Thursday, November 17, 2016

chin yew needs your help...

Chin Yew is probably one of the most persistent bugger I know. I first got to know the Malaysian comic artist when he sent in a story for Liquid City Vol 2 (Image Comics, 2010), an anthology of Southeast Asian comics I co-edited with Sonny Liew. Chin Yew is heavily influenced by the Drawn & Quarterly gang like Joe Matt, Seth and Chester Brown. The story he did, The Box, is a little existentialist tale about a man trying to get rid of his porn addiction. (but one never gets rid of one’s porn collection as Joe Matt has proven; you just rebuy all the old Playboy and Penthouse you have thrown away…)

I gave Chin Yew the feedback that porn addiction is too specific and not all would identify with it. I suggested for him to change it to addiction in general. He agreed and you can read the story for yourself in Liquid City Vol 2.

In the year that Liquid City Vol 2 came out, Harvey Pekar passed away. Both Chin Yew and I were big fans and we readily worked on a comic story together to pay tribute to the man.

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


Apparently, Joyce Brabner, Pekar’s widow, has a copy of the book.

So I am familiar with Chin Yew’s work, having edited his comics and worked with him. He went to Europe to work for a few years and we lost touch. But we got reconnected again when he returned to Malaysia a few years ago. Since then, he started a patreon page where for USD$1 a month, you get his daily diatribes. So get this, for just 0.033 cents a day, you get a read a single page comic filled with quirky insights and loser situations that you are glad Chin Yew is experiencing on your behalf. You get to live vicariously. For just 0.033 cents a day.

I’m doing this sales pitch not because Chin Yew is a friend but he is a very talented artist spilling his guts out on the page – his bad relationship with his father, his lack of a girlfriend problem, etc. It’s uninhibited and bashful.

Recently, Chin Yew had an exhibition and here are some photos from it.

https://www.facebook.com/events/143917136048062/






I’ve also included a sample of Chin Yew’s daily strip here. Hope he doesn’t mind. (too late bro!)



What I like about Chin Yew is his tenacity. As of today, it is Day 449 of his daily struggle.

Anyway, if this is something you like, do support support.

https://www.patreon.com/chinyew



Thursday, November 3, 2016

SWF 2016: Tita Larasati



In the previous blog entry, I featured Xin, a local artist whose comics are like diary entries. This particular form of comics is rather popular among indie female comic artists these days - personal and confessional in a short story. We have longer autobiographical stories like Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (2006), Carol Tyler’s You’ll Never Know (2009), and Miriam Katin's We Are On Our Own: A Memoir (2006) and Letting It Go (2013). Miriam will be at the Singapore Writers Fest next weekend.



But in Asia, the short story form in telling personal stories has taken root. In Japan, we have the essay manga while in Indonesia, we have the graphic diaries. You also see similar examples in Thailand and Malaysia (the comics of Sarah Joan Mokhtar and the travelogues of Mimi Mashud, which is a slightly different genre). Of course, this form is not exclusive to female artists. In Singapore, we have the Ollie baby stories by dreamscape and the urban sketching trips of Favian Ee.

One of the pioneers of the graphic diaries from Indonesia will be coming for the SWF, Tita Larasati. Together with Sheila Rooswitha, Tita started doing graphic diaries in the 2000s. In 2008, Tita and Rony Amdani set up CAB to publish graphic diaries. Their first titles were Curhat Tita by Tita and Cerita si Lala by Sheila.

Both of their stories have appeared in the Liquid City volumes, the anthology of Southeast Asian comics published by Image Comics. Sheila did a family road trip story in Vol 2 while Tita wrote about her grandmother in Vol 3. Recently, Tita's mother passed away and she has been remembering about her ibu in short graphic diary entries which she posted on Facebook.



At SWF, Tita will be appearing on a panel with Miriam about Drawing To A Close, on graphic novelists wrestle with the concept of personal loss and trauma - how they depict painful memories, and how the process helps them seek closure.

Tita has come to Singapore several times for STGCC and other personal trips. But this will be the first time she will be speaking about her personal comics. Do check out her panel with Miriam.

https://www.singaporewritersfestival.com/nacswf/nacswf/author-speaker/Tita-Larasati.html

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Illustration Arts Fest / Singapore Writers Fest 2016: Interview with Xin



The Illustration Arts Fest at LaSalle may be over but the fest continues as part of the Singapore Writers Festival over this coming weekend. I’ve been interviewing the foreign guests, but this week I like to feature our homegrown talent, Weng Pixin, or better known as Xin.

I first encountered the work of the 32 year old artist about five years ago. She was then selling her own handmade toys from recycled materials in a shop, Doinky Doodles, which she opened in 2008 along Bali Lane (an earlier incarnation was Maki Squarepatch in 2006). She was also teaching part time at LaSalle on how to draw comics.

Xin is not a professional comic artist. But she has created a few mini comics, which she sold at her shop and bookshops like Books Actually. At that point in time, she has made about 8 mini comics and 3 poster comics. Her mini comics are priced at $10 and above, double the price of most other mini comics in Singapore.

Xin’s comics are reminiscent of the work of Harvey Pekar and Jeffrey Brown. She seeks to emulate the emotional and intellectual intensity of the former but is closer to the latter’s lovelorn sappiness. Her major comics are the two-parter, Please To Meet You and I’ve Lost An Ocean, which detailed the fallout of her breakup with her boyfriend in 2006.

Xin described these two works as diary-entries, and doing these comics was meant to be therapeutic for her. In the afterword, she said she was advised by family and friends to not be overly edited. Thus, Xin’s comics falls within the category of what Hillary Chute described as reimagining trauma, whereby artists return literally to events to re-view them.

The first book, Please To Meet You was a blow by blow account of the fallout. But the catharsis was incomplete. The second book, I’ve Lost An Ocean was more reflective. It took place immediately after the events of Please To Meet You – it showed how Xin picked herself up, recovered from the experience and reconciled with the breakup. She still described her boyfriend as kind and gentle even though she was dumped for no good reason.

In this email interview, Xin’s answers were thoughtful and provided insights into her artistic processes and practice. The desire to build a community through art is a constant refrain in her replies. Xin has since closed down Doinky Doodles at the end of 2013 and has started a new workspace, Studio Why Not.



What is your current art practice and what informs it?

My current art practice involves teaching-&-facilitating art workshops mostly for children, engaging in community-based art projects and designing-&-facilitating art experientials for groups of individuals with specific goals in mind (the goals are often directed by the organizations I am working with). In terms of my personal art-making processes, I find that there has been a gradual shift, from my initial interest to create semi-fictional pieces reflecting themes of loss, change and transformations, to my more current interest, which carries themes of acceptance, courage and working with vulnerability. I feel my interest in expressing my responses to universal states, such as happiness, shame, pain, harmony…etc, are what generally informs my art processes, practices and interests.

How would you describe yourself - an art maker of handmade objects, an art therapist or a comic artist?

Yes, I think all of them apply to me in big and small ways.

You graduated with a first class honours in Painting, Fine Arts from the LASALLE College of the Arts in 2004, and later returned to LASALLE to do a Masters in Art Therapy. What motivates you as an artist?

What motivated me is…probably my belief that art is not an extra special something in life, and that art is very much part of our life. It is not restricted to scheduled moments in the theatre, galleries…, it is also not restricted to books, paintings and many other structure that art exists in and within (though those mediums are just part of where art takes its form in). Art is a form of communication in the broadest sense, be it in a verbal or nonverbal manner, or both. For me, seeing art in this way motivated me to do what I do, as an art-maker, art therapist and comic artist.



Can you share with us My Thread, My Word, your communal sewing project?

My Thread, My Word started because I found myself wanting to sew, but I was not motivated to do it on my own anymore (I did solo-sewing for close to 7 years!) I had completed my studies in art therapy and began work in a private psychotherapy clinic. Soon the idea of a communal sewing project came to mind. I wanted to…somehow (during my off days from work) be able to do something that brings people together through the art process that I enjoy very much, while also giving me the opportunity to sew. It is also connected to my belief that art is for everyone, that it is not about being in some hip venue making art (though I don’t mind that happening), but really- about the gathering of people in a comfortable space to make and sew some art together.

When and why did you start doing comics?

I started making comics sometime in 2006. The reason was pretty much to make sense of a heartbreak that was experienced as a very sudden and surprising thing, so naturally- that made it rather hard to sort of, digest, what just happened. I tried writing it out, like journal-entries really. Then when I found I could not put to words what was going on, I found myself drawing, to accompany my journal. As it looked like a huge mess, I thought to arrange them in boxes, which also helped provide a sequence or flow to how the words and pictures work together to tell my story. Prior to that, I had not read a single graphic novel in my life (I grew up more with cartoons and short-formed comics like Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes or Matt Groening’s Life in Hell). When I completed my comic, I knew I was not the only one who ever went through a heartbreak from breakups, and so decided to print it into a comic zine to sell at art markets. It was only then, where people started sharing information to me about graphic novelists, in a “hey, your work reminds me of so and so”, where I begin to check out graphic novels.

Who/what are your influences for art in general and specifically for comics?

My influences in art came from…as a teen, mainly Van Gogh and Picasso. Van Gogh for his passion and honesty (though looking back, I think he needed a lot more help than just making art), and Picasso for his playfulness and daringness. As an art student, I found myself more influenced by people I get to meet close-up (not through art books), because I feel seeing the artworks themselves made a much bigger impact on me. For me, as an art student- I was under the tutelage of Ye Shufang and Kelvin Tan during my studies. While Shufang encouraged me to check out works by overseas artists through books, which was wonderful, Kelvin recommended that I check out a senior of mine, Sia Joo Hiang, who was painting a few doors from where I was situated. I was pretty lucky to be able to check out her art space back when LASALLE College of the arts was situated at Goodman Road. Joo Hiang’s works made a big impact on me, because she painted the way, I feel, Marlene Dumas painted. I don’t mean stylistically, but in terms of energy: raw, unfiltered, bold…in a way that it stirs me emotionally. Looking back, I realized this energy of ‘stirring’ me was likely from their courage to be themselves and speak their minds. As an art student, this was refreshing because she was showing me that we can use art beyond representing something in our immediate surroundings. Joo Hiang’s art taught me how we can communicate ourselves in an, as unafraid a manner as possible. In my comics, I tried to do that as much as possible.

What is your process like for your comics? Do you lay out your pages first by doing thumbnails or is it more free flowing - you just draw one panels after another? Do get someone to edit your work?

The process for my comics has been a bit of a mixed bag. In some stories I wish to tell, I find it better to plan it out a bit, and in some others, I find free flowing works much better. Overall, I avoid too much planning such as sketching in detail where everything is to be within a panel or as a whole comic. This is due to the fact that I am sort of a messy art-maker in my paintings and drawings. In my sewing, I rarely plan at all. So I suppose I don’t quite work well with too much structure or certainty put into place.

You have described Please To Meet You and I've Lost An Ocean as diary-entries. Are they meant to be therapeutic?

They were meant to…help me understand what was going on inside my head. For some reasons, the heartbreak (then) hit me pretty hard and I was not able to string words together to make sense of my thoughts. I wanted to gather my thoughts so they could help me understand what is going on in order to know what I can do next. And in turns out- the pictures have to come in, to help me out.



What functions do comics serve for the individual (for the artist and for the reader) and for society?

I believe there is research stating that we survive as a human species by communicating and passing along our stories, our lived experiences, universal desires and wishes…and so on. In essence, it makes us feel less alone in our experiences and dilemmas. And comics is just one such way for stories to be created, passed along, for people (readers) to feel less alone and more connected to the community. Personally, I felt relieved when I found Gabrielle Bell’s works, because she captured a sense of mundaneness which I could relate to very much. I felt ‘less alone’ in experiencing my personal bouts of melancholia, and in turn- that helped relieved anxiety of ‘being the only one feeling or thinking this and that’.

Why do you think most Singapore comics today are dealing with more about personal stories and issues?

I believe we inherently, not only as Singaporeans, but just as people, want to belong. And a way to do that is to express ourselves, connect, and engage with others. Considering from a local context…there may be some reasons such as: (1) the availability of the internet, where you are exposed to a greater spectrum of others’ lives, from the wonky to the mundane, to the really interesting; (2) This may also be connected to the newer government’s approach where it is less authoritative than what my parents’ generation was used to. There is an expanded area for conversations, opinions and thoughts to be shared (more so compared to the past). With that, you have people feeling more comfortable expressing themselves than before; or (3) art schools and art colleges’ teaching approach, where the encouragement of one’s ideas (as a ground for art to take form) trumps the focus on honing techniques.

What was the last comic you produced and any new ones coming out soon?

The last comic produced was probably in 2015, where I completed a series of short-form comics, working along the themes of conversations with the subconscious (if subconscious manifested as a human being). A new one I am working on is a short blurb for Chicks on Comics project, a Buenos Aires-based comics collective, with a focus in supporting and encouraging women comic artists.




Comics as art or art as comics - what do you think?


I like to think it is comics as art as life.

You are taking part in the SWF panel on Illustrating the Female Body. Is illustration a mode for feminist discourse? And what is the role of the woman artist in contemporary times?

Yes, illustration is certainly a mode for feminist discourse. Art in all forms is a potential mode for feminist discourse, so long as it is communication that does not promote hate and divisiveness. Illustration in particular is powerful because of its usage in print media and online media. Considered from a local context, a woman artist can further utilise her capacity by using her art as a form of education and support for the younger generation, especially the girls. For example, I believe illustrations (or any other form of art…) that seek to capture a fuller spectrum of women’s lives, experiences and dreams, can be a great base to contribute to the feminist discourse. If an artist’s illustrations can help inspire a girl to feel less alone, help her think and dream big, I believe that makes illustration a wonderful modality for amazing things to take form.


After the interview, I thought of an additional question for Xin, whether she feels alone and isolated as a woman and as an artist? Maybe I’ll ask that at the SWF panel she is appearing at:

https://www.singaporewritersfestival.com/nacswf/nacswf/author-speaker/Weng-PiXin-.html

Check out her activities here:

https://pixmadeobjects.com

And you can find the rest of the IAF panels at SWF here:

http://illustrationartsfest.org


Friday, October 21, 2016

Illustration Arts Fest / Singapore Writers Fest 2016 - A short interview with Mattias Adolfsson



Famed Swedish illustrator Mattias Adolfsson is coming to town for the Illustration Arts Fest at La Salle at the end this month. Something his fans in Singapore are looking forward to. And he is one of the most relaxed and chilled guys you will get to meet too. He left the games industry some years ago and has not looked back since.

His appearance at the Illustration Arts Fest:
http://illustrationartsfest.org/

And at the Singapore Writers Fest:
https://www.singaporewritersfestival.com/nacswf/nacswf/author-speaker/Mattias-Adolfsson-.html


How burnt out were you when you decided to quit your day job and just go into illustration full time?


Not that much. It was just a growing feeling that I wanted to quit the game industry; the plan was to work a couple of years more as my side business grew on the side. My body told me it was high time, but I guess the brain did not agree fully with the decision.

Are surprised by the success and acclaim you have achieved overseas? For example, the adoration you have received from your fans in Taiwan..


Yes it`s a constant surprise for me but I am very happy that the things I draw are liked all over the world




Where do you get your ideas from?


I get them from my brain, but where my brain gets it from I have no idea.

What is with your fascination with robots, machines and steampunk?

It`s probably from my childhood I have always been fascinated by things I really can`t understand.

Is the future dystopic?

Probably yes, but I like to think positive with my drawings, nothing halters creativity than a depression.

Given the details in your illustrations, how big are your originals?


For most of the time I draw in scale 1 to 1, so if you see something in prints it`s probably its size

What do you expect to find in Singapore?

So many people have told me how wonderful it is, so I have really high expectations. One thing that I`m expecting is to sweat alot.



Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Illustration Arts Fest 2016 - Interview with Richard McGuire



Most people in Singapore would not have heard of Richard McGuire or his groundbreaking story, Here, in RAW. Nor would they know that he was in the seminal NYC No Wave band, Liquid Liquid, in the early 80s. They were best known for their track, Cavern, which was covered by the Sugar Hill Records house band as the backing track for Melle Mel's old school rap classic White Lines (Don't Do It). You may have heard the Duran Duran version of White Lines.

That is why it tickled me to no end that McGuire is being invited to Singapore for the Illustration Arts Fest later this month through OIC's partnership with NoBrow. An odd choice but I am damn pleased that McGuire is coming, someone so left field which is what we need. And if you need more convincing, the expanded Here (300 pages!), originally published by Pantheon in 2014, won the Gold Prize for Best Album (French edition) at this year's Angouleme Comic Festival.

I emailed him some questions and here are his thoughtful replies.



Did you expect 'Here' to have such longevity? What is its 'staying power'?

When I made the first six page story, I could never have imagined that it would have had the impact that it did. It’s been twenty five years since the original was published and I’m still being asked about it. I think the story, or the concept of ‘the passage of time’, is something everyone can easily relate to.

What do you think is the legacy of 'Here?

I don’t know, that’s not for me to say. One thing I do know is that the non-linear way it works may be closer to ‘new media’ than to a traditional narrative. It’s very fluid, you can open the book at any point and jump in, it doesn’t really matter where you enter or exit. This kind of narrative is more ‘experiential’ than a traditional narrative story arc.



What made you want to do 'Here' the graphic novel?

I had the idea to make it into a book about ten years after the first strip was published. Then it took another fifteen years before the book was realized. Not that I was working on it all that time, I was involved with other projects, directing animated films, designing toys, etc. I always thought the concept was worth going deeper into, something deeper emotionally and also with history. In theory the concept is infinitely expandable, it would be as deep as I was willing to go. I chose a three hundred pages because that felt substantial. I also decided to use an actual location and I chose my family home, so then it became more personal. I did a year of research on that area before I made any serious attempt at the artwork. It needed that foundation before I could start to play around with it. Right before I started to seriously focus on the project I faced some family tragedies. My mother, my sister, and my father all passed away, all within a short time. My parents had been living in the house where I grew up for fifty years. The process of going through everything in the house in order to sell it brought back many memories, it helped as part of the grieving process, but also became part of the research. I used a lot of family photos as reference. The experience set the tone of the book, the idea that life is short, and to appreciate the moments we have. My family is at the center but the scope of time is so vast, I show the formation of the planet and deep into the future. In context our lives are all just tiny blips in time, it can be humbling.

To me, the original 'Here' taps on the synchronic strength of the comic medium - we see six panels (and more) in a single page at one glance and then we start reading the individual panels in 'order'. I find that I could 'read' the panels across, and up-down to come up with different stories and flow. (much like Steranko's Frogs)

Just now I looked up ‘Steranko's Frogs’, it’s fascinating!

Yes, In the original strip there were six panels per page, each with the complete view of the room, and of course including many smaller panels. The reader can scan the information, and make connections much faster in this format. It was also more of a formal exercise. It’s not a real location, I wanted it to be a sort of ‘any-place’ so the reader could feel that it could be their own home. Even the choice of style was very generic, on purpose, it was to read very ‘deadpan’, very clearly, like an instruction manual. With the non-style I felt more could be projected onto it by the reader.

The graphic novel, on the other hand, is more diachronic in nature given the format of the book and its narrative flow (although we do have panels within the panels). What do you think is gained and / or lost when Here becomes a graphic novel?

I don’t prefer one over the other, they both have their strengths. The room in the book is a larger image and fills a two page spread. It feels satisfying that the corner of the room fit’s into the gutter of the book. When you open the book you physically enter the space, it gives it more of a reason to exist in this format.

One thing I was very proud of was that when I decided to do the book, I was equally excited about what I could do with the eBook version. I wanted to take advantage of what the electronic version of the book could do to push the non-linear narrative. I was lucky to meet a developer and together we created a version that could be read faithfully as the book, or go into a ‘random‘ mode, which is kind of the ‘re-mix’ version. The program shuffles all the panels and backgrounds, making new combinations. I was able to incorporate animation too, here and there as a surprise something small will move in ‘real time’. Again I don’t prefer one over the other, they each use the strengths of their mediums, and expand the concept.



Why didn't you do more comics after the original 'Here'?

I made a few but my interests led me to different areas. I made a few books for children. I designed some toys. I was always interested in getting involved with animation, that led to eventually directing for TV and cinema. Having returned to comics I see the possibilities and the advantages very clearly. You can do things in comics you can’t in other mediums. The form allows for a flexibility with narratives, it can be as fluid an experience as reading a map, there are many possibilities. Film in contrast is very fixed and unrolls in one direction always. I’m interested in doing more experimental book projects, film and music too.



You were in Liquid Liquid and you contributed to RAW in the 1980s. Can you share with us those heady days of the 80s working / living in New York City?

We could do an entire interview on this subject. First of all It was a time when you could survive by paying very little rent, that made a lot of things possible. Being in a band we were invited to play clubs which allowed us to experience a lot of different scenes. Different cultures (black, hispanic, gay) were influencing each other in a very fluid way, and music was at the center of that. Graffiti was another cultural connection. Two people I was very fortunate to meet and become friendly with were both Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat. I was very interested in making street art in those days, I would paste up drawings in the streets while I pasted up posters for the band, that work and the designs I made for our record sleeves was the first public work I made. I met Art Spiegelman and all the RAW artists in the late 80’s. Having already had a little taste of the booming art scene, meeting these cartoonists felt to me like what I imagine meeting artists in Paris in the 20’s must have been like. They were making work because they had no choice to do anything else, it had nothing to do with money. There was zero money to be made in comics at that time, there were no ComicCons, no blockbuster films based on comics, no graphic novels before MAUS. RAW artists were a passionate, international group, making exciting work and getting it out to the public the best way they could. It was thrilling to have the first comic I ever made published in it’s pages.

What's next?

I have a few projects cooking. Possibly a virtual reality version of HERE. So far it’s just talk, but with some very interesting possibilities. I also signed an option contract to turn HERE into a TV series, which would be thrilling, but again it’s only talk until it happens. I have a new book coming out next month, it’s a collection of drawings I’ve made over the years for the New Yorker magazine. I am just starting to develop the next bigger project, it will incorporate multi-media. It’s both simple and complicated, it’s ambitious, and it scares me, so I know I’m pushing myself.

What do you expect to find in Singapore?

I was first here very very briefly in 1990, on the way to Indonesia to have my first toy manufactured. I’m looking forward to it, I don’t know what to expect!

Details of McGuire's talk at the Illustration Arts Fest are here:

http://illustrationartsfest.org


Sunday, October 16, 2016

SWF 2016 - interview with Chihoi



I can’t remember when I first came across Chihoi’s work but I do remember being blown away by it. One does not so much ‘read’ Chihoi’s comics but one encounters and experiences it in a visceral manner, especially seeing his originals at an exhibition at the Hong Kong Art Centre many years ago.

To me, he is like the third generation of alternative comic artists in HK (he would elaborate on that point in the answers below). But what really differentiates him is the experimental nature of his work, in his play with the form and substance of the comic medium.

I am tempted to say this makes his work closer to literature, but that would privilege the literariness of comics over its other aspects. To me, comics is more than that and it can be anything if we keep pushing the medium. Chihoi is one of these people pushing the frontier of what comics can do. And when I thought about inviting a comic artist from Asia for this year’s SWF, his name comes to mind.



From SWF website:

Chihoi was born in Hong Kong in 1977. He has loved drawing since childhood and started to publish comics and illustrations when he was bored by his food and nutritional studies in university. His comics have appeared in Hong Kong newspapers and international anthologies. Major publications include the collaborative projects Hijacking - Comic Hong Kong Literature, The Train and a solo work, Still Life. His comics have been translated into Italian, French, English and Finnish. His website is www.chihoi.net

Here’s a short interview with him via email ahead of his visit:

Are you doing comics or are you doing art?

Both. There're stories in my mind that I wanna draw in the form of comics. And there're images in my mind that I wanna express as a piece of artwork which I cannot express otherwise.

You didn't grow up reading comics. Is that a good or bad thing for your work?

Good in a way that I didn't have any presumption of what a comic book should look like. I just had something in my mind and tried to find my way to tell it.

In my secondary school days, I used to do some pastel drawings as a hobby. It's like a diary or dialogue to myself. I enjoyed the private time of making art without thinking of publishing them. This private time is important to any artist.

I had not discovered the form of comics until later in university time when I discovered Lai Tat Tat Wing's experimental works.

I see a linage of independent /alternative comic artists from Li Chi Tak to Lai Tat Tat Wing to you. Would this be accurate?

You can say so. Li Chi Tak had been a famous icon from 80s to mid-90s. Lai Tat Tat Wing had known Li's works for a long time until he started to publish comics in mid-90s. For my case, I started around 1996-97, soon after Lai's publications. Sometimes Lai says to me like, "We're actually the same generation, right? I'm not that old!" Haha!

Your preference is for the use of pencil to create very dense and heavy shading. Why did you choose this particular style / way of working?

On one hand I got inspired by some European comics artists like Anke Feuchtenberger, Amanda Vahamaki, etc., their works of pencil and charcoal are just amazing.

On the other hand, in our book Hijacking - Comic Hong Kong Literature that I collaborated with Kongkee, we have tried many different techniques and media to adapt various writers' works. Pencil by then has become my favourite tool. The force and emotion from my heart extend directly to the hand and to the pencil. The smudges create sense of depth, and some kind of melancholic atmosphere that ink cannot do.



I visited Helsinki and Stockholm recently and saw that you were there too for their comic festivals. Do the audience in Europe read your comics differently from the readers in HK?

I guess much the same. In both HK and Europe, they publish my books normally in small print run, like 500 to 1000, sometimes 2000. I guess I'm only known to small circle of people.

But in Europe there're more small publishers who have the sensitivity and guts to discover good artists and publish more edgy works.

In HK, the main problem is the expensive rent that makes small publishers and small bookshops difficult to survive.

How did Fa Fa World come about? I see traces of Lo Koon Chiu's 小圓圓 and also EO Plauen's Father and Son... did you read these comic strips?

When I was little, I didn't read much of Lo Koon Chiu's works except when I visited Grandpa. In Grandpa's place I used to read Wong Sze Ma's 牛仔. In 2008 when the newspaper asked me to do a column, I was re-reading a bunch of 牛仔 and discovered a long lost world. So I created Fa Fa World, and drew simple daily life stories between a father and a daughter.



What is the future for HK comics?

I hope there're more editors to do some archival publications, like re-edition of old comics from 1950s-70s. Or someone who can re-edit those comic columns scattered around so many newspapers of the time.

What is the future for HK?

I'm quite pessimistic, in a way that I'm afraid I'll be blamed for being pessimistic.

Can one still be an independent and alternative artist in HK?

Yes of course, among different arts, comics is the cheapest way to begin.



You can find details of Chihoi’s panels at SWF here:

https://www.singaporewritersfestival.com/nacswf/nacswf/author-speaker/Chihoi----.html

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Illustration Arts Fest 2016 - Interview with Isabel Greenberg



OIC is organizing the inaugural Illustration Arts Fest at LaSalle College of the Arts at the end of this month and one of the guests they have invited is the talented Isabel Greenberg. She is one of the most refreshing young comic creators to come out of the UK. Recently she spoke about the future of the graphic novel at the London Literature Festival at the Southbank Centre, London.

From her website:

Isabel Greenberg is a London based illustrator and writer. Her first graphic novel 'The Encyclopedia of Early Earth' was publushed in 2013 by Jonathan Cape in the UK, Random House in Canada and Little Brown in the US. It has since been translated into French, Spanish, Korean and Chinese.

It was nominated for two Eisner awards, won the Best Book catagory at the British comic awards, was one of NPR's 100 books of the year, was the Guradian's graphic novel pick of the month and was in the New York Times Graphic Books best seller list.

She studied illustration at the University of Brighton and since graduating has worked for a variety of clients including The Guardian, Nobrow Press, The National Trust, Seven Stories Press, Solipsistic Pop, First Second and The New York Times. In 2011 she won the Observer Jonathan Cape Graphic short story prize. She exhibited work in the Memory Palace exhibition at the V&A, and was a select at Pick Me Up 2014 at Somerset House.


Her second graphic novel, The One Hundred Nights of Hero, will be on sale at the Illustration Arts Fest.

Ahead of her visit, here’s a short interview with her conducted over email.



You entered The Observer / Cape / Comica Graphic Short Story Prize in 2009 and came in 2nd. You entered it again in 2011 and won, which led to the book deal. The Encyclopedia of Early Earth came out in 2013. How have your work and your life changed since then with all the attention and critical acclaim?

Well I get a lot more work which is very nice, and have more freedom to do the projects I like. At the time of making my first book, I had a part time job as a nanny, and after the book I was able to get enough work (and teach as well) so that I no longer had to. That’s the main way it has changed.

In 2014, I saw you many times at the various cons and small press events and I really admire your work ethics. Are you doing comics full time now?

Up until this year I was full time, doing graphic novels, some illustration commissions like children books and also teaching. But this year I have actually gone back to school, and am doing a masters in Animation!



Who are some of your influences? Tove Jansson? Ursula K. Le Guin?

Yes! I love both! Other artists and writers I like include Phillip Pullman, Leanne Sharpton, Russel Hoban, Alexis Deacon, David B, Marjane Satrapi and so many others!

How much preparation do you do for your world building? Do you have stacks and stacks of notes?

Yes, I write lots of stories. Some of them never make it into the final books, but it helps to make the world richer.

Tell us about the new book, The One Hundred Nights of Hero.

The One Hundred Nights of Hero is set in the same world as my first book, but is not a direct follow on. It is set around two main characters; Hero and Cherry, who are forced to tell a series of stories in order to save their lives. It’s a bit of an ode to the Scheherazade.



What do you look forward to in Singapore? What kind of food is on your must-eat list?

I don’t know what food is best to eat, I am hoping I will get to try lots of new things! I am not a fussy eater, so I like trying new things. I am also excited to see the Botanical Gardens.


Details of the Illustration Arts Fest and Isabel’s events are here:

http://illustrationartsfest.org

Friday, October 14, 2016

SWF 2016 - Interview with Peter van Dongen



I first heard about Peter van Dongen’s Rampokan from my friend, Tita Larasati many years ago. A story set in Indonesia in 1946 and spanned the islands of Java and Celebes, with the background of the Dutch police action as its setting. Other than the political intrigue, double-crossing and betrayal (and a huge cast of characters), it is a story of a sentimental young man trying to look for the Indonesia of his past and making fatal mistakes in the process of doing that. In a way, the protagonist, Johan Knevel, represents the old Dutch who still thinks the Indies will welcome them back with open arms. He is trapped in the past and there will be hell to pay for those who cannot live in the present and see the future for what it is.

Book One Java was published in 1999 and Book Two Celebes was published in 2004. In 2014, the books were compiled as one volume and published in Bahasa Indonesia by Gramedia. A year later, Gramedia released the English edition. With the Bahasa and English editions out, I knew I had to invite Peter for the Singapore Writers Fest this year as I felt we do not know enough of our region’s history, especially our immediate neighbour, Indoneisa.

From the SWF bio:

Peter van Dongen is a Dutch comic artist and illustrator. His acclaimed graphic novels Rampokan Java (1998) and Rampokan Celebes (2004) are set in the time of the Revolution in Indonesia and were translated into French, German, Bahasa Indonesia and English. Co-designed by Joost Swarte, Rampokan Java was awarded the 1999 Dutch Prize for Best Book Design. Current projects by Van Dongen include a graphic novel adaptation of Familieziek (Repatriated) by Adriaan van Dis and a collaboration with Teun Berserik to illustrate a two-part adventure of Blake & Mortimer, a quintessentially British detective duo created by Edgar P Jacobs.



What sparked your interest in history, especially that period of Dutch police action? (1945 – 1949) What do you think of the term, 'police action'?

Of course the term 'police action' is only used for all these years to cover up the real story of what was really happening between 1946 and 1949: a colonial war, with probably more then 100.000 Indonesian casualties and 5000 for Holland. We thought for years that real Dutch people were not able to do such things as happens in a real war: killing so many people, the real dirty work as war always is.

So when you tell the Dutch people at home their boys were fighting only for the good cause as in the so-called ‘police action’, everybody wants to believe that. But nowadays, it's a common thought it wasn't like that, but it’s a real dirty war.

So my interest in this period of the Dutch Indies came from my mother who was born there at Sulawesi in 1941 and I realized I didn't knew anything about her land of birth. I never had a proper history lesson about this at all in school, so I decided to make a comic about her home country. Of course, we had heard everything about World War 2 in Europe/Holland, but hardly anything about Indonesia during that time and really nothing about this war of independence.

How many years of research did you put into Rampokan? How many trips did you make to the Dutch and Indonesian archives and visiting Indonesia itself?

Altogether 3.5 years before I finally started with the first page (19 in the English edition), but during my research I was working on the scenario as well. It was before google when I begun to find my way. I first went to the libraries where I found so many written books about it. Strange that in school it was hardly ever told, because everything was already there in the libraries.

In these 3.5 years I visited only once the Dutch archives (KIT, Royal Tropical Institute) and in 1992 some in Indonesia; it was my first trip then to this country. But to finish the project, it took me altogether 13 years, so during that time I visited Indonesia every 5 years and more Dutch archives too. It was and is still a learning curve.



Can you share with us about your own family background and experience and how they have shaped the creation of Rampokan?

My Mother is born in 1941 at Manado, Celebes/Sulawesi. Her father was a sergeant-major for the Dutch Indies Colonial Army (K.N.I.L.); an Indo, of mixed European/Indonesian. He, Henri Johan Kneefel, married in 1937 his mixed Chinese/Indonesian wife, Engelina Ong, on the island of Ternate, their place of birth. They had three daughters, including my mother, the middle one. During World War 2, my grand father was imprisoned by the Japanese for more then two years and finally beheaded on August 16th, one day after the capitulation of Japan.

My grand mother lost everything during the war, so she decided as a widow with three daughters to come over to the Netherlands after the independence of Indonesia. In fact, she was an immigrant trying to find for herself and for her daughters a better life, like so many of today’s immigrants in Europe. But it wasn't easy for her to come to Holland even though her husband lost his life for this land.

Europe is in flux now with Brexit, the immigrant issue, the Burkini controversy in France and the threat of terrorism. To me, your story about encountering different cultures, mixed marriages and parentage/ heritage is all the more relevant now. What are your views about the situation in Europe today?

What I can see as an average man who is reading his daily newspaper and watching the national news, it's all about fear. Fear to lose all the things people had gotten used to in the past 60 years. For instance, the fear of losing their jobs because of the migrants from Eastern Europe, The European Union had taken away their national identity, but above all, it is the fear of losing their national culture and tradition because of the migrants from the Middle East, such as their freedom of speech. Many times we hear on TV or the radio that the people are afraid of the ‘Sharia in Europe’.

15 years ago, the people had a lot more compassion for 'the others', people were able to share more. But since 9-11, everything has changed. During debates, there is hardly any room left for different shades of meaning. It is often one or the other. For instance, I am a product of an interracial marriage and sometimes when I hear people say that they only want a spouse from their 'own group', I feel kind of offended. What are they afraid of? To have a mixed child as I am?

I don't now how this will end: with the constant threat of terrorism nearby, the European crisis with the Southern and Northern parts, the war in Syria, the immigration…It's quite too much for an average man who is just following the daily regular news.



You have quite a big fan base in Indonesia. How have the readers there responded to Rampokan?

Good! Turns out I am telling a story here about their history they never really heard about. From a different perspective. Another thing I found out from talking with lots of Indonesians whom I met is that they love Tintin. My work is quite obvious influenced by Hergé, so Rampokan feels like Tintin in Indonesia. And in some reviews, it was questioned why there was no Indonesian comic artist who could make this book. Apparently, it had to be a foreigner (with Indonesian roots) who was able to do it. I took that as a compliment, haha.

This would be your second trip to Singapore. What are you looking forward to?

The food in Chinatown! I remember I had some delicious meals on the streets. And of course, to meet new people at the festival to hang out with.

Finally, tell us about your band in Holland.

My band, The Original Talkatives, was formed by my eldest brother Arnold (guitar) in 1980 for one gig only at the school party. We were just some kids from 13 (me on drums) to 15 years old from the same school, Montessori Lyceum Amsterdam. We did mostly cover songs from the Police. But because everybody was that impressed, we decided to continue.

Later on, my twin brother joined the band as well on keyboard and during the 6 years, we released 4 singles on vinyl, played everywhere in Holland in clubs, festivals, for radio and TV, and once in Berlin and Curaçoa. We played kind of pop ska/reggae, the music form that was really popular in those days from bands like Madness, The Specials and The English Beat.

So finally the band split up in 1986 after the release of our last single, High Pressure. Actually, we recorded another song for the single, called Squeeze Louise, but the first 10 seconds got lost and there was no time and money left to do it all over again.

For 27 years everybody went his own way, but three years ago I decided to release this song on vinyl, just for fun, and because of this we had the opportunity in 2015 to do a reunion gig to promote this at the festival Indomania in the Melkweg, Amsterdam. Yes, we reformed the original band together but just only for this event. But who knows for the future? We had so much fun playing together after 29 years!

My two brothers kept on going in the music field and played in the famous Dutch band Loïs Lane who was the support act for Prince during his European tour in 1990.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GV38Hf77GME

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOOpXHdZ84A


Ending the interview with Peter by asking him about his band is deliberate. When he gave me the Squeeze Louise 7” a few years ago, I was intrigued not so much that a comic artist was in a band (we have many examples of that), but that one can be of a mixed parentage like Peter with so much history in his blood, and can still be open and global in outlook – reading and creating clean lines style comics ala Herge and listening and playing in a Dutch ska band influenced by Madness.

That gives us hope and an indication of what the future can be. (Peter’s little boy is into drums at home) As much as we need to know the past, we should not be trapped by it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vc3mm2aH2g8



You can find Peter’s panels at SWF here:

https://www.singaporewritersfestival.com/nacswf/nacswf/author-speaker/Peter-van-Dongen-.html

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

SWF 2016 - Interview with Miriam Katin



Miriam Katin is proof that it is never too late to do comics. Or to do anything at all. I first encountered her comics in the early 2000s in the Rosetta anthologies (Alternative Comics) and I couldn’t find much information about her. In 2006, she released We Are On Our Own, her graphic memoir about her mother’s escape from Nazi-occupied Hungary to much acclaim. A sequel of sorts, Letting It Go, was released in 2013.

Here’s the Drawn & Quarterly bio of her:

Miriam Katin was born in Hungary during World War II. She later immigrated to Israel and then the United States, where she worked in background design for animation studios such as MTV and Disney. She is the author of the award-winning memoirs We Are On Our Own and Letting It Go. She currently lives in Washington Heights with her husband and a giant Ficus benjamina tree.

Here’s how she described herself on her website:

I was born in Hungary during WWII. As far as I can remember there just seemed to have been a war which reminded people of other wars or that war was imminent. A revolution expected, happened, was over…what is next… This made for strange behavior with warped sentiments and scruples all around. While one is swimming as well as one can in this murky environment things do puzzle. In pictures and few words I am trying to find the line connecting events, people, causes and results. There is also of course the pleasure of just looking on…

• Immigrated to Israel in 1957
• Served in the Israel Defense Forces as a graphic artist 1960-1963
• Background designer, Ein Gedi Films, Israel 1981-1990
• Background designer, New York 1991 – 2001
◦ Jumbo Pictures
◦ MTV Animation
◦ Disney Studio


So we finally tracked down Miriam and invited her for this year’s Singapore Writers Fest. Ahead of her weekend with us on 12 and 13 November, here’s a short interview with Miriam which I conducted over email. What really surprises me is her gentle tone and generous spirit. I'm looking forward to meeting her in person.



How have readers responded to your two memoirs?

I received much reaction from young people, some of whom bought the books for older relatives with WW2 past.

The first book especially is being part of curriculums in a number of schools and it is very touching how students relate to the story and also the art.

It has been a few years since the two books came out. Looking back now, who do you intend the books are for?

I did not think about a particular group of readers as I only knew that I had to do this story. And I was sure that I could.

It was very important to me and I wanted it to be very real. But it turned out to be so much more for so many people.

I never expected this to happen.

Why do you think there is such a strong interest in graphic memoirs in North America, especially among the English Literature departments in universities? Is there a community of graphic memoir creators?

Well, this great interest and popularity came about after the publishing of Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”, that is when graphic novels were finally taken seriously in the US and indeed became subjects of academic research and teaching. It became a respected media.

I don’t know about a community but we keep meeting and showing up in various places. ComicCons, book signings, exhibits and parties so I guess we are kind of a “ tribe ”?

We have two years of National Service for all males in Singapore. I was a combat engineer and later, a combat medic. Was the basic military training tough when you were in the Israeli Defense Force in the 1960s? What made you signed up? What was the experience like?

All men and women have to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. ( except for the very religious girls but even they have a choice of civil service ) The basic training was rough, boot camp but after that I served in a Graphic Arts unit which was truly a great time and fine learning experience. Two years of growing up.



You started your comic creating career late. Was it difficult to do so at that point in time? Are you doing comics full-time now? What made you wanted to do comics?

It was not at all difficult because there were those fabulous women pioneers of comics who, during the sixties battled for recognition in the male dominated Comic world. Diane Noomin, Trina Robbins, Aline Kominsky-Crumb and others.

So by the time I entered this realm in 2000, it was smooth sailing. These women are my age, real heroes and now, the very young have opportunities as well. Of course my age and particular background was of immediate interest.

The stories my mother told me and what happened to our family they were like a constant, uninvited, unwanted presence in my daily life. They demanded to be told. I had no choice. But I am not a writer and I also thought who needs an other Holocaust story. Then, when I discovered “Maus” I realized that I can draw my stories. I found my voice.

What is the next book?

I don’t have a new book but I enjoy working on short stories, commissions, and unless something comes up like the Berlin issue, I have a collection of short stories to compile. I am very inspired by Lydia Davis, the Booker Price winner short story writer.

The audacity of a short story of one sentence? I am thinking on that vein.

Just wondering, were you influenced by Raymond Briggs?

When my first book was published many reviews brought up the name Raymond Briggs. I didn’t know him at all and I had to look up his work. I was totally new on the comic field. Being connected with him is a huge compliment to me.

What are you looking forward to for this trip to Singapore?

As always, meeting people, talking to people and being in a whole other world. Always, always a great pleasure.

Being on the panel with such different artists will be a real treat.

Details of Miriam's appearances at SWF in November:

https://www.singaporewritersfestival.com/nacswf/nacswf/author-speaker/Miriam-Katin-.html

SWF 2016 - Interview with Miriam Katin



Miriam Katin is proof that it is never too late to do comics. Or to do anything at all. I first encounter her comics in the early 2000s in the Rosetta anthologies (Alternative Comics) and I couldn’t find much information about her. In 2006, she released We Are On Our Own, her graphic memoir about her mother’s escape from Nazi-occupied Hungary to much acclaim. A sequel of sorts, Letting It Go, was released in 2013.

Here’s the Drawn & Quarterly bio of her:

Miriam Katin was born in Hungary during World War II. She later immigrated to Israel and then the United States, where she worked in background design for animation studios such as MTV and Disney. She is the author of the award-winning memoirs We Are On Our Own and Letting It Go. She currently lives in Washington Heights with her husband and a giant Ficus benjamina tree.

Here’s how she described herself on her website:

I was born in Hungary during WWII. As far as I can remember there just seemed to have been a war which reminded people of other wars or that war was imminent. A revolution expected, happened, was over…what is next… This made for strange behavior with warped sentiments and scruples all around. While one is swimming as well as one can in this murky environment things do puzzle. In pictures and few words I am trying to find the line connecting events, people, causes and results. There is also of course the pleasure of just looking on…

• Immigrated to Israel in 1957
• Served in the Israel Defense Forces as a graphic artist 1960-1963
• Background designer, Ein Gedi Films, Israel 1981-1990
• Background designer, New York 1991 – 2001
◦ Jumbo Pictures
◦ MTV Animation
◦ Disney Studio


So we finally tracked down Miriam and invited her for this year’s Singapore Writers Fest. Ahead her weekend with us on 12 and 13 November, here’s a short interview with Miriam which I conducted over email. What really surprises me is her gentle tone and generous spirit. I'm looking forward to meeting her in person.



How have readers responded to your two memoirs?

I received much reaction from young people, some of whom bought the books for older relatives with WW2 past.

The first book especially is being part of curriculums in a number of schools and it is very touching how students relate to the story and also the art.

It has been a few years since the two books came out. Looking back now, who do you intend the books are for?

I did not think about a particular group of readers as I only knew that I had to do this story. And I was sure that I could.

It was very important to me and I wanted it to be very real. But it turned out to be so much more for so many people.

I never expected this to happen.

Why do you think there is such a strong interest in graphic memoirs in North America, especially among the English Literature departments in universities? Is there a community of graphic memoir creators?

Well, this great interest and popularity came about after the publishing of Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”, that is when graphic novels were finally taken seriously in the US and indeed became subjects of academic research and teaching. It became a respected media.

I don’t know about a community but we keep meeting and showing up in various places. ComicCons, book signings, exhibits and parties so I guess we are kind of a “ tribe ”?

We have two years of National Service for all males in Singapore. I was a combat engineer and later, a combat medic. Was the basic military training tough when you were in the Israeli Defense Force in the 1960s? What made you signed up? What was the experience like?

All men and women have to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. ( except for the very religious girls but even they have a choice of civil service ) The basic training was rough, boot camp but after that I served in a Graphic Arts unit which was truly a great time and fine learning experience. Two years of growing up.



You started your comic creating career late. Was it difficult to do so at that point in time? Are you doing comics full-time now? What made you wanted to do comics?

It was not at all difficult because there were those fabulous women pioneers of comics who, during the sixties battled for recognition in the male dominated Comic world. Diane Noomin, Trina Robbins, Aline Kominsky-Crumb and others.

So by the time I entered this realm in 2000, it was smooth sailing. These women are my age, real heroes and now, the very young have opportunities as well. Of course my age and particular background was of immediate interest.

The stories my mother told me and what happened to our family they were like a constant, uninvited, unwanted presence in my daily life. They demanded to be told. I had no choice. But I am not a writer and I also thought who needs an other Holocaust story. Then, when I discovered “Maus” I realized that I can draw my stories. I found my voice.

What is the next book?

I don’t have a new book but I enjoy working on short stories, commissions, and unless something comes up like the Berlin issue, I have a collection of short stories to compile. I am very inspired by Lydia Davis, the Booker Price winner short story writer.

The audacity of a short story of one sentence? I am thinking on that vein.

Just wondering, were you influenced by Raymond Briggs?

When my first book was published many reviews brought up the name Raymond Briggs. I didn’t know him at all and I had to look up his work. I was totally new on the comic field. Being connected with him is a huge compliment to me.

What are you looking forward to for this trip to Singapore?

As always, meeting people, talking to people and being in a whole other world. Always, always a great pleasure.

Being on the panel with such different artists will be a real treat.

Details of Miriam's appearances at SWF in November:

https://www.singaporewritersfestival.com/nacswf/nacswf/author-speaker/Miriam-Katin-.html

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

STGCC 2016: Emma Rios Interview



I first met Emma Rios at Thought Bubble in Leeds in November 2013. She and Kelly Sue DeConnick had just released the first issues of Pretty Deadly, their revisionist take on the horror Western, published by Image Comics. They had first worked together on Captain Marvel for Marvel and were fan favourites at Thought Bubble. There was a long queue for Emma’s sketches and she was spending easily 15 to 20 minutes on each sketch, talking to the fans in between. Her respect for her readers won me over.





About a year later, I would meet Hwei Lima at Comic Fiesta in KL. I showed her my Emma sketch and Hwei gamely drew her own in my sketch book. Jump to a few years ahead and the two good friends have collaborated on a new comic series, Mirror (Emma writes and Hwei draws), again published by Image.

I managed to conduct an email interview with Emma ahead of her visit to Singapore as a guest of STGCC. She told me to edit her answers accordingly as English is not her first language. But I found her answers sprightly and I am leaving them largely as it is.


We talked about Singapore last year and you said you would like to come here. What made you interested in Singapore?
Food aside, I just adore visiting conventions, the furthest from home as possible.
Also, Hwei lives rather close and we don´t have the chance to meet very often. I thought it would be awesome to try to make the con together and travel a bit just after.

When I introduced you to STGCC and they extended an invitation to you, were you surprized?
Absolutely! I expected only huge names to be invited, honestly. I’m doing what I can, and I think I’m doing ok, but it’s true that I’m walking this path in between mainstream and indie comics and, moreover, Spain is rather far.

Your partner-in-crime for Mirror, Hwei from Malaysia, is coming as well. Tell us about your friendship and how guys met.
Hwei and I, both, got to know each other through comics thanks to a program called Lingua Comica, a workshop organized by the ASEF (Asia-Europe Foundation) back in 2008, in which a few cartoonists from Asia and Europe were invited and paired together to create stories. That year, the event was held in Japan due to the Kyoto International Manga Museum opening its doors, and having been part of it was one of the best experiences of my life. Of course my partner was Hwei then as well, and we did a 20 page comic together.



How was it like writing for Hwei? (the first time someone else is drawing your story)
On one hand, Hwei has been an inspiration to me since I first saw a page from her. Whether it is writing or drawing, everything she does is extremely nuanced with very little, and its beauty feels ethereal, like floating on the page. And when someone’s work feels from out of this world to you, only thinking about writing for her, writing something that could reach her, that could surprise her, definitely freaks you out.
On the other, if there is someone that can understand myself as an artist it’s Hwei. Because even if our styles look different at first sight, our priorities in terms of narrative and character work are pretty much the same. So, as a writer that always thinks as an artist, makes me feel safe.
Hwei and I know each other rather well at this point, and our relationship in Mirror as writer/co-writer and artist/co-artist is really tight. We are both really involved with the characters and the story, working really hard on it to make it wide and accurate; I wouldn´t change this feeling for the world.

My own reading of Mirror is that it attempts to be a new kind of shojo manga. What would you say to that?
That makes me smile but I’m tempted to ask you why, honestly. It’s true that some shojo manga stories from the 70s and 80s -people like Ikeda, Moto Hagio or Keiko Takemiya- are very inspiring to me. But at the same time, even if it starts with glimpses of a relationship between Sena and Ivan, I don´t think that LOVE, in capitals, in the sense of having a romantic interest, is treated as a main subject in the book.
That said, the story is definitely romantic in terms of depicting tragic heroes and the never ending conflict between Technology and Nature in my head.
Now that you mention it, I remember making a few jokes ourselves, and with Brandon, about 8house (the Image science-fiction series edited by Brandon Graham) becoming some kind of shojo sci-fantasy at the beginning of the whole thing ha ha... But none of the books intend to address a specific audience.
And I’m afraid Mirror totally turns into space opera in the second arc.

You worked as an architect. How has that influenced your work? (especially for Mirror)
Architecture influences me a lot in Mirror, specially figuring out the locations for the story. It’s Science Fiction, so you have to make almost everything up. Like the space ship Esagila and the Irzah colony. It’s as if I need to have the environments in which the action takes place clear in my mind before starting to write anything.
Aside from Mirror, when I draw I always think a lot using maps, and normally design all those spaces in which I’m going to make the characters move, as accurately as possible. I really spend a lot of time drawing backgrounds and trying to do tight world-building in general.



How was it like working with Kelly Sue DeConnick, Jordie Bellaire and Clayton Cowles on Pretty Deadly?
It’s very comfortable and fun. We’ve spent quite a long time working together already, so it feels like family.
Working with Jordie on colors is really interesting because even if we worked on a lot of books together at this point she always surprises me with crazy palettes and approaches to the narrative that make me think so much about what I do myself. It’s really rewarding.
Clayton, as letterer, respects my opinion so much, which I truly appreciate.
Kel and I are sisters for life. I love her so, so much. And she inspires me a lot at every level.



You and Brandon Graham seem to be on the forefront of a new wave of sci-fi / fantasy stories. How did Island and 8house come about? (both are published by Image Comics)
Brandon was the first one who came up with both ideas about three years ago, and I received them enthusiastically.
To me, they felt like building a safe haven in comics, a place to start, to experiment, to push yourself forward… and consequently, I didn't hesitate one bit in terms of offering myself to collaborate on them both.
The main concept for all these projects was having all the creators involved work with total freedom, and organizing their schedules to work comfortably, spending all the time necessary on their pages, so they could create beautiful work without pressure.
The American market still suffers from this monthly comics need, and that makes a lot of artists feel miserable due to deadlines and pressure.
I would like to think that nobody in Island feels this way.
8house started with the idea of becoming a shared universe built among several themes, but in the end, and precisely because of working with this much freedom, aside from sharing a similar feeling, the stories are all stand alone and independent from each other. Now, each collection has its own title, like Mirror, Arclight, From Under Mountains, Kiem, Yorris…

I read ID in Island #1 and #2 and that pause in the story between issues creates a different effect from reading it as a graphic novel in one sitting. Did the original serialization affect your structuring of the story?
I guess what affected me the most was doing it between arcs of Pretty Deadly. That made me try to simplify and make something pretty direct. A message, a tale…
I understand what you say, though. It’s true that it reads differently. But that’s because the first half of the book is a set up, and the second half a resolution I think you don’t expect by reading the first part. And also because I played a lot with the rhythm differently within the two halves; making it pretty frenetic at the beginning, distracting in terms of fake world building, overwhelming with overdoses of medical info and crazy decompressingly towards the end to try to develop the mood and the feeling.
It probably reads better as a whole, but I find the distraction between the first part and the other rather exciting in terms of having people building their own idea of the story in the middle .

I heard Hwei turn you on the historical Chinese drama series, Nirvana in Fire…
Haha, yeah… I saw some fan art she was doing and decided to check it out, just to end up incredibly hooked to it. I watched it twice, can you believe that? It’s sooooo gooooood. I wish I could read the novels...



Any new projects coming up?
More Mirror and more Pretty Deadly for me in 2017. I’m crazy excited about the following arcs for them both. Best life ever, honestly.
I have another personal project in mind that I want to do on my own, like ID, but it won´t happen for at least one year and a half.

What is that one dish that you die-die must try in Singapore?
Oh man, I have no idea! But I’m looking forward to learning a lot about food on this trip. One of the things that has me more excited is the possibility of eating something different —I haven´t tasted it ever before— everyday.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Asian Comics



Wrote this a year ago and the review is finally out in the latest issue of Uncle Jam (No. 106, Volume 43, Summer 2016).

Info about Uncle Jam and Phil Yeh here:
http://www.sdcomicfest.org/phil-yeh/

I wrote a shorter review of Asian Comics here:
http://www.parkablogs.com/content/book-review-asian-comics-john-lent

But this is the full works. Go get.

Asian Comics by John A. Lent (University Press of Mississippi, 2015)

It is fitting that I got the opportunity to review John Lent’s Asian Comics for Uncle Jam. I first met John Lent, then Professor of Communications at Temple University, when he toured Southeast Asia in the early 1990s to research about its comics. He arrived in Singapore in 1992. I was then the comics editor for BigO, a rock-pop culture magazine and John soon tracked me down to interview me. In turn, I interviewed him for BigO and I got him to write for BigO as well. He recruited me for Witty World, the international cartoon magazine he started with Joe Szabo. It wasn’t long before he introduced me to Phil Yeh, the publisher of Uncle Jam. The rest is history.

Over the years, I have made use of many Lent-edited volumes for my own research into Singapore and Southeast Asian comics. He is a pioneer in this field and books like Asian Popular Culture (1995), Themes and Issues in Asian Cartooning: Cute, Cheap, Mad and Sexy (1999), Pulp Demons: International Dimensions of the Postwar Anti-Comics Campaign (1999), Illustrating Asia: Comics, Humor Magazines and Picture Books (2001), Comic Art in Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America through 2000: An International Bibliography (2004) and Southeast Asian Cartoon Art: History, Trends and Problems (2014) are seminal reference books for anyone interested in Asian comics. That would also include the International Journal of Comic Art (IJOCA) which Lent has been putting out since 1999.

Now, Lent has finally put together all his research on Asian comics since the 1980s into one oversized hardcover volume that is 342 pages. The book has 17 chapters and is divided into three sections: East Asia (China, Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan), Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam), and South Asia (Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka). What is interesting is that there is no chapter on Japan. Lent explains that since there are so many books on Japanese manga, there is no need for a chapter on manga. However, the first chapter, ‘A Lead-Up to Asian Comics: Early Asian Visual Humor and Narrative’, explores the roots of manga in ukiyo-e (woodblock print). Still, the shadow of Japanese manga permeates throughout most of the chapters – the influx of manga titles into the Asian comic market since the 1980s and the strong influence of manga style among comic artists in countries like China, Taiwan and Thailand since the 1990s. I experienced this first hand when I conducted comic research trips to Hong Kong, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia. For more on the impact of manga in global comics, one can look at Comics Worlds and the World of Comics: Towards Scholarship on a Global Scale (Global Manga Studies, Vol 1), edited by Jaqueline Berndt, published in 2010.

Lent’s organizing method is the country approach, which he favoured for two reasons: ‘each country is distinct culturally, linguistically, and politically’, and ‘to lump countries together thematically would integrate them in ways that are neither realistic nor appropriate’. However, one can argue that Lent could have used both the country and thematic approaches in this book. There are some countries with similar histories that could have benefitted from a historical-thematic approach such as Singapore and Malaysia, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and Vietnam and Cambodia, or even Malaysia and Indonesia. A comparative approach outlining similarities and differences between these countries would have been enlightening and engaging. There is also a need for a chapter on the increasing number of female comic artists in Asia, which, to his credit, Lent has highlighted in his ‘Introduction’. For that, one has to look at ‪International Perspectives on Shojo and Shojo Manga: The Influence of Girl Culture‬ (edited by Masami Toku, 2015). There was also a special issue of IJOCA (13:2) from 2011, which had a series of articles on Southeast Asian female artists, exploring the themes and concerns.‬‬

Lent’s strengths is allowing the artists to speak for themselves – largely a phenomenological approach that emphasized on the lived experience of people who are in the comic industry – ‘it is essential to discover directly from those who lived through events what they know, believe and experienced’. Lent conducted about 400 interviews with Asian comic editors, artists, writers, publishers, festival directors, shop owners, critics, academics, officials, comic pirates and animators. Having read much of Lent’s writings, they are filled with details and what Clifford Geertz has termed as thick description. These interviews were conducted during the 60 trips to Asia that Lent made from 1986 to 2012 – all handwritten down in those A4 yellow writing pad that Lent uses. I remember them fondly when we first met in 1992 and again when he interviewed me in Singapore in 2000. We last met in Singapore in 2011 and he was still using the yellow writing pads. He must have a lifetime supply of them.

The mass communications approach employed by Lent focuses on the artists and industry (sales and distribution), which is very educational for any newcomers as it provides both historical and contemporary overviews of Asian comics such as the two waves of pirated comics in China’s comic industry in the 1990s and 2000s. If there is something lacking about this approach, it is that it could have discussed more about the aesthetics of the different Asian comics, what makes them ‘work’ or to even explore whether there is such a thing as an Asian aesthetics in comics. But as Lent made clear in his ‘Introduction’, he saw himself as a ‘gap plugger’, to fill this hole in comics scholarship about Asian comics. It is meant to open the door for other comic scholars to go deeper into the topic and explore other areas. In this aspect, his work is groundbreaking and backbreaking – an almost 30 years effort that sees a professional in his late 70s (accompanied by his wife-fellow researcher, Xu Ying) flying all over Asia to get the untold stories of Asian comics.

Such an approach allows Lent to work fast, literally flying into a country, interviewing people (‘snowball approach’ of meeting one cartoonist would lead to another), visiting studios, offices and shops, and flying to the next research site. Having focused on the comic art of Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines in recent years, my own experience in research shows that repeated visits is necessary, especially to the different cities of a country like Indonesia. The comic scene of Jakarta is very different from the one in Bandung, Jogjakarta and Surabaya. The same goes for the different islands of the Philippines. A single research trip would not reveal the full nuances of a country’s varied comic scenes – there is no one comic scene, but many.

Often, Lent was at the right place and right time to interview many of the pioneers of Asian comics such as Tony Velasquez (the Philippines), Hua Junwu, Liao Bingxiong, and Ding Cong (China), many who have passed on. He had managed to save many original art from being thrown away as well, a sad fact about the disposable and ephemeral nature of comics in Asia. It is unfortunate that Asian Comics is printed in black and white. The sample artwork could not show the full diversity and colors of Asian comics.

Asian Comics is indispensible as a primer, a route map into the worlds of Asian comics. Long may John Lent run.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Elvis and Singapore



Managed to revive this from 2007 - I wrote this for a blog called Citizen Historian. Updated it; I still like this piece. There was a time between 2004 and 2006 that I was deeply into Elvis and Bruce Lee.

He is still the King. As Neil Young once sang, 'The King is gone but he is not forgotten.'


The king is dead. Long live the king. 16 August 2016 will mark the 49th death anniversary of Elvis Presley, the king of rock ‘n’ roll. Not much has been made of this date of his passing in Singapore. But as John Lennon of the Beatles, another late rock great, put it, “Before Elvis, there was nothing”.

There are still lessons to learn from the king of rock ‘n’ roll, even for a young country who just celebrated its 50th national day. If there is one thing that makes Elvis relevant today, other than his magnificent voice and a great interpreter of songs, it is the freedom and possibilities he still inspires. That a poor boy from the American South could make good and revolutionize youth culture as we know it. Elvis was a global phenomenon even before the concept of the global village took root in the popular imagination.

In his time, Elvis was probably was the most famous pop star worldwide. It did not matter that he was an American singer hundreds of miles away from Singapore. His influence cut across language and racial lines – he was loved by all who encountered his music in the late 1950s and 1960s. Even among the Chinese-educated, the more politicized class in society then, he was known with affection as the Cat King. No mean feat when issues of employment, industrialization, decolonization and nationalism were supposedly the concerns of the day.

Just ask the various “Elvis” in Singapore during the 1960s – Johnny Aroozoo of Johnny and the Esquires and Wilson David, who is still performing Elvis standards today on stage. And there was Foo Soo Yin, who performed ‘It’s Now Or Never’ in Mandarin on Pop Inn, a British-styled TV pop show featuring performances by bands and singers, on July 27 1964.

Foo’s performance was just one week after the racial riots that rocked Singapore in a very different and tragic sense. However, one cannot help but speculate how that song would have sounded to an audience still shell-shocked by the violence and staying at home watching TV because of the curfew imposed in the immediate aftermath of the riots. I would imagine the traumatized and divided population recognizing that Elvis song and unwittingly sharing a moment together

The possibilities that music offers us in escaping from our confined and rather schizophrenic definition of who we are as Singaporeans find a parallel in some of the local bands in our midst today – they are a mix of different race and gender and even orientation. It reminds me of what Bob Dylan said about the first time he heard Elvis, “When I first heard Elvis’s voice I just knew I wasn’t going to work for anybody and nobody was gonna be my boss. Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.”

What Dylan was expressing was not that Elvis inspired anarchism, but the potential in pop music, and pop culture in general, in helping us to make sense of what and who we are, unrestricted by state definitions and constraints.

After all, Elvis, despite his excesses, had found and redeemed himself through the music. An example from the Aloha From Hawaii TV Special which most Singaporeans have seen in the 1970s - in a characteristic move to constantly reveal himself in his live performances, Elvis added a line to Suspicious Minds, a song about a failing relationship due to mistrust. All previous versions of the song had the protagonist pleading to his woman, “I’ve never lied to you.” But in a TV performance that was broadcasted live to countries all over the world, Elvis added on: “Not much.” This was around the time when Elvis’ divorce with Priscilla was finalized.

I’ve always wondered how fans in Singapore reacted to that performance when they first watch it. But, to me, it speaks volumes of the potential for us as individuals to express ourselves in pop culture, leaving behind baggage of the past and forging an identity that contributes to the different Singaporeans of today – a cyber gamer, a manga artist or the next Elvis of Singapore.

There are different pathways now in our ability driven education system for the next generation whereby all sorts of talents and excellence would be recognized and appreciated. Indeed, in the arts field, there are now more jobs for curator wannabes than ever with the burgeoning of museums and commercial art galleries. But as much as this is part of the country's efforts to be an arts and cultural hub, it has to start with a dream and the passion to pursue it.

To quote the king himself, “When I was a child, I was a dreamer. I read comic books, and I was the hero in the movie. So every dream that I ever dreamed has come true a hundred times. I learned very early in life that without a song, the day would never end; without a song, a man ain’t got a friend; without a song, the road would never bend; without a song. So I keep singing a song.”

Elvis has left the building.