Monday, June 29, 2015

Maple Comics

Maple Comics is a new comics company in Malaysia who is making waves at CAFKL and Cooler Lumpur. Even with just three titles so far, you get a sense of their curated approach. Set up by Amir and Roy, I managed to ‘sit down’ with Amir and get the lowdown on Maple.

What is the genesis of Maple Comics?

Both Roy and I wanted to do comics - write, draw and publish them. So we decided rather than bitch about how bad things are, we'd go and do something.

Roy was in Gempak and then he published a comics magazine - Komikoo. It had a great start but couldn't maintain the momentum because the business model for comics magazines is not sustainable without massive investment.

I was never in the comics publishing business until Maple Comics. I read a bunch and got into credit card debt in part because of comics. I also spent 12 years in magazines, TV and newspapers though.

What is the meaning behind the name, Maple?

It's maple as in "mah-pleh". A common word in the 90s to denote 'makan place' or something. We came up with the idea of a comics publishing company at a maple, so we decided to call it Maple Comics.

What is the strength and weakness of the Malaysian comic scene right now?

We have an abundance of talent. A lot of it world class. And we have unique treasure troves of stories either with our folk tales, our culture, colour and also the very unique Malaysian perspective - this kind of identity is something others dream of having.

Weaknesses - we are way too whiny. Everyone's complaining and not many are actually doing something - anything. You want comics to be accepted? You can't simply tell the public to accept comics. You have to make comics that the general public will embrace and enjoy.

What do you mean by you are way too whiny?

'We are too whiny' is directed at some parts of the comics community who simply complain about a lot of things but hardly ever get anything done.

But we also believe that we can't promote the scene/industry by simply finding who is at fault. I don't believe we can rely on Governments or feel entitled enough to say that everyone should read more comics. These things have to come from the grassroots and of their own volition. You can't force people to love you or like you. You just have to keep at it until you get it right and be there IF the public wants comics.

It is very possible that at the end of all this, at the end of our lives, people still don't give a shit about comics, and that's fine. We just want to be there, if and when they decide to pay more attention to comics.

What niche is Maple fulfilling in the Malaysian comic publishing scene now?

Well, there are the hobbyists and convention people, and then there are the big players Gempak, PTS, Karangkraf. We want to be somewhere in between - we publish professional, high quality graphic novels like only the big boys do, but we want to be opened with our themes and genres.

In terms of content niche, we would like to have our comics to work on multiple levels, with different ages getting different things. We also hope to publish more adult comics with heavier themes. Something that works on teen, young adult and above. And we publish fiction and non-fiction comics.

Are there particular genres, art style or stories that you are inclined to?

We want Malaysian stories. This takes some explaining. It's not the locale or the people, or the clothes that make a story Malaysian, though it helps. We want stories that only Malaysian storytellers can tell. If it's a generic action comic or a manga style princess story set in Kyoto, I bet a lot more artists can do the job better. So we want stories and perspectives no other comics publishers in the world can do.

What are your titles so far?

We have three - Kuala Terengganu in 7 Days, Invasi and Taubat Si Tanggang. This year, we hope to have six or seven titles.

Invasi was a novel published by Buku Fixi. Written by Raja Faisal and adapted by the author as well as Azhar.

Kuala Terengganu in 7 Days is sort of a sequel to Beijing in 7 Days which Mimi self-published in 2013.

Do you see Maple as part of the pulp fiction wave in Malaysian publishing now albeit in graphic form? (e.g. using a 90s slang like ‘maple’ for your name)

We would like to tap into the pulp fiction wave but after six months, I can tell you that these are different markets. We hope to build our audience as the indies have done but the way comics are, and the way readers are, we see a long and winding road ahead of us before the thing can cross over and hit critical mass. We are hopeful, though.

In the near future, the website will have more titles as we open it up for products from other publishers. We aim to make a one-stop shop for all ASEAN indie comics. In fact, we are in talks with Epigram Books from Singapore and a few publishers in Indonesia to hopefully bring some titles over, in Bahasa Malaysia (BM).

Is language still an issue - ie to reach a wider audience, you need to publish in BM?

Yes and no. We see our country as having a huge opportunity cause we're all multi-lingual. Maple Comics prioritise getting things out in BM and we are also doing some titles in English. Our first book is in English - Kuala Terengganu in 7 Days, and it's our best-selling book so far, so it's really not an obstacle at all.

Language is a consideration, but it is not a problem. Marketing and distribution - that's an issue. We usually ask the artist - what language is right for the book (with a choice between BM and English)?

How has the comic scene changed/grown? There are indie cons now like CAFKL.

The indie cons are great, and we at Maple Comics believe some of these con-folk are ready to hit mainstream bookstores - they are that good! We hope to bring more of the artists out of the con and into the real world. You need to graduate from this very wonderful, supportive, tight and friendly community, to take on the greater Malaysian public. We hope to find some comics that will eventually make the whole scene mainstream and sustainable for those who may want to quit everything else and just do comics (like ourselves).

What's next?

We're doing something with Alan Quah - very excited about that. He's doing something personal that could be one of his greatest books ever.

Also, we're doing these anthologies in colleges called Donk! (Dongeng Kontemporari) where we get students to reinterpret and reimagine traditional fables in a contemporary setting. The project is to get college kids interested in comics, really. We are doing an all-star professional version of Donk! ‘cause the concept is great!

We are also publishing another travelogue called Pelempang Realiti (Reality Bitchslap) by Arif Rafhan. And there's a Japan travelogue with one female artist and she's just amazing. Jonsuraya is one of our greatest talent that needs a platform - we hope we're it.
We're doing our first adult/mature title - Iblis dan Kugiran Kambing Hitam. It's about some school kids summoned Satan and he actually appeared.

We have a crime/drama title coming up next year.

There's Nafiri - an epic fantasy that is late, but hopefully worth the wait.

There's a bunch of other stuff but we'll announce them when they're ready.

Also, it is our dream to one day publish Lat. We know we'll do a great job of it, if only he'd say yes...

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

[Read! Fest 2015] To Singapore with Love: Personal and National History in Comics

This is happening this Sat.

Date: Saturday Jun 27, 2015
Time: 04:30 PM - 06:00 PM
Venue: Multi-Purpose Room in Central Public Library

[Read! Fest 2015] To Singapore with Love: Personal and National History in Comics

Amidst Singapore’s rapidly changing cityscape and way of life, there has been a growing surge of nostalgic creativity that pays homage to an era long left behind. Find out from our graphic novelists what inspires them when they tap on personal memories or historical events to create their comics.

About the speakers:
Andrew Tan (aka drewscape) is a freelance illustrator from Singapore. His work consists of drawing storyboards and illustrating for advertising agencies as well as magazines. He enjoys creating comics just for the fun of it. He’s often experimenting with various styles and mediums, hunting for new art tools and discovering new graphic novels with fresh, interesting drawing styles. His inspirations come from daily life, manga, European comics, and watching science fiction. He blogs at

Cheah Sinann is a former editorial cartoonist with The Straits Times, where he also produced the popular comic strip The House of Lim for eight years. His cartoon strip Billy & Saltie, which highlights environmental issues in a humorous manner, appears in The Borneo Bulletin in Brunei, and in The Daily Frontier in Bangladesh. His collection Billy & Saltie: Cool Croc was published in 2010. Visit his website at The Bicycle, a graphic novel about the friendship between a Japanese soldier and a street urchin during the Japanese Occupation, was published in 2014.

Koh Hong Teng is a comics artist and painter based in Singapore. He published the two-volume Gone Case: A Graphic Novel, Book 1 and 2, with writer Dave Chua in 2010 and 2011 respectively. In 2011, he received the Arts Creation Fund from Singapore’s National Arts Council in support of Last Train in Tanjong Pagar. The graphic novel Ten Sticks and One Rice, illustrated by Hong Teng and written by Oh Yong Hwee, was published by Epigram Books in November 2012 and won a Bronze Award at the 7th International MANGA Awards. Hong Teng has also produced comics and artwork for the National Library Board’s irememberSG project and Project LAVA respectively, and is an external examiner for final-year illustration projects at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

Lim Cheng Tju is the co-editor of Liquid City Vol. 2, an anthology of Southeast Asian comics published by Image Comics in 2010, which was nominated for an Eisner award for best anthology. He is also the country editor (Singapore) for the International Journal of Comic Art. He writes and edits comics sometimes.

The Borneo Boys review

The Borneo Boys by Tom McLaughlin, Natasha Rusdy Wong and Helena Goh

Having a daily cartoon strip in Brunei about the wildlife in Borneo, it was to my surprise and delight to find out there's another cartoon work about the world's third largest island in the form of The Borneo Boys, a manga-type comic book set in Sarawak.

The story in the book centers around the legend of an antique giant vase which tests the friendship of two boys, one from Peninsular Malaysia and the other, a Sarawakian in East Malaysia.

Dzul is a young lad from Kuala Lumpur who moves with his family to Kuching, Sarawak where he meets Hong Huat, a local boy with whom he shares going to school. On one occasion, Dzul is mad at Huat for being late for their meeting at the weekend so he confronts the latter at the antique shop where he works. Eerily, a giant vase inside the shop begins to glow as if with shiny jewels inside it. Thinking as such, both boys dive into the vessel which is actually a time portal. They are met by another boy, who tells them they are in Kuching in the early days when there are no malls and cinemas and guides them through the history of the city.

While The Borneo Boys, aimed at younger readers, is a simple read, I also find it informative. Interspersed with facts about Kuching, there is also a historical centrespread on how the region came to be.

A good job and there is so much diversity and culture in Borneo, I would welcome more works to promote this great island.

- Cheah Sin Ann draws a comic strip set in Borneo, Budi and Saltie. His latest book is The Bicycle, published by Epigram Books.

You can see some images of The Borneo Boys here.