Sunday, October 26, 2014

David Hine

British comic writer David Hine is coming next week for SWF.

It will be good to hear from someone who has written for the mainstream in American comics and also worked on his own projects, and how he balanced between the two. While Hine has shared that he encountered changes made to his scripts for DC and Marvel, by and large, he was able to push certain boundaries in some of his stories for Marvel.

Rereading Civil War: X-Men (2006) and Silent War (2007), I noticed both dealt with the issue of American treatment of 'terrorists', which Hine was critical of. I asked him if he encountered any editorial difficulties and he replied that no one at Marvel seemed to notice the Guantanamo references!

But he did have more problems later at DC with depiction of jihadists and the American role in Afghanistan. There were several captions and dialogue balloons which were dropped from his script when the printed version appeared. Still, he managed to get away with depicting the Pope as a demon in Azrael.

(this would not be new in British comics – just see Pat Mill’s Nemesis the Warlock)

In the meantime, do check out these books, my top 3 of Hine’s work:

Strange Embrace (Image Comics)
The Bulletproof Coffin Vol 1 and 2 (Image Comics)
The Man Who Laughs (Self Made Hero)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Marvel Civil War

With the breaking news of the new Marvel movie being based on the 2006 series, Civil War, thought I share this old piece from 8 years ago I wrote for ST. The local example is dated but American involvement in the Middle East is still happening. Homeland Season 4 has just started and it continues to explore this.

British writer David Hine is coming for SWF and the Civil War: X-Men spin-off series he wrote deals with the fallout of American internment of mutant 'terrorists'.

The comic books remain relevant.


AFTER more than 40 years, Spiderman has decided to unmask himself and reveal to the rest of the world that he is Peter Parker. What could be seen as a publicity stunt by Marvel Comics, publisher of the Spiderman comic books, for its annual summer crossover event (meaning you have to buy various series to get the whole story) is actually a clever usage of popular culture.

The revealing of Spiderman's secret identity is part of a larger storyline called Civil War. In this, a fight gone wrong has led to the American public turning against the superheroes. The government quickly calls for the registration and unmasking of all heroes and vigilantes. Battle lines are drawn, with the heroes split into two opposing camps. On one side, you have those in favour of the enactment of the Superhuman Registration Act, seen as the way forward for heroes - led by Iron Man - to do what they have to do. The other side, led surprisingly by Captain America, is against government control of heroism. They start an underground resistance movement. You can guess which side Spiderman is on.

Granted that this is not a new concept in comic books as it has been explored before in Kingdom Come and even the X-Men series and movies, Civil War's take on this 'brother-versus-brother' theme is timely. The only thing more exciting to comic fans than a slugfest between the good guys and the bad guys is a slugfest between the good guys and the good guys. For example, who is stronger - Superman or the Hulk?

Of course, the Civil War series is a throwback to the American Civil War of the 19th century, which forged a new destiny for the United States. It is also a reference to the public divide created during the McCarthy era of the 1950s. But closer to our times, Civil War speaks to Americans of the divisions within their society over the actions of the US government both at home and abroad. A more explicit statement against America's interference in the Middle East is found in The Ultimates, where the tables are turned on the heroes after they cross the line to invade a rogue state, expanding beyond the jurisdiction of what constitutes 'homeland security'. Indeed, in The New Avengers, the bad guys are the government agency for national security. Popular culture has the ability to entertain and reflect public sentiment in the most interesting and accessible manner. Sadly, we see less of that in Singapore.

Last week, as the media was awash with news of Spiderman's unveiling, I visited the Fiction@Love exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum. The show is said to explore the 'concerns related to the satire and fantasy of love' through the contemporary medium of 'Animamix Art' - that is, a combination of comics, graphic design, animation, manga and anime in art. But it didn't quite work. The tension between high-brow art and low-brow pop culture remained in the works displayed. Whatever the message was that the show attempted to convey, it is doubtful if the audience grasped it. Nothing was more telling than the interactive tour, which featured a reading of the exhibits using the texts of Neil Gaiman and Hermann Hesse. No one in the audience of about 20 had heard of either of these authors. This disjuncture between how popular culture is reinterpreted in the Singapore Art Museum and how a popular medium like comic books is used to reflect public sentiment in America provides much food for thought. Recent discussions on Singapore's culture and identity have not considered the role that can be played by contemporary pop culture of films and graphic images. As Spiderman has reminded us, pop culture can be expressions of not just who we are but of what we are thinking about.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Interview with Alan Quah

Some of you would be familiar with the work of Alan Quah, a regular at our comic con. Here's an interview with the emerging pro.

Name: Alan Quah
Age: 46

How did you get started? (eg. first break and first titles?)
I started drawing at a very young age (4+) and got my first break when NST's Daniel Chan (who wrote the biweekly comic column) got a group of young local artists and published APAzine back in 1985.

How important was it to build a fan base in your own home country first, ie. you were already working on comic titles in your own home country before sending your work overseas?
To be honest, I never really had a fan base in my own country when I started out, I did a couple of gigs for local comics like Fantasi and some humour magazines in the 80's. Of course back then my work was very amateurish, I was 15 or 16 then. I quit drawing comics in the 90's, worked in Advertising and eventually formed my own small agency, ET CETERA. In 2005, I decided to come out from my art sabbatical and started drawing again and got my first gig on The Eldrich for Comics Conspiracy, an Indy publisher. And thanks to social media like Facebook, I get to show more of my work to the world and this is when the communication with the fans started. I also got noticed by "important" people in the industry and eventually got myself represented by talent managers to reach out to the publishers.
My real break came last year when I was involved in DC's The Vampire Diaries and Legendary Comics' Godzilla Awakening.

Do you have an agent?
Yes, I am currently represented by Space Goat Productions LLC.

Pros and cons of working in your home country instead of being based in the West? (eg. Working relationship with writers and editors? More/less opportunities to meet fans and receive feedback?)
I would think the pros would be the conversion rate, I earn US dollars which amount to a good pay check here. The cons are definitely meeting the fans and editors face to face, but with the internet it helps a lot, they still get to connect with me almost instantly. I missed out on the opportunity on comic convention appearances a lot, something that I would like to do more often in the near future.

An interesting story that happened to you while working on a title?
When I was working on my Godzilla assignment, I was afflicted with Bell's Palsy, a condition that paralysed the right side of my face. I can't blink and move my the right side of my eye and mouth, that proved to be a burden to draw. I can't stay up straight for more than 20 mins and have to lie down a lot. But deadline is nearing, the publisher didn't know I was sick and because it was a major project I persevered to meet my deadline. It took me longer to draw a page, I stay up till late to keep up with the deadline, drawing for 15 mins, lie down for 20 mins until I complete a page everyday and upload my page as usual. I eventually met my deadline with 3 days to spare and when the publisher found out about my condition they were very happy with my professionalism. That opened a lot of doors.

What are the advantages and/or challenges of being a freelancer?
The biggest challenge is getting regular work, there are times when the gigs don't come for months and I have to keep myself sharp, artistically by drawing commissions and sketches.

Do you do comics fulltime or do you have to take on other assignments?
I am still running my advertising agency while working on comics.

You had an exhibition in Taipei recently. Tell us about it.
The Taiwan trip, is a Joint Venture between Malaysia's Roots Studio (founded by Lau Shaw Ming and Michael Chuah) and Taiwan's Flying Fish Creative, sponsored by the Cultural Affairs Department, New Taipei City. The event is New Taipei City ACG Festival. My exhibition is part of the festival to promote comics and manga art, cosplay, games and toys. It was very well promoted via media coverage, and the exhibition hall was also well designed with 3 rooms dedicated to the exhibition. To date the event has exceeded 20,000 people. The Taiwan crowd is amazing, very well mannered people and I enjoyed my stay there.

Advice for new artists trying to break into the industry?
Don't be lazy! Keep drawing and challenging yourself to draw better than your last piece. Never be satisfied with what you are doing currently and to have an open mind to learn everyday. I am still learning and never plan to stop.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

STGCC 2014

Singapore seems to have gotten more expensive. For fans who attended the 2014 edition of STGCC, the cost of attending the convention has gone up. This year, the cost of a VIP pass is $70 and it’s $25 for a 2-day pass. If you just want to attend it for one day, it’s $19. Prices have increased from last year.

Getting a convention sketch from the invited guests is not cheap too. According to info provided by SCK members, Humberto Ramos charged $125 for a b&w bust (head and torso) drawing and $250 for a colour one. David Mack, who also came in 2013, has kept his prices constant. $150 for a simple brush and ink and $300 for a detailed drawing. Harvey Tolibao has remained affordable and charged $100 for a convention sketch, which is value for money. As a comparison, regional and local artists were charging between $10-$20 for sketches.

This is also the first year that an artist, Ramos, was charging for autographs - $6 for any comic drawn by him but $20 for Amazing Spiderman #1. A local artist who queued up for Ramos’ autograph was surprised that he had to pay. But there were reports that Ramos would sketch and autograph for little kids for free.

For regulars at the Artists’ Alley, the cost of getting a booth has also gone up, which makes it harder for them to turn in a profit or breakeven. A recent article highlighted it’s more difficult for artists, even established ones, to cover their cost at conventions.

(although it is interesting that Mark Brooks said in the comments of the above post that he did make money at some conventions and listed STGCC as one of them)

While I would not put the blame solely on cosplayers (as the article did) or the heavy emphasis on toys and games at STGCC, it could be a continuing trend for artists to charge more for convention sketches and to charge for autographs. In overseas conventions, you need to pay to have your photo taken with the artists too. This is following the norm of actors (especially Star Wars and Game of Throne) charging for autographs and photo taking. A friend paid top dollar for an autograph by Carrie Fisher at a London convention recently.

Still, STGCC, being the major comic event in Singapore, has something for almost everyone. Andy Price, the artist of My Little Pony, was there to appeal to the kiddies. For the rock fans, it was cool to meet Frank Kozik in person. And STGCC should be given credit for highlighting young and upcoming artists like Aaron Kim Jacinto from the Philippines, brought in through an arrangement with Komikon. Local artists are still turning up in force at the Artists’ Alley to hawk their wares such as Jerry Teo (Rex Regrets), Ray Toh ( ) and 24 Hour Comic Day alumnus, Benjamin Chee (Charsiew Space). Newcomer Shiuan was also offering her LKY Cosplay Prints, which were very popular. New science educational comic, JJ’s Science Adventure by former primary science Aurelia Tan, was an entertaining read done in a style reminiscent of Osamu Tezuka.

Books Actually has gotten into the comic book publishing act through their Math Paper imprint. But fans would have noticed that the latest volume of The Resident Tourist is more costly now as compared to a few years ago, which is the reality of publishing in Singapore today. At other fronts, it is encouraging that local and regional comic shops are making an appearance at STGCC, other than regulars such as GnB Comics. This is the first year that Comic Odyssey (the Philippines) and Atom Comics set up booths at STGCC, offering new and back issues of collectibles. Hopefully it was worth their while for them to come back next year. A representative of CGC Comics was also at the con to offer advice to collectors.

Despite its commercial leanings, STGCC is still that once-a-year occasion that you catch up with old friends and make new ones. Sales may not be great for some artists, but attending the con was a way to connect with the local and regional comic community. It was good catching up with Andie Tong (who has a new comic written by Stan Lee), Leong Wan Kok of 1000tentacles, Chris Lie of Caravan Studios (who came with his studio and an impressive range of books) and Lefty Kam (Gilamon) for that annual beer outside the convention hall. And it was great to meet some of the Singapore Comic Kakis who launched their inaugural newsletter, put together in time for the con.

I did a few interviews with the invited guests of the con. These are some of the choice quotes from the sessions:

I’ve been living in LA since 2005, and before that we were living in San Diego. Basically you still need to be out there to network and have that human connection with the editors and writers. If you just stay on in your home country, you might be pigeonholed by the DC or Marvel editors as outsourced labour. My advice is that you need to solve problems for others to prove that you are useful to the people in the industry. You need to see the whole bigger picture of how you can build your career.
- Philip Tan on drawing for mainstream comics as a career.

The best thing is that you get to connect with the people who support your work, the fans. The worst thing is the food. Convention centre food is not very good. And you are tired from the jetlag.
- Humberto Ramos on the best and worst thing of attending overseas conventions.

I don’t like it, the extreme violence. Comics are meant for kids. But I felt it was my duty to draw it. That’s a good question. Maybe I should have discussed with the writer and editor.
- Olivier Coipel on drawing that infamous double spread of the Sentry tearing Ares apart in Siege #2 (2010), with the entrails spilling all over.

I have always created the characters that I drew, keeping them true to character. So drawing Daredevil: End of Days was fun. That spirit of collaboration with the history. It was not a constraint, but a challenge to be creative. Doing different things energise me. By the way, there will be a sequel, Punisher: End of Days.
- David Mack casually breaking the news of a sequel to the popular Daredevil: End of Days (2012).

This is my first international comic con and this is my first interview. I’m a bit nervous!
- what Aaron Kim Jacinto said at the end of the interview. He quickly obliged a quick sketch of Rocket Raccoon, engaging in a familiar activity that he was passionate about.

Thought Bubble at Leeds and TCAF at Toronto.
- Cameron Stewart when asked about which are some of his favourite comic conventions. Maybe STGCC will make the cut one day.

This is my first time out of the United States. I just got my passport two weeks ago.
- Andy Price thanking STGCC for giving him the opportunity to travel overseas.

I used to dislike ‘pop culture’ because it was associated with famous people and it is commercial and seen as selling out. But I’ve come to realise that pop culture is about connecting with people.
- Alex Solis on pop culture.

Don’t do it. You don’t have a health plan and you don’t have a pension. It’s tough competition. I was lucky I started before the internet. You are better off being a doctor or engineer. But if you still want to be an artist, don’t go to an art school. It’s fucking expensive in America and they don’t teach you anything. It’s bullshit. Just drop out of art school and use the money to rent a workspace and buy yourself tools.
- Frank Kozek when asked what advice he would give young artists.

See you next year.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Comic Collector in Singapore

Originally written for the inaugural Singapore Comics Kaki (SCK) newsletter launched at STGCC 2014.

Like Superman and Spiderman, the comic collector in Singapore can be elusive.
Some of us have wondered who is this person. Does he or she have a secret identity like the superheroes? Even for the bestselling titles, newspaper reports would only give rough estimates based on ballpark figures provided by comic shops or booksellers. A few years ago, I compiled a monthly list of bestselling graphic novels provided by the bookshops on . But it was not possible to get firm figures. Less is known about the comic collector who buys the comics. This is an attempt to find out from who is the comic collector in Singapore.

A questionnaire was put up on the Singapore Comics Kaki (SCK) facebook page on 16 August and a few other sites. Replies were received till 26 August. 13 males and 1 female responded. While recent US reports claimed that there are more female readers, this may not be the case in Singapore. What is quite clear, however, is that most of the respondents are in their 30s-40s, which meant they are quite serious collectors and have the buying power to purchase collectible back issues, especially the Silver Age titles. What was surprising is that even with this small sample size, two respondents listed Incredible Hulk #181 (1974, first major appearance of Wolverine) as one of the valuable comics in their collection. My sense is that this is a group of collectors who grew up reading comics and is now able to afford to re-buy rare titles from their youth, either for pleasure or profit. A few of them hold senior positions and might be travelling for their job, giving them the opportunity to buy CGC graded comics. The internet has also made mail order and online auctions easier. A few of them sell their collectibles to other fans in Singapore. However, this does not mean an emergence of a back issue market in Singapore. One suspects such ‘big time’ collectors are still far and few in between, and most likely they would buy their expensive comics from overseas.

Respondents also confirmed what some have observed for the last few years – collectors are buying their trades from Kinokuniya (especially when there is a 20% sale) and a few of them have stopped buying single issues from the comic shops. However, there is still a handful who will make that weekly trip to the comic shops on shipment day. Their ‘strategy’ is to buy the singles from the comic shops and to buy the trades at Kinokuniya. Increasingly, there are some who buy their trades from Amazon or Bookdepository because of the deep discounts offered. There might be a need for comic shops and bookshops to organise more events (eg. signings) as incentives and outreach, and to build a community.

The good news for the shops is that the mainstream titles are still the most popular. Most respondents considered themselves as fans of DC, Marvel and Image comics. Only a few listed independents like Fantagraphics or First Second. This corresponds with their favourite comic book adaptations – recent blockbusters like Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers and Thor. Attempts to find out how much comic collectors spent on comics per month is not conclusive as some left it blank. Those who did answer put between 10-20% of their salary, but some are single digit %. For those who gave actual figures, some collectors spent about $100-$200 per month on comics. But most of them collect other things like Lego, toys and original art, so the amount they spent on pop culture memorabilia would be higher.

What comes across is the sense of enjoyment they receive from reading/collecting comics. Some of the anecdotes talk about how they were introduced to comics and it is a link to their childhood. “I read comics because my cousin sent me a box of Marvel comics when I was 8 years old, and I never looked back.” Another said, “I was introduced to it by my late father when I was 5 years old… I do not collect for the sake of collecting or selling. Every comic I own, I read.”

It is encouraging that as a result of FB groups like SCK, more comic collectors get to know each other to exchange information about their passion. Friends are made through comics.