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."