Saturday, August 30, 2008


A few months ago, as I was having lunch at my trusty neighbourhood coffeeshop on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised by the screening of Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury (1972) on the Chinese TV channel. Heck, I was entralled. Of course, I've seen the movie many times. But the opening is a such a grabber. Lee coming back to Shanghai to learn that his sifu has passed away. He rushed to the cemetery, it was raining (it was an obvious standard HK movie set), he wanted to jump into the grave as it was lowered into the ground, pure drama.

I was thinking to myself, this is going to change some kid's life if they're watching it for the first time on TV. I know it changed mine. Imagine you're in your teens and wondering wtf is wrong with your life, you're lazing around the house, no girlfriend, no sex, hope, love or dreams. You turn on the TV expecting some crap and they show a classic Bruce Lee movie. It's going to change everything.

[I remember watching a re-run of The Way of the Dragon at Dali cinema in the 1980s, which is damn rare even in those days. In the afternoon, after school, goofing off. No more than 5 of us in the cinema hall. But it was pure magic. Bruce Lee beating the shit out of Chuck Norris. Nothing is the same after that.]

Ideas of self, identity, the body, Chinese-ness, nationalism, what it means to be a man, it's all there.

Someone asked me before why I'm so into rock music, movies, comics, pop culture. I said it's because they made a difference in my life, shaped my world view and still helping me to make sense of the world around me. That person didn't get it.

Oh well.

Here's to you, Bruce. This year is the 35th anniversary of Bruce Lee's death. He passed away on 20 July 1973. Hai-ya!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Morgan Chua interview

This is the interview I did with Morgan Chua on the night of 6 August 2008. We had makan, drinks and a good chit-chat. Miel was with us too.

Interviewing Morgan again reminds me of something the late Kuo Pao Kun said 10 years ago after the ARX5/Zunzi episode at SAM. We can make fun of other world leaders in our political cartoonists. But we can't laugh at ourselves.

Q: How did the new edition of My Singapore come about?
A: Blame it all on Kenny Chan (Merchandising Director of Kinokuniya). He arranged for me to meet the Marshall Cavendish people last year and things took off from there. [Kenny was one of the main people in Singapore National Printers behind the original edition of My Singapore back in 2000.]

Q: How was it revisiting My Singapore after eight years?
A: Well, considering that I ‘lost’ to Lee Kuan Yew eight years ago (My Singapore came out as the same time as the MM’s second memoirs), it’s good that I got another go at it.

Q: You drew new cartoons for this new edition. LHL, MSK, TT Durai, Anwar, etc. How did you feel when you completed these new cartoons?
A: Relieved. I did a lot of research at the National Library, the archives and also NUS library. You can’t find all the info on the internet, you still need to go back to the libraries and archive. You need know your history in Singapore. But that’s the problem. There is no sense of history in Singapore.

Drawing cartoons about Pedro Blanca, the MSk escape and the Ren Ci scandal, I was excited but it was hard work.

Q: Tell me, how important is the political/editorial cartoonist for a newspaper?
A: If the editors are the flesh of the papers, the production people the backbones, the artists are the spirit of the publication. They should be recognized and be paid as much as the editor. One picture tells the whole story. An editor needs 10,000 words to tell his story, so our cartoons are worth 10,000 words. The cartoonist should be paid on par with the editor. We can’t make mistakes. But in a 10,000 word article, no one can tell if a mistake was made.

Q: You have stayed at Tanjong Pinang for the last 10 years since you came back from Hong Kong. What’s the attraction?
A: I like the kampong life, nature and the natural self. A cartoonist should be close to nature, then the strength and feelings of their art would intensify. Just like Lat in Malaysia.

Over there, you got time. You read books, magazines and get the current news. It’s stress free.

Q: What are your feelings of Singapore today?
A: Sad. All the HDB flats remind me of a private automated prison. There’s no movement of one self. Not like in Tanjong Pinang where at night you can see thousands of stars. It just makes you feel humble. You get to know yourself. But not in Singapore. We’re becoming the Monaco of Asia. Singapore will only be for the rich and famous.

Q: Are you disappointed in Singapore then?
A: In a way, yes because of the lifestyle of the people where people are not getting married and our women are not giving birth. But also no, because I’m happy with the progress that we’ve made. Our international standards in areas like aviation. Life is tough in Singapore. Nevertheless, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.

You don’t have much choices in Singapore, it is no bed of roses. Our old folks, they got to work in coffee shops and McDonald’s. It’s very sad. That’s why I paid tribute to the Samsui Women in the new edition of My Singapore. They built the foundation of Singapore. But we have lost our culture in Singapore.

I’m still a Singaporean. But I can’t stay here anymore. It’s not real, it’s a make-believe world. My spirit is still in Singapore. I still love my country. But it has changed.

Q: So why can’t we draw caricatures of local politicians in Singapore?
A: In Asia, we honour the father. Very Confucian. Unlike in the West. There was once when former US President, Ronald Reagan was asked how he felt about the cartoons making fun of him in the papers. He said that he would wake up every morning, read the funnies about himself, have a good laugh, knowing that the cartoons were telling the truth. And then he would fire all his advisors.

But if you were to ask me, I would say we have human rights in Singapore. Morgan can draw Lee Kuan Yew. But I stick to the facts, the events.

Q: Name one person who inspired you.
A: Peng, the legendary Straits Times cartoonist of the 1950s and 1960s. He opened the doors for me as a political cartoonist. Someone needs to compile his cartoons from those heady days of exciting politics.

More dispatches

Met Mike Grell again after 20 years in SDCC. He remembered his visit to Singapore in 1987 when he was an invited guest of the 2nd Singapore Comics Convention (nothing to do with the recent STCC organized by Play Imaginative). The other guest was Todd McFarlene, pre-Image and Spawn and then just known for his Batman: Year Two, Hulk and some issues of X-Men. Grell was the hotter artist then, having just finished The Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters deluxe mini-series (that's what they called it then, ie. for matured audiences only). I interviewed the both of them for BigO magazine.

Of course, fortunes changed and McFarlene is the multi-millionarie (still) and Grell, well, I heard he does some really beautiful commissions through his website.

Coda: I interviewed McFarlene again some 10 years ago over the phone for a story I wrote for 8 Days about the release of the Spawn movie. He remembered he was a young punk then when he visited Singapore in 1987.

As for Grell, after his visit to Singapore, he wrote a Blackhawk story that was set in the Lion City.

Here's someone else's recollections of those days:

There was also a Wolverine story set in Singapore in the late 1980s, but for the life of me, I can't remember which series was it or who wrote/drew it.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I'm a passenger...

The Resident Tourist is the discovery of 2008.

Check out Derek's interview with Troy Chin:

Sunday, August 17, 2008


2008 is a year of anniversaries.

1. Superman was born 70 years ago, Action Comics #1. Cover dated June 1938, that marked the first appearance of the Man of Steel.

Some would argue that Batman is cooler, but despite wearing his red underwear on the outside for seven decades, getting killed, resurrected and hitched (a fate worse than death?), Supes is still my man. Perhaps more than truth, justice and the American way, Superman represents the possibilities that we can achieve, to reach for the stars with that Boy Scout outlook intact.

Incidentally, when I was chatting with the legendary comics retailer/historian, Robert Beerbohm at SDCC, he told me he has a copy of Superman #1 in his collection. Eh, the Southeast Asian edition licensed from DC Comics back in 1958. It was printed in Singapore and was meant for the regional market. So Supes made his ‘official’ appearance in Singapore/Southeast Asia 50 years ago, just a year before we gain self-government from the British.

So did the possibilities offer by Superman inspired the PAP Old Guard? Did LKY read comic books?

I wonder.

2. 60 years ago, the Malayan Emergency broke out and changed the political landscape of Singapore. It is interesting how art and pop culture inform our sense of the past. Just as Superman’s 70th birthday probably meant more to me than this year’s national day celebrations, the outbreak of the Malayan Emergency 60 years ago is more significant for the brief period of Malayan Spring that preceded it.

When the British returned to Malaya and Singapore after WWII, they allowed the various political and cultural groups to flourish. The Malayan Communist Party was a legitimate party and cultural publications and activities were reaching out to the masses at a scale hardly seen today.

Sure, some of the works (including comics!) done were socialist and prevalent of the mood of the times. But it was a period of creativity that saw literary works talking about the plight of the common man, plays that depicted social injustice and songs that inspired the workers.

Go check out this new book on that brief period of Malayan Spring:

Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism in Postwar Singapore, edited by
by Michael Barr and Carl A. Trocki. (Singapore University Press)

3. 40 years ago saw the landmark student radicalism of Mai 68 (May 68) manifesting itself in the streets of Paris. It is an event that is unlikely to be celebrated here. I was in Paris in early June and Mai 68 remained important in the historical consciousness of Parisians. A moment of youthful rebellion against conservatism and the old order, Mai 68 continues to inspire artists and culture in Europe just as the event itself was informed by the counterculture of the 60s (rock music, movies, Guy Debord and the Situationists).

[I stand corrected on the limited impact of Mai 68 on Singapore. Artists like Tang Da Wu were heavily inspired by the spirit of Mai 68. I hooked up with Da Wu in London before heading on to Paris and he was the one who insisted I must attend an exhibition of Mai 68 posters and brought me and the wife there.]

As I walked around Paris attending the Mai 68 related exhibitions, the bookshops and visiting the Latin Quarter (the heart of the action), I got a sense of the pop culture happenings that continue to inspire the young. I turned a corner and there’s a comic shop. Someone was busking along the sidewalk. It’s good to be in Paris in June.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Morgan Chua Signing on 16 Aug at Kino

Do drop by if you're in the area. I interviewed Morgan two weeks ago but the local papers weren't interested. TNP did have a write-up on Morgan in today's edition.

My review of the original My Singapore back in 2000.


My Singapore
Sketches by Morgan Chua

Marshall Cavendish Editions ● Available at major bookstores from August 2008 (Book launch at Kinokuniya on 16 August 2008, 4.30pm) Retail Price S$23 (before GST) ● ISBN 978 981 261 614 2

No topic is taboo and Chua sharpens his pencil as he draws popular icons like P Ramlee as well as local and international politicians. Readers will be thoroughly entertained and enlightened as they laugh their way through the book through it's feature of entertaining vignettes and key events in Singapore's history. The fun and quirky cartoons poke fun at one and all!

About the Author
Singaporean born cartoonist Morgan Chua first found fame as a cartoonist in Hong Kong when he joined the Far Eastern Economic Review. His keen wit and observation was translated into well-received single panels of political cartoons. In his career, he has done caricatures of all the newsmakers around the world including Singapore.

This world-classed cartoonist who has returned to live in the Lion City now turns his hand on a revised edition of his earlier published work My Singapore, which tells the history of the nation in his own unique way—with barbed perceptiveness, concisely but impactful imagery and a visual eloquence that is unmatched in the region.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Jerry Robinson

Some thoughts on attending SDCC. Was at Preview Night with Ian Gordon and chanced upon Jerry Robinson signing b&w Joker prints at the DC booth. It was a short queue. So here's the creator of the Joker who is currently played by the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, but no one really knows that or care.

I first met Jerry in 2000 in his NYC office. One of the surviving greats still with us today.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Bestselling Comics at Kino for July 08

Kinokuniya Bookstores (S) P/L
(for the week of 01/07/2008 to 31/07/2008)












NB: This makes The Killing Joke the perennial bestseller in this list for the last few months. Of course, this could be the The Dark Knight movie effect as Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns is here as well. Movies dominate as seen in Watchmen and Wanted. What's interesting is the two Fables collections (caught up with old friend Steve Leiahola at SDCC) and the Avengers. Y made an appearance as that's the finale.