Sunday, September 11, 2011

When the weird turns sappy…

It’s almost a Singapore comic con tradition to have the new Resident Tourist volume out when the event takes place every year at Suntec City. Even for this year, when the con was brought forward to August, we have the launch of TRT 5 there.

The first 3 cons were organized by Play Imaginative and since last year, Reed took over.
2007 – Troy Chin and Ken Foo shared a booth near Sonny Liew to sell their minis.
2008 – Adrian Teo published TRT 1 and 2 for Troy. A TRT related short story appeared in Liquid City 1.
2009 – Troy self-published TRT 3 and Loti 1. (all of them serialized on his website before)
2010 – TRT 4 launched at STGCC. Loti 2 was launched at Books Actually earlier. Another short story in Liquid City 2. (non TRT related)
2011 – TRT 5 launched.

When TRT first came out, it was a breadth of fresh air. Troy was featured in an article about local comics in IS, but most of us only got to read his stuff when Adrian Teo published TRT 1 and 2. It was weird, with bats hiding in shoes and shit. A returning Singaporean from NYC, who sees a hot psychiatrist – he seems aimless and profound at the same time. What’s going on?

2008 was a good year for Troy as he got extensive coverage in the national papers. An interview with The Sunday Times, a nice pic of him outside of his old school, the now abandoned Braddell-Westlake, and a review of TRT 1 and 2 a week later in the book reviews section.

Troy was slowly building his fan base with appearances at Books Actually, the National Library, Singapore Writers’ Festival and recently, post-museum. They are a varied bunch – kids studying overseas, doctors (a psychiatrist!) and even a lady who traveled all the way from Japan to meet him at the comic con in 2009.

Things got a bit more normal with TRT 3. It was about friendship, growing up with your gang in Victoria School. Read this together with Loti and you find Troy to be quite a nostalgic fellow. In TRT 4, we learn what’s wrong with Troy. He tried to kill himself in NYC. That volume affirmed Troy’s rep as one of the strongest narrative storytellers for comics in Singapore. His panel to panel transition is smooth and ‘invisible’.

By all counts, the newly released TRT 5 reads like the end of the tourist for now as it brings the story to the present. (2010) Since last year, Troy kept saying that people will be pissed off by what he has to say in TRT 4. Maybe the lack of recognition and poor sales was getting to him. But it was something else…

TRT 5 confirms what some of us suspect for some time. It is a love story, after all. The punch line – Troy finally hooked up with Mint in 2005 when they were in NYC. Troy returned to Singapore soon after and they maintained the long distance relationship. So the whole TRT series, which start with the return of Troy to Singapore, is his paean to Mint. If one is to read into it, putting his life in comics form on the web is Troy’s way of telling Mint of how he is feeling.

Those feelings go deep in TRT 5 – Troy confessing his love for Mint, telling her he wants kids, etc. It is heartfelt; Troy handles the emotions well. But it is also sappy when you reach the last page. The truth is: he is this generation’s Colin Cheong, in comics form.

TRT 5 is selling well. It is on the Planerds bestselling list for August (The just reprinted TRT 1 and 2 are on it too) and during STGCC, the Harris booth needed another 30 copies for the second day of the con. There are enough going for it for people to buzz – the timely reference to the foreigners issue; more throwbacks to the early 1990s: Sembawang Music Store, Nirvana’s Nevermind; Veronica Yip; chapter 20 of the Sec 4 Biology textbook for Express classes.

Troy is already a hero to some in Singapore for living his dream and for not compromising. Fans will enjoy his encounters with crazy people (albeit caricatured) and not backing down. The angry man he met while queuing up at SingPost reminds me Harvey Pekar’s observation of quirky Jewish ladies at the supermarket. But Troy’s encounter is nastier. That’s Singapore 2010/2011 for you.

If there is an inconsistency to be noted, it’s that for the earlier volumes, the perspective has always been Troy’s. In TRT 5, we see the story from his friends’ point of view. That came across jarring.

Troy is 33 this year, an age of reckoning according to the good book. From now on, he is moving on to his next project – a piss take on the music industry.

The tourist has returned home.

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