Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Social Realism in Comics

Social Realism in Comics - Reflecting Singapore and Japan in the 1970s
Date: Sat, 19 Jan 2013
Time: 5.30 pm
Place: Programme Zone, Bishan Public Library
Calling all comic book lovers, join in this session organized by SingaporeComics.com, the same people who brought you 24 Hour Comics Day in 2012! We will discuss two newly launched books – Ten Sticks And One Rice (Epigram Books), a local graphic novel on Singapore’s transformation from kampong to cosmopolitan city, by Oh Yong Hwee and Koh Hong Teng, and Midnight Fishermen: Gekiga of the 1970s (Landmark Books) by award-winning Japanese manga artist, Yoshihiro Tatsumi.

The creators of Ten Sticks and One Rice, Oh Yong Hwee and Koh Hong Teng, and comics critic, Lim Cheng Tju, will be part of the dialogue.c

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sandy

There was a big concert in NYC to raise funds for victims and the damage done by Hurricane Sandy.

Reading Ultimate X reminds me of Ultimatum. NYC was flooded by Magneto. That finally happened this year. Marvel was 4 years ahead of its time. Maybe the writer Loeb was thinking of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Once upon a time in China...

On my last day in Manila, I met up with Harvey Tolibao for lunch. He gave me a copy Green Arrow #12. Excellent art as usual. It's unfortunate that DC decided to take a different direction and replaced Tolibao with another artist. Hope they give a good book for him to handle soon. Tolibao has ideas for Oliver Queen. Maybe we will get to see them one day.

Now, the story is something else. Written by Ann Nocenti, an editor of The Uncanny X-Men in the 1980s, she created Longshot with Art Adams and later had a long run with Daredevil, following hot on the heels of Frank Miller, a tough act to follow by all counts.

Flashforward to 2012, she has returned from journalism to write for DC comics. Maybe the years in journalism gave her exposure to China, which she portrays as one of the most dangerous places on Earth. You wouldn't want to visit after reading this.

This is still a very caricatured image of the Middle Kingdom. According to Nocenti, you can get snatched from the streets and get thrown into prison. But the guards are stupid enough to get distracted by hologram images of strippers.

This reminds me of the fight between Gail Simone and Derek Teo back in 2007 when she visited Singapore as a guest for the writers' festival. She set a Birds of Prey story in Singapore in 2005 which Derek criticized.

http://textfiend.net/zerohero/?p=529

http://textfiend.net/zerohero/?p=258

http://textfiend.net/zerohero/?p=541

Simone still pissed in 2009.

http://www.preshigh.edu.sg/teachers/laick/Singapore/Literally%20Singapore/In%20a%20faraway%20land%20called%20Singapore.aspx

To see how Nocenti looks like.

http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2012/06/chris-claremont-on-the-red-headed-red-herring-madelyne-pryor/#more-118381

Manila Madness

Was in Manila for this.

http://blush-con.org/

BL is getting big in SEA.

Took the occasion to visit the famed Comic Odyssey and met the boss, Sandy. Here are some field reports from Mark Cerbo, a cool blogger we met.

http://geekmatic.blogspot.sg/2012/12/panel-by-panel-guests-at-comic-odyssey.html

Oh yeah, Otto Fong was with me too. We gave a talk at the Ateneo de Manila University.

We definitely want to visit Manila again and check out Komikon. The president, Ariel Atienza, invited us back. Maybe next April.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ken Foo and Adrian Teo are back!

The Date King returns.

Ken Foo is THE alternative artist in Singapore. I said it in Hanoi in March this year and I say it now.

http://kenfoo.wordpress.com/

http://dateking.blogspot.sg/

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Teaching Japanese Popular Culture Conference, Manga Talk at JCC, AFA and Hong Teng's exhibition at Mulan

Quite a few things in Nov.

Conference:

http://www.fas.nus.edu.sg/jps/research/jps2012.htm

Talk:

There is also a talk on manga at the Japan Creative Center on Friday Nov. 9 at 7 pm.
http://www.sg.emb-japan.go.jp/jcc/japanmonth_november2012.html

AFA is happening next week.

This week, you can see some of Hong Teng's original pages and paintings at Mulan Gallery.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Jean Reno is Doraemon!

This is damn good.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGFemrtv7-M&feature=related

Watch out for Charlie Brown!

Doraemon Ending

Heartbreaking and heartwarming.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BO9LLRcweYc

Seeing the world through pop culture lens

...which reminds us how great a band The Specials was.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqH_0LPVoho

Rather simplistic listening to it today. But look at the make-up of the band, truly multi-racial.

The class issue, which we have ignored for too long. Pursuing only economic success could lead to permanent Halloween.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WhhSBgd3KI

And what is your definition of economic success? Bought your second property? Taking out another loan or mortgage for your third one?

Schools are to teach values. We should teach contentment too. Like water, we should find our own level and be happy.

Talking more, but are we listening?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ipGhzrIi3s

In the city there are a thousand things I want to say to you...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Talk

I promise not to repeat myself.

http://www.nationalmuseum.sg/EventDetail.aspx?id=352&cat=6

24 Hour Comics Day

Me and JF are doing this again. 3rd edition. This time at Bukit Merah Library, starting time 10 am. So join in the fun this Saturday, 20 Oct. It will be on the 3rd floor, Radin Mas Room.

http://singaporecomics.com/24hourcomicsday/

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Why academic achievements still matter

I know there is a lot of talk, especially among those who do not do well academically, that academics are useless. For those who are poor at academics, this kind of thinking provides a sense of self-worth. That it is okay to fail at academics, because life does not revolve around it. Right?

I know people who have no university degrees but yet, they earn more than the average degree holder. And my dad, being a degree holder, earns very little for a graduate. His income is slightly above average, but very low for a graduate. The fact that there are people who, despite not being graduates of junior colleges and universities but have millions in their banks, convinces me that academics is not a guarantee for career success. Now the question is, how many people are like them? Not very well educated, but arguable successful. These people are not very common.

Marty Nemko is a very successful career consultant in the United States. He once said on TV that people who succeed after graduating from college, will succeed even without going to college. In other words, those naysayers of good academics may be right. The contribution of academics to career success may be very little. Look at the Beatles. Geniuses who were not inclined towards school, and very much loved all around the world. One day, Singapore will have its own Beatles, as soon as everyone starts supporting our local bands. That is, if the majority of the population even bothers to notice them.

Playing for an indie band as a career in Singapore, is more likely to lead to failure than good academics (Someone please correct me if I am wrong). So how do we encourage musical talent under such circumstances? The easy way out is to encourage academic achievements instead.

To the naysayers who have accomplished nothing, please face the facts. It is not the lack of academics that prevent you from success. So to support your believes, please support our local bands. Here's a link: The Great Spy Experiment.

P.S. For those of you in the comics industry. Please tell your family, friends, colleagues and enemies about this blog. I think we can get more Singaporeans to support local comics and music and art if we put in more effort to sell ourselves... I mean promote ourselves. And I notice one thing that seems to get me more readers. PAP is the best party in Singapore! Opposition parties suck!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The critic, the victim

I read the previous post by Cheng Tju and looked at the comments. And it was interesting as this Indonesian artist points out a mistake in Cheng Tju's knowledge. And Cheng Tju graciously accepts it. I hope he does.

A lot (a lot does not mean most) of Singaporeans are not open to criticism and opposing views. They can say,"I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion." But what these narrow-minded Singaporeans really should say is,"I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion, as long as they do not disagree with each other or are not negative." Like, WTF!

Narrow minded people can come from any part of the world. And they can be very irritating to talk to because you are expected to agree with them, or shut up. And that comes back down to me writing criticism. When you write an opinion on a blog, you risk being labelled as being "full of yourself". What gives me the confidence to write is the fact that I did my homework. That is to say, I spent time doing research and analysis to ensure as objective an opinion as possible. I can make mistakes. I am open to opposing views, but only from people who did their homework as well. A person who talks without doing his/her homework is plain ignorant, don't you think?

But this local society we have here, encourages ignorance in a way. If you have an opposing or negative view, you suck. Therefore, to be friends with everyone, you need to have agreeable views, even if the views hold no truth. And you are expected to try and be friends with everyone, even though it is unrealistic. Never mind if the opinion is a lie and might lead to harm and death. Positive opinions matter more than facts. In fact, for some people, they don't even know what is fact. They know the definition, but understanding what that definition means is out of their reach.

I'll give a hypothetical example to illustrate another point. What if Singaporeans generally love the movie Sucker Punch and don't find it sexist? But in the western world, people are calling it sexist and crappy. So if I agree with the billions of Europeans and Americans, that might put me in the eye of some Singaporeans, a bad guy or having no taste in movies. Some might even say I am snobbish about films, simply because I choose to agree with the billions of people outside rather than a few millions in Singapore. Like, WTF! (Note: This scenario is strictly hypothetical. It is not meant to reflect reality in anyway.This note is for people who are unable to understand what a hypothetical example is and thus take it too seriously. The writer apologizes for your inability to understand complex statements and takes responsibility because you only know how to blame others for your failure. If you wish to ïnsult me for "being stupid", you are welcome to do so.)

I support PAP. I think they are the best government Singapore has, even though they have been making mistakes here and there. So, are there any anti-PAP citizens who would like to label me as a mindless drone-like, short-sighted, elitist-sympathizing PAP dog?

PS: This criticism does not state that the majority of Singaporeans are narrow minded. There are many Singaporeans who are kind and open to ideas, as well as being pro-PAP. However, those who do find this article offending are probably guilty of being narrow minded. If you are one, just shut up and agree with me. And stop being so ignorant!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Garuda

I grew up reading the Amar Chitra Katha comics of the Mahabharata. Two years ago, Grant Morrison wrote 18 Days, his version of the Mahabharata.

In Indonesia, the late RA Kosaisih had made the Mahabharata his life defining work. A recent chat with Chris Lie of Caravan Studio at STGCC shows that Mahabharata comics is alive and well in Indonesia. The studio’s new series, Baratayuda, referring to the great war of the Mahabharata, is up to issue eight and selling well. The coolest character in the series is Gatotkaca.

Gatotkaca is also the lead character in another series by Is Yuniarto’s Wind Rider Studio – Garudayana. Garuda, the mythical bird and the national symbol of Indonesia, also appears in the Mahabharata. The Garuda is so popular that there is a kids’ version of the Garuda story, Garudaboi by Galang Tirtakusuma.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dr Jose Rizal

Miel did a drawing of Dr Rizal's hat for his last exhibition. Dr Rizal was nowhere to be found.

For Gerry Alanguilan, his new independent project will have Dr Rizal appearing and saving the day.

"It's called The Marvelous Adventures of the Amazing Dr Rizal. People asked me why I don't draw my own superheroes. It's hard for me to do it because that's not reality. I'd have no connection with the character.

My superhero must be grounded in reality. But he must be fantastic as well. So you need a concession. Dr Rizal will be my superhero. He does not have superpowers, but he has super intellect."

Looking forward to that.

mural@comiconexxions



STGCC 2012 Report: Interview with Edmund Wee of Epigram Books

Did not manage to catch the Epigram panel at STGCC, but I went down to Epigram Books the next day to have a chat with Edmund, the boss. So why comics?

“We set up Epigram Books over a year ago. Before that, we also did some publishing on an ad hoc basis. One or two books a year and that’s part of Epigram the design company. Along the way, we did The Diary of Amos Lee, which was very successful. We were not sure whether it’s real, the success, because it’s done as part of the design company. So it’s hard to know the real cost of publishing.

To do that, we set up Epigram Books.

This will give us a sense of the cost to edit, publish, paying the rent and employees.

Why are we doing it? We want to publish and to tell stories about ourselves as a country. If you look at theatre, poetry, they have gone ahead. But fiction is lagging behind. We felt there is a great need to publish local fiction and this is our mission.

We did some food books, design books. But the heart of Epigram Books is local writing, stories about Singapore by Singaporeans.

A few months ago, we felt why must stories be written, why not in graphic form? So we started working with artists/writers like Sonny Liew, Koh Hong Teng, Dave Chua, Troy Chin and Miel. Eventually, Troy dropped out.

We are aiming for the Christmas market this year, so hopefully there is no delay. The artists promised me they are working very hard.

Of course, we are not the first to publish graphic novels in Singapore. Times Publishing did Unfortunate Lives by Eric Khoo in 1989 and you have self-published efforts like The Resident Tourist and Gone Case. But this is the first time a publisher is doing it in a series of books to tell Singapore stories.

Will we regret it and lose money? I don’t know. But as a publisher, we take the risk. MDA has given some funding, so that helps. The artists need the advance.

Is comics literature, art? Of course. It is literature because it tells a story. There are simply not enough stories told about Singapore.

I’m not a big comics fan. I read Green Lantern, Spiderman, Daredevil and Fantastic Four as a kid. I’m not into superheroes, but I’ve read Maus and Persepolis. They are about contemporary life and about their own society, whether it is America or Iran.

We aim for the local market first. If the books do well, we will market them overseas."

STGCC Report 2012: Fave moments from Tita





In HK, comic characters are put to good use





Comiconexxions: Lala at work



STGCC Report 2012: A sense of history

One thing I learned about the Filipino artists at this year’s con is that they have a strong sense of history and an appreciation of the past.

Stephen Sogovia: In the Philippines, we love art and we love comics. It’s been a century since the birth of komiks in the Philippines. Artists like Alex Nino, Tony DeZuniga, Ernie Chan. We do remember them. In the past, we have the komiks first and then movie adaptations. The komiks served as the storyboards for these movies.

Leinil Yu: Filipino komiks started when the Americans came. Of course, we have Dr Jose Rizal’s fable, The Monkey and the Tortoise, drawn in 1885. They were more illustrations than komiks. I was influenced by Whilce Portacio, the Filipino-American comic artist (X-Men), when I was young. His was a different tradition. Young kids during my time would not draw in that 70s Filipino style of perfect anatomy. I grew up watching the Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, Transformers and Japanese animation on TV. Those things were easier to draw. When I got older, I know more about the older Filipino artists like Alex Nino and Nester Redondo and I have a lot of respect for them. But really, I’m an Image Comics guy. (smiles)

Gerry Alanguilan: I was not a fan of Filipino artists when I was growing up. I was a fan of DC and Marvel. But after 5 to 6 years of working on US comics, younger Filipino artists would come up to me to show me their work, which was very influenced by US and Japanese manga. I asked them if they knew about our own komik history. They looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language. They have no idea what I was talking about.

That got me wondering. I realize we don’t know our own history of komiks. We have no practice of preserving and reprinting old komiks. Even our National library, you could not find those old komiks. We have a long history of publishing komiks. Our publishing industry was very huge in the 1970s, more than a million copies were published a month.

There is no trace of it now.

People have no idea it happened. There are no books or articles about this that a young artist can study. It made me wanted to do research of my own. So I started collecting old komiks. It was very hard and I had to buy them on eBay. Now these sellers were Filipinos who knew the value of these old komiks. They were very expensive! I’ve spent a lot of money, almost all my savings on these komiks and visual art books. I have collected a few hundred titles and some original art. I scanned them and put it up on my website, so that young Filipino artists can find something that’s our history.

My website is regularly updated and I’ve scanned hundreds of artwork from the 1950s to 1970s. Some are from the 1980s. It’s to give a brief overview of our history.

One of the most underrated artist in our history is the late Francisco V. Coching. His El Indio (1952) is a classic Filipino masterpiece and was out of print for years. I started this project in 2003 to get his komiks reprinted and that finally happened when Vibal reprinted El Indio. There is also an art book out. The state does not want to make him a national artist, but that is okay. There are exhibitions of his art anyway and many considered him to be a national artist.

I wrote about El Indio in Paul Gravett’s 1001 Comics To Read Before You Die. (pages 166 – 167)

There are two important publications. One is the special issue of Comic Book Artist (Vol 2 #4, Sept 2004) on Filipino Komiks, which you showed me. Because of that magazine, I met John Lent who was researching for that issue. I told him that there are new komik books by Filipino artists, so when he did his book, The First One Hundred Years of Philippine Komiks in 2009, he included our generation of artists. It is a good book, which included female comic writers as well.

Whilce Portacio influenced Leinil. But you also have Western artists like Frazer Irving who is influenced by Alfredo and Rudy Nebres.

We have come a long way.

NB: some articles by Gerry:

Photos of Tony DeZuniga, Alfredo Alcala and Malang in New York, circa 1970s

Francisco V. Coching for National Artist

Filipino Comics Illustrator Ernie Chan Passes Away

Why Tony DeZuniga Mattered A Lot to Us

The State of Comics Preservation in the Philippines

STGCC 2012 Report: New comic by Ray Toh

Check it out.

Cricket Joe

I have been waiting for Ray to break out for years. One day he should get his comics published.

Go spot the Chester brown reference in here.

STGCC 2012 Report: A powerful man

And that’d be Leinil Yu. This is his third trip to STGCC, his second as an official guest of the con. What I noticed is that the books he is doing with Mark Millar, whether they are for the Marvel Ultimates line or the Millar World titles, it’s a Southeast Asian collective at work. Leinil will be penciling, Gerry Alanguilan and Stephen Segovia will ink it, Jason Paz will letter it (they are all from the Philippines) and Sunny Gho from Indonesia will colour it.

I ask Leinil why is this so. Eh, wouldn’t the Marvel editors have a say in this?

“Marvel trusts me to do the recommendations. I pick the guys who can make the comic book better. Editors will determine the lineup for the younger guys, but they trust me to recommend what’s best for the books. Same for the Millar books. He had wanted a different style for Super Crooks, and he wanted a different colourist. I told him Sunny can do a different style and it worked out.

I didn’t know Sunny was Indonesian when I first saw his work. It was not a conscious decision to gather creatives from Southeast Asia. I chose Sunny from four colourists presented to me. Sunny had worked with Kenneth Rocafort and I really like his colours.

As for Gerry, he is a friend for a long time, but he is really one of the best. (NB: Gerry inked Leinil’s very first work for Marvel – a Wolverine series by Warren Ellis in 1997) For Stephen, when I first pick him, we were not friends yet. He was influenced by my work, so naturally he is the right fit for my art.”

Leinil has said that DC and Marvel do not paid their overseas artists any less than their American counterparts. The determining factor is whether an artist is popular. And in 2012, Leinil is at the top of his game.

More Comiconnexions

This is really good. Reminds me of Phong's Bicof Story in Liquid City 2. And Sheila was in that volume too with her family trip to East Java.

http://sheilasplayground.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/comiconnexions-2012/

Looking forward to Lala's new book about being a fulltime mom in Kuwait. And did you know she drew an ED story back in 2005? That is so cool.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Comiconnexions@jkt

If you were at JKT this weekend, you could have attended Comiconnexions held at the Goethe Institute.

http://www.goethe.de/ins/id/jak/ver/en9720227v.htm

And gotten Sunny Gho to sign your copy of Avengers Vs New Ultimates: Death of Spiderman, which you have already gotten Leinil, Gerry, Stephen and Jason to sign at STGCC last weekend.

I was there to present on Singapore comics and cartoons and met some really cool German and Indonesian artists. Their hospitality is par excellence. Kudos to the Goethe for organizing this.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Please support our local bands

And by local bands, we mean the indie rock bands like Electrico and Great Spy Experiment. Some of them are artistically competent. They produce songs that are on par with their American counterparts.

But despite that, most of my listening time is spent on the music of overseas bands. Why? Because to me, they are way better in quality. Although it is not a fair comparison, would you rather waste time listening to Maroon 5 or Great Spy Experiment. Maroon 5 has a big record company behind them. This allows for high quality productions. And it doesn't help when the radio stations promote American music over Singaporean ones.

I took some time to analyze the differences between the recorded productions of Maroon 5, Great Spy Experiment and Electrico. To my ears, the majority of music produced by Great Spy and Electrico are seemingly influenced by nineties American rock music. If I am right, it means that both bands never evolved artistically, or did not keep up with modern American trends. Which is why they seem to me, a little out of place where American music is a huge staple in most people's music diet.

Listening to Maroon 5, I noticed their instrumentals can be catchy and easily identified. Moves Like Jagger for example has a distinct whistle. Their instrumentals, when compared to Great Spy or Electrico, sound "cleaner" and easier to pick up. Both local bands are capable at writing melodies. But instrumentals have a huge role in compositions. Just compare Rebecca Black's Friday and Glee's version. BIG difference!

Here is where a big budget can make a huge a impact. It is without doubt the quality of recordings by Maroon 5 is far superior to our local indie bands. Adam Levine's vocals are crisp and clear on record. For our local indies, the instrumentals kind of drown out the vocals.

When faced with such competition, it is not difficult to see why local indie bands are not well supported. It may not be fair to compare an indies band with a major one, but that is what indies are meant to have: niche support. To criticize Singaporeans for not supporting them is like criticizing Americans for giving too much support to Marvel and DC. Niche is niche. You cannot change a society if you don't have money and a good marketing plan.

Monday, September 3, 2012

STGCC 2012 Report: it’s hard to make a comeback when you leave

The fickleness of the American comic reading public has never been stronger. Not when even one of the most popular Marvel artists today said that he would think twice of taking a break to do his own stories.

“I’d like to do my own sci-fi stories, not superhero ones. But I’m scared of leaving mainstream comics. In a perfect world, I will do it.” – Leinil Yu

This is a very real fear as seen in the case of Gerry Alanguilan who left mainstream comics inking in 2005 to do his own projects like the Eisner nominated Elmer. But he made a return to Marvel in 2010 as it was difficult financially for him in the Philippines. Alanguilan said it was hard to make money doing your own things

“After Elmer was done, it was hard to find work in the US again. I visited Leinil and told him I’ll ink him again if there is a Mark Millar project because I’m a big fan of Savior. Earlier on, Leinil had offered me Ultimate Hulk vs Wolverine and Secret Invasion. I turned him down. But when Ultimate Avengers 2 came along, I started working on American mainstream books again.

“I still want to do my own personal stories like the one I did for Liquid City Vol 1 and the story I wrote, Where Bold Stars Go To Die. But it takes a lot of time to do them because of the Marvel deadlines I have. Still, I will do them because I want an outlet for my own stories. But at the same time, I cannot give up my Marvel jobs because I might not get them back again.”

This sentiment was shared by Tan Eng Huat, the artist for Thor and X-Men Legacy. Having returned from San Diego Comic Con in July, he noted that the Big 2 have cut down on their titles and they might not give you new jobs if you decide to take a break. There are many young and hungry new artists out there who want your gig.

Chris Lie of Caravan Studios (Indonesia) also said that with the closure of Tokyopop in 2011, even manga style artists in America are out of a job.

Bleak news to end STGCC 2012. But all the more it means that we cannot just depend on overseas market to grow our indigenous comics industry. We have to develop it ourselves, support local and neighboring works. So it is heartening to see more regional artists and studios setting up booths at the Artists' Alley this year. More can be done to bring these talents in to our shores for STGCC.

More incentives and deeper discounts perhaps?

STGCC 2012 Report: what happens when you ask a writer to draw

This 'Watch Out, Ryan!' sketch is Andy Diggle's contribution to this kid's retirement fund.



Sunday, September 2, 2012

STGCC 2012 Report: SEA Power

If you brought along your copy of the Avengers Vs New Ultimates: Death of Spider-man trade, you can get it sign by
Leinil Yu
Gerry Alanguilan
Stephen Segovia
Jason Paz

Now that's service.

The search for comics elsewhere

I had the chance to visit London's Forbidden Planet store this May. It is very impressive, although I was slightly disappointed. When it comes to popular genres, be it indie or not, the store has more variety than any comics store in Singapore. But when it comes to alternative comics, you find mainly the popular ones. For example, Guy Delisle's travelogues and Dan Clowes' albums. You;d be better off at our local Kinokuniya if you are lookng for more obscure titles.

In Paris, I did not come across any comics specialty store. But I shopped at a Virgin Megastore, where almost half an entire floor was devoted to comics. The other parts were a cafe and pop genre fiction. Titles and titles of comics that I have never known, and cannot read because I do not knwo French. Thus I am stuck with American translations. Though companies such as Fantagraphics have been publishing translated editions of European comics more frequently, they become very expensive when they are sold in Singapore.

If you check out Kino, you would notice that DC, Marvel and Image collected editions tend to be cheaper than the alternatives ,despite the US prices printed at the back of the books. Take any Marvel or DC book with a price of $14.95, and compare it to an obscure title of $10.95.

This is pure speculation. I guess Kino orders large stocks from Marvel and DC, allowing for economies of scale.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Where inspiration is found

One person asked me, after reading my science report,"where do you get your ideas from?"

"I get my ideas from an antique store situated in a little known corner of Chinatown. I have to flip through piles and piles of old Chinese manuscripts that are wrapped in dust. Once I find a good idea, I bring it back home, and translate the manuscripts into English. Finally, I analyze the writings to pick out any useful concepts that might provide insight into the kind of work I am interested in. It's a lot of work."

Monday, August 13, 2012

Comics and society

This is part of the NLB Mapping series. Do come if you can.
There will be an art demo too.

18 August 2012, Saturday
1pm – 4pm
Visitors Briefing Room, Level 1, National Library

Comics and Society - Lim Cheng Tju
Comics and cartoons reflect societal concerns and changes, and Singapore's historical and political narratives have been vividly documented in this visual format. By looking at the political cartoons and comic books in Singapore of the last 50 years, they reveal multiple facets and dimensions of the Singapore story.

Political Cartoons in newspapers and magazines - Morgan Chua
Political cartoons, sometimes referred to as editorial cartoons, are visual narratives published mostly in newspapers and magazines. Usually depicted within a single frame, they serve as commentaries reflecting upon political or social-economic issues of the day. Renowned Cartoonist Morgan Chua will share his life story and reflections on the importance of this medium.

'Gone Case'- From Print to Print. - Koh Hong Teng
This presentation is about the graphic adaptation of the novel 'Gone Case'. It highlights the inspiration behind the adaptation. The presentation will also touch on the creation process and the development of the drawing style.


* Morgan Chua is a Singapore-born cartoonist who started drawing for the Singapore Herald in 1970. In 1971, he moved to Hong Kong and joined The Asian. A year later, Morgan started work in the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) where he stayed on for 24 years, rising up from editorial artist to eventually becoming its creative director. After he left FEER in 1997, he moved to Tanjong Pinang where he still resides today. Morgan’s publications include In memory of madam Kwa Geok Choo, 1920-2010 (2011), Divercity Singapore: a cartoon history of immigration (2010), My Singapore / sketches (2008), Tiananmen (1989).

* Koh Hong Teng is the illustrator of the graphic novel 01321. Self-published in 1996, the first page of 01321 won the Gold Award in the digital art category at the inaugural Siggraph Asia Pacific Animation and Digital Art Competition in 2001. Apart from short graphic stories, he also spends his time working on full-length graphic novels and paintings. He published the graphic novel 'Gone Case' Book 1 and 2 with writer Dave Chua in 2010 and 2011 respectively. In 2011, he was one of the recipient of Arts Creation Fund from National Arts and in the following year, he was commissioned by National Library Board to illustrate a 16-page comic story for the irememberSG project.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

King cat

I wrote about King Cat here.

http://singaporecomix.blogspot.sg/2010/02/john-porcellino.html

It has become a tradition for me to find copies of King Cat in cities I visit. In June, I stepped into Gosh! Comics and found King Cat #72 and The Next Day. It was unexpected. I wasn't aware of The Next Day, a new book drawn by John Porcellino. It is a book about suicide survivors. Reading it left me very haunted. To relate the 4 experiences of the survivors in a non linear way, it makes it even more real because life is never straightforward. Our mind plays tricks with us, our memories jump from one to another.

I read King Cat #72 after that. John Porcellino told me about his divorce in 2010 after the above post. So it came as quite a shock. But from King Cat #72, he seems to be dealing with it better.

The groundhog cover of King Cat #72 is a sign of optimism.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

O inspiration. Where art thou?

I am currently converting a storyboard sketch into a script. As I do so, I wonder how did I even produce my storyboard in the first place. I remember thinking it up and sketching it out one afternoon. It came out rapidly. But I don't think I'd be able to do the same right now.

I'll just keep scripting.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Research help needed

Most of you might be manga/anime fans, so you might be interested to help out Akiko. She was in Singapore in Feb 2011 for this:

http://singaporecomix.blogspot.sg/2011/02/women-manga-conference-in-feb-2011.html

and she be here again for AFA in Nov.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I'm Akiko Sugawa-Shimada, who has been doing inter-cultural research on young non-Japanese audience of anime and manga (and also games) along with co-researchers, including June Madeley and Fusami Ogi. Our purpose is to investigate how Japanese anime/manga/games are used by non-Japanese audiences, by conducting both quantitative (questionnaire) and qualitative (interviewing) research.

I am especially interested in how non-Japanese people express themselves by using Japanese anime/manga/games, in the forms of cosplay, dojinshi, and/or something creative fan activities. If you could help me with the survey and further interviews, it would be really appreciated.

I'm really looking forward to hearing from you!

Akiko

Dr. Akiko Sugawa-Shimada

Assistant Professor

Kansai Gaidai University

a-sugawa@kansaigaidai.ac.jp

Monday, July 2, 2012

Art criticism

The critic's job is to speak to the artist's potential audience. The artist must simply ignore such gossip, however informed it is. Somebody said art is criticism but what I want to know is criticism art? Then there're the critic's critic and so on...

Writing is often considered the highest form of art because writers say it is. Writers love writing best so they reserve their highest praise for words.

Art history, all history is recorded by writers; they're whom we have to trust.

Good writing satisfies like nothing else. That decisive line of clever communication, like a shot of ideas directly into the brain. Music and the visual arts don't have that particular pay off, that 'led-by-the-hand' finish. They 'float,' as writing connects.

- Ofelia (Luba, p. 136)

Easy Rider vs Ghost Rider

When they cast Peter Fonda in this movie back in 2007, it's Easy Rider vs Ghost Rider!



1992 - the year we banned chewing gum, held a by-election and Kurt Cobain visited us

1989 – Unfortunate Lives: Urban Stories, Uncertain Tales by Eric Khoo, the first Singapore graphic novel comprising of short stories, was published by Times Books International and launched at the Singapore Book Fair in September.

1990 – Mr Kiasu: Everything I Also Want, the first Mr Kiasu book by Johnny Lau, James Suresh and Lim Yu Cheng, was self-published by the authors and launched at the Singapore Book Fair. The first print run was 3000 and it was sold out within weeks.

The early 1990s was a golden period for Singapore comics, partly spurred by the success of Mr Kiasu. After its initial success, we have a new Mr Kiasu book every year till 1998. Mr Kiasu was a runaway hit. The books sold well, going into multiple printings. There was a radio show, spin-off magazine, a regular strip in The Sunday Times, a Kiasu Burger from McDonald’s, a CD and a musical.

The best year for Singapore comics in terms of output was 1992. That year, 3 very different comic books were released and they serve as interesting snapshots of what life was like back then. These 3 books give contrasting views of a time when pagers were in vogue and a handphone was the size of a water bottle. People hardly heard of the world wide web and if you have an email account, you must be working in Mindef.

1992 – chewing gum ban, nirvana visited Singapore, 19 dec by-election, the last by-election

THE SHENTON STREET GANG: THE CON MASTER

The Shenton Street Gang: The Con Master is by the father-daughter team of Lu Peng and Lu Shufen and it is published by Art Classics. It is actually a sequel to The Shenton Street Gang: Stock Humour by Loh Yum Peng and Lu Shufen, also published in 1992. Lu Shufen is the artist of both books and she had just graduated from National Junior College at that time.

One must remember those were boom times then. If you had bought your HDB flat in the 1980s, that was the time when you see the price of your flat going up and up. People were into stock and shares and if you were not invested, you are a fool. This is the raison d'etre for The Shenton Street Gang: The Con Master. To teach readers about the stock market and to make a killing in Shenton Way.

But the Shenton Street Gang were no heroes. They were out to con a businessman by creating a fake take-over of his company. So while we learned about bulls and bears and how we can make money from the stock market, we are expected not to behave like the Shenton Street Gang. But who has that kind of money to invest in stocks and shares unless you are the one doing the conning?

These are cautionary tales, highly moralistic and didactic. Typical of the early 1990s. Jack Neo’s Money No Money (1998) would be along the same vein. We are not quite sure if the book is celebrating capitalism or criticizing it.

Fast forward to 2012. 20 years later, nothing much has changed. Greed rules.

KEN’S SONG: LIFE AFTER NS

I reviewed Ken’s Song: Life After NS by Tan Wee Lian (Times Editions Pte Ltd) for BigO magazine back in 1992. Despite the crude art, I gave it a good review. I like it for its honesty and intensity. Of course, some critics will say that these are no ingredients for great art. Ken’s Song doesn’t pretend to be art. It’s meant to be cathartic for a particular group of Singaporeans who struggled to find their economic and moral footing in the early 1990s.

When times are good, who are the ones who are left behind? In Singapore then, it was the Chinese-educated students. In 1987, the last Chinese medium school converted to the English stream. Which means if we take Ken to have ROD from National Service in 1992, he would have done his A level examinations in 1989. That means he could very well be the last batch to have graduated from a Chinese medium secondary school in 1987.

For a Chinese ‘helicopter’ like Ken, doing only so-so for his A levels and not getting into the local university meant he has to come out to work immediately after NS. But without a degree, he can only find low paying jobs in a society obsessed with paper qualifications. Nanyang University closed down in 1980. Nanyang Technological Institute started in 1981 and only became a university in 1991. But it was a university for engineers and Ken did not want to be an engineer. He wants to be a graphic artist. He tries to find a job in an art agency but was humiliated by the boss.

Ken identifies himself with the older Chinese educated generation, admiring their dedication to their job and craft. But his JC sweetheart is materialistic and dumps him for some high rolling Shenton Way type. Ken is a loser. And the story ends.

One is tempted to psycho analyze the artist, Tan Wee Lian and grill him about his views about man-woman expectations (that the man must be bread winner and if you cannot provide for your woman, you are a loser) and ideas about masculinity (= NS buddies and charging up that hill; so life after NS = emasculated). There are also clich├ęs about army boys visiting prostitutes.

Like the Mr Kiasu comics, some of the bad behaviour of Singaporeans portrayed here still rings true. People not wanting to move to the back of the bus, bratty kids in public, pushing and shoving in the MRT.

This book is the opposite of The Shenton Street Gang: The Con Master. It is almost anti-capitalist. Read this together with Yeng Pway Ngon’s A Man Like Me (1988), another novel about the plight of the Chinese-educated in Singapore.

Tan Wee Lian did other comic books like Love and Hamburger: Teen Life (1989), Wake Up Your Ideas!: The Recruits’ Handbook (1990) and Chin Cha-Lat! (1998).

DREAM ALLEGORY

Wee Tian Beng is one of Singapore’s more famous comic artists today. His popular series include The Adventures of Wisely, Return of the Condor Heroes (another adaptation of the Jin Yong swordfighting classic) and The Celestial Zone. The latter is even listed in the Advance Comics catalogue, although it’s been a while since I checked. Wee is also the founder of the TCZ Studio and The Comics Society of Singapore, which is more like a weekend school that teaches you how to draw comics. (Jerry Hinds and the Association of Comic Artists Singapore also do that at their Goodman Arts Centre studio)

But back in 1992, Wee was living with his parents in a 3-room HDB flat at Lower Delta, working out of the bedroom he shared with family members. Dream Allegory was his first breakthrough in comics storytelling. It compiles 2 comics he self-published earlier, Dream Allegory (1990) and Escapist Choice (1991). The originals were in Chinese and for this collection published by Asiapac Books, they were translated into English.

Wee was heavily influenced by Hong Kong’s Ma Wing Shing in the late 1980s, especially The Chinese Hero. In 1989, Ma left Jademan Dynasty to strike out in his own Tianxia comics. The first story from that was The Two Extremes, about a comic artist entering the world of his own creation.

Wee’s Dream Allegory takes its cue from that. The hero in Dream Allegory is an aspiring comic artist and it is an allegory (what else?) of the difficulties one face in Singapore in pursuing your dreams. Social realities were reflected in showing the stress of studying. Undergrads suicides and students fainting in the middle of Orchard Road from worries about being an academic failure.

Reading this again after 20 years, one realizes how stilted the art was. There has always been a lack of the kinetic in Wee’s art and that remains pretty such so today. Certain conventions of comics drawn by Singaporeans and set in Singapore are there all along – STB shots of Marina Bay, Raffles Place, The Oriental, Marina Mandarin, Tangs and Lower Delta block of flats were shown. (This goes all the way back to Pluto Man in the early 1980s) Still, Wee has influenced the newer set of comic artists here like Hu Jingxuan, who was a big fan. Also Dream Fantasy’s story of going to another fantasy world where you are a princess could be seen in JDC Amane’s VACC.

Some things don’t change.

Postscript: This escapist trend continues in Gwee Li Sui’s Myth of the Stone (East Asia Book Services), which was also self-published. Akin to The Hobbit, Thomas Convenant and Narnia, the hero in Myth of the Stone is a nobody in real life, but a big shot in this fantasy world created by Gwee, a English Literature major at the National University of Singapore. Life was way too stressful in Singapore even back in the early 1990s.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Harvey Pekar

It's been 2 years since Harvey Pekar passed away. His last book, Cleveland, came out recently. A loving tribute to the city that raised him and buried him. An affirmation of the life he lived.

Here's my tribute to Harvey from 2 years back.

http://www.ideaship.com/CAA/uncleJAM/harveyPekar.pdf

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Yayoi Kusama

Infinity Net, her autobio first published in Japan in 2002, is the best book I've read this year.
Finally translated into English and published by the Tate Modern in conjunction with a major retrospective of her works, this book is heartbreaking like Patti Smith's Just Kids. The poverty and poetry of living for your art in NYC in the late 50s and 60s, Kusama knew only one way to live.

"no matter how I may suffer for my art, I will have no regrets. This is the way I have lived my life, and it is the way I shall go on living."

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Why so serious?

Singaporeans have a very limited sense of humour. Now that should not be a problem, except for the fact that...... I don't know. I always felt that a sense of humour indicates a level of sophistication. There is no link between intelligence and sense of humour. But still, as a well developed country, laughter should not be a problem. Singaporeans say that the stressful local life make us unhappy and dull.

Let us take The Avengers movie as an example. The Singaporeans I have spoken to so far are only interested in either the action scenes or the special effects in the movie. It seems like nobody here cares about the humour. My sister watched the movie with her friends and said that she was the only person laughing throughout the film.

So it must be our culture. Humour in the United States is not culturally suited to Singaporeans. Singaporeans do get slap stick humour well though. But then comes the weird thing. I have been educated in Singapore all my life. How did I end up with an American sense of humour?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Morrissey live at Fort Canning on 8 May 2012

Setlist:

How Soon Is Now? (The Smiths - Hatful of Hollow, 1984)
You Have Killed Me (Ringleaders of the Tormentors, 2006)
You're The One For Me, Fatty (Your Arsenal, 1992)
When Last I Spoke To Carol (Years of Refusal, 2009)
Black Cloud (Years of Refusal, 2009)
Shoplifters Of The World Unite (The Smiths - The World Won't Listen, 1987)
I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris (Years of Refusal, 2009)
Alma Matters (Maladjusted, 1997)
First Of The Gang To Die (You Are The Quarry, 2004)
Meat Is Murder (The Smiths - Meat Is Murder, 1985)
Let Me Kiss You (You Are The Quarry, 2004)
I Know It's Over (The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead, 1986)
I Will See You In Far Off Places (Ringleaders of the Tormentors, 2006)
Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want (The Smiths - Hatful of Hollow, 1984)
To Give (The Reason I Live) (cover of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, 1968)
Ouija Board, Ouija Board (Bona Drag, 1990)
Everyday Is Like Sunday (Viva Hate, 1988)
Speedway (Vauxhall and I, 1994)

Encore:
Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me (The Smiths - Strangeways, Here We Come. The last single The Smiths released while they were still a band in Dec 1987.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Metropolis

Just watch it on DVD, 11 years after it was released. Tezuka was not keen for Rintaro to make an anime of it before his death in 1989. Rintaro dropped the idea until he talked to Otomo (who eventually wrote the script) in the 1990s and Mad House studio got involved in the animation as well.

The villain, Rock, also appears in other Tezuka manga - eg. Phoenix Vol 2. Part of the Tezuka Star System.

Have you fallen in love with someone you shouldn't fallen in love with...

Phoenix Vol 2 - hero fell in love with alien, which got him alienated.

Phoenix Vol 5 - hero fell in love with robot.

Phoenix Vol 6 - mother made love with sons and grandsons.

Phoenix Vol 8 - farmer/peasant fell in love with woman from the future.

Unfortunate Lives and Kiasu Times in 1980s and 1990s Singapore

Since the previous post was about Mr Kiasu, there is an article on Eric Khoo's Unfortunate Lives and Mr Kiasu in the latest issue of BiblioAsia.

http://www.microsite.nl.sg/PDFs/BiblioAsia/BIBA_0704Mar12.pdf

Monday, April 9, 2012

Not kiasu enough

Today (or tonight to be exact), I blog about Mr Kiasu again. Why? How often to we get locally produced comics that are culturally relevant? Chew On It!, Sir Fong Adventures, Resident Tourist etc. Quite a number. But how many of these comics directly poke fun at our local culture?

And that is what Mr Kiasu is truly about, thematically. It is about the quirks of our culture. Lee Kiasu, the title character (Mr Lee, not Mr Kiasu), is the average Singaporean, in a much more simpler and less stressful time in Singapore. He has his flaws, his ugliness, as well as his positive traits.

Given how stressful society is today, Mr Kiasu presents a more innocent time, where locals do not have to worry about "foreign invasions", or make such a big fuss over every little mistake our politicians make. A time when The Straits Times brand has not been sullied by STOMP, and citizens could go about with more privacy.

You know, when you see the things going on at STOMP, what do you think? I question: Who made Singapore more hostile to live in? Some unruly foreigners? No doubt. Some ugly Singaporeans? What a shame. What a shame indeed.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Tezuka once more

I read a lot of Tezuka (Atom Boy, Black Jack) when I was younger and then I read none at all. So I missed out when the more serious Tezuka stories came out in the late 1990s and 2000s - Phoenix, Buddha and Adolf.
I started reading Late Tezuka and now moving to those tomes I've missed. Phoenix is good and Buddha is one of the best things I've read. The amount of research Tezuka must have done into Buddha's life, teachings and philosophy, I wonder if Tezuka is a Buddhist himself.

Check out this image of a prince from Vol 8, the last volume. Reminds me of Little Orphan Annie. And also Starfire from the Teen Titans.


The breaking down barriers typical of Tezuka is also here.

Article on Buddha:

http://comics212.net/2010/01/06/manga-milestones-2000-2009-10-manga-that-changed-comics-5/

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tezuka - Phoenix

I wrote about Late Tezuka. Phoenix is not late Tezuka as he had been working on this since 1954. Never had the chance to read this and the only excerpts I read was in Frederik Schodt's Manga! Mnaga! The World of Japanese Comics. Viz brought out the whole series in English some years ago and I finally got to read some of the volumes.

I'm impressed. The early volumes were so so. But Vol 5 Resurrection struck a chord because it was Astro Boy in reverse. A young man who met an accident had an operation that save his life, which made him more machine than man. He requested the doctor to turn him completely into a robot because he had felt in love with one. If Astro Boy is Tezuka's take on Pinocchio, of a toy who wants to be a boy, then in Resurrection, we have a man who wants to be a machine because he is too much of a man for his iron maiden.

Robita in this story (who also appeared in Vol 2 Future) reminds me of another robot in an untranslated Tatsumi story.

Phoenix is considered Tezuka's best (and incomplete) series, so I did not associate it with Late Tezuka. But all the elements are there in Vol 6 Nostalgia. Incest, cannibalism. To perpetuate the bloodline, the mother mate with her son and later her grandchildren. The names of the children - Cain, Abel, Seth, Lot... so Tezuka was taking ideas from the old book.

The formal experimentation is also there. In Vol 8 Civil War Part 2, the short story at the end, Robe of Feathers is shown from one fixed angle - we are seeing what is enacted on onstage just as what is being observed from the audience seats.

A good write-up on Phoenix.

http://madinkbeard.com/archives/the-structure-of-tezukas-phoenix

Moebius RIP

A giant no longer walks among us. Here's an old interview in Uncle Jam.

http://issuu.com/wingedtiger/docs/uj99v37

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Get Carter! Not the movie

To me, Get Carter! The Last Dragon Scout (Nice One Entertainment) is a local epitome of the general quality and style of mainstream America comics in the nineties. For one, it has a east-meets-west, kung fu-meets-sci fi high concept. For another, its story and character design reflects a trend of comics in the nineties; unrealistic body proportions and overdressing.

The protagonist of Get Carter!, Carter Chan, has a dragon companion named Bowbalee, which to me is like Mushu from Disney's Mulan, albeit more irritating. Carter himself has a complicated backstory, which is very normal for American comics in the nineties.

Get Carter! has a lot of potential to be a great comic series. East-meets-west concepts in comics did not occur frequently. I have the first two issues, the first one having been signed by Jerry Hinds and his coworkers. The first issue gave an introductory setup. Characters were introduced one after another, with very little plot in between. The second issue fared slightly better, but still read like an introduction, given that the first issue had to introduce so many characters, sacrificing characterization. Issue two made up for that by providing some characterization.

I felt it really was a good venture; to try create an American style floppy series and break into the American market. May be, if given more issues, the series might have turned out very well. Given that Invincible (Image) were on American shelves for more than a year before it gained notice, it is very unlikely that Get Carter! would have survived in America, unless it had a publisher willing to have losses and no profits for a year. In addition, Robert Kirkman is an exceptionally talented writer. I never liked comics when they have too many subplots, but Kirkman is an expert at creating and juggling subplots. Other writers would have probably made a huge mess. Still, one year is tough to pull through.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Book of the month

Dotter of her father's eyes by Mary & Bryan Tabot (Dark Horse)

It doesn't get more real than this.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

catacombs

Listening to the demos of The Ob's latest album on my ipod.

John Hicklenton - Judge Dredd / Nemesis artist RIP

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/7527788/Comic-book-artist-ends-life-at-suicide-clinic-after-battle-with-MS.html

http://www.2000adreview.co.uk/features/interviews/2006/hicklenton/john-hicklenton.shtml

http://www.downthetubes.net/features/tributes/john_hicklenton_tribute.html

http://alternativemagazineonline.co.uk/2010/11/11/book-review-100-months-by-john-hicklenton-graphic-novel/

some recent interviews / articles which are worth reading - comic studies and education

http://www.comicsgrid.com/2011/12/roger-sabin-interview/


http://henryjenkins.org/2011/11/wither_comic_studies_a_convers.html


http://henryjenkins.org/2011/11/wither_comic_studies_a_convers_1.html


http://transatlantica.revues.org/4917


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5e5iW6wnvU


Syllabus:

http://henryjenkins.org/2011/11/comics_and_graphic_storytellin.html

Comic studies in Australia:

http://refractory.unimelb.edu.au/2010/07/18/the-invisible-medium-comics-studies-in-australia-kevin-patrick/


Charles Hatfield is worth reading too. Him and Jeet Heer, very sensible views.

http://transatlantica.revues.org/4933

uk comics - study tour report 2010

Wah, got such things!

http://www.britishcouncil.org/comic_book_study_tour_report_final.pdf

Also now you can take a MLitt/PhD in comic studies in Dundee University in the UK.

http://www.dundee.ac.uk/postgraduate/courses/comics_studies_mlitt.htm?uod_home

more kirby and thor

http://www.whatifkirby.com/gallery/comic-art-listings/mighty-thor-issue-158-page-9

http://jackkirbycomics.blogspot.com/2006/03/thor-175-fall-of-asgard.html

single panel analysis in vogue - the way foward for comic scholarship and studies?

Jack Kirby and Thor!

http://hilobrow.com/2011/02/22/kirb-your-enthusiasm-3/

http://www.comicsgrid.com/2011/05/thors-comic-opera/

Monday, January 30, 2012

The great magician

There is hope for HK cinema yet. Watch the above latest Derek Yee film and you see Lau Ching Wan channelling Michael Hui via his classic role as The Warlord. This year's best film about the magic of illusion. So it is about cinema and make believe much like The Artist.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Chinese soft power

Chinese President Hu Jintao has upped the ante for Chinese soft power earlier this month. (The Straits Times, 3 Jan 2012) He said, “The overall strength of Chinese culture and its international influence are not commensurate with China’s international status. The international culture of the West is strong while we are weak.” He warned of hostile powers “westernizing” China – the process must be halted and thus the need to boost its cultural influence abroad. (somewhat similar to Singapore’s own anti-yellow, anti-hippie culture movement in the 1960s and 1970s)

Beijing has earmarked 45 billion yuan to fund the expansion of state-owned media groups like CCTV, state news agency Xinhua and China Radio International. The first shots are already fired. CCTV is opening a studio in Washington DC and will launch 2 channels.

The verdict is still out on this latest bid by China. Joseph Nye, who wrote the book on soft power, said that China would still be weak on soft power. (Today, 19 Jan 2012) He argued that using culture and narrative to create soft power is not easy when they are inconsistent with domestic realities. He wrote: “The development of soft power need not be a zero sum game. All countries can gain from finding attraction in one another’s cultures. But for China to succeed, it will need to unleash talents of its civil society. Unfortunately, that does not seem about to happen soon.” He cited the examples of Liu Xiaobo and Ai Weiwei and quoted Han Han as saying, “the restriction on cultural activities makes it impossible for China to influence literature and cinema on a global basis or for us culturati to raise our heads up proud.”

Recent years have seen a boost in the Chinese animation and comics industries as encouraged by the Chinese government. Chinese rock music is too unpredictable to control and promote overseas. But ever since the return of Hong Kong to the mainland in 1997, the HK film industry has become a source of Chinese soft power. When former critical mainland directors like Zhang Yimou make apologies for authoritarianism in films like Hero (2002) and went on to stage the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, it is no surprise for HK directors to pander to the Chinese market in making rom-coms and Beijing-friendly blockbusters filled with 3D special effects. See recent output by Tsui Hark and Johnnie To.

Which leads to me this final point: the consequences of Chinese soft power and the death of HK cinema. Perry Lam has argued in his book, Once A Hero: The Vanishing Hong Kong Cinema, that HK cinema as we know it, is dead. To quote Lam here at length:

“HK movies used to display a wise knowingness about what makes the city tick; what local viewers got from these movies was the unrivalled, unmitigated pleasure of recognition. The Mo lei tou type of humor in Stephen Chow’s movies is designed to elicit knowing laughter from viewers. To say that Mo lei tou is just silly talk is to miss altogether the fierce cultural pride of HK people, which this unique brand of humor both hinges on and plays upon.

“Seen in this light, Infernal Affairs (2002), featuring two undercover agents as opposing heroes – and one of the top-grossing post-handover HK movies made primarily with the HK people in mind – shone with the blinding brightness of a setting sun.

“The remarkable success of HK, which transformed itself from a fishing village into a world-class financial center under British colonial rule, was the product of collusive colonialism. Its people, known for their pragmatism and resourcefulness, prospered by actively cooperating with, and learning from, their colonial masters. This is at once the dark secret and the original sin of Hong Kongers, who, as the old Chinese saying goes, “treated the thief as the father”.

“There is a thin line between collective guilt and mass fantasy. Local filmmakers, whose job is to make viewers feel good about themselves, came up with a distinctly HK species of movie hero, one that HK people could relate to, even identify with. As a tragic hero, the undercover agent has no choice but to “treat the thief as the father” and go deep into the enemy’s operation. He risks his own identity, sanity and life in the process, yet he remains misunderstood, misrecognized and misrepresented to the bitter end.

“This undercover complex, if you will, of HK cinema represents one of its major strengths – HK filmmakers know better than almost anyone else how to get under the skin of an undercover agent… jumping to the other side of the barricade always amount to a sort of betrayal, regardless of whether it’s the right or wrong side that you have chosen. A movie with a spy or undercover agent at its center shouldn’t be just a morality play about good versus evil, but also needs to be psychodrama about guilt and conflict.

“Infernal Affairs comes across as highly sexual affair, conveying a genuine sense of pleasure in trespassing and violation - a movie, like its heroes played by Tong Leung and Andy Lau, immersed in despair and guilt and, paradoxically, self-indulgence and redemption.

“But this distinctiveness has somehow vanished from mainstream HK cinema. Taken as a whole, HK cinema after Infernal Affairs is at a loss without its heroes…”


One only has to remember movies like Alex Cheung’s Man on the Brink (1981), Ringo Lam’s City on Fire (1987) and John Woo’s Hard Boiled (1992) to realize how important the undercover agent is to HK cinema and our imagining of the city. You can visualize Eddie Chan, Chow Yun Fatt and Tony Leung (again) as the tragic heroes. Add Stool Pigeon (2010) and Nicholas Tse to that list.

So one of the more immediate consequences of Chinese soft power (or rather its economic power to get HK filmmakers to kowtow to it) is the death of HK cinema that we in Southeast Asia grew up watching.