Monday, September 18, 2017

Ye Zhen's Singapore Pok Kai Zai!!!

Sold at STGCC 2017 but will be having its proper launch at SWF in November (10.11.17, 8.30 pm – 9.30 pm at the Arts House), Book 10 of Ye Zhen’s Singapore Horror Hip Hop, Singapore Pok Kai Zai, is still the most far out comic series in Singapore. Skateboard P and his posse (Snoop Eastwood, Spacegirl and Kate Li, etc.) are still defending Earth from alien enemies. The new super villain is Nonpander Yingjie (where does Ye Zhen get the names from? His enemies in real life? People who stole his girlfriends in the past?) who is instigated by Skateboard P’s archenemies, the time-traveling Warbabies, the main troublemakers of the series.

Since 2008 when Ye Zhen released the first four volumes of his horror hip hop epic, comic readers have been trying to figure him out. Where did he come from? Where did he study comics? Why is he doing comics? And why these type of comics? Singapore Horror Hip hop is totally different from the stuff put out by Sonny Liew, Troy Chin, Koh Hong Teng (circa late 2000s) which are more autobiographical and ‘serious’ in nature. Ye Zhen is simply doing his own thing and you can say he does not quite fit in with the other comic creators or what readers expect of comics from Singapore.

Which, to me, is a great thing. We need variety and diversity in our comics. Even if they absurd and non-PC comics – sexy babes with tattoos fighting renegade aliens together with their Afro boyfriends who look like they are on dope and constantly getting it on with the babes to the sounds of Marvin Gaye. And these are the heroes of the series.

Artwork wise and in terms of pacing and storytelling, Ye Zhen has improved. This is evident since the last book. If you have been following the series, it is getting more fun to read. Even if you are a new reader, you will be impressed by the verve and energy of his lines and strokes.

There is a confidence at play here when Ye Zhen starts the story with our hero Skateboard P having bizarre bad dreams about an Attack on Titan experience in primary school and then witnessing the death of his mother in hospital. Except that he knows it is not his real mother, but “the one in my nonsensical dreams.” But it does not make the vision any less terrifying. There is a certain bleakness when Ye Zhen writes the lines, “I guess everybody has to sleep in a hospital bed at some point. Either sooner or later. As a baby from the start or as a victim of human regression.”

It’s almost social commentary at some point – just before the big fight, Skateboard P and Nonpander Yingjie had a heart to heart talk walking down the streets. They are like a mouthpiece for Ye Zhen and his beliefs: “This country has paid the price for its prosperity. Despite the advancements, we still have a ‘colonial state’ mindset. We have nothing important culturally to call our own but our great wealth. And no amount of wealth can change the fact that we are servants to our colonial cultural masters.”

But it is not clear what this colonial state culture is. Ye Zhen is influenced by Western music, movies and Japanese manga culture (he cited Hunter X Hunter) – are these colonial or contemporary cultures? How have they shaped us and our decisions? Ye Zhen has not quite sorted out what his heroes and villains represent – the status quo or chaos/anarchy? He may need to think harder about his characters and their motivations.

Still, it is still one hell of a read especially if you like Jo Jo Bizarre Adventures and Hong Kong kung fu comics. Singapore Pok Kai Zai is emotionally charged with kinetic energy and almost non-stop fighting.

“Even the best of us have to scream madly at some point. Together or alone, yes sir.”

The book is sold for $15 at:

Kinokuniya at Takashimaya Lvl 3

Comics World at Parklane #B1-22

Ghim Moh Book Corner 929 Ghim Moh Rd Blk 19, #1-239

Books Actually at No. 9 Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru

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