Thursday, October 31, 2019

Interview with Chris Riddell (SWF 2019)

Chris Riddell is in town this weekend for SWF. The UK Children’s Laureate is promoted as a major illustrator of children’s books by the festival, and rightly so as Riddell’s books like The Edge’s Chronicles, Gulliver’s Travels, Ottoline and Goth Girl are well loved. For comics fans, Riddell is also the illustrator for several of Neil Gaiman’s books such as The Graveyard Book, Fortunately, the Milk… and The Sleeper and the Spindle. Their latest collaboration is Art Matters, which came out last year. But I am more interested in the fact that Riddell is the political cartoonist for The Observer newspapers. I still think political cartoon is a powerful medium today.

Riddell took time out from his busy schedule to answer some questions of mine.

Many outside the UK are familiar with your work as a children books' writer and illustrator, especially with your drawings for The Graveyard Book and other stories written by Neil Gaiman. How do they react when they find out you are a political cartoonist too for The Observer?

Many people are surprised when I tell them that I’m the political cartoonist for The Observer but they recognise my style which isn’t significantly different from my illustration work. Lately I’ve been drawing Brexit unicorns, Chinese dragons and Tory trolls.

You have said that you did not find that much a difference in the tools you utilized when drawing a children book or skewing Theresa May or Trump. How do you feel about Brexit, Boris and the state of British politics now?

The only thing I can say about the state of politics right now is that it is a great time to be a political cartoonist!

You are optimistic about the state of political cartooning in the world today, given the affordances of technology and the antics of sometimes-too-exciting world leaders like Trump. But what's good material for political cartooning can be bad for humanity. Can political cartoons change the world?

I don't believe political cartoons change the world but they can help to articulate people’s thoughts and change the political mood sometimes. People change the world.

Political and social satire was not confined to the editorial pages in the past. One of my favorite books is The Tin-Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman by Raymond Briggs. We have less of that these days. Would you want to do combine the two one day? (political satire and children books)

I would love to combine political satire and children’s books and my subject would be climate change – my medium, the graphic novel.

As you can probably tell, I'm a big fan of Raymond Briggs too. Are you excited about his new book?

Raymond Briggs has been a huge influence on me. He was my personal tutor at art school and we have kept in touch ever since. ‘Ethel and Earnest’ is Raymond’s masterpiece but I’m looking forward to his new book.

Drawing political cartoons can be dangerous - Charlie Hebdo and closer to Singapore, the various lawsuits against Malaysian cartoonist, Zunar and Singapore cartoonist, Leslie Chew. Did you have any close encounters yourself?

My encounters are on social media and I can choose what to look at and take onboard. Trolls are easy to spot.

Some have confused satire with fake news. Is it a thin line?

Satire doesn’t hide under bridges, fake news trolls do.

Is gif the future for political cartooning and satire?

Gif is one tool. There are many. I post a ‘visual diary’ drawing on social media every day and film myself drawing live. I’m also interested in podcasting.

I am a school teacher. You have talked about the need for creativity in the British education system and the importance of the school libraries. If you are the Education Minister for a day, which policy would you change or introduce?

If I were the Education Minister for a day, I would make it a statutory requirement that all schools have a library and a qualified librarian to run it.

Neil Gaiman visited Singapore twice (once for SWF) and is hugely popular. Readers would want me to ask: how was it like working with Neil?

Working with Neil is like a fairy tale – often literally. He sends me magical words and then allows me to imagine them visually with complete freedom.

I think of Neil as ‘the wise wizard’ and myself as his rotund hobbit companion.

Gaiman and Riddell’s love for libraries.

You can find out about Riddell’s SWF appearances here:

Thanks to Catherine Alport for her help!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Forgive but not forget: Interview with Rani Pramesti (SWF 2019)

The politics of remembrance and commemoration is complex. One can forgive but one should not forget. In places like South Africa, East Timor and Aceh, truth and reconciliation commissions have been set up to investigate and reveal the atrocities committed by the colonizers, the complicit and the compliant. It is not just a tabling of reports and mere presentation of facts and figures, but it is important how narratives are shaped and shared. It is through storytelling that ideas are spread and kept alive.

This is where comics is a powerful medium for such a purpose – giving voice to the silenced and speaking truth to power. In 2012, a young woman was raped on a bus in Delhi, India. She died from her injuries a few days later. A comic book based by the tragic incident was produced in 2014. Priya’s Shakti makes use of augmented reality tech and is available for online reading.

Closer to home, the events of the May 1998 riots in Indonesia have inspired comic artists like Mice to reflect on the aftermath of the riots on the ordinary citizens in Jakarta. Now, adding to the list is Rani P Collaborations’ Chinese Whispers, a digital comic that has its first incarnation as a performance installation in 2014. It traces lead artist, Rani Pramesti's journey from Indonesia to Australia, from citizen to diaspora.

Growing up in a privileged Chinese family in Indonesia, Rani was sent off to live in Australia when the riots happened. Her story is not uncommon. I have colleagues from Indonesia who came to study and live in Singapore after 1998 for the same reason. Some came to Singapore. Others like Rani went to Australia and she grew up safely in the comfort offered by her adopted country. But she wondered about her past, which formed the basis of her art practice. Having graduated from the University of Melbourne in 2013 with a Bachelor of Dramatic Art, Rani formed Rani P Collaborations to work on productions which explore history, memories and trauma. She mined her own family history for the world to see and reflect. In Sedih//Sunno, she shared her mom’s story as a sexually abused child. In Surat-Surat (Letters), she used her grandparents’ letters to each other to tell a love story.

For her appearance at the Singapore Writers Festival in November, she returns to her first performance installation, Chinese Whispers, whose lifespan as a performance piece has been extended to a new platform of digital comics. For Chinese Whispers, Rani collaborated with illustrator, Cindy Saja; composer, Ria Soemardjo; and web developers, Martin Harusetyanto and Gondo, to develop this new version of Chinese Whispers for the cyberspace.

I was curious about the politics of race and identity in Rani’s story and I asked her these questions.

What is the main difference (in intent, if any) between the performance installation and the digital graphic novel?

My team and I created the digital graphic novel as a way to reach more people, particularly younger generations of Indonesian people first and foremost, with this work. The intent of the work remains the same, which is to create time and space to reflect on a part of Indonesian history that is still often shrouded in ignorance. Just as the performance installation guided audiences one by one through a labyrinth, to engage in meditative reflection, so does the digital graphic novel. One of the key messages to reflect on is how "we cannot heal, what we will not face". My hope is that this question is a relevant one across many of our shared histories, although I use the May 1998 politically motivated racial and sexual violence as one 'launching pad' from which to reflect on this key message.

What is it that you hoped to achieve when you first started this project in 2014 and what has been achieved now with the digital graphic novel?

At the beginning of the research and development for Chinese Whispers, back in 2013, I wanted to find a way to tell Chinese-Indonesian stories on Australian stages. As I delved deeper into the conversations I was having with Chinese-Indonesian diaspora women in Melbourne, however, I slowly realised that what I actually wanted to talk about was May 1998. I then went back to the women I had interviewed and informed them of this shift in my intention with the work. With their consent, I focused the storytelling on my personal experiences with May 1998 and also on socio-historical sources on May 1998, including the human rights activist, Karlina Supelli and the journalist, Dewi Anggraeni.

What I hoped to achieve in 2014 continues to apply today- which is to pass on a story to the younger generations of Indonesian people (whether Chinese identifying or not), about a part of our history that needs to be remembered and a part of our history that we all need to work on learning from, in order to stop it from happening again.

What has been achieved now through the graphic novel is a contribution to a global conversation on the legacies of colonialism. It's really exciting to hear people's responses from Australia to Indonesia to the US, to France, to Italy, to Taiwan... Just to name a few responses I've received since Chinese Whispers went digital!

How has the project been received in Australia and in Indonesia? Have you encountered any cynicism?

Far from cynicism, during the premiere of the performance installation in 2014 at the Melbourne Fringe Festival (where we won Best Live Art and Innovation in Culturally Diverse Practice Awards), younger Indonesian people have come up to me to thank me, because this was a part of our story that their parents were too afraid to expand on. So for them, Chinese Whispers gave a way 'into' this disturbing part of Indonesia's history and the ways this has shaped Indonesian diaspora globally.

In 2018, we launched the Indonesian language digital graphic novel to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of May 1998. The digital graphic novel was launched by the Indonesian Director General of Culture, Dr Hilmar Farid, and moved many to tears! We were also blessed because the timing meant that our work was picked up by many media outlets. Far from cynicism, our readers continue to leave us very generous messages of forgiveness, of unity, of pledging to never forget.

Since the 2000s, there are more works that dealt with the violence against the Chinese in Indonesia, eg. The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence. And also the books of Dewi Anggraeni such as My Pain, My Country. Have things improved now? Are people more aware?

My experience of viewing The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence is that it very much focused on the widespread politically motivated violence of 1965, rather than necessarily being focused on the racially motivated violence towards Chinese-Indonesian people. Is that correct?

I think in terms of works about 1998, there has definitely been more and more. In fact I think there has been twenty years' worth of works dedicated to May 1998. But that does not mean that there is more awareness of how anti-Chinese violence is just one colonial tactic that continues to divide our nation, whenever it suits people in power to use for their own ambitions. I would love it if more people asked themselves, "who does it actually benefit when I participate in this kind of hatred" whether towards Chinese, towards West Papuans, towards LGBTIQA+ communities and so on... It's been heartening to see the key demands of the current student led protests which have called for an end to the violence in West Papua, amongst other demands, because that is a show of solidarity for another group in Indonesia that has always been "othered" since being colonized by Indonesia.

Why is the denial of racism (both ways) so strong in Indonesia?

I think it's less a "denial" of racism and more a "normalization" of racism.

Firstly, I want to say that one of the flaws of Chinese Whispers, which I can now see in hindsight is the lack of focus on how the heinous violence of May 1998 was orchestrated to happen. If you read the report of the Fact Finding Team (there's a link to this report at the conclusion of the final chapter), you'll see ample evidence of provocateurs literally being offloaded into majority Chinese areas and then provoking/ inciting violence. So, May 1998 was able to happen because there is a level of normalized "othering" by both Chinese/ non-Chinese (so-called "Pribumi" or "native") but also because the violence was deliberately stoked to explode.

Secondly, in terms of the normalization of racism from "both sides", I do think it's interesting to study the different social, economic and political roles that Chinese played throughout pre-colonial, colonial and postcolonial times. For example, even before the Dutch came, the Chinese already played the role of tax collector for many kingdoms in Java and Madura. This was a role that the Dutch exploited and exacerbated during three and a half centuries of colonial era, for example by appointing Chinese Kapiteins which had more political, social and economic powers than the so-called "natives".

When social, economic and political structures are created to divide people, racism is a natural by product of these structures.

Chinese Whispers is also your personal story. Was it hard adjusting to Australia at 12 years old when you move there after the May 1998 riots? Do you consider yourself as part of the diaspora?

Yes, it was very hard. The hardest thing was coming from a very politically charged context (a literal political revolution) and then moving to a very privileged all girls' private school boarding house. Materially speaking, my class privilege has always sheltered me from material hardship and for that I am thankful.

However, the challenges came more in the form of culture shock. More and more as I accumulate years of being based in Australia, the most challenging thing is how to survive and attempt to thrive in a white supremacist society like Australia. I absolutely consider myself a part of the Indonesian, Chindo and Asian diaspora. I wouldn't have lasted this long living on Kulin Country (Melbourne) without my friends who hail proudly from First Nations and diaspora communities.

What are your feelings about Indonesia ?

I love Indonesia. It is a beautiful country with beautiful people. In terms of from my perspective as an artist, I am excited by the explosion of arts and culture (both in terms of artistic practice as well as arts infrastructure) in the past twenty years of relative democracy. I am excited by the embracing of technology by the younger generations. Jokowi recently opened the "1000 startups" conference in Jakarta and to see government ministers in conversation with the younger generations- it's evidence of real future thinking at the national level. At the same time (and this is what Chinese Whispers tries to remind us of), in order to move knowingly into our future, we must embrace the lessons of our past so that we don't repeat our past mistakes. That is my feeling and my hopes for Indonesia.

You can view Rani’s SWF programmes here.

You can read Chinese Whispers here.

Friday, October 11, 2019

sexsexsex: interview with dave cooper (swf 2019)

Thanks to the Canadian Embassy, the Singapore Writers Festival are receiving some cool comics guests for the last 2 years. (in fact, Canada is the country of focus for this year’s SWF) Last year, it was David Collier, quintessential down-to-earth Canadian artist whose appearance in Singapore even got Lat to come down from Ipoh to catch up with this old friend of ours.

I interviewed Collier here:

This year, it is alternative comics provocateur of the 1990s and 2000s, Dave Cooper, who will be coming to town. A rather odd choice for a guest as only old time fans of Fantagraphics Comics (Dave’s publisher) will be familiar with his comics like Suckle, Weasel, Crumple and Ripple. They are fantastical tales of people who are overwhelmed by sex, society, technology and … women.

Some have stood up to rereading like Ripple, which can still make you stand. (Dave is doing a lecture on sex comics at SWF) But Dave has been off the comics grid for some time. He became a fine art artist, a children’s books artist and got into animation for the past 10 years. These are all interesting projects, but thankfully for his comics fans, he has returned to comics with Mudbite (2018), a book collecting 2 new Eddy Table (Dave’s alter ego) stories, Mud River and Bug Bite. Sex and all its bodily fluids return in a big way in Dave’s comics. Maybe he should have a meeting with the minister of population here to talk about sex.

I did an email interview with him and the first question I asked was …

What is the obsession with sex?

Good question. I’m exploring that very question as I write the lecture for the Singapore Writers Festival. I won’t spoil it for you, but it seems to all come down to a number of imprinting experiences I’ve had since childhood, pared with a strange absence of stigma around using sex as a central theme. It just seems to be the thing that drives my work. I find writing and drawing really exhausting most of the time, I’m not the type to doodle constantly in a sketchbook for pleasure. Drawing is more like pushing a car up a hill. But I’ve found from experience over the years that as soon as I insert sex into the equation it’s like I’ve put a key in the ignition.

I just reread Ripple, about the perfect orgasm. After all that build up, we never get to see it. What is it like? Have you experienced it before?

Ha ha! At the time of writing that, it was only a plot device, I’d never experienced it first hand. It was a highly amplified, exaggerated version of the bliss you can feel the first time.

Underground comix artist, Robert Crumb is obviously a big influence for you. But he recently came under heavy backlash in light of the #metoo movement. Any thoughts on that? Are you worried about your portrayals of the female body and physique?

I’m not informed on the Crumb thing. But as for my work, I do wonder how the new generation processes this kind of intentionally provocative and morally ambiguous work. Only time will tell. I can say that the only feedback I ever get from women is enthusiastic. That’s always been a hugely gratifying thing for me. It tells me that my work is often understood, and that my loving sentiment comes through all the confusion.

Do you see yourself as part of the underground comix tradition or linage?

I never feel like a part of anything. I never have. Comics, painting, animation, filmmaking. I’m lucky that my work is well regarded and I love these communities, but there’s something about my personality that keeps me feeling a bit on the outside. Maybe it’s from feeling the black sheep in my own family as a child.

When you were starting out, was there like a Canadian alternative comic artists scene? Drawn & Quarterly and people like Chester Brown, Seth, Julie Doucet and Collier.

Nationalism is another where I feel apart. I’ve never thought of myself as “Canadian” per se. If anything, I may have felt a bit less connected to those authors because I imagined some sort of expectation. I love all those artists you mentioned but their Canadian-ness was never a factor that drew me to them.

Your stories deal with the dissonance between pastoral and civilization, nature and technology, desire and morals, and the child and the man. Do you see the world in such dichotomous terms?

As a person, no I don’t. But when I write and draw, I always seem to slip into these patterns. I’m transported back to my childhood in the woods of Nova Scotia where I became obsessed with nature, with things growing from the earth, or with the way my father could build machinery out of raw metal and wood, or to my pubescence when my obsession with the female form began. I sink under, into a world where exploring all these ideas was an escape, a place where I could feel like I controlled things and my explanations were law.

You moved from comics to music, back to comics, then paintings, children’s books, animation and comics again. Are you ADHD?

Absolutely! Not formally diagnosed, but I definitely need the constant thrill of new projects, unfamiliar challenges. It creates a spark that is absent when I’m doing the same kind of work day in and day out. Initially it happened within the discipline of comics- I’d change my drawing style from book to book. But eventually I started craving the challenge of jumping from one discipline to another. The latest is live-action filmmaking, and after that possibly sculpture.

You moved into animation and you brought along your alter ego, Eddy Table. Eddy is your most enduring character. What makes Eddy so versatile?

He’s just a guy that I never get tired of visiting. I can’t explain it. I just like drawing him. And the fact that he is my alter-ego for my own dream stories, and nonsense stories means that I’ll never run out of stories for him. I don’t enjoy writing real stories with serious intentions and structure so making Eddy stories is always enjoyable.

Eddy gets to do lots of fun thing. Are you Eddy?

Yes. He started as a stand-in for my dream stories. I wanted to use an actual dream, but cartoonize the visuals. I thought it would just make the whole experience more universal if the protagonist was a cartoon character.

Any connection between Eddy Table and Ed the Happy Clown by Chester Brown?

No, that would make sense though. Ed the Happy Clown was one of the most seminal works for me at that time. But no, Eddy Table comes from the word “editable”, meaning easily changed- in other words, malleable to my needs as fickle artist.

Eddy has new adventures in your new book, Mudbite. But Eddy is also the hero in your short animation film, The Absence of Eddy Table. Now what is exciting is that Eddy is voiced by Mike Patton of Faith No More! Was it a kick to work with Mike Patton?

It was comically mundane actually. Our composer is friends with Mike. We asked if he’d consider doing a voice in exchange for us re-purposing footage from our film to make a little music video for him. We never got to meet him, we just sent the movie and soon received his tracks. The director was thrilled, but he had a couple of “notes”- places where he’d like a take 2. Mike’s response was, “there’s no take 2”. Ha ha! Anyway, we were beyond thrilled to have him attached to the project, his work was phenomenal.

What is your process like these days? Still pen and paper or a mix of digital now?

I use digital only for colouring and lettering, and in fact, I'm starting to get a bit fed up of using it to colour. i think i may just go back to black and white drawings, i usually prefer them. Drawing on a computer is something I avoid. I love soft graphite on letter paper, I love ink on strathmore, I love oil paint on canvas. These are visceral experiences for me that I don’t want to give up for expediency. I draw on a computer if there’s a nasty deadline and there’s no other way.

Can tell us more about your new projects, Pillowy and Squash?

Pillowy is the most beautiful publication I’ve ever been associated with. It’s a 400-pg retrospective. All the work I’m still pleased with from the past 30 years. When I look at it I still can’t believe my luck that Cernunnos Publishing would put so much love and care into a book about my work.

Squash is my first foray into live-action filmmaking. A 4-minute film about a jiggly, obsessive woman and her giddy self-gratification. It’s highly stylized and I think it will make a great first effort. Making it was a thrilling challenge. My first day on set as a director I was gratified by an overwhelming feeling of belonging and confidence.

What’s next for you?

I always answer that question with “more of the same, I hope”. I love my career and I just want to keep pushing myself to dig deeper into the same themes that have always motivated me. Bigger paintings, longer films, maybe sculpture. I just love it all and I want to keep finding ways to make it fresh for me.

What have you heard about Singapore?

No chewing gum?

Some say we are really uptight. But then one of our ministers said you don't need much space to have sex and make babies. What do you think of that? Can ripple be achieved in a small space?

Just enough space for two people. Or just one in a pinch.

You can find Dave’s programmes at SWF here:

I am moderating a panel on Outsider Comics with Dave, Ye Zhen and Weng Pixin on 3 November, 3 pm.

You can watch The Absence of Eddy Table here:

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Life is not shit and you survive: Interview with Ancco (Bad Friends)

Memory is a tricky thing and sense making of the past is important. What is remembered of a particular event, how we remember certain friends and why - they are our ways of navigating through the landscapes of our mind. Sometimes these are places we do not want to revisit. They can be horrific events.

The Korean comic book, Bad Friends by Ancco, awarded the Prix Révélation at the Angoulême International Comics Festival in 2017, is a horror story. There are no ghosts or monsters to contend with. Just terrible situations involving really bad friends. But what makes these friends so bad that parents, teachers and society are constantly warning you about them? What has happened to them that turned them so bad – family, circumstances and wrong personal choices? And if you ‘wake up’ and abandon them to better yourself, does that make you a bad friend to them?

Some of us experienced these situations, such moments of survivor guilt when you have to let go of your buddies to move on with your life. Friendship and loyalty is a theme much explored in books, music and movies like Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973) where the character of Charlie (Harvey Keitel) was dragged down by his friend, Johnny Boy (Robert de Niro), which explains the opening line, “You don't make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit and you know it.”

Bad Friends tells a similar story from a female point of view, situated in post-Asian financial crisis Korea in the late 1990s, and a slightly different ending. Pearl (Ancco’s alter ego in the story) meets Jeong-Ae, a bad friend. They had lots of fun, getting into fights and giving the finger to the world. They only have each other. They are physically abused by the men in their lives, their fathers and boyfriends. If their mothers and siblings try to intervene, they are beaten up too. It is not a good situation. But in the end, Pearl survives better than Jeong-Ae. Pearl becomes a comic book artist like Ancco in real life. Jeong-Ae disappears and Pearl wonders what has happened to her best friend and how she is doing. She is plagued by questions and survivor guilt.

I will be moderating a panel on The Power of the Graphic Memoir with Ancco as one of the panelists at the Singapore Writers Festival on 3 November and I will be engaging her about Bad Friends. But Ancco asserts that the story is not her autobiography. She told me:

“I mixed many episodes into one story for it to be understandable for the readers. There are parts which I made up as well. I thought it is not important how much of it is based on my life. The important thing is how does it makes the readers focus on the story. I wrote every single characters with my friends in my mind.”

Ancco, whose real name is Choi Kyung-jin and born in 1983, is the first Korean comic artist to win a prize at Angouleme, and Bad Friend was picked up by Drawn & Quarterly, the Canadian comics publisher, for translation and publication in 2018. I am curious why Ancco wrote and drew this book and I did an email interview with her.

Why did you write this book?

I have been constantly thinking that I should write this story since I graduated from high school. Back then, after I became friends with school mates who were known as ‘bad friends’, I started to have a different view of them. When I visited and saw where and how they lived, I felt as if I found where their ‘badness’ came from. Their lives seemed so hard and inappropriate for a teenager. I didn’t mean to advocate for them and their lives, but I just wanted to tell what their lives are about.

There is a lot of guilt in Bad Friends – survival guilt, that we have survived better than some of our friends. Does that necessarily make us bad friends?

For those of us who survived, it doesn’t mean we are ‘bad friends’. But it is true that Pearl (my alter ego in the story) felt guilty about Jeong-Ae. She turned away from Jeong-Ae. That is the choice and reality for some of us.

Another side of the story of Bad Friends is how female friendship can help us get through bad times. Korea is known sometimes for its toxic masculinity, the need for boys and men to be macho. In your opinion, is it true? How bad is it?

I don’t think anyone is forced to be uber masculine and to be macho. Even if the older generation did so, but it is not so now. The men in my comic are in unusual situations. They are also victims of their home situation, their parents, and by extension, of our society. The story is about the darker side of our society. But the men ‘Bad Friends’ cannot be generalized. 

You are born in 1983. You grew up as a child during the period of the Asian Economic Miracle when Korea was one of the Four Asian Tiger Economies. Asian values were celebrated. But the bubble burst in 1997 when the Asian financial crisis happened. Would you say your book is a critique of those times – overconfident capitalism and its problems? (the irony is that the other friend of Pearl who survived now worked in a bank)

I didn’t mean to write about social problems consciously. But I thought it is important to be careful to share the background of the story without distorting the facts. I grew up and lived through that period, I would have been influenced by the environment of a recession struck Korea in the late 1990s. So I thought if I tell the facts, it would work in many ways. And the readers would interpret the story as they like.

For tourists who visited Korea, they may only have a K-pop view of the country and its people. But when I watched movies like Parasite (Bong Joon-ho), I get a very different story. It is the same for manhwa. In 2014, Korea was the Market Focus at the London Book Fair. I attended a presentation by Yoon Tae-ho and the audience associated Korean manhwa with popular webtoons. But reading your comics gives me a very different picture of Korea. What is the truth?

No one vision of Korea can be the truth. There are various forms of life in Korea. I met so-called bad friends in high school. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known about their lives and existence either. This comic is about the lives which we cannot see easily in our daily life.

In Bad Friends, the characters did not have a good time in school. Is there something about the school system that we should change?

The problems of school system in ‘Bad friends’ have changed and have largely disappeared now. Korea is changing very quickly today. But it doesn’t mean that everything has cleared up. There will be other problems that we have not encountered and we still have to solve.

How do you work with the translator, Janet Hong, on the English translation for Drawn and Quarterly?

She has worked more with novelists than with comic artists. As far as I know this is the first time she has translated a comic book. The publisher D&Q requested for her to translate ‘Bad Friends’. I didn’t have to do much for the translation though. When she was trying to come up with an English name for the character of ‘Pearl’, she contacted me and I gave some of my opinions. She understood the comic and the story very well. It was very lucky for us to have her as a translator.

Did winning the prize at Angouleme change your career?

It is almost the same as before actually. As a matter of fact, this kind of serious comics is not popular in Korea. To win the prize at Angouleme as the first Korean comic artist to do so has helped somewhat to let the Korean public know there are such heavy comics like this. And personally, it was meaningful.

What are your new projects?

I am preparing a new project. I was full of darkness when I was working on Bad Friends. After I finished this chapter of darkness, I began to learn what is the brightness in my life. About the brightness which defeats the darkness is my new project.

Finally, did you find out what happen to Jeong-Ae?

My ‘bad’ friend who inspired the character Jeong-Ae? She went through many adversities but she has become a great mother of two children now.

You can look up Ancco’s programmes at SWF here:

You can read parts of Bad Friends here:

Here is an interview with the translator of Bad Friends, Janet Hong:

Thursday, October 25, 2018

SWF 2018 - Interview with Lewis Trondheim and Brigitte Findakly

Some of us have been hoping that STGCC would bring in indie comics creators like Chris Ware or Adrian Tomine. But the chances of that happening are higher with SWF. Thanks to Guy Delisle who made the intro, this year we managed to invite Lewis Trondheim and his wife, Brigitte Findarly for the writers fest. If you have been reading comics seriously, especially the BDs from Europe, you might know the the voluminous work by Lewis. A pioneer in the contemporary French comics scene, Lewis has been working with Brigitte for a long time - she is the colourist for his books. Last year, they did a book together, Poppies of Iraq, which is about Brigitte's childhood in Iraq. It is critically acclaimed and has been translated into English by Drawn and Quarterly.

Lewis' bio reads: Born in France in 1964, Lewis Trondheim is the co-founder of the French publisher L’Association in 1990. He is also a comics author, writer and illustrator.

Brigitte's: Born in Iraq in 1959, Brigitte Findakly has been a colourist since 1982 for many cartoonists (like Manu Larcenet and Joann Sfar). She has co-written, with Lewis Trondheim, her biography entitled Poppies of Iraq.

Their panels:

Lewis is also conducting a comics workshop with the Singapore Book Council on 12 Nov. A rare opportunity to learn from a master.

I'm looking forward to meeting them when they are here in Singapore.
(thank again to Cheryl for the translation!)

Lewis, you have worked on so many different types of comics. So what are comics to you?

C’est un moyen de m’exprimer et de m’amuser. Imagine-t-on jouer au même jeu toute sa vie ? Il existe des milliers et des milliers de jeux. En bande dessinée, c’est pareil, il existe encore mille façons de s’exprimer, de jouer avec le dessin et le texte, de créer des surprises pour le lecteur, et pour moi-même.

It is a way of expressing and entertaining myself. Can you imagine playing the same game throughout one’s life? There are thousands of games out there. Similarly in comics, there are thousands of ways of expressing and playing with illustrations and text to create unexpected surprises for the reader and for myself.

Is it schizophrenic to do so many different things - ie. hard to keep track of the different genres/ series and characters, story lines? (I supposed the same can be said for Joann Sfar...)

J’ai un cerveau qui fonctionne très bien en mode multitâche. Il est même fait pour ça. Donc ce n’est pas un effort mais c’est naturel. Je pourrais dire que c’est beaucoup de travail pour me vanter mais ce serait un mensonge. C’est du travail, si. Mais je peux aisément passer d’un projet à l’autre en 2 secondes.

My brain thrives on and is built for multi-tasking, hence, instead of being an effort, the ability to multi-task comes naturally. I could have easily said it is really tough juggling so many different things but that would be a lie. True, it is a bit of work, but in reality I can switch easily from one project to another.

What's with all the funny animals in your comics?

C’était une façon pour moi d’éviter de dessiner les humains. Parce que les humains sont plus difficiles à faire. Et comme je suis assez paresseux, et qu’au début de ma carrière, je n’étais pas dessinateur du tout, il fallait que je trouve un système graphique simple pour pouvoir raconter mes histoires. Et puis j’ai aussi l’influence de mes lectures d’enfance avec le Mickey de Floyd Gottfredson est le Donald de Carl Barks. Sans doute que j’ai voulu continuer à faire des pseudo-histoires de Disney, mais pour des enfants qui auraient grandis.

It’s a strategy to avoid drawing humans because humans are complicated subjects. Since I’m rather lazy in nature and was not an illustrator at the start of my career, I had to find a graphically simple vehicle for telling my stories. I was also influenced by my childhood reads of Mickey Mouse by Floyd Gottfredson and Donald Duck by Carl Barks. Beyond doubt I wanted to continue with Disney-like stories for children who have grown up into adults.

You even did a Mickey Mouse book - was it very tedious working with Disney? Did they want to vet everything?

Quand on a lu Disney enfant, on connait les codes et les contraintes. On sait ce que Donald, Dingo et Mickey peuvent faire et dire intuitivement. Donc les contraintes ne sont pas énormes.

When one has read Disney as a child, one is familiar with all the codes and constraints of each character. One already knows instinctively what Donald, Goofy and Mickey are capable of doing and saying hence, I did not find the constraints too daunting.

You started drawing comics late in life and learned how to draw in full view of the public. Would you recommend this pathway to be a comic book creator?

Il n’y a pas de méthode universelle pour devenir auteur de bande dessinée. Chacun doit trouver son mode personnel. Par contre, il faut beaucoup écrire et dessiner. C’est une gymnastique. Moins on en fait, moins on y arrive.

There is no one fixed ( universal ) way of becoming a comic strip writer. Everyone has to find his own way. However, one has to write a lot and draw a lot. It is like a gymnastic act, which comes easier with practice.

What would you say to someone who want to do comics but they are not sure if they are good at it?

Le principal est d’avoir quelque chose à dire. Puis d’écrire les textes proprement. Si les dessins sont faibles, peu importe tant que l’histoire tient en haleine, est intrigante, ou fait rire.

Fundamentally, one must have something to say. Then pen it out succinctly. Even if the illustrations are weak, so long as the story catches your breath and is intriguing or makes you laugh, it will capture your readers.

Are you acclaimed in Europe?

Je ne suis pas acclamé en Europe, non… J’ai un petit public fidèle mais je ne suis pas un auteur mainstream.

No, I’m not ‘ acclaimed’ in Europe. I have a small loyal following but I am not a mainstream author.

Do you want to 'make it big' in America?

Pas du tout. L’Europe est l’endroit dans le monde où il y a le plus de diversité de bande dessinée. Dans les formats, les styles graphiques, les styles narratifs. Il y a plein d’auteurs américains qui aimeraient « make it big in Europe ». Par exemple, Robert Crump vit en France depuis plus de 30 ans. Je pense qu’il s’y sent mieux qu’entouré de super-héros en sous-vêtements et en collants.

Not at all. Europe is the place in the world that has the most diversity for comics in terms of format, graphic styles and narrative styles. On the contrary, there are many Americans who dream of “making it big in Europe”- For example Robert Crumb who has been living in France for more than 30 years. I think he must feel better in France than being surrounded by super-heroes in underwear and tights (back in the US).

Brigitte, how did you feel when Lewis started to draw you into his comics all those years ago? (Approximate Continuum Comics, 1998) And then the children too? (Monster Mess, 2012)

J’aime particulièrement Approximate Continuum Comics parce que Lewis y raconte entre autre nos premières années ensemble et beaucoup de moments qui y sont liés. Pour Monster Mess, même si c’est une fiction, cela me touche d’y retrouver nos enfants et certains de leurs dessins. Dans tous les cas, je n’ai jamais été gênée que Lewis me dessine ou dessine nos enfants (comme dans Littel Nothings) ce sont des souvenirs qui resteront pour toujours.

I particularly liked Approximate Continuum Comics because Lewis recounted, besides other subjects, many moments closely-tied with our first few years together. For Monster Mess, even though it is fiction, it touched me deeply because you find the drawings of our children in there. In any case, I was never troubled by the fact that Lewis drew me or our children and included our family in his stories such as Little Nothings. These are our souvenirs (memories) that will stay forever.
You colored most of Lewis' books. How was the collaboration for Poppies of Iraq different? Do you still have relatives there? Have you gone back recently?

La différence pour Poppies of Iraq est que j’ai participé au scénario puisque j’y raconte mon enfance. Lewis m’a beaucoup aidé à mettre en forme chaque souvenir, chaque anecdote. Il me reste 3 cousins à Bagdad. Tous les autres membres de ma famille ont émigré un peu partout à travers le monde. Je ne suis pas retournée en Iraq depuis 1989.

The difference for Poppies of Iraq is that I participated in the scenario-making as I was recounting my childhood. Lewis helped me a lot in putting into form every souvenir and anecdote. I still have 3 cousins in Bagdad. The rest of my family members have migrated here and there all over the world. I have not returned to Iraq since 1989.

Poppies of Iraq taps into the current trend of graphic memoirs. Why do you think there is such a demand for such comics?

Heureusement que Lewis a fait parti du renouveau de la bande dessinée autobiographique en France dans les années 90, sinon, on aurait pu croire qu’il voulait juste exploiter cette mode.
Je ne pense pas qu’il y ait une demande particulière pour ce genre de récit, par contre, nous avons affaire à une génération d’auteur qui, plus jeune, a lu de la bande dessinée provenant de l’Association, cornélien, Ego comme X, tout le mouvement indépendant des années 90. Ils écrivent naturellement sous forme de band dessinée, et toutes sortes de récits, reportage, autobiographie, biographie, autofiction… Donc le type de récit s’élargie, le nombre d’ouvrage augmente, ainsi que le nombre de lecteurs.

Fortunately, Lewis was part of the rebirth / renewal of autobiographic comics in France during the 90s, otherwise the public will assume he was trying to exploit this trend of graphic memoirs. I do not think there is a particular demand for this type of story-telling. However, we do have at hand a generation of authors who have, in their youth, read comics originating from L’Association, Cornelien, Ego Comme X; all the various independent movements from the 90s. They all write naturally under the genre of comics all kinds of stories: documentary, autobiography, biography, autofiction. Hence, with the diverse range of stories, the scope of work expands as a result, along with the number of readers.

What's next? - will there be such future collaborations? Eg. Bryan Talbot and Mary Talbot have formed a very successful team.

Il n’y a rien de prévu pour l’instant.

Nothing planned for the moment..

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

SWF 2018 - Interview with Margaret Stohl

The news is real. YA comics are selling way more than your regular superhero titles. If you have not heard of Raina Telgemeier, you are missing out on the true makers and shakers of the comics industry today. Thus the corporate response by DC and Marvel in recent times - get the YA writers in to write their titles. It is not just for diversity; there is an economic imperative and it makes good business sense. This year's SWF sees the invitation of two YA comics writers - a sign of the times. I interviewed Mariko Tamaki in the previous post - she is edgy and she tackles LGBTQ issues in her work.

Margaret Stohl writes the Beautiful Creatures series and also Captain Marvel. I enjoy the Beautiful Creatures movie back in 2013. I wish there is more to the filmic series.

Her bio: Margaret Stohl is the internationally bestselling author of 12 novels, including Beautiful Creatures, which was adapted for film in 2013. She writes The Mighty Captain Marvel comics and Black Widow books for Marvel, and just released Cats Versus Robots: This is War for younger children – co-written with her husband and illustrated by her child. She is the co-founder of Yallwest and Yallfest, the largest YA book festivals in the US.

I had a great time reading Margaret Stohl's answers to my questions too. Her thoughtful replies confirm the need for us to invite and engage more comics writers to learn from them and to grow our industry. We have invited many artists for events like STGCC. We should get more writers, editors, publishers, critics and even translators in to build our ecosystem.

Margaret's events:

You can watch these videos featuring her and Captain Marvel too:

Thanks to Tori, Letitia, Shauna and Leo for setting up the interview.

How did you end up writing for Marvel, and specifically, Captain Marvel?

From videogames, actually. After I became known as a YA writer from the Beautiful Creatures novels, an editor at Marvel Press discovered I had worked on Spiderman for the original playstation and Fantastic Four for the Playstation 2; that led to a job writing two prose novels for Marvel -- Black Widow Forever Red and Black Widow Red Vengeance -- which is how I got to know Sana Amanat, Marvel's VP of Content and Creative Development. I had never written an ongoing monthly comic at the time -- just a few standalone issues called "one shots" within comics -- but she had a lot of faith in me. And now we've done -- let's see, for Captain Marvel we've released Alien Nation, Band of Sisters, Generations, Dark Origins, and Life of Captain Marvel, so we've created more than four hundred and fifty pages of comics together. It's been a wild ride.

How different is it writing for comics, and writing novels and for games?

Sometimes very different, and sometimes no different at all. Some truths are always true -- like, hard things are always hard, whether in comics and books and games -- and hard things take time, in any genre. The best work I do always correlates painfully and directly to my greatest investments of time and greatest number of iterations. I wish there was some secret to getting to the good stuff, but there isn't. The secret is...that there is no secret. Important things are usually important across all genres; for example, characters are always the handle by which we hold on to any world, and readers only care about them if they feel real, which usually happens when you are feeling vulnerable and truthful and human, on the page. But still, some things are different. My first attempt at a novel, Beautiful Creatures (cowritten with Kami Garcia) was about twice as long as a usual YA book -- so try to imagine how many dialogue balloons covered my issue zero of Mighty Captain Marvel! I learned the hard way that no matter how beautiful or clever or funny I thought my dialogue was, my artists' panels were usually better. And comics taught me to think visually as well; for each comics script, I had to describe the general visual detail of every panel, even the basic "shots" as if I were defining camera angles for a screenplay. Before that, when I wrote novels, I would normally "hear" my characters tell me their stories. Now find myself writing out what would have been the panel descriptions for my comics scripts, even in my novels, before I let my characters open their mouths at all!

You tackled the refugee issue in Captain Marvel. How did the readers respond to it?

Predictably, some readers were moved, while others accused us of being social justice warriors. That's comics for you, especially as a girl creator. I actually love how passionate Marvel fans are, comicsgate bots notwithstanding. But Sana and I wanted to do that story even before the refugee crisis was getting much attention, and it was horrifying to watch how the real life version of that crisis unfolded. Marvel has always been really brilliant at telling the human side of superhuman stories, and I think alien stories are always stories that investigate the nature of humanity. And Bean, the Kree "Hala Child" refugee that Carol discovers, is really just a foreshadowing of the larger storyline that inscribes Carol's whole personal identity. It's a story that took two years to tell, so I do really love that my time began and ended with Captain Marvel on this same theme of what it is to be alien and what it is to be human.

(Margaret's appearances at this year's SDCC)

Was it difficult to navigate the Marvel continuity? (keeping track of the history and what happen to Captain Marvel in other books)

Yes, so difficult! For Captain Marvel and for Black Widow, before that, when I was writing the books. I always started by sitting down and reading every single issue I can get my hands on -- single issues, trade paperback collections, digital issues. Then I picked the brains of all my editors over the years -- Sana, Mark Basso, Sarah Brunstad, and especially Charles Beacham, who was like a Captain Marvel encyclopedia. After a while, you eventually get your own sense of the convoluted comics timeline, and how you fit into it. But until you do -- it's very intimidating!

You are the second female writer to attend the Marvel creative summit. What was the experience like?

Those creative summits were sort of incredible, like a crash course in modern comics, especially listening to Mark Waid and Tom Brevoort, who between them can recite the entire storyline of every Marvel (Tom) or DC (Mark) hero. Until Kelly Thompson arrived, I was the only girl creator in the room, and aside from Ta-nehesi Coates, the only novelist, so that made me a little nervous at first. But honestly, the guys were great, my brothers from another mother, right off the bat, and it took maybe a day until they were scrapping with me just like I was one of them. Gerry Duggan, who wrote Deadpool -- Nick Spencer, who now writes Spiderman -- and Mark Waid, who has done everything -- they're my neighbors in LA, and we became great friends as a result of the room. The comics community is really tight. They're just good people -- and yeah, totally brilliant.

(NB: Mark Waid was a former SWF guest while Nick Spencer visited Singapore before for STGCC)

Female comics writers are in the news these days. Marjorie Liu (who we invited for SWF last year) won a Hugo and an Eisner for Best Writer for Monstress and the book also just won the Harvey Award’s Book of the Year. These add diversity to the creative pool. Eg. Black Panther (Ta-Nehisi), Mockingbird (Chelsea Cain) and the previous run of Captain Marvel (Kelly Sue DeConnick). So putting it to you - who else would you want to write?

Everyone at Marvel knows my bucket list is Tony Stark. He's my favorite character to write in the whole Marvel universe; I have a bad Tony Stark sitting on my shoulder telling bad Tony Stark jokes the way some people have an angel or a devil there. But I also happen to love Dan Slott, who currently writes Iron Man, just as I loved Brian Bendis, who wrote it before him. So I've made peace with writing Tony into most of my comics as a side character, as well as both of my Black Widow novels. I think Sana cut about seventy pages of extra Tony Stark dialogue out of my first book; I was so excited to be writing him I may have gone *a little overboard :)

More published writers are engaged to write comics now. What are the pros and cons of this arrangement?

So many of my YA friends are now writing graphic novels, I think it's amazing. It's not as easy as they expect, so there's a little bit of learning there for everyone, just as there was for me. But I do think the YA community is incredibly diverse in comparison to the mainstream comics community, so hopefully this will help.

Will there be a Beautiful Creatures movie sequel?

Never say never! In this world of streaming content, who knows? I still keep in touch with the actor who played the main character in our movie, Alden Ehrenreich, so it was especially fun to see him play Han Solo this year; he's building an amazing career for himself, but still, I'll probably always think of him as our "Ethan Wate.”

Monday, October 15, 2018

SWF 2018 - interview with Mariko Tamaki

Mariko Tamaki requires little introduction. From her coming of age graphic novel, Skim to She-Hulk, Mariko has been exploring issues of identity and what it takes to be comfortable in one's own skin - well, green or otherwise in the case of the She-Hulk. An unlikely writer of mainstream superhero comics, Mariko is enjoying herself writing the adventures of Supergirl and X-23 in recent years.

Her bio reads: New York Times bestselling author Mariko Tamaki is the co-creator of graphic novels, Skim and This One Summer, with illustrator Jillian Tamaki. Mariko has received Eisner, Ignatz, Caldecott and Printz honours. She is currently working on a Harley Quinn comic for DC Ink with Steve Pugh.

These are the SWf prograames she will be in:
(with Margaret Stohl, the current writer of Captain Marvel)

How did you end up writing for Marvel and DC, specifically, She-Hulk and Supergirl?

I was invited! By that time I had written a few graphic novels (Skim and This One Summer with my cousin Jillian Tamaki), and I had worked with Dark Horse on their Tomb Raider series (With Phillip Sevy), and Adventure Time, amongst others. I suppose at some point I came up on someone’s list and someone emailed me.

Was it intentional for the mainstream to get you to write female characters like She-Hulk, X-23, Harley Quinn, Supergirl and Tomb Raider?

I’m not sure. I’m very pleased to have had the chance to write such incredible, complicated characters.

How different is it writing for the mainstream comics companies as compared to your own indie / personal stuff like Skim?

It’s very different and in some ways not at all different. The format is different, writing in issues of 20 or so pages, in arcs where the individual issues have to connect into one long story, but work as individual issues. Writing someone else’s character, writing into an existing mythology requires different writing muscles. I write, I think, different stories when I am working “my own” books, which is to say when I’m creating an original work with an artist. At the same time, both processes involve figuring out story and character, and sitting down and writing.

How have people responded to Skim (2005) after all these years? (That's the first book of yours I read)

I have talked to people who have a very strong connection to Skim. For some people, it was their first queer comic, which to me is such an honor, because I have a VERY strong bond with my first queer works.

How much of your own life is in your stories? For example, Emiko Superstar features performance art and you were a performance artist. (btw, there is quite a vibrant performance art scene in Singapore)

I’m very glad to hear that! Emotionally a lot of what I write is inspired by my experiences, and from what I’ve observed in the world. I definitely mine my past for inspiration. I try to think of things that have meant something for me that I haven’t seen in other books and use that where I can.

Would you say a central theme in all your comics (Skim, This One Summer, She-Hulk, Supergirl, Lumberjanes) is about growing up, coming to terms with oneself, that need to belong and the desire to resist?

I would say identity is definitely a common theme: the identity of the outsider, the struggle with identity (which is a big superhero thing), how it is we come to embrace an identity, or leave one behind.

This One Summer was number one on the list of top 10 most banned and challenged books in USA in 2016. Were you surprised by this? Are cultural wars still being fought in America, especially in this age of Trump? (Singapore is also trying to deal with LGBTQ issues currently. The National Library had its own Penguingate 4 years ago.

LGBTQ content is a large reason for books being on the challenged list in the United States, which is not to say it is a good REASON to challenge or ban a book. I was not surprised because This One Summer had received quite a bit of attention after receiving a Caldecott Honor, but I was sad to hear how many amazing books about LGBTQ experience were being pulled from shelves and made unavailable to young readers.

Female comics writers are in the news these days. Marjorie Liu (who we invited for SWF last year) won a Hugo and an Eisner for Best Writer for Monstress and the book also just won the Harvey Award’s Book of the Year. These add diversity to the creative pool. Eg. Black Panther (Ta-Nehisi), Mockingbird (Chelsea Cain) and Captain Marvel (Margaret Stohl). So putting it to you - who else would you want to write?

There is a long and amazing history of female comic writers that I am honored to be a part of, people like G. Willow Wilson, Gail Simone, Alison Bechdel, and now writers like Nalo Hopkinson, are making amazing works. I have been so thrilled with the characters I have written so far, I would love to write a Hawkeye, and Batman, and Batwoman, and Jessica Jones. Really, I have a VERY LONG list of comics I would like to write.

More published writers are engaged to write comics now. What are the pros and cons of this arrangement?

Are their cons? I think it’s a good thing. I think more comics are always a good thing.

Can you tell us more about the new project, adapting Carole Maurel's Luisa: Now and Then?

I was given the translation of the comic from French to English, and my job was to make sure the comic read well in English, to make sure it felt…I guess the word could be “natural.” I compared it to moving around the cutlery on a well dressed table, just making sure everything is in the right place. Maurel is an incredible comic artist and writer.

What comic books do you read these days?

A LOT. I’ve recently discovered Warren Ellis, so I’m reading a lot of his comics. Also I’m really enjoying Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka’s Runaways. I loved Emil Ferris’ My Favorite Thing is Monsters, and Eleanor Davis’s Why Art?

Mariko and Jillian