Saturday, December 24, 2011

Remember, remember, the 25th of December

Today, a popular Christian concept has become common among many Christians. It is the idea that Christianity entails having a personal relationship with God. The use of “personal relationship” in this context suggests an intimacy. In an interview with CNN, Professor Stephen Prothero of the Department of Religion in Boston University states that Christianity in America has “gravitated to the evangelical religion of the heart, where it’s really all about feeling and loving Jesus and having a relationship with him, rather than knowing something about the (Christian) tradition.”

The idea of a “personal relationship” with an intimate connotation is nowhere explicit in Bible texts, and must be derived theologically. This lack of an explicit statement within the Bible led me to curiosity. Where did this theology come from? Having read Victorian and modern literature, the term “God-fearing” is commonly used to describe religious people. Having an intimate relationship with God suggests the loss of this “fear of God”. Just google “personal relationship with God” and you will find that this idea is very popular among Christians. What is going on? I did my research and this is what I found. I thought I would put it here to clarify with people, especially Christians, as to where their ideas originate. I could be wrong, but the facts can be verified on the internet. After discussing facts, I’ll give my own take on the situation.

The idea of a personal relationship with God evolved from the theology first developed by Friederich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768 – 1834). Schleiermacher expounded that religion itself is a personal experience that must be understood through intuition and feeling. In other words, relativism, and not absolutism, defines belief and religious perception. Schleiermacher and other theologians who came after developed Liberal Christianity. It is not an innate fear of God, but the innate need of religion in humans that leads to religion (note how God-fearing is put aside). In Liberal Christianity, as opposed to conservative Christianity, the statements in the Bible are not considered factual. The Bible simply reflects the understanding of Christianity at the time in which the scriptures were written. Liberal Christianity does not have the presupposition that the Bible is inerrant in its critical analysis of the Bible. Ideas such as repentance and the sinfulness of Man are deemphasized, in favour of personal experience.

This is perhaps Schleiermacher’s most influential theological idea to Christianity; a relativistic and individualistic approach to Christianity. Is Schleiermacher’s concept of “personal relationship with God” similar to the one that is being preached in modern churches? No. But I believe what some modern churches preach is a modified form of Liberal Christianity. Here’s where things get interesting. Because even though some churches preach Liberal Christian theology, they also believe in the conservative views, such as the inerrancy of the Bible. Bible inerrancy can be classified as a concept of Conservative Christianity.

So what we are seeing or (hearing), from some churches, is the preaching of conservative and liberal Christian views. I have spoken to two West Africans, one from Togo, the other from Ghana, on separate occasions. I doubt they are from the same church, but they certainly share similar beliefs. These beliefs might be indicative of Christianity in the West Africa region. Both of them believe in the concept of having a personal relationship with God, as well as the Bible not being a collection of factual accounts. So, they have liberal beliefs, and not conservative ones.

What does this mean for Singapore Christians? The various churches should respect one another, and not criticize each other. Just look at the criticisms City Harvest Church got on the internet. Some people name the church City Harvest Cult. By the way, I am in no way affiliated to City Harvest Church, and I do not approve of their actions if they really did break the law. And I am not going to criticize their “Gospel of prosperity” or defend it. They probably have a liberal approach. So be it. And perhaps for Otto, there really might be some hope in the acceptance of homosexuality by all Christians in the future. After all, the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire has a gay bishop. That is liberal.

Might I be wrong? Definitely. To prove me wrong, find a theologian who came up with the concept of “personal relationship with God” before Schleiermacher.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


"Most fiction, maybe all of it, from the grandest tales to the most commonplace, was about things that were missing. Family, lovers, sustenance, peace, ideals. At the heart of all those stories were emptiness, yearnings, hollows that couldn't be filled - as though bereavement were hardwired into mankind."

- James Sallis

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Show me the money!

Singapore is far too straight-laced. That is what Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, says about our nation. What does he know? He is some western guy who knows nothing about our system of Asian values. What gives him the right to make such statements?

Singaporeans are a pragmatic bunch in general, as Christopher Ng Wai Chung has written in his book. According to him, this pragmatic approach to life and career impedes our career success. I cannot help but agree with him. I have a friend whom, with his classmates, was offered a chance by Mediacorp to develop films that would be guaranteed broadcast on one of the national channels. He and his classmates turned down the offer when Mediacorp refused to pay them. These are film students I am talking about. For a bunch of local university students who have no credentials, being given a chance to showcase their work on national television is quite an honour. Who knows, a company might see their work, like it and hire the students. They are guaranteed a job after graduation, which is what many graduates dream of. I told my friend about his lose of opportunities in rejecting the offer. He replied that he is a very shallow person and want immediate gratification. For a local university student, he is not as stupid as I thought. To know and admit that oneself is shallow is quite admirable.

In Supergods: Our World in the Age of Superheroes (Random House), Grant Morrison recounted how he took up an offer to do a strip in his local newspaper, even though he was paid little and barely have enough to feed himself. But for him, that experience was worth it, as it allowed him to develop his storytelling ability in comics. Of course, some Singaporeans might like to point out that besides that story, Supergods also includes mad ramblings from Morrison.

I think Singaporeans have to be honest with themselves. If you do not have any credentials, how can you achieve a good pay? To be paid peanuts under such circumstances is in itself an honour. The important thing is not to concentrate on the market, the fame or the money, like what Alan Moore has constantly advised in interviews, but to develop abilities. But for Singaporeans, this is difficult for most. Some take the other road. I have had a chance to talk to Troy Chin last year. He said that he was prepared not to earn much when Resident Tourist went into print.

So there you have it. The Singapore environment is not suited to creative pursuits, unless the chance to earn is clear. Some will argue, “don’t you need money to survive?” I have a day job, and it comes with sufficient pay. Comics is a hobby in which I can afford not to earn money from. I know that not everyone gets this opportunity. Furthermore, I am not materialistic compared to most Singaporeans. I am a workaholic who enjoys thinking up new ideas. Now, what I need are people who share my vision and would like to work with me on a “revolutionary” comics project. I have no credentials, so no pay expected. By the way, I do not get paid for writing this blog.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Nanny - 24h Comics Day Book from Bandung

This book was launched in Jakarta 1 week ago.

NANNY, a compilation of 7 (seven) short comics made during the 24 Hour Comics Day 2011 challenge, ranging from a story about an Indonesian migrant worker in Singapore who missed her hometown, a respond to current ecological issues, a mysterious, historical water well, to a story about how taxing a wedding preparation can be. The main tie for these selected works is the dominant role of a woman in each story, both as creators and as the main characters.

Published by CAB.

I co-organized this year's 24h Comics Day in Singapore at Goodman Arts Centre together with JF. It was part of Comics XChange. I linked us up with the CAB artists in Bandung (internationalization!) and worked with Stephani Soejono on a story. She is a cool up and coming comic artist who has worked on the animation for the Tatsumi movie.

Well, our story about Indon maids in Singapore is the cover story for the Bandung compilation and they titled the volume after our story, Nanny. ;)

This is the first time a 24h story from Singapore got published in a 24h publication.

If you like to order a copy of this book, drop a line to Rony at .

Pics of the launch:!/photo.php?fbid=2397734996982&set=p.2397734996982&type=1

Sunday, November 20, 2011

18 hours

Troy shared that he took 18 hours to draw this splash page. Reason enough to buy Loti Vol 3.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Biting the hand that feeds us...

Read this recently.

In 2000, the Minister for Information and the Arts said that the maintenance of social peace was an artistic social responsibility. A theatre director responded to demand that as an artist, citizen, father, son and "as a person who sees himself having a future in this country" the right to be irresponsible since an artist cannot work unless that right is given.

Another arts practitioner, aware of the realities of state funding, responded bleakly that "It's not so easy to say, "Im an artist, I just want to do what I want", because you're an artist in Singapore, you know?"

(taken from Koh Tai Ann's Editorial for the special issue of Moving Worlds on Singapore arts/culture)

All these reminds me of the impotency of political cartooning in Singapore today. The tension is still there, but most of them are saying they are only political cartoonists in Singapore.

15 years ago, I was told this is Asian consensus, this is how we do things in Asia. We don't embarrass our leaders. Any critique, make them behind closed doors.

So what Pao Kun said remains the true: we can laugh at other countries' leaders, but we don't dare to laugh at our own. Because they are doing such a great job, they are exceptional? Better not to say the Emperor is naked...

Troy Chin just won the Young Artist Award for comics. Let's see how that'd play out.

Moving Worlds Vol 10, No 1 (2010): Reviewing Singapore is available at Books Actually

Interview with Mico Suayan

Wendy Chew and Mico Suayan

Rogue and Magneto

Mico Suayan was in town again for the Popular Bookfest at Suntec City. I had a chat with him.

Mico grew up reading Superman and Batman, and later X-Men. So it was meaningful that his first professional work was for Marvel. He was working as a storyboard artist for an ad company in the Philippines when he decided to try out as a comic artist. He emailed Marvel editors with links to his work and attachments of samples. He did not expect a response, but a few days later, Marvel head honcho, Joe Quesada wrote back to say he liked Mico’s work. Mico resigned from his job and went freelance.

That was in 2006 and Mico has not looked back since.

His first job for Marvel was a 7-page Magneto story for Marvel Comics Presents. His breakout work was Moon Knight, taking over the title from David Finch. Mico revealed that he was hired for the job because his artwork looked like Finch’s.

But if Mico is just an imitator of others, then he would not have progressed to where he is today. Mico is known for his realistic style, which has won him many fans. His style is not just influenced by American comics, but also the classic Filipino comic artists like Alfredo Alcala with his shading and darkness of composition. His art had won him praises from old timers like Tony DeZuniga (the first Filipino artist to draw the X-Men, The Uncanny X-Men #110 in 1978). Mico was very flattered when DeZuniga told him that a few months ago over coffee.

So what’s next for Mico? His exclusive with Marvel just ended a few weeks ago. He is now talking with DC. He is working on a cover for the Uncharted comic book (based on the hit video game) published by DC, after Adam Hughes backed out.

Mico will still be in Singapore at the Bookfest on 20 November, Sunday. So if you read this in time, do go down and check out his sketchbook and prints

Friday, November 4, 2011

台湾 soft power!

Attended the Taiwan classic pop songs concert at Indoor Stadium 2 weeks ago and was absolutely impressed by the singers and soft power displayed. This concert was to celebrate 100 years of the Chinese Republic. So it was a pop event. But it was organized partly by the Taipei Representative Office in Singapore. So it's hidden diplomacy at work, it's to talk about Taiwan and 1949. Heck, Representative Vanessa Shih even went on stage to sing a song.

It's all quite brilliant.

Who writes the comics?

2 events struck me recently. qlrs celebrated its 10th anniversary recently. When you looked at the profile of the group, they are mainly lawyers, journalists, freelance writers, etc. Then I attended the books actually zine party last Saturday. Most zine makers were undergrads, people doing their own little business of selling old stuff, vintage clothes, or promoting DIY culture, handmade notebooks, recycling, and so on. Most of them belong to the same demographics, SES.

Not to belittle their efforts and their causes, but it's precisely because they do have the time and the means to do such things. They do not have to worry about bills, or not that much anyway. If they have to do 2 jobs, OT, pull in an extra shift to make ends meet, the sole bread winner and supporting the family, then they would not have the time to do all these.

Must the quest for/production of knowledge tied to one's profession? It should be about having the natural curiosity to learn and create new things. (Patti Smith comes to mind - go read Just Kids and listen to Piss Factory) I can be a plumber and still read/write poetry. But in the case of Singapore, the arts are pretty much in the domain of professionals like lawyers, civil servants, teachers, journalists, and...artists.

I know this applies to me too. The reason why I can write this now is because I am not doing a low paying blue collar job for a living. Not romanticizing the working class here either. Just wondering if we will ever have a hawker centre cleaner who also reads and writes comics. (HK wuda comics are popular among Malaysian blue collar workers)

All is not lost. I read that members of the Malay Orchestra were taxi drivers.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Woodcut article from 2006

An old article written with some friends about woodcuts and the 6 men woodcut show.

A Brief History of Woodcuts in Singapore by Foo Kwee Horng, Koh Nguang How and Lim Cheng Tju

In 1966, six local woodcut artists held their first group show at the National Library at Stamford Road. In 2006, works by the same artists were displayed at an exhibition at the National Library at Victoria Street. This article introduces the art of woodcut printmaking: what is a woodcut, its history and practice as an art form in Singapore.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


This has been up for a while.

Lest we forget: The importance of history in Singapore and Malaysia Comics Studies

Comics studies tend to focus on textual analysis (story and characterization) of the cartoon strips or comic books. However, one should not forget that such works could not and should not be read in a vacuum. Cartoons and comics are very much productions of their times as much as they are a mirror of our lives. Text and context should go together in comics studies.This paper argues for such a historical approach, using examples from Singapore and Malaysia. A sense of history is important and its application in our reading of comics and cartoons would provide insights to present politics and society, especially the impact of globalization and the progress of democratization.

A paper I presented at the Kyoto International Manga Museum in Dec 2009. It was a conference organized by KIMM and Seika University.

But I didn't know this was up as well.

‘Forgotten Legacies': The Case of Abdullah Ariff’s Pro-Japanese Cartoons during the Japanese Occupation of Penang

This chapter explores the work of a much-neglected artist whose work has recently been the focus of a major exhibition at the National Art Gallery of Malaysia (2004). Having played a minor role in the post-war Malayan nationalist politics, Abdullah’s wartime career has been largely obscured, particularly his 25-page pro-Japanese cartoon book entitled Perang Pada Pandangan Juru-Lukis Kita (‘The War As Our Cartoonist Sees It’), published in Penang by Shu Seicho Shimbun Renraku Jimusho in 1942. This chapter aims to reassess Abdullah’s life and work within the broader discourse of Malay collaborators during the Japanese Occupation of British Malaya, and to explore questions relating to his relationship with the Japanese occupiers; with the British authorities; and the use of cartoons as historical evidence.

Happy reading this Deepavali.

1001 Comics

Paul Gravett is the scene maker in UK comics. He just put out his edited volume, 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die. People asked me why would I need this book. But I said there'll always be new things to learn and read and it's good to see that there were Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and HK represented here. (although I'd have selected Town Boy over Kampong Boy...;) )

I was emailing Paul about the book and he asked me if there are any Singapore comics that should go in. I'm hard pressed for an answer. Unlike drama, literature and even films, there has not been much development for comics in Singapore for the past 30 years. But let's have your views here. Tell us what are your top 3 Singapore comics for the last 30 years and would they stand up to international scrutiny and standards?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Romance Comics

Picked up Marvel Visionaries: Jack Kirby Vol. 2 today. There are 2 romance stories inside. Reading 'The Summer Must End!' (Teenage Romance #84, nov 1961) reminded me how many of these romance stories by Kirby and John Romita took place during the summer on a beach.

These must be the origins of one of the more under-rated limited series put out by Marvel some years ago. Trouble by Mark Millar has the usual Millar punch to it. Entertaining revisionism, it tells the story of Peter Parker's parents set during the Swingin' 60s. Only now I realize it is also a update on the Marvel romance comics of the 60s. Darker (what else would you expect from Millar?), more sex and mean.

Retcon has never been more fun.

War Stories

There are good comics around to read, even those from a few years ago. We need not look for the next big thing. I came to know about Garth Ennis' War Stories (Vertigo) in 2008 when Gary Erskine was a guest of the first Singapore Toys and Comics Convention, when it was still organized by Play Imaginative. Erskine was telling us that one of his favourite stories was inking Johann's Tiger in War Stories Vol. 1.

A few months ago, Collier sent me the link to this article on war comics by Paul Gravett. I finally got round to buying War Stories Vol. 1. It's excellent. The highlight is Nightingale, drawn by David Lloyd, who was a guest at last year's comics con. Here's the youtube video of David Lloyd talking about the Classic English Style. War Stories Vol. 1 was published in 2004. I was in a different space/place then.

But I'm glad to discover this now.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Late Tezuka

Fans of Osamu Tezuka who grew up reading Astro Boy and Kimba are already aware of his darker and more adult/mature stories like Budhha, Phoenix, Black Jack and even Hitler, which was translated and published by VIZ Media in the 1990s. But what we didn't expect were the late Tezuka stories from the 1970s that Vertical has been putting out in recent years.

I'm talking about Apollo's Song, Ode To Kirihito, MW and Ayako. These are stories where Tezuka tried to out-gekiga gekiga.

If you have read Tatsumi's A Drifting Life (or watched the Eric Khoo movie), you'd know how much Tatsumi had admired Tezuka. There was a scene where Tatsumi was seen posting his gekiga manifesto to Tezuka, wondering how his hero would respond to his vision for manga for adults. It was not revealed in A Drifting Life, but if you were to read biographies of Tezuka, the latter responded negatively to the movement.

However, by the 1960s, there was a new gekiga movement, which Tatsumi was not so involved in. (thus a man constantly out of time) This new movement centered around Garo and artists like Sanpei Shirato, Yoshiharu Tsuge and Takao Saito. Even Lone Wolf and Cub could be considered as gekiga.

Tezuka must be feeling the heat in the 1970s and dived into murder, incest, homosexuality, debauchery, politics and history to salvage the situation and his reputation as the godfather of manga. Reading these stories today makes you wonder how teenagers who grew up reading Tezuka in the 60s responded to Late Tezuka.

I enjoy them as I learn new things about Tezuka. He wasn't such a square after all. MW was weird and Ayako was almost porn in some ways. But Tezuka tied up the events with real incidents that happened in post-war Japan such as the "Shimoyama Incident" of 1949 and the Yazuka wars of 1972.

Present biographies of Tezuka still put Astro Boy, etc on the cover. That may change in time to come as the Late Tezuka stories get revived and re-evaluated.

Next, to read the Book of Human Insects, Dororo and Swallowing the Earth.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

JC Wong

Was at ComicsXChange last weekend and dropped by JC Wong's booth. He was selling comics, prints and original pages. I like this one a lot.

Artists should be more concerned about politics and society in their works.

JC did a story in Liquid City 2.’-non-reply-to-charges-against-the-internal-security-act/#more-48

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

DC and Marvel rise again

I have not been active about comics for quite some time. I still read comics. But I did not bother to keep up with the news and updates. And when I start looking around, I cannot help but realize that there seems to be less alternative comics (for the lack of a better term) coverage in the American comics news sites. Not only that. Some of my favourite indie creators, like Jeff Lemire and Jonathan Hickman have gone mainstream by joining one of the big two companies.

I did catch all the Marvel movies this "summer", and enjoyed them. I skipped Green Lantern. And now that DC's New 52 are selling so well, I cannot help but feel that Marvel and DC are gaining a lot more attention in America than they did before 2010. This may mean that alternative comics will have a harder time competing for attention. And for me, a reader of alternative comics, that pretty much sucks.

I really like it when DC and Marvel release comics that are done by indie/alternative creators. For example, DC's Bizarro World and Marvel's Stange Tales. Seeing outsiders' interpretation of my favourite superheroes is so intellectually satisfying.I don't see why stories with supervillains involved have to usually end with violence. I think it takes more originality to come up with a non-violent solution in superhero comics. If DC has Jeff Lemire, why not let him decide what is the best course of aciton a superhero can take besides beating up the bad guy?

The New 52 is no doubt full of new concepts, but I am sure sex and violence will still be at the forefront.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I first heard about Zunar when I read in the papers that Malaysia’s first political cartoons magazine, Gedung Kartun, was banned by the government in September 2009, after it was out in the market for 2 to 3 days. Zunar was the publisher and chief editor of the magazine. The authorities did not like the fact that this magazine was making fun the current Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, during the Merdeka month. Gedung Kartun’s printing license was withdrawn.

More cat and mouse followed and more of Zunar’s books and magazines were banned. Finally, on 24 September 2010, Zunar was arrested in his office on the very day his book, Cartoon-O-Phobia was to be launched. Since then, Zunar has caught the attention of the international cartooning scene. He received the Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award from the Cartoonists Rights Network International in Florida in July this year. But he remains a Malaysian at heart. He wants to reform Malaysia and Malaysian politics with his cartoons.

On my last trip to KL, I caught up with him at his office near KL Sentral. He was not well, suffering from gastric pain, but still took the time to meet me. But before we get down to his replies to my questions, let’s start with his own personal statement, which he sent to me before we met.

My name is Zulkiflee SM Anwar Ul Haque. I have been drawing editorial cartoons for the past 20 years in Malaysia under a pen-name "Zunar". I consider myself as one of the best editorial cartoonists in Malaysia.

My cartoons are blacked-out by national newspapers, so as an alternative they are now being published by an internet media,

My aim is to use cartoons as a weapon to fight corruptions and abuse of power by the government. The issues highlighted in my works such as the murder of the Mongolian model by the name of Altantuya, the conspiracy against ex-Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, the domineering PM’s wife, the loss of jet engines, the Scorpene submarine scandal, racism, corruption and waste of public funds, among others.

In my career, I constantly face harassment, intimidation and oppression from the Malaysian government. I was arrested, detained and jailed for drawing cartoon. While in jail, I was treated like a criminal and jailed together with other criminals such as drug abusers and robbers.

On top of that, seven titles of my books are banned by the government, my office were raided twice, the printing factories that print my books are constantly raided and through-out the country, vendors are often warned not to sell my books.

Below are the summary of the challenges I face through out my career:


1. On September 2009, my office was raided by eight officers from the Home Ministry. In the raid, they confiscated 408 copies of my magazine, Gedung Kartun (Cartoon Store).
2. I was investigated under the Printing Presses and Publication Act (PPPA).
3. The government also threatened to charge me under the PPPA. If convicted, the penalties are 3 years in prison or RM20,000 (about USD6,280) fine.
4. They also raided the printing factory and seized the printing plates.
5. The factory was also warned not to print my books in the future, or else its printing license will be revoked.
6. The Home Ministry officials also confiscated Gedung Kartun from vendors through -out the country, and warned them not to sell my books in the future.
7. Gedung Kartun was banned thereafter.
8. The loss was estimated to be around RM10,000 (about USD 3000).


1. On June 2010, the Malaysian goverment announced the banning of five of my political cartoon publications. The ban was made under the PPPA. The books are:
a. 1 Funny Malaysia.
b. Perak Darul Kartun (Perak, The State Of Cartoon)
c. Isu Dalam Kartun vol 1 (Issue In Cartoon vol 1)
d. Isu Dalam Kartun vol 2 (Issue In Cartoon vol 2)
e. Isu Dalam Kartun vol 3 (Issue In Cartoon vol 3)
2. The government claimed that my cartoons "can influence the people to revolt against the leaders and government policies and detrimental to public order" as a ground to the ban.
3. This resulted the vendors withdrawing all the books and returning them to me. The loss incurred was about RM80,000 (USD25,000).


1. On the 24th September 2010, ten policemen raided my office in Brickfields near Kuala Lumpur, just 4 hours before the launching of my new cartoon collection, Cartoon-O-Phobia.
I was arrested, detained and locked up for two days under the draconian Sedition Act, which carries the maximum three years in jail if found guilty.
66 copies of Cartoon-O-Phobia were confiscated, as well as one of the original editorial cartoon. All these materials are still in the police custody.
2. At the same time, another 30 policemen raided two separate printing factories and warned them not to print my books in the future, or they will risk their printing licenses revoked by the government.
Police also went to the publisher, Malaysiakini, to search for the remaining stocks of Cartoon-O-Phobia.
As a result, Cartoon-O-Phobia cannot be sold openly as the vendors fear the risk of being charged under the Sedition Act by the government. I had to survive on the online sales which has a very limited market.


I will continue to draw to expose the corruption practiced by the Malaysian government as well as fundamental key issues such as abuse of power, police brutality, violation of human rights and misuse of public funds.

1. On July 2010, I filed a suit against the government to challenge the banning of my books: 1Funny Malaysia, Perak Darul Kartun and three volumes of Isu Dalam Kartun vol 1. In the suit, I sought the court to declare that the ban is illegal and an infringement to the rights of free speech guaranteed by the federal constitution.
The ban also breached the rules of natural justice and mala fide. For this case, the court will deliver its judgment on the 14th of July 2011. [Update: The court threw out my case as expected.]
2. On June 2011, I filed another suit to challenge the Malaysian government for the "unlawful detention" against me on September 2010.
The whole arrest and detention process reeked of bad faith and was politically motivated.
This suit aims to bring into focus the constitutional and human rights arguments, the police’s excessive powers and abuse, illiberal and outdated laws like the Sedition Act 1948 and the Printing Presses and Publication Act 1984, and the collusion between the government and the police.
And for this the court has yet to set a trial date. [Update: The date was set for 13 September 2011.]

On the 24th June this year, I produced my new book, “Even My Pen Has A Stand.”

Q: How did you get started drawing political cartoons?

A: I started in school, drawing part-time for fun, as a hobby. I’d send cartoons to children’s magazine like Bambino. That was around 1974 when I was in primary school. In secondary school, I continue to send my cartoons to selected children’s magazines, to their new talent pages.

I just kept drawing. I left school in 1980 and had my first cartoon for Gila-Gila published. In 1982, I worked for the government as a hospital lab technician. But I kept contributing cartoons to magazines. In 1986, I decided to be serious about drawing cartoons professionally and I joined Gila-Gila fulltime. I was drawing political cartoons then, but not as hard as what I am doing now. Gila-Gila is for teenagers, so half of my cartoons were political and the others were just humourous satire.

After a few years, I felt I needed a platform for political cartoons, so I joined Berita Harian in 1991. After I only lasted for 6 months. After that, I went freelance. I found out that I couldn’t do much in a government controlled newspaper. It was very restrictive, the editor would often comment on my cartoons and asked me to remove things.

That was not enough for me. But at that time, there was no internet. So you could draw for Bertia Harian, The New Straits Times or The Star and they are all the same medium, same restrictions.

So I retired for a while as there was no place to send my cartoons. I stopped drawing political cartoons in 1996 as there was no place for me in Malaysia for my type of political cartoons. I did a lot of freelance work like book illustrations.

In 1998, former Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim was arrested. I felt I need to make a comeback as a cartoonist and not to keep quiet about this conspiracy against Anwar. As a cartoonist, I need to show my stand and views about this situation. In February1999, I sent my cartoons to Harakah, the newspaper run by PAS. It was the only opposition newspaper then. They accepted my cartoons and they kept publishing them. I got good response from the publisher.

So here I can draw what I want to draw. I can make my stand and do my best. It was a turning point in my career. People started to know me.

In 2003, I started to draw for Malaysiakini. This is the internet era and I need to move with the times. Harakah could only reach out to Malay readers. Malaysiakini would allow me to get a wider audience.

Since then, my fan base has kept growing day by day, across the different age group. I get response from teenagers to ex-judges, lawyers and doctors.

Q: Describe your politics.

A: I support PKR (Parti Keadilan Rakyat). I support the opposition. It is very simple for me. I’m not involved personally in opposition politics, but as a Malaysian, I support PKR. (Zunar is an advisor to The Keadilan Daily) Barisan Nasional has been in power for 53 years and still could not solve two big issues – corruption and race. They have no policies for that. They cannot do it and they cannot settle it because they are the ones who are corrupted. When you are in the circle for 53 years, whether it is the police or the ministers, it’s ‘you help me, I help you’.

It is seriously affecting the people because public funds are misused. For example, the road toll. The toll agreement between the government and concession holders, that’s under OSA (Official Secrets Act). The result: when toll fees go up, the people cannot question why. The public has no access to the Petronas accounts. Petrol prices are going up. But we are producers of crude oil, and yet the people are still paying a lot. Petronas give the government RM70 billion net a year, but where does the money go?

That’s why I say the present government cannot settle this. We need to change the government. If PKR were to repeat what BN did, then we throw them out, just like other countries.

As for the racial problems, the government cannot settle it because they are the ones who practiced it. The government wants to break the people. They don’t want the people to stand together. They tell different races different things. Najib declared 1Malaysia, that’s a good slogan. But you also have Ibrahim Ali, the Perkasa president, who declared supremacy for the Malays. Najib kept quiet about such things.

UMNO’s survival is dependent on the Malays. They play the Malay racial card and sentiments to survive. There are no policies and the people are frustrated. On the ground, the people are not happy.

Q: Do you expect your cartoons to make a difference in all these?

A: I believe if I consistently do this, young cartoonists will follow my footsteps. I always say I will focus on corruption. If I stop and I compromise my stand on corruption, I will not be giving a good example to the young cartoonists. I cannot go back on my word. Some people have advised me to slow down a bit, so that I can survive. All my books are banned, there are no sales of my books in the bookshops in Malaysia. But I say no, these are my principles. There is no point for me to print another humour magazine. If I don’t do this, we cannot create culture to be followed by future generation of cartoonists.

I am single-handedly doing this now.

Q: Are you partisan?

A: My own philosophy is this: political cartoonists are important for any country. Like Malaysia now, we are facing a moral crisis, with corruption and the race issue. You must make a stand, you cannot be neutral.

This stand must be clearly seen in your work. It cannot be you making a stand, but your cartoons are different. Because as an artist, you must be a sensitive person. You are closest to the rakyat and you know how they feel. People like my cartoons because I draw what’s on their minds, what they are feeling.

I support PKR because of the problems we have in Malaysia now. People say I am biased, but I have a reason why. It is the situation, you don’t have a choice. When the field is not balanced, you need to play a different game. If you play the same way, you will get KO’d, 100-0. So now you play more rough, to give support to the underdog, until the day the field gets more balanced.

I am partisan. Barisan Nasional has every cartoonist in the mainstream newspapers to support them. I am the only one in the opposition’s side. I have to do that.

Q: What happened after Gedung Kartun was banned?

A: In Malaysia, you need a license to publish magazines. But you don’t need a license to publish books. So since the Gedung Kartun magazine is banned, we went into ‘book’ publishing. We published Perak Darul Kartun as a book. That was our most saleable publication, it was reprinted twice.

Then we set up a new company to get a new license and we managed to publish three issues of Isu Dalam Kartun. That was a team effort with the young cartoonists. As for my personal work, my Malaysiakini cartoons were collected and published as 1 Funny Malaysia.

Then all were banned by the government.

But since the government banned all of them, I realized that the government was afraid of cartoons. So we decided to do a second book of my cartoons, Cartoon-O-Phobia.

On 24 September, on the day of the launch, I was arrested. That night, the launch went on without me and the books. I was kept in the KLIA police lockup. The next day, I was brought to the magistrate court and was to be remanded for five days. They did not inform my lawyer of the hearing, so I had to represent myself.

I questioned the detention. The police said Cartoon-O-Phobia was seditious, which carried a maximum sentence of 3 years in jail. I said this book is not out in the market yet, how would you know it would be seditious or not. At least Isu Dalam Kartun was out in the market for 3 months before it was banned. (Isu Dalam Kartun was very popular. Just 2 weeks before the ban, we signed a contract with a major distributor to distribute it to other parts of Malaysia, including Sabah and Sarawak. And then it was banned. Maybe the authorities got the info about the distribution deal…)

I asked the police if they had read the book. They said no. I told the magistrate this was not fair, and they released on the same day. (on 25 September) They had no grounds to arrest me.

But when they cannot stop me from drawing, they did two other things – they stopped people from printing my books and they stopped vendors from selling my books. In Malaysia, no shop dared to sell my books until now. The police will harass the shops and the court can take away the shops’ license. For printers, they can revoke their printing license.

So for my new book, …Even My Pen Has A Stand!, it has been very difficult. I searched for 2 months for a printer who dare to print my book. I searched from Penang to Seremban and in the end, managed to find one.

Q: How and where do you get your ideas?

A: The way I get my ideas is different from others. The first step is to collect information from every aspect, source and perspective. I will go to the internet, I will talk to the persons involved if I know them. If there are demonstrations or court cases, I will attend.

Second step, after collecting all these, I will make my stand.

Third, then I will find the joke. And this joke must be aligned with my stand. This is the most difficult part.

I have drawn cartoons about Mahathir, Badawi. But with Najib, there are more issues and I get more ideas. Especially his wife. (laughs) They are the ones who provide the ideas. They do funny things.

Q: How do you survive since your books are banned?

A: I can still sell my books through the internet, but it is hard to make money through that. I am broke and I have printing debts. All my staff has resigned, the 7 young cartoonists who worked with me.

But in life, there is always risk. If we don’t take risk, nothing happens.

The young cartoonists have gone freelance. But we will regroup when the right time comes.

As long as you want to fight, people will support you. From 3 October to till of the end year, I will be one of the Artists-in-Residence for the 2011 Art and Censorship programme to be held in Bilbao, Spain. So I believe if you work hard, you can get the support. You will not be rich, but you can survive.

Q: Any upcoming events to promote your books?

A: If you are in KL on 24 September, we will be M Corp Mall at PJ. We will be setting a stall to sell our books. It’s a Hari Raya thing, get together with some friends.


On 14 September, Najib Razak announced that his government will repeal the ISA and the Emergency Ordinance. He will also lift the licensing curbs on the media, including the Printing Presses and Publishing Act (1984), which was used against Zunar. I emailed Zunar for his reactions to these latest news. Below is his reply:

"It is just lip service and a PR exercise by PM Najib because the election is said to be middle of November this year.

a. ISA will be replaced with another law similar to Patriot Laws in the US, which allows the government to detain people without trial. Even though Najib says the laws are specifically for terrorists and not for the opposition, the government said the same thing when they introduced the ISA 60 years ago.

b. There is absolutely no media reform because the PM only mentioned there is "no need to review license" of publishing companies on an annual basis. But the government still has the right to cancel licenses if regulations are flouted. They also decide whether you can have a publishing license in the first place. It means that government still has an absolute power to deny any applications.

c. In his speech Najib did not touch on the fundamental issues for reform for Malaysia:

First, a need for free and fair elections. Second, corruptions. Third, racism. Fourth, judicial reform. There is also the issue of police brutality."

NB: Zunar just won the Hellman/Hammett Grant from the Human Rights Watch.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Good friend Bowie

One of the most beautiful friendships is the one between Bowie and Iggy. Like I just said, Bowie helped Iggy in the 70s by co-writing songs with him and producing his albums. In the early 80s, when Bowie was at his peak as a chart hitter, he covered Iggy's songs in his albums, ensuring royalties for his friend. eg. China Girl, Tonight, Neighbourhood Threat. Both collaborated on Iggy's Blah Blah Blah (1986). That album was a turning point in Iggy's career.

Go watch Bowie and Tina Turner's take of Tonight on youtube.

Lust for Life

There are songs and artists you return to over and over again. Dylan is one. I've been listening to Iggy Pop a lot these days. You don't realise how brilliant he is until it hits you right in between the eyes as you walk down the streets, listening to your ipod.

Lust for Life. Excellent song, filled with energy. Didn't think much about it. Got sick of it when it was overposed when used in the Trainspotting movie and later in some TV commercial. Blah blah blah.

But the ipod was on shuffle and this came on. This line struck me:

"I'm worth a million in prizes."

What? What do you mean you are worth a million in prizes? Like those Readers' Digest prizes? You are already a millionarie? It means nothing.

And then you realize how ironic Iggy is in this song. In fact, he is taking a piss at himself.

"I'm worth a million in prizes
With my torture film
Drive a GTO
Wear a uniform
All on a government loan"

That is so loser. And the context: Iggy was deep shit in heroin in the 70s then. He tried to clean up. His bud David Bowie tried to help him by co-writing songs with him and producing his albums. David is a good friend.

But this story has a happy ending. Iggy survived the 70s, 80s, 90s and now still giving it to us where it hurts in the second decade of the 21st Century. (did you see his performance in the last season of American Idol?)

Welcome back, Johnny Yen.

Overheard 2 X The Greed of Man

Just watched Overheard 2. Excellent HK crime thriller about insider trading. A lot people compare it with Overheard 1. But the obvious comparison is actually with early 1990s HK TV drama, The Greed of Man, which uses the same background context of the 1973 stock market crisis in HK and starring Lau Ching Wan and Kenneth Tsang pitting against each other. 20 years later, these 2 are still providing the acting chops that make this one of the best of 2011.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Children's comics galore

Was asking if comics artists in Malaysia can survive drawing comics full time and was told that mainly it would be those who draw children's comics. Attended the book fest in KL (KLCC) and it's true. GeMeiLia is the most successful of the lot, with animation in the works.

Michael Chuah's new comic book with GeiMeiLia

The other type of books that sell very well - assessment books from Singapore! But there is still a size-able readership of Chinese books as Chinese schools are still alive in Malaysia.

The new anthology by the Mandarin Comic Society

Archetype of a father's love

Just watched the Johnnie To-produced Punished (2011) and Steven Soderbergh's The Limey (1999) back to back. Reminded me the 2009 To-directed epic starring Johnny Hallyday, Vengeance. A father will cross oceans and destroy his own world to avenge his daughter's death.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Try to get your hands on this excellent comics magazine from the guys from Gempak. Totally under-rated and deserving of our attention. Best it got new comic stories by Baba Chuah, drewscape, Kaoru, and Leong Wan Kok...

Issue 009 has interviews with the Gilamon gang about their new titles from last year, Major Zombie and Six.

2 insightful quotes from Tan Eng Huat:

"For me, my stress usually comes from deadlines because I fear my lateness will affect others in production line. The first 2 to 3 years were very stressful. Working for an international company through emails was initially very strange because I didn't get to see anyone and it felt like you can lose your job any time. Plus it's not a full time job and I have to compete with a lot of artists in America too. So for me, there's really no way for me to release that stress. I just had to swallow it and not let it consume me by constantly doing better."

(when asked things he would die for...)
"For me it's Star Wars LEGO because Star Wars is really huge thing for my generation. There's also a sentimental value to it for me because my father used to like taking apart machines and fixing them later. LEGO lets me do the same but, of course, it's so much more simpler. So to me, it's like both things I like in one."

Indon Comics

(Aish, Rony, Azisa, Rama, Tita)

Had lunch with Tita Larasati during STGCC and she updated me about the scene in Bandung. Basically, she and her business partner, Rony Amdani, were in town to promote the books published by their company, Curhat Anak Bangsa (CAB).

All the books are written by Rony. The art is by different artists:

Seeta – Rama Indra (based loosely on the Ramayan)
Insight – Risza A. Perdhana
The Messengers – Aish (based loosely on the independence of Indonesia)
Mantra – Azisa Noor

It’s still tough for indie artists to make their living from drawing comics fulltime. Even for Tita, she lectures at the Bandung Institute of Technology.

Interestingly, the bestsellers from CAB are the graphic diaries by Tita and Sheila Rooswitha Putri. Tita has written an article about the trend of Graphic Diary for an upcoming volume of International Journal of Comic Art, based on a paper she presented at the Women’s Manga Beyond Japan conference held at the National University of Singapore earlier this year.

Sheila’s story about a family trip to East Java has been reprinted in Liquid City 2. She has kept busy with a new project for . She is drawing a strip written by Trinity and Erastiany. (Rony is involved too)

Several Indon artists have made it overseas. Other than Ardian Syaf, people like Chris Lie, Sunny Gho and Admira Wijaya (aka Anto Garang) have done international work. Chris Lie has drawn for GI Joe and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 video game (Chris is also running Caravan Studio, which he set up in West Jakarta in January 2008) while Sunny Gho is the Art Director of IFS Jakarta. He has coloured Power Girl, Secret Warriors, Ultimate Avengers vs. New Ultimates and The Darkness. Both Chris Lie and Sunny Gho were at STGCC. Some samples of Caravan Studio works here:

But the bulk of comics produced in Indonesia are slapstick books, eg. the “101” series. (101 Surviving Super Singles, 101 Prehistoric Culture, etc) and ‘local manga’ series.

Tita called this current situation as “lata” – the Malay word for imitate. Most comic companies are merely copying each other’s themes to sell their books.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

When the weird turns sappy…

It’s almost a Singapore comic con tradition to have the new Resident Tourist volume out when the event takes place every year at Suntec City. Even for this year, when the con was brought forward to August, we have the launch of TRT 5 there.

The first 3 cons were organized by Play Imaginative and since last year, Reed took over.
2007 – Troy Chin and Ken Foo shared a booth near Sonny Liew to sell their minis.
2008 – Adrian Teo published TRT 1 and 2 for Troy. A TRT related short story appeared in Liquid City 1.
2009 – Troy self-published TRT 3 and Loti 1. (all of them serialized on his website before)
2010 – TRT 4 launched at STGCC. Loti 2 was launched at Books Actually earlier. Another short story in Liquid City 2. (non TRT related)
2011 – TRT 5 launched.

When TRT first came out, it was a breadth of fresh air. Troy was featured in an article about local comics in IS, but most of us only got to read his stuff when Adrian Teo published TRT 1 and 2. It was weird, with bats hiding in shoes and shit. A returning Singaporean from NYC, who sees a hot psychiatrist – he seems aimless and profound at the same time. What’s going on?

2008 was a good year for Troy as he got extensive coverage in the national papers. An interview with The Sunday Times, a nice pic of him outside of his old school, the now abandoned Braddell-Westlake, and a review of TRT 1 and 2 a week later in the book reviews section.

Troy was slowly building his fan base with appearances at Books Actually, the National Library, Singapore Writers’ Festival and recently, post-museum. They are a varied bunch – kids studying overseas, doctors (a psychiatrist!) and even a lady who traveled all the way from Japan to meet him at the comic con in 2009.

Things got a bit more normal with TRT 3. It was about friendship, growing up with your gang in Victoria School. Read this together with Loti and you find Troy to be quite a nostalgic fellow. In TRT 4, we learn what’s wrong with Troy. He tried to kill himself in NYC. That volume affirmed Troy’s rep as one of the strongest narrative storytellers for comics in Singapore. His panel to panel transition is smooth and ‘invisible’.

By all counts, the newly released TRT 5 reads like the end of the tourist for now as it brings the story to the present. (2010) Since last year, Troy kept saying that people will be pissed off by what he has to say in TRT 4. Maybe the lack of recognition and poor sales was getting to him. But it was something else…

TRT 5 confirms what some of us suspect for some time. It is a love story, after all. The punch line – Troy finally hooked up with Mint in 2005 when they were in NYC. Troy returned to Singapore soon after and they maintained the long distance relationship. So the whole TRT series, which start with the return of Troy to Singapore, is his paean to Mint. If one is to read into it, putting his life in comics form on the web is Troy’s way of telling Mint of how he is feeling.

Those feelings go deep in TRT 5 – Troy confessing his love for Mint, telling her he wants kids, etc. It is heartfelt; Troy handles the emotions well. But it is also sappy when you reach the last page. The truth is: he is this generation’s Colin Cheong, in comics form.

TRT 5 is selling well. It is on the Planerds bestselling list for August (The just reprinted TRT 1 and 2 are on it too) and during STGCC, the Harris booth needed another 30 copies for the second day of the con. There are enough going for it for people to buzz – the timely reference to the foreigners issue; more throwbacks to the early 1990s: Sembawang Music Store, Nirvana’s Nevermind; Veronica Yip; chapter 20 of the Sec 4 Biology textbook for Express classes.

Troy is already a hero to some in Singapore for living his dream and for not compromising. Fans will enjoy his encounters with crazy people (albeit caricatured) and not backing down. The angry man he met while queuing up at SingPost reminds me Harvey Pekar’s observation of quirky Jewish ladies at the supermarket. But Troy’s encounter is nastier. That’s Singapore 2010/2011 for you.

If there is an inconsistency to be noted, it’s that for the earlier volumes, the perspective has always been Troy’s. In TRT 5, we see the story from his friends’ point of view. That came across jarring.

Troy is 33 this year, an age of reckoning according to the good book. From now on, he is moving on to his next project – a piss take on the music industry.

The tourist has returned home.


Sampled Gail Carriger's Alexia Tarabotti novels. Which brings to mind steampunk has been around for ages, both in novels and comics. There's Fritz Leiber's "Catch That Zepellin!" short story and Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series.

In comics, Alan Moore is having a delightful run with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen since the last century. Even earlier, Tardi had The Arctic Marauder. Warren Ellis did Captain Swing recently and Bryan Talbot of Tale of One Bad Rat fame told the story of Grandville. The closest to what Carriger is doing - Lady Mechanika published by Aspen.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


It's always good to see Sensei again.

Friday, September 9, 2011


One thing I realized from doing interviews with the Southeast Asian artists I met at STGCC is that they have agents working for them, getting them the contracts and the jobs. Especially so for the Filipino and Indonesian artists who might need that link to DC and Marvel Comics. In the case of Ardian Syaf, he needed someone with the linguistic ability to negotiate with the comics companies. Interestingly, both Carlo Pagulayan and Ardian had European agents instead of US ones. (unlike say, Sonny Liew) In any case, as pointed out by CB Cebulski, given the long distance between Asia and America, even having an agent in Europe meant it's easier for them to fly in to San Diego to represent the artists for work.

This doesn't mean all Southeast Asian artists working for DC or Marvel has an agent. One of the Malaysian pioneers, Tan Eng Huat, doesn't have an agent as he was talent spotted by Andy Helfer of DC in 1999. One job leads to another and Eng Huat's schedule is packed these days.

Perhaps having an agent is part of the professionalization of the medium in this region. One day we will have local talent companies starting to represent comic artists.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bestsellers at Planerds and prologue

Below are the August bestsellers for Planerds and { prologue }



1.       Resident Tourist v5 SC

2.       In Memory of Kwa Geok Choo: 1920-2010 SC

3.       Resident Tourist v1 SC

4.       League of Extraordinary Gentlemen III: Century #2: 1969

5.       Sense and Sensibility GN TP

6.       Resident Tourist v2 SC

7.       Malinky Robot Collected Stories & Others TP

8.       Blackest Night TP

9.       Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne HC

10.   Batman: Complete Hush TP


{ prologue }

1.       In Memory of Kwa Geok Choo: 1920-2010 SC

2.       Smurfs v1: The Purple Smurfs SC

3.       Smurfs v3: The Smurf King SC

4.       Smurfs v5: The Smurfs and the Egg SC

5.       Smurfs v4: Smurfette SC

6.       Smurfs v2: The Smurfs and the Magic Flute SC

7.       Smurfs v7: Astrosmurf SC

8.       Smurfs v6: The Smurfs and the Howlibird SC

9.       Pokemon Adventures v37 TP

10.   Transformers: Dark of the Moon Prequel: Foundation TP


Clearly, { prologue } had a very Smurfy month, but local artists rule the roost, especially at Planerds.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Registration now open for Singapore 24 Hour Comics Day

The Singapore leg of 24 Hour Comics Day is back this year on 1-2 October 2011 (Sat morning to Sunday morning).  Participants will challenge themselves to create 24 pages of comics within 24 hours.

Admission is free but registration is required. We will have free food, courtesy of sponsorship from National Arts Council!

If you think you're crazy enough to take on this challenge, register here:

Venue is Goodman Arts Centre, a 6-minute walk from Mountbatten MRT station:

Internet connection will be a problem, so I suggest you prepare all your reference material beforehand.

This year's event will be part of a larger event called Comics Xchange, which will have a bazaar, seminars, workshops and cosplay.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Matt Fraction

Reading Stark Resilient and, together with Warren Ellis, Fraction is the futurist in comics today. Ellis affirmed his status of that in the Extremis storyline and with the same character (Iron Man, if you are still wondering) Fraction is proving that he is the worth the salt he's been paid.

Not everything he touches is gold. (eg. X-Men) But he has enough chutzpah to be ironic - having an arms system called Detroit Steel to save the Japanese's ass. Go read up on the motor industry of Detroit in the 1970s if you didn't get it.

Too bad no one did an indepth interview with him about all these when he was a guest of STGCC 2010. I'd love to ask him about his addiction...

Comics Xchange 1-2 Oct

Akan Datang.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Role of Arts Councils

Ordered a few books from Conundrum Press ( recently. It's a great place to get excellent Canadian graphic novels you CANNOT order from amazon.

- Gilded Lilies by Jillian Tamaki
- Inkstuds: interviews w Cartoonists by Robin McConnell
- Chimo by David Collier

One thing I noticed, all of them are supported by the Canadian Council for the Arts. Which means Canadians' taxes are put to good use, funding worthy graphic novels.

The same goes for the best thing I read this year, Paying For It by Chester Brown. Now if you have read that, you know how ballsy it is for the Canadians to put money behind this. Kudos to them.

Which brings me back to the role of arts councils and media development authorities at home. To be gatekeepers of social and moral values? I just want them to be professional and do their job - fund cranky, creative, fun projects instead of thinking of KPIs and bottom lines. (don't do the finance ministry's job for them!)

I'm reminded of Robert Mapplethorpe's The Perfect Moment exhibition of 1989, (mounted 3 months after his death) which sparked a debate in the US about public funding for controversy works. 22 years after reading about this incident in Time magazine, my take is for arts councils to do their job. Be the professionals you are supposed to be. Fund the worthy works (and not just because it's local but because it's good) and let society debate on its merits.

One shouldn't avoid debates. Because we can all learn a lot from it.

Friday, August 26, 2011


What a great Chinese title for Gone Case. But got to say it in Hokkien.
Best cover like those old EPB story books. Go grab it for $10.70 tops.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Interview with Paul Levitz@STGCC 2011

A tired Paul Levitz

It was a very tired Paul Levitz who I met on the second and last day of STGCC 2011. It was 4.30 pm and another 3.5 hours to go before the event closes. Maybe it was jet lag or end of con fatigue. Or maybe it’s because he had another appointment after this (with a pretty lass no less), but Paul was visibly distracted.

But you can’t blame the man. Paul Levitz had and continues to have a long run in this business. He is a legend, especially if you are a DC Comics fan. He joined DC in 1973 as an assistant editor, went on to become the youngest DC editor ever. He was appointed Executive Vice-President & Publisher in 1989 and President & Publisher from 2002 to 2009. Currently, he is Contributing Editor, but more importantly, he has gone back to writing the series he is most well known and loved for, the Legion of Superheroes.

Still, the half an hour we had with Paul, his professionalism and passion for the medium comes through. The man walks the talk.

Q: How has life been like since you stepped down as DC President? Why did you resign?

A: The job scope has changed and it has given me the freedom to travel to places I find interesting like Singapore instead for traveling for work. There are always reasons why one stepped down. I’m happy to be back writing and teaching instead of being on the road all the time.

When one is in a transitional process, things happen in phases. So we’ll see what’s next.

Q: You are now the Contributing Editor. What is your role, do you get to intervene?

A: I do not have the magic powers to intervene. They (the DC management) are driving the bus. There are a lot of decisions to be made, whether they are good or bad decisions. No one makes the right decisions all the time. Hopefully you make more right ones than wrong ones. And hopefully you make more big decisions that are right than big ones that are wrong. All companies need the people who are working for them to be on their side. They don’t need a backseat driver. They need backseat cheerleaders.

Q: This is a question I have asked the rest because this is STGCC and you guys are in Singapore, Southeast Asia. Are getting artists from this region a form of outsourcing?

A: I joined DC in 1973. Even during then, comics publishers were already going overseas to get bargain foreign labour at discounted price. There were clear savings as Filipino artists were not getting the same page rate. Alfredo Alcala had to go to America in 1976 to get that kind of rate.

So what are talking about here? In the 1970s, we paid the Filipinos USD$17 to 19 a page. In America, artists were getting USD$60 a page. But if you were a Filipino artist working for a comics publisher in the Philippines, you were getting USD$3 to 4 a page. So all thought they were getting a good deal. All thought they were screwing each other.

Q: But with current economic downturn in America and the falling exchange rate for the USD, is it harder for your overseas artists?

A: For the creative people, the first challenge is getting creative work that pays. The exchange rate would be the least of their problems. It is to get work and keep busy.

Q: Someone described to me recently that the main difference between DC and Marvel is that Marvel sells Fear. The discrimination and hatred faced by the X-Men, recent series like Civil War, Secret Invasion, Siege and Fear Itself! But DC sells Hope. The return of Hal Jordan, the Brightest Day series, and now the 52 reboot. What do you think of that?

A: (paused and smile) That sounds nice. I have not read Marvel for years now. Of course, I have read the classic stuff, but not anything in the last decade.

52 is ambitious, challenging and filled with excitement. It is a very interesting new take.

Q: How does it feel to be back writing the Legion? How have the fans responded?

A: It was fortuitous timing. I had gone back to writing. Geoff Johns had just done some Legion stories (Action Comics and Adventure Comics), but he had no time to continue with them. So the slot was available.

As you know, Legion fans are a very special bunch of people. They are please with the stories in general. I’m glad they are responding to my stories as a contemporary writer. In American baseball, there is the oldtimers’ game before the start of the big games. The old players would come out to field to throw the ball around. I’m happy that that is not the case for me. The fans have been very welcoming and generous. So it’s great to be back in the real game.

Q: But times have changed and even your writing and approach to these classic characters have changed. For example, Shadow Lass broke up with Mon-El (sent off to the Phantom Zone again) and is now literally sleeping with the enemy, Earth-Man.

A: When I first started writing in the mid 1970s, I was writing for 9 to 10 year olds. They were intelligent but the core audience for the books was kids. Now with direct sales, the audience is 16 to 35 year olds. This allows you to do different kinds of stories because of the maturity of the readership.

The 16 year old of 2011 is very different from the 16 year old of the 1970s. They are better educated, their ideas about sexuality has changed. There is the internet. So when all these started in the 1980s and when we did the Baxter edition of the Legion, I was able to write the story of the violent death of Karate Kid. Although the story was reprinted for the newsstand edition, the primary market was still the direct sales and in the comics shops.

Q: Any chance of you writing a Marvel series?

A: The odds are against it. There are some characters I’d like to handle in the past but that’s unlikely to happen given my years of association with DC. I’d rather focus on prose and fiction, and on medium that I have not worked on like historical non-fiction.

Q: Grant Morrison is rebooting Superman again for the umpteenth time. Which is your favourite version of Superman?

A: You don’t go past the comfort food of your childhood. For me, it’d always be Jerry Siegel, Leo Dorfman (The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue) and Ed Hamilton. Stuff which I read when I was 11 or 12 years old. Peter Graham once said that the “golden age of science fiction is 12.” All forms of popular culture carry different emotional weight. Is Neil Gaiman a better writer than Issac Asimov? I don’t think so as a professional writer myself. But Issac Asimov was great was when I was 12 years old and remains great.

Q: It’s just like for me, Superman is always drawn by Curt Swan.

A: That’s precisely it. Back in the days when I asked Curt Swan if he could draw my Legion story and when he said yes, it felt fabulous. I grew up reading his comics and now we were colleagues. He would ask me not to put too many Legion characters in one panel.

So people like Curt, Gene Colan. I would hand them my handwritten scripts! (Levitz’s Batman stories drawn by Gene Colan are recently reprinted in Tales of the Batman: Gene Colan Volume 1)

Q: What do you think of the recent spate of superhero movies based on comic books?

A: If you asked me in 2002 after the first Spiderman movie just came out, I’d not have listed Iron Man as something that would have been made into a movie. But now you have things like Scott Pilgrim.

Comics are not designed to be perfect for films. You need adaptation as there is an intrinsic value in each medium for things to work. As I have been teaching in my writing class, you take a movie like The American President (1995) and compare it with The West Wing. Basically, you almost have the same cast including Martin Sheen and both are written by Aaron Sorkin. But it’s so different.

Q: Will you be writing a sequel to 75 Years of DC Comics?

A: Well, someone should write 100 Years of DC Comics when it is time. But it would not be my turn. I was born in 1956 and I would be nearly 80 by then!

And then it was over. We shook hands, I gave him a copy of Ray Toh’s new sketchbook and he was off for his next appointment.
Thanks to STGCC for arranging the interviews!

Interview with CB Cebulski@STGCC 2011

CB Cebulski talks fast. He is the Senior Vice-President for Creator & Content Development for Marvel Comics. I only had half an hour with him. But ‘enuff said!

Q: So this is your second trip to STGCC, having recruited Benjamin Ang from Singapore last year. But artists in Southeast Asia continue to stay in their homeland (Tan Eng Huat in Malaysia and Sonny Liew in Singapore) while working for Marvel, without having to resettle to America. Unlike artists like Alfredo Alcala and Alex Nino.

A: This is the globalization of Marvel Comics since the late 1980s. Before Alcala came to America in the 1970s, people were already sending in their resumes in envelopes and enclosing SASE. It was snail mail, then faxes.

Yes, the business changed with the internet. But 2 events happened before that.

One was the end of the Marvel Bullpen. Before, to work for Marvel, you need to be in the office. No more. The Bullpen is still there, but in spirit. It is digital now.
Second, the rise of conventions like San Diego. For the pre-internet generation in the 1990s, you have people like Joe Madureira waiting in line to show their portfolios.

That was how recruitment was done and it’s the same for international artists. You fly in from Brazil or your agents fly in for you. That was in the 1980s and 1990s. Back then, the only conventions were in San Diego and Chicago. New York Con only happened the last 5 years, so most foreign artists have never been to NYC. San Diego was the place to get work. (even in the case of Sonny Liew who was introduced to the industry by Chris Claremont)

Today, the internet has revolutionized how communication is handled. The development of social networks, online galleries. Sites like Deviantart and Artists are able to display their work without having to leave home.

Q: How has that changed your work for you? Why are you still traveling?

A: At Marvel, I go out and I recruit. 95% of the artists are found online. I see the artwork, and if I like it, I will develop a line of communication. Let’s say I go to Croatia. There is a population of artists on the internet who are from there, so I go and talk to them.

I find the talent online, but I won’t hire until I see them face to face. With the internet, you don’t know what’s out there. There are a lot of scams and bullshit. So it’s to know their personality, their work ethics, are they able to meet deadlines. It helps me to do my job when I meet them face to face.

So I go to different cities, different conventions. I meet the artists, I meet the people who introduce me to other artists. I consider myself a good judge of character, to find out what kind of person you are, what kind of artist you are.

Q: What is the value proposition of hiring Southeast Asian artists? Why recruit overseas when there are still so many talented artists in America?

A: It is not just us going out to find international talent. They are coming to us because it is their dream to work for Marvel Comics, their dream to draw Spiderman. This happens as the Marvel brand grows globally. (see interview with Ardian Syaf – he doesn’t speak much English but he wants to draw Batman)

This is nothing new. In the 1960s, Stan Lee recruited from Italy, Spain, France, basically Europe. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was South America. In the 2000s, it was Asia. And for these artists like Whilce Portacio, he doesn’t want to be just a Marvel artist, no matter how successful. He wants to mentor other artists from his home country, the Philippines. He wants to give back to his country.

The international market has opened up. Our eyes are opened up to the fact that Marvel’s influence is everywhere. Asia is far away from us, but it is worth our while to meet the people. The level of talent in Asia is high. It is beneficial to us. By recruiting overseas, it promotes the brand globally and increases our talent pool.

Q: Is there a difference in what you pay Southeast Asian artists and what you pay American artists?
(last year, I spoke to an Asian artist at STGCC who revealed that there was still a page rate difference)

A: Not now, not in this day and age. This is not outsourcing to get cheaper rates. Our artists, no matter where they are, are paid industry standard rates. Maybe that was the case 6, 7 years ago, but not now.

There is not much difference in cost for us to pay the Asian artists a lower rate. The only cost difference in the past is the Fedex cost, but with scanning and email, that’s no longer an issue. The only fear about Fedex in the past is the pages getting lost.

There is this famous story of a 22-page John Busema Conan story (for Savage Sword of Conan) that was sent to a Filipino studio to be inked. 1 week passed, then 2 weeks and the third week. The editor Ralph Macchio called the inker to ask if the pages had arrived. The inker said yes. Ralph asked so when can we get it back. The inker replied he hasn’t started on it yet. Ralph asked why not and the answer was “it’s too beautiful!” Ralph said you know I have to fire you, right? The inker said just fire me!

So Ralph had to call John to explain the situation and asked if he could draw those pages again. John said yes, but you got to pay me. And he did. Within a week, he delivered those pages, drawing them from memory and it looked the same. John Busema is a genius.

So getting the pages lost or destroyed when sending them via Fedex, that’s the only cost factor that would have led to a lower page rate for artists in Southeast Asia. But not anymore.

Q: I spoke to some Southeast Asian artists at the con earlier. The feeling is that with the economic downturn (Japan, Europe and America), projects are shrinking or disappearing. With the low exchange rate for USD (as compared to the strong Singapore dollar), artists who are being paid in USD are seeing their earnings reduced.

A: I’m not a bullshitter, so I won’t lie. The US economy is a concern for publishing. The movies and games are doing okay. Comics sales have been stagnating for a long time. Every now and then you get a hit. Then things go back to normal. It’s hard to put a finger at it. Some blame video games, piracy, illegal downloads, parents. It’s a combination of different factors.

But with the current downturn, sales are not suffering yet. We are not in the doldrums, we are not canceling titles yet. But we are seriously looking at what works and what doesn’t. Maybe there is a need to look at the paper quality we are using, the length of stories or what we can do to increase advertising.

The same thing happened to Marvel after the bankruptcy. There was belt tightening. It’s about being smart about what we do with our talent and money.

At Marvel, it’s always about the characters. Content is king. The stories, the art. In the past, we might have gotten a bit greedy in putting out yet another Deadpool book, another Wolverine title. The fans are sick of it. So it’s really listening to what the fans want. It could be something offbeat like Strange Tales.

So it’s the bottom line and the monthly sales, that’s how the industry judges. Not everything is determined by the direct market sales through the comics shops. We need to see the bigger picture of mainstream sales of graphic novels in the bookshops.

Let me give you an example. One of our worst selling books in the direct market is Marvel Adventures. But in terms of subscriptions, it is one of the highest, especially among family with kids. It is also doing very well at Walmart and Target. On the internet, fans poke fun of us for putting out such a book. But it attracts new readers, those in the 5 to 7 year old range. So the book is profitable.

Sonny Liew's pages for his take of Spidey in Marvel Adventures

So often we have fallen victim and listen too much to the noise on the internet. This character is popular, you should put out his own title. But does it sell?

So getting back to your question, we rode out of the economic crunch very well, the mortgage and housing crises. Usually these things hit the entertainment industry a bit later. Yes, people have to make choices. Between paying the rent and buying food, do they need that Marvel comic book? So we have to be smart in what we put out and how we present our titles.

Q: 2 years on since the announcement of Disney buying Marvel at the Toronto Comics Con and almost a year since the signing of the deal on December 31 2010, what is the fallout?

A: None. The relationship is working out so well that it is wonderful. What has happened is that Disney has taken the Marvel brand and brought our products into the Disney store. On the other hand, we are doing their Pixar books and also provided the variant covers for Tron.

We were Disney fans before we were Marvel fans. It’s mutual respect that we have for each other. We are not seeing Spiderman in Disneyland or a sanitized Wolverine. Disney is opened to suggestions. Operations-wise, Avengers and Iron Man 3 will be distributed by Disney, taking the rights back from Paramount.

Q: How come there are fewer writers recruited overseas as compared to artists?

A: They are different, it’s like comparing apples with oranges. Art is a universal language. We can send you the script and you can draw it. But for stories, you need to be able to write fluently. We have hired foreign writers before from Italy, Portugal. They either grew up in the United States or studied there. So the command of the English language is important.

So far, not many have come to us. I know Gerry Alanguilan from the Philippines writes his own stuff. But for writers, we don’t read submissions. We require them to send in published works. We have published samples from Spain and Japan before. They were written in their native language but a translation was provided.

It is not so much cultural as writers can learn about New York City from films, TV. But having said that, we do not just want writers who are influenced by Marvel comics. We want unique stories. We want you to bring a piece of yourselves to the Marvel characters you are writing. Greg Pak is a case in point. He’s from Korea and he writes the Hulk. Marjorie Liu divides her time between Idaho and Beijing and she is providing a different sensibility to the Black Widow.

Stan Lee always says Marvel is the window to world outside. So we want our Asian writers to bring their world to the Marvel universe and to expand it on a global level.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cosplayers@STGCC 2011

Press Play!

Catwoman w Morgan Chua. Lucky bastard!