of Kings which I really enjoy.

The Grace of Kings is the story of two unlikely friends, a bandit and a duke, who grow to be as close as brothers during the fight to overthrow an evil empire, only to find themselves on opposing sides of a struggle for the definition of a just society once the rebellion succeeds.

I describe the novel as a “silkpunk epic fantasy,” by which I mean that I’m writing with and against the tradition of Western epic fantasy—as began by Tolkien—by infusing it with an East-Asia-inspired aesthetic (both technological and philosophical) that embraces, extends, and challenges fantasy/historical tropes that are assumed to have medieval European or classical East Asian origins.

The story is based on a loose re-imagining of the historical legends surrounding the rise of the Han Dynasty in a secondary world archipelago setting. This is a world of politics and intrigue, of love purified and corrupted, of rebelling against tyranny and seeing one's ideals compromised, of friendships forged and sundered by the demands of war and statecraft. There are vain and jealous gods, clever princesses who overcome massive armies, battle-kite-riding assassins who hold on to the honor and glory of another age, queens and generals who strive for those who cannot fight, and teachers with magical tomes that tell the future written in our hearts.

Q: You have said that The Grace of Kings is about rebellion and change, and questioning the world. What sort of punk music do you listen to?

I tend to resist the idea of identifying "punk" with "punk music" – the very notion of rebellion is as old as there has been power and authority. I do think Mata Zyndu, my flying-kite-riding, massive-sword-wielding, no-prisoner-taking warrior would make a pretty good lead singer for a punk rock band.

Q: Which are your favourite wuxia novels and writers?

I haven't been able to find much contemporary wuxia that I enjoy, alas — though many Chinese-language and English-language writers are incorporating wuxia elements into other genres in interesting ways.

I think Jin Yong's accomplishments in traditional wuxia have never been surpassed

Q: Do you consider yourself a Chinese writer, an Asian-American writer or a writer of speculative fiction?

I'm an American writer, and I think all fiction is speculative insofar as it is the convention of art to literalize metaphors. I write with and against the Anglo-American literary tradition, a tradition that has been enriched and challenged by its imperial stance and history.

Q: Do you think your stories and translation change readers’ perception of what is Chinese science fiction?

My own stories are only sometimes "science fiction" (though I don't much care about genre labels) and always American, so readers coming to them to look for "Chinese science fiction" would be very disappointed. :)

As for the translations, I've always had only one goal: share stories that I love (like Liu Cixin's breathtaking The Three-Body Problem or Chen Qiufan's trenchant and thrilling The Waste Tide) with other readers so that even those who don't read Chinese get to enjoy them with me. I tend not to think in terms of broad, ill-defined categories like "Chinese science fiction," preferring to treat each work and writer as individuals, and I hope Anglophone readers who read my translations do the same.

Q: You talked about how traditional Chinese culture tries to avoid open conflict, preferring to find a way to encompass differences without losing distinctions. You said that a lot of your fiction is driven by this way of viewing the world. But the ending of The Grace of Kings and the final fate of Mata Zyndu seem to go against that. Kuni Garu went for winner takes all. Has there been a shift in your thinking about power and conflict?

You have quoted from an interview I did with Betsy Huang (

"In many Western ideas about conflict, there’s this notion that one must pick a side, and that there must be a right side and a wrong side, and that to be on the right side, you must defeat the wrong side. That is almost never how classical Chinese philosophy deals with conflict. Confucianism in particular has a deep aversion to that view of conflict. In Chinese culture, when there are two very different or opposing views, the tendency and the instinct are to combine or harmonize them rather than to pick one over the other. This frustrates Westerners a great deal."

Note the many qualifiers I put in there – they’re important.

I like to read the fate of Mata Zyndu in this context. Without spoiling the book too much, there isn't a clear winner when the ending is viewed through classical Chinese philosophy (which is, in any event, far more diverse than Confucianism). Indeed, there isn't a clear winner when viewed through a Western lens either. Mata Zyndu may have died, but that isn't the same as total defeat.

Q: How does one deal with representations and stereotypes in literature?

Literature is just a part of culture, and culture is constructed by all of us. The only way for culture to be redeemed from harmful and limiting stereotypes is for all of us to demand creators do better and to participate vocally in the construction of our shared global culture.

Q:Have you considered adapting any of your stories into comics or movies? How do you think silkpunk would translate into a visual format?

I think silkpunk would look fantastic. I'd love to see The Grace of Kings and my short stories adapted into a visual medium.

Q: Why is history important in speculative fiction?

There's this idea that art shouldn't be about what happened – but we're all products of history. The injustices of the past led to the imbalances of power in the world we must confront today, and as long as art is intended to be interpreted and consumed by audiences who must live in the real world, history will shape the interpretation of art.

Q: Do you think character is fate?

Probably depends on the definition of "character" and of "fate". I like to think that we are shaped by the world but we also shape it.

Q: The needs of many outweigh the needs of one or is it the other way round? (obligatory Star Trek reference question)

Neither. I don't trust any moral principle that can be reduced to an equation.

Q: Great men are products of their times or do great men create the times?

Ha! I'm afraid that this question will soon cease to be meaningful when we all live under the rule of machines far surpassing us in intelligence. By the way, this is why I always say nice things about our soon-to-be robot overlords.

You can catch Ken Liu at these SWF panels:

Featuring: SP Somtow, Ken Liu
Moderated by: Terence Chua
Date: 31 October, Saturday
Time: 2.30pm – 3.30pm
Venue: The Arts House, The Japan Foundation Play Den

From epic fantasy to science fiction, these modes of speculative fiction have emerged from both the East and the West in uniquely inflected ways. SP Somtow and Ken Liu discuss the emergence of Asian speculative fiction and its place in contemporary literature.

Featuring: Ken Liu, Stephanie Ye, O Thiam Chin
Moderated by: Philip Holden
Date: 1 November, Sunday
Time: 11.30am – 12.30pm
Venue: The Arts House, The Japan Foundation Play Den

“A short story is the ultimate close-up magic trick – a couple of thousand words to take you around the universe or break your heart,” opines Neil Gaiman. Some of today’s best proponents of the art form – American Ken Liu and Singaporeans, Stephanie Ye and O Thiam Chin – will analyse the craft.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

AFA 2015: Interview with Anthony Kang

STGCC 2015 has come to an end. As we prepare for the next major fan convention in Singapore, the Anime Festival Asia (AFA), we had the chance to interview Anthony Kang, Founder and Festival Chairman of AFA, which will take place at Suntec Convention Centre from 27 to 29 November. This homegrown event has grown from strength to strength since it started in 2008. It grew from an attendance of 27,000 to 90,000 last year. It has since ventured into Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. In fact, the Indonesian edition will be happening this month from 25 to 27 September.
We get from skinny from Anthony.

How has the anime market grown since you guys started in 2008?

The market has grown by leaps and bounds. In our first year in 2008, we had about close to 20,000 people attending the two-day festival. Last year we recorded close to 100,000 people over a 3-day festival. Our festival space has since doubled – in 2008, we occupied two halls in Suntec International Convention & Exhibition Centre. Last year, we occupied four halls.

In the ASEAN region, Indonesia has seen phenomenal growth; hence more and more Japanese content companies are focusing on that market.
Currently, how big is the pop culture market in Singapore in terms of monetary terms?

I’m afraid I would not be able to tell you about the size of the Singapore market in monetary terms as there are no official bodies in Singapore tracking that. I suspect the market has annual growth of at least about 15-20% year on year. This is derived by observing the increasing activities pertaining to J pop culture.

How do you decide who to invite as guests?

For festival content, we usually put our ears to the ground by getting feedback from anime enthusiasts, fans and otaku. We try to introduce new contents at each annual event as much as we can to give fans a greater perspective of the entire anime world.

AFA attracts attendees from Asia and Southeast Asia. AFA has gone to Malaysia (2012), Indonesia (2012-15) and Thailand (2015) - what prompted this move and any other Asian countries that you want to start an anime con?

The key reason why we do satellite AFA events in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand is mainly because of fans’ demand and request. There are many fans is these countries who have heard about AFA but are unable to come to the annual Singapore festival for one reason or another. So we thought it would be good if we could bring a smaller scale event to their respective countries. So far, Indonesia has been the best market outside Singapore and it has the greatest growth potential. On demand and request, we recently staged the “I Love Anisong” concert in the annual anime event in Sydney, Australia, called SMASH. And we are now exploring staging AFA in Manila in 2016.

Has there been more competition since 2008? – STGCC in Singapore, and also in Jakarta (Popcon, Indonesia Comic Con), Malaysia (Comic Fiesta) and Bangkok? There are also various cosplay events in Singapore in recent years.

We do not see the aforementioned events as our direct competitors. In fact they are complementary to AFA. And it is also a good way for our fans to distinguish AFA from such events as then they can see the real uniqueness of AFA once they have visited the other events. Not to sound boastful, we think there’s no other event parallel to AFA in the market.

What role does AFA play in the development of the local anime/manga scene? How does it promote local animators, writers, artists, publishers, cosplayers?

At AFA each year we put aside space to accommodate local creators, be they animators, writers, artists, cosplayers, etc to promote local talent. In fact, quite a number of local talent have been spotted by either our content participants/exhibitors or visitors from Japan over the years and some of them are now gainfully employed by the J companies. Quite interestingly, we also have four of our maids in the Moe Moe Kyun maid café (in AFA) spotted by talent scouts in 2009 (I think) and brought to Japan for training as a new idol group called SEA-A.

Are there more people in Singapore watching anime, reading manga and cosplaying as a result of AFA?

Yes, I believe AFA has ignited and spurred the popularity of Japanese anime over the last 8 years. There’s increased anime content on both local free-to-air and cable TV stations, more toys and manga shops and even more cosplay events being held by the various cosplay groups. Perhaps there are not enough J pop culture events that anime cosplayers are even flocking to events like STGCC and the DBS River Regatta. And where else can you see a 68 year old aunty happily cosplaying popular anime characters?

It's a few more months before AFA 2015 in November at Suntec - how hectic has it been?

The pace of organizing the festival is the same as when we started the first event in 2008. Although it’s double in size now and in the number of content participants, the pace is more or less the same as over the years we have developed standard operating procedures in many aspects of the organizational functions. And we also employ more people now; especially one month prior when we take in freelance employees to prepare for the launch of the event.

What is the future of anime / manga in Singapore and in Asia?

AFA has helped to position Singapore as the regional hub for the anime industry and events in Southeast Asia. AFA is well-known among all the industry players including anime artistes in Japan - so much so that every year we have requests from new artistes to come and perform in our events. It is also an event recognized by the Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry (METI) in Japan to help propel and grow the industry outside Japan. And we are pleased and honoured to play that part.

Further reflections from Anthony

I’m not too much into comics but I’m certainly glad to know that our artists have made inroad by winning awards overseas like the International Manga Award in Japan.

It’s a pity that the Singapore market is not big enough to encourage and support the comics market unlike the Indonesian market which has seen phenomenal growth over recent years.

Hence, the potential for our local creators is to look beyond our shores with storylines that are universal and appealing to the overseas audience. A good case is our locally produced animation movie, “Sing to the Dawn” which is based on a Singapore-centric storyline but failed to succeed beyond our shores.

It would be a waste if our local talents are not given opportunities to polish and shine their skills. One way is for them to go and explore in markets with huge potential for their skills; like in Indonesia. Also the local comics community need to band together to think of ways and strategies on how to help our locally produced comics succeed overseas.
Having been involved in the creative fields over the last three decades and in my current semi-retirement mode, I believe I could and I should help develop our young talents and the creative industry to put Singapore abreast and on top with the best in the world.

Hence, I'm still involved in the business and voluntary work related to such.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Not A Crime! An Interview with Kazimir Lee Iskander

A few weeks ago, I came across the comic story, Not A Crime by Malaysia born cartoonist, Kazimir Lee Iskander. It is a story about the arrest and discrimination faced by trans women in Malaysia and a particular incident that happened in Negeri Sembilan in June 2014. It came out of nowhere and it's really one of the best things I've read this year. I tracked down Kazimir to get the lowdown on him and his work.

Not A Crime is a fascinating story. If you have not drawn about it, most of us would not know about the Jempol arrests in Malaysia in June 2014. How did you get to know about it (you were in Malaysia at that time) and what made you want to do a story about this?

I had done some work with Thilaga, who is one of the members of Justice For Sisters (JFS – the group that helped the trans women after they were arrested), prior to learning about the Jempol arrests. Thilaga and I did some work with Food Not Bombs, another excellent lefty NGO. Thilaga actually put me on the Seksualiti Mederka (the Malaysian equivalent of Pride) and JFS mailing list, so I was informed about the Jempol arrests the night it happened, and watched it unfold over the week. I really wanted to make work that showed outsiders the state of Malaysian activism, that there were actually a lot of wonderful people working to fight bigotry and fundamentalism every day.

The story has been featured in Slate and a 1-page version of it is on the Guardian #OpenComics project. Have more people written to you about this story and wanting to find out more about the Section 66 law in Malaysia?

Yes! People normally contact me through my website. It's amazing to be able to refer people to the JFS homepage and it's really heartening to see so many people show interest in Malaysia's LGBT scene too. It's an amazing scene.

What are your politics?

I am a dyed in the wool leftist. I consider myself a feminist and advocate for LGBT (IQA) rights as well, though I guess time will tell if I can make a difference or if I'm just another middle class man shooting his mouth off. I'm also increasingly passionate about sex work decriminalization and worker's rights.

I looked through your website. There are many comics and animation which most people are not aware of - where have you been doing your work and where have you been published?

I am currently in grad school, but I spent the last few years working freelance, so a lot of my work is either published solely on the internet (through my website or tumblr) or self-published to sell at conventions.

Your bio stated that you have lived in Malaysia, USA and the UK - where were you from originally and what/where did you study/work?

I lived in Malaysia for the first 12 years of my life. Then I went to boarding school in the UK, in Tonbridge, Kent. I received my BFA in Animation at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

How would you describe your comic style - more American/Western?

I suppose my style is somewhat western or European, although Malaysian comics have been very influenced by publications like MAD magazine, and I draw from that as well.

What are your influences? What sort of comics did you grow up reading in Malaysia? Lat?

I grew up reading a lot of Tintin, Lat, Gila-Gila, MAD magazine, Ren and Stimpy comics, and standard superhero stuff.

You are currently doing a MA in cartooning at the Center for Cartoon Studies - how did that come about? Something you have always wanted to do? How is the course so far and who are teaching you?

The course is amazing. I feel like there could be more support for international students, but I think the course is always evolving and learning from its mistakes, so I think that will change. I really wanted to make more work that was overtly political, and there was no room for that in animation, so I decided to make comics instead. I feel privileged to have some really amazing course instructors, including Stephen Bissette, James Sturm and Jason Lutes. We get so much hands-on advice and instruction from these award winning creators, there is really no other school like this one.

What do you hope to achieve with your comics and animation?

I hope to reach a wide audience and hopefully entertain people while engaging with their politics. I want to make great art and bring people together, and make them laugh and cry.

Finally, a comment on what's happening in Malaysia right now..

It's disgusting how the culture of corruption and racial supremacy has eaten away at our democracy for so long. I can hardly even call it a democracy anymore, since the elections are so dirty. I am deeply disappointed that our leaders operate with the implicit approval of the West (because said leaders sell themselves as 'Islamic moderates' and are willing to sign the TPP).However, just this weekend we had a giant pro-transparency march that my amazing activist mother attended (I am so proud of her) so I have to believe things can change for the better.