Friday, November 28, 2014

The World of Larry Feign

(please click on the images to see them bigger)

Thanks to Sin Ann, I managed to get in touch with Larry Feign, the famed cartoonist of The World of Lily Wong strip which ran in Hong Kong in the 1980s and 1990s. The American animator was at the right place at the right time, arriving in the former British territory in 1985, at a time when Hong Kongers started to question their fate when HK was to return to China in 1997. This was reflected in the movies like A Better Tomorrow, and the It’s A Mad Mad Mad World series directed by Clifton Ko, which deals with HK people’s obsession to migrate to the West before 1997.

Feign, who is married to a Hong Konger, did not quit HK and stayed on till today, living on Lantau Island with his wife and two daughters. This is despite the fact that his Lily Wong strip was cancelled by the South China Morning Post (SCMP) in 1995, allegedly under pressure from Beijing.

Lily Wong was revived a few years later in time for the handover in 1997 and the strip went on for a few more years. Sadly it is no more and Feign has since gone back to animation and writing.

I used to buy Lily Wong books when I visited HK in the late 1990s and ordered some books from Feign’s website as well. So this is a good opportunity to catch up with an old friend, someone whom I have only met in the funny pages. This interview was conducted over skype on 18 Nov 2014.

The first Lily Wong strip

Q: What is Lily Wong doing now in 2014?
A: To be honest, I don’t know. Lily left HK and went to Australia and I have since lost track of her.
I lived with her day in and out for 15 years or longer. She became very real to me, like another person. I stopped the cartoon in 2001 and a couple of years later, I felt some spirit left me. She’s gone and I don’t intend to bring her back.

You are not the first person to ask me this question. So I don’t know. Her kid, he should be a teenager by now. (Lily was pregnant and gave birth in the story)

The strip stopped 13 years ago. The newspaper which I was contracted to to do the cartoon went out of business. I had nowhere to publish Lily. I could have done it online. In fact, Lily Wong was the second ever daily strip to go online in the 1990s. Dilbert was the first.
Drawing Lily for almost 15 years was a full time job. It took 40 to 60 hours a week to produce the strips. It might sound heartless or awful but I couldn’t continue drawing Lily full time without pay. I had a family to support.

Q: What have you been doing since 2001?
A: I went back to animation production and started an animation business. It was fun for me. I enjoy that, a change from the dying newspaper industry. These days, I work on animation part time. It is commercial work, for websites, etc. My wife is a psychologist, so we are able to support ourselves. The writing does not support me. There are books that I have written that await to be published.

Q: Was there ever an interest to produce a Lily Wong animation?
A: There were earlier attempts in the early 1990s. A local TV station in HK tried that, a short 3 minute cartoon for a variety show. But it was a terrible job. They changed the characters. It was awful, so it was abandoned.

Then there was a movie producer from Japan who actually commissioned me to do a script. They tried to raise money for it, but nothing came out of that.

The most interesting one is from 1991 when a Broadway producer from New York wanted to buy the rights from me. So we negotiated the contract and a script was produced. 15 minutes of full musical treatment. The producer hired an experienced songwriter to write fours songs for it. It was produced on stage in front of investors. But they couldn’t raise the money. So somewhere in the house, I have a terrible handheld video of this 15-minute Lily Wong musical. The actress was a Filipino.

So there were these three attempts.

Q: When did you start drawing cartoons? And why did you stop?
A: I drew cartoons since I was three years old. It was a disease that I just can’t do without. But in 2007, something changed in me. I lost the disease. I do not have the desire to draw or publish cartoons anymore most of the time. But now with the HK protests, for the first time in a long time, I have this desire. But I don’t have an outlet anymore in HK.

So this creative urge has been redirected to writing. Cartooning is a hybrid art. So do you write a cartoon or do you draw one? For me, drawing is the hard part. I don’t enjoy it as much. For others, drawing is second nature to them. Like Bill Waterson. After retirement, he went into painting. Others retired from cartooning to write novels. I went into writing scripts in animation. I oversee the art design but I do not draw.
In 1995, when I was forced to stop the strip by SCMP, there was no outlet for me. I felt physically very bad. Lily Wong was an outlet for me for many years, and now it was shut off and I felt like exploding. But I do not feel that way anymore. I am just focusing on writing. I got pretty good at cartooning, so it’s a shame that I have stopped. But I like what I am doing now.

"Cartoon that got me fired"

Q: What are your views of the recent HK protests?
A: For many years, I was critical of HK young people in the universities. They were only interested in their grades, career and money. But now they have changed. I am ashamed of myself for having such views previously, but I am excited now to see these young people because they care about this place. Whether you agree with them or not is another matter. But this next generation cares and that is good for HK’s future.

I support the developing democracy in HK. I am on their side. I do not agree with all their tactics. They are naïve. But the government is stupid and stubborn, and has many missed chances to make this problem go away. I have been out on the protests. I have seen the political changes in HK for the last 25 years and it is not all good. I am worried.

HK in the 1990s was the most interesting place in the world. It is still a fascinating place to observe this experiment of one country, two systems, which is not seen elsewhere. But I am pessimistic.

Q: How did you end up in HK in 1985?
A: I was working in a LA animation studio in the early 1980s. My wife is from HK and we were both students in Hawaii and we got married there. I was offered a job at Tokyo Disney studios in 1985, but it was a long wait for the paperwork to be done. So we went to HK to visit my wife’s sister. It was strange but I felt no culture clash. I fell in love with the place. There were no animation jobs, but I was asked by a text book publisher to illustrate text books. This was three weeks after I arrived in HK. I had to hire assistants for the project. So I said forget about Disney, I’m staying on.

And the gamble paid off. Two months later, I did some sketches for a daily cartoon. SCMP was not interested, but the Hong Kong Standard was. So it was a dream come true, to have a daily strip within six months of arriving in HK. So I stayed. It was good luck and good timing. I have no regrets.

Q: You have stopped drawing Lily Wong, but you are still selling the collected books online. How are the sales?
A: They are small but steady numbers, especially to Europe. So I have orders from Finland, Germany, Holland. But not so much from America or Canada. I do some have orders from Singapore and Malaysia. The New Straits Times (NST) in Malaysia ran the strip in the 1990s. When the strip was cancelled by SCMP, NST asked if I can continue the strip for them. But they had no budget, so that didn’t happen. NST reran the whole strip again.

It almost ran in The New Paper in Singapore in the 1990s. An assistant editor from America was interested but his editor turned it down. The idea was to relocate the cast of Lily Wong to Singapore and it will become a Singapore strip.

When Lily and family visited Singapore

There is another Singapore connection. In 2001, I went to Singapore for the Asian TV conference. A Singapore government official tried to lure me to move my studio to Singapore. There was to be subsidized rental and guaranteed work visas. Every couple of months, he would call me. I was so tempted. I love the food in Singapore. But my wife is so well established in HK, so that didn’t happen.

The last Lily Wong strip

Thanks, Larry and Lily. Hope to see you again soon.

More Zunar news

Since I posted about Zunar's new books a few days ago, here are more O_0 news.

Jialat la. How to tahan? Some more today's headlines - Nabjib will not repeal ISA. Zunar will say this is to be expected. The pen fights on.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Interview with Gary Choo

An interview with our own Gary Choo.

Name: Gary Choo
Age: 31
Country/City: Singapore
Current titles working on: misc Marvel covers

Q: How did you get started? (eg. first break and first titles?)
A: I had formal animation and art training at Nanyang Polytechic digital media design. But the big break was when I met CB Celbuski at STGCC 2013. He introduced me to senior editor Nick Lowe, from there he got me to paint covers for a 3 part mini series called No End in Sight, it featured the Uncanny X-Men, Iron Man and Nova. I had lots of fun with it and Nick is just a pleasure to work with. Incredibly sweet guy! No End in Sight should be available as a tpb this November.

Q: Who are your influences?
A: So many! Capcom artists, Bengus, Akiman, Daigo Ikeno. Leinil Yu is a big one, I used to emulate him a lot when I was in school. Now I'm fairly confident to say I've got my own thing going. It's a process and that's what makes it all the more enjoyable as an artist.
Q: How important was it to build a fan base in your own home country first, ie. you were already working on comic titles in your own home country before sending your work overseas?
A: I guess it's always important to create hype. Now it's easier with facebook pages, facebook sharing. Also GNB Comics has been mega kind with letting me use their shop as a point of artist-fan contact. Before Marvel, I was helping one of my favorite creators, Sonny Liew with Liquid City 1 and recently the cover for Liquid City 3.

Q:Do you have an agent?
A: Not at the moment, but I had a really good response from an agent that handles top guys from Marvel. We'll see how that goes!
Q: Pros and cons of working in your home country instead of being based in the West? (eg. Working relationship with writers and editors? More/less opportunities to meet fans and receive feedback?)
A: I think most Marvel Artists are working all over the place. Some in the Philippines, Spain, Mexico to name a few. I'm getting connected to fans, fellow artists easily through the Internet. Comic cons are now a common stable in this region, so opportunities to get feedbacks, reactions is fairly available. The artist has to be active to benefit from all these.

Q: An interesting story that happened to you while working on a title?
A: When my editor briefed me on the 2nd cover of No End in Sight. It was an Iron Man cover. Due to the time difference in New York, I just woke up to read his email and in my half awaken state I read something that was like "Have lasers blasting from Iron Man and him blasting back! More contrast!"
I struggled for the longest time to understand what it meant, I felt I was already going to fail at my second cover. How am I supposed to illustrate Iron Man blasting at himself. Maybe "more contrast!" was the key to understanding everything. At this point I was literally feeling powerless.
Well, I finally realized what an idiot I was. It really read, " Have lasers blasting AT Iron Man and him blasting back.
I had a good laugh at myself.

Q: What are the advantages and/or challenges of being a freelancer?
A: Can't really say, but It's been great for me. Currently I'm a full time Senior Concept Artist at a Local start up with a talented bunch of ex LucasArts crew called BoosterPack. It’s a company that makes games.
So I do the comic stuff after work hours. I'm living in both worlds. My candle is burning but I feel I have plenty of wax to go through. It's the perfect situation for me now.
Q: Do you do comics fulltime or do you have to take on other assignments?
A: When I can. I do sculpting in my free time. I used to hold classes when I was with Lucasfilm Singapore. I'm delighted to announce that I just made my first Toy sculpture with Mighty Jaxx and Sonny Liew. It was a really enjoyable experience. They're awesome and would totally do it again.

Q: Advice for new artists trying to break into the industry?
A: Hard work is always mentioned. Many times a game of chance. To increase these chances I'd like to say remember to stay relevant. Be nice, help your fellow artist. While self educating on art, educate the public when you can. When everyone is better informed it creates more opportunities to move forward, create, share and enjoy better art. Oh and just send your stuff out anyway. Never know who it may reach. Thanks for reading. I'll see you in the funny books!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Oct 2014 Bestsellers for Comics World (Parklane)

Uncle Bill is kind enough to provide me with the weekly bestsellers at his shop, which I have patronized since 1987 or so. Then Comics World was at Paradiz Centre.

This list is based on sales, not pre-orders.

1/10 - Thor #1
8/10 - Wytches #1
15/10 - Axis #1 and #2
22/10 - Death of Wolverine #3 and #4
29/10 - Amazing Spiderman #7

Sunday, October 26, 2014

David Hine

British comic writer David Hine is coming next week for SWF.

It will be good to hear from someone who has written for the mainstream in American comics and also worked on his own projects, and how he balanced between the two. While Hine has shared that he encountered changes made to his scripts for DC and Marvel, by and large, he was able to push certain boundaries in some of his stories for Marvel.

Rereading Civil War: X-Men (2006) and Silent War (2007), I noticed both dealt with the issue of American treatment of 'terrorists', which Hine was critical of. I asked him if he encountered any editorial difficulties and he replied that no one at Marvel seemed to notice the Guantanamo references!

But he did have more problems later at DC with depiction of jihadists and the American role in Afghanistan. There were several captions and dialogue balloons which were dropped from his script when the printed version appeared. Still, he managed to get away with depicting the Pope as a demon in Azrael.

(this would not be new in British comics – just see Pat Mill’s Nemesis the Warlock)

In the meantime, do check out these books, my top 3 of Hine’s work:

Strange Embrace (Image Comics)
The Bulletproof Coffin Vol 1 and 2 (Image Comics)
The Man Who Laughs (Self Made Hero)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Marvel Civil War

With the breaking news of the new Marvel movie being based on the 2006 series, Civil War, thought I share this old piece from 8 years ago I wrote for ST. The local example is dated but American involvement in the Middle East is still happening. Homeland Season 4 has just started and it continues to explore this.

British writer David Hine is coming for SWF and the Civil War: X-Men spin-off series he wrote deals with the fallout of American internment of mutant 'terrorists'.

The comic books remain relevant.


AFTER more than 40 years, Spiderman has decided to unmask himself and reveal to the rest of the world that he is Peter Parker. What could be seen as a publicity stunt by Marvel Comics, publisher of the Spiderman comic books, for its annual summer crossover event (meaning you have to buy various series to get the whole story) is actually a clever usage of popular culture.

The revealing of Spiderman's secret identity is part of a larger storyline called Civil War. In this, a fight gone wrong has led to the American public turning against the superheroes. The government quickly calls for the registration and unmasking of all heroes and vigilantes. Battle lines are drawn, with the heroes split into two opposing camps. On one side, you have those in favour of the enactment of the Superhuman Registration Act, seen as the way forward for heroes - led by Iron Man - to do what they have to do. The other side, led surprisingly by Captain America, is against government control of heroism. They start an underground resistance movement. You can guess which side Spiderman is on.

Granted that this is not a new concept in comic books as it has been explored before in Kingdom Come and even the X-Men series and movies, Civil War's take on this 'brother-versus-brother' theme is timely. The only thing more exciting to comic fans than a slugfest between the good guys and the bad guys is a slugfest between the good guys and the good guys. For example, who is stronger - Superman or the Hulk?

Of course, the Civil War series is a throwback to the American Civil War of the 19th century, which forged a new destiny for the United States. It is also a reference to the public divide created during the McCarthy era of the 1950s. But closer to our times, Civil War speaks to Americans of the divisions within their society over the actions of the US government both at home and abroad. A more explicit statement against America's interference in the Middle East is found in The Ultimates, where the tables are turned on the heroes after they cross the line to invade a rogue state, expanding beyond the jurisdiction of what constitutes 'homeland security'. Indeed, in The New Avengers, the bad guys are the government agency for national security. Popular culture has the ability to entertain and reflect public sentiment in the most interesting and accessible manner. Sadly, we see less of that in Singapore.

Last week, as the media was awash with news of Spiderman's unveiling, I visited the Fiction@Love exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum. The show is said to explore the 'concerns related to the satire and fantasy of love' through the contemporary medium of 'Animamix Art' - that is, a combination of comics, graphic design, animation, manga and anime in art. But it didn't quite work. The tension between high-brow art and low-brow pop culture remained in the works displayed. Whatever the message was that the show attempted to convey, it is doubtful if the audience grasped it. Nothing was more telling than the interactive tour, which featured a reading of the exhibits using the texts of Neil Gaiman and Hermann Hesse. No one in the audience of about 20 had heard of either of these authors. This disjuncture between how popular culture is reinterpreted in the Singapore Art Museum and how a popular medium like comic books is used to reflect public sentiment in America provides much food for thought. Recent discussions on Singapore's culture and identity have not considered the role that can be played by contemporary pop culture of films and graphic images. As Spiderman has reminded us, pop culture can be expressions of not just who we are but of what we are thinking about.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Interview with Alan Quah

Some of you would be familiar with the work of Alan Quah, a regular at our comic con. Here's an interview with the emerging pro.

Name: Alan Quah
Age: 46

How did you get started? (eg. first break and first titles?)
I started drawing at a very young age (4+) and got my first break when NST's Daniel Chan (who wrote the biweekly comic column) got a group of young local artists and published APAzine back in 1985.

How important was it to build a fan base in your own home country first, ie. you were already working on comic titles in your own home country before sending your work overseas?
To be honest, I never really had a fan base in my own country when I started out, I did a couple of gigs for local comics like Fantasi and some humour magazines in the 80's. Of course back then my work was very amateurish, I was 15 or 16 then. I quit drawing comics in the 90's, worked in Advertising and eventually formed my own small agency, ET CETERA. In 2005, I decided to come out from my art sabbatical and started drawing again and got my first gig on The Eldrich for Comics Conspiracy, an Indy publisher. And thanks to social media like Facebook, I get to show more of my work to the world and this is when the communication with the fans started. I also got noticed by "important" people in the industry and eventually got myself represented by talent managers to reach out to the publishers.
My real break came last year when I was involved in DC's The Vampire Diaries and Legendary Comics' Godzilla Awakening.

Do you have an agent?
Yes, I am currently represented by Space Goat Productions LLC.

Pros and cons of working in your home country instead of being based in the West? (eg. Working relationship with writers and editors? More/less opportunities to meet fans and receive feedback?)
I would think the pros would be the conversion rate, I earn US dollars which amount to a good pay check here. The cons are definitely meeting the fans and editors face to face, but with the internet it helps a lot, they still get to connect with me almost instantly. I missed out on the opportunity on comic convention appearances a lot, something that I would like to do more often in the near future.

An interesting story that happened to you while working on a title?
When I was working on my Godzilla assignment, I was afflicted with Bell's Palsy, a condition that paralysed the right side of my face. I can't blink and move my the right side of my eye and mouth, that proved to be a burden to draw. I can't stay up straight for more than 20 mins and have to lie down a lot. But deadline is nearing, the publisher didn't know I was sick and because it was a major project I persevered to meet my deadline. It took me longer to draw a page, I stay up till late to keep up with the deadline, drawing for 15 mins, lie down for 20 mins until I complete a page everyday and upload my page as usual. I eventually met my deadline with 3 days to spare and when the publisher found out about my condition they were very happy with my professionalism. That opened a lot of doors.

What are the advantages and/or challenges of being a freelancer?
The biggest challenge is getting regular work, there are times when the gigs don't come for months and I have to keep myself sharp, artistically by drawing commissions and sketches.

Do you do comics fulltime or do you have to take on other assignments?
I am still running my advertising agency while working on comics.

You had an exhibition in Taipei recently. Tell us about it.
The Taiwan trip, is a Joint Venture between Malaysia's Roots Studio (founded by Lau Shaw Ming and Michael Chuah) and Taiwan's Flying Fish Creative, sponsored by the Cultural Affairs Department, New Taipei City. The event is New Taipei City ACG Festival. My exhibition is part of the festival to promote comics and manga art, cosplay, games and toys. It was very well promoted via media coverage, and the exhibition hall was also well designed with 3 rooms dedicated to the exhibition. To date the event has exceeded 20,000 people. The Taiwan crowd is amazing, very well mannered people and I enjoyed my stay there.

Advice for new artists trying to break into the industry?
Don't be lazy! Keep drawing and challenging yourself to draw better than your last piece. Never be satisfied with what you are doing currently and to have an open mind to learn everyday. I am still learning and never plan to stop.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

STGCC 2014

Singapore seems to have gotten more expensive. For fans who attended the 2014 edition of STGCC, the cost of attending the convention has gone up. This year, the cost of a VIP pass is $70 and it’s $25 for a 2-day pass. If you just want to attend it for one day, it’s $19. Prices have increased from last year.

Getting a convention sketch from the invited guests is not cheap too. According to info provided by SCK members, Humberto Ramos charged $125 for a b&w bust (head and torso) drawing and $250 for a colour one. David Mack, who also came in 2013, has kept his prices constant. $150 for a simple brush and ink and $300 for a detailed drawing. Harvey Tolibao has remained affordable and charged $100 for a convention sketch, which is value for money. As a comparison, regional and local artists were charging between $10-$20 for sketches.

This is also the first year that an artist, Ramos, was charging for autographs - $6 for any comic drawn by him but $20 for Amazing Spiderman #1. A local artist who queued up for Ramos’ autograph was surprised that he had to pay. But there were reports that Ramos would sketch and autograph for little kids for free.

For regulars at the Artists’ Alley, the cost of getting a booth has also gone up, which makes it harder for them to turn in a profit or breakeven. A recent article highlighted it’s more difficult for artists, even established ones, to cover their cost at conventions.

(although it is interesting that Mark Brooks said in the comments of the above post that he did make money at some conventions and listed STGCC as one of them)

While I would not put the blame solely on cosplayers (as the article did) or the heavy emphasis on toys and games at STGCC, it could be a continuing trend for artists to charge more for convention sketches and to charge for autographs. In overseas conventions, you need to pay to have your photo taken with the artists too. This is following the norm of actors (especially Star Wars and Game of Throne) charging for autographs and photo taking. A friend paid top dollar for an autograph by Carrie Fisher at a London convention recently.

Still, STGCC, being the major comic event in Singapore, has something for almost everyone. Andy Price, the artist of My Little Pony, was there to appeal to the kiddies. For the rock fans, it was cool to meet Frank Kozik in person. And STGCC should be given credit for highlighting young and upcoming artists like Aaron Kim Jacinto from the Philippines, brought in through an arrangement with Komikon. Local artists are still turning up in force at the Artists’ Alley to hawk their wares such as Jerry Teo (Rex Regrets), Ray Toh ( ) and 24 Hour Comic Day alumnus, Benjamin Chee (Charsiew Space). Newcomer Shiuan was also offering her LKY Cosplay Prints, which were very popular. New science educational comic, JJ’s Science Adventure by former primary science Aurelia Tan, was an entertaining read done in a style reminiscent of Osamu Tezuka.

Books Actually has gotten into the comic book publishing act through their Math Paper imprint. But fans would have noticed that the latest volume of The Resident Tourist is more costly now as compared to a few years ago, which is the reality of publishing in Singapore today. At other fronts, it is encouraging that local and regional comic shops are making an appearance at STGCC, other than regulars such as GnB Comics. This is the first year that Comic Odyssey (the Philippines) and Atom Comics set up booths at STGCC, offering new and back issues of collectibles. Hopefully it was worth their while for them to come back next year. A representative of CGC Comics was also at the con to offer advice to collectors.

Despite its commercial leanings, STGCC is still that once-a-year occasion that you catch up with old friends and make new ones. Sales may not be great for some artists, but attending the con was a way to connect with the local and regional comic community. It was good catching up with Andie Tong (who has a new comic written by Stan Lee), Leong Wan Kok of 1000tentacles, Chris Lie of Caravan Studios (who came with his studio and an impressive range of books) and Lefty Kam (Gilamon) for that annual beer outside the convention hall. And it was great to meet some of the Singapore Comic Kakis who launched their inaugural newsletter, put together in time for the con.

I did a few interviews with the invited guests of the con. These are some of the choice quotes from the sessions:

I’ve been living in LA since 2005, and before that we were living in San Diego. Basically you still need to be out there to network and have that human connection with the editors and writers. If you just stay on in your home country, you might be pigeonholed by the DC or Marvel editors as outsourced labour. My advice is that you need to solve problems for others to prove that you are useful to the people in the industry. You need to see the whole bigger picture of how you can build your career.
- Philip Tan on drawing for mainstream comics as a career.

The best thing is that you get to connect with the people who support your work, the fans. The worst thing is the food. Convention centre food is not very good. And you are tired from the jetlag.
- Humberto Ramos on the best and worst thing of attending overseas conventions.

I don’t like it, the extreme violence. Comics are meant for kids. But I felt it was my duty to draw it. That’s a good question. Maybe I should have discussed with the writer and editor.
- Olivier Coipel on drawing that infamous double spread of the Sentry tearing Ares apart in Siege #2 (2010), with the entrails spilling all over.

I have always created the characters that I drew, keeping them true to character. So drawing Daredevil: End of Days was fun. That spirit of collaboration with the history. It was not a constraint, but a challenge to be creative. Doing different things energise me. By the way, there will be a sequel, Punisher: End of Days.
- David Mack casually breaking the news of a sequel to the popular Daredevil: End of Days (2012).

This is my first international comic con and this is my first interview. I’m a bit nervous!
- what Aaron Kim Jacinto said at the end of the interview. He quickly obliged a quick sketch of Rocket Raccoon, engaging in a familiar activity that he was passionate about.

Thought Bubble at Leeds and TCAF at Toronto.
- Cameron Stewart when asked about which are some of his favourite comic conventions. Maybe STGCC will make the cut one day.

This is my first time out of the United States. I just got my passport two weeks ago.
- Andy Price thanking STGCC for giving him the opportunity to travel overseas.

I used to dislike ‘pop culture’ because it was associated with famous people and it is commercial and seen as selling out. But I’ve come to realise that pop culture is about connecting with people.
- Alex Solis on pop culture.

Don’t do it. You don’t have a health plan and you don’t have a pension. It’s tough competition. I was lucky I started before the internet. You are better off being a doctor or engineer. But if you still want to be an artist, don’t go to an art school. It’s fucking expensive in America and they don’t teach you anything. It’s bullshit. Just drop out of art school and use the money to rent a workspace and buy yourself tools.
- Frank Kozek when asked what advice he would give young artists.

See you next year.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Comic Collector in Singapore

Originally written for the inaugural Singapore Comics Kaki (SCK) newsletter launched at STGCC 2014.

Like Superman and Spiderman, the comic collector in Singapore can be elusive.
Some of us have wondered who is this person. Does he or she have a secret identity like the superheroes? Even for the bestselling titles, newspaper reports would only give rough estimates based on ballpark figures provided by comic shops or booksellers. A few years ago, I compiled a monthly list of bestselling graphic novels provided by the bookshops on . But it was not possible to get firm figures. Less is known about the comic collector who buys the comics. This is an attempt to find out from who is the comic collector in Singapore.

A questionnaire was put up on the Singapore Comics Kaki (SCK) facebook page on 16 August and a few other sites. Replies were received till 26 August. 13 males and 1 female responded. While recent US reports claimed that there are more female readers, this may not be the case in Singapore. What is quite clear, however, is that most of the respondents are in their 30s-40s, which meant they are quite serious collectors and have the buying power to purchase collectible back issues, especially the Silver Age titles. What was surprising is that even with this small sample size, two respondents listed Incredible Hulk #181 (1974, first major appearance of Wolverine) as one of the valuable comics in their collection. My sense is that this is a group of collectors who grew up reading comics and is now able to afford to re-buy rare titles from their youth, either for pleasure or profit. A few of them hold senior positions and might be travelling for their job, giving them the opportunity to buy CGC graded comics. The internet has also made mail order and online auctions easier. A few of them sell their collectibles to other fans in Singapore. However, this does not mean an emergence of a back issue market in Singapore. One suspects such ‘big time’ collectors are still far and few in between, and most likely they would buy their expensive comics from overseas.

Respondents also confirmed what some have observed for the last few years – collectors are buying their trades from Kinokuniya (especially when there is a 20% sale) and a few of them have stopped buying single issues from the comic shops. However, there is still a handful who will make that weekly trip to the comic shops on shipment day. Their ‘strategy’ is to buy the singles from the comic shops and to buy the trades at Kinokuniya. Increasingly, there are some who buy their trades from Amazon or Bookdepository because of the deep discounts offered. There might be a need for comic shops and bookshops to organise more events (eg. signings) as incentives and outreach, and to build a community.

The good news for the shops is that the mainstream titles are still the most popular. Most respondents considered themselves as fans of DC, Marvel and Image comics. Only a few listed independents like Fantagraphics or First Second. This corresponds with their favourite comic book adaptations – recent blockbusters like Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers and Thor. Attempts to find out how much comic collectors spent on comics per month is not conclusive as some left it blank. Those who did answer put between 10-20% of their salary, but some are single digit %. For those who gave actual figures, some collectors spent about $100-$200 per month on comics. But most of them collect other things like Lego, toys and original art, so the amount they spent on pop culture memorabilia would be higher.

What comes across is the sense of enjoyment they receive from reading/collecting comics. Some of the anecdotes talk about how they were introduced to comics and it is a link to their childhood. “I read comics because my cousin sent me a box of Marvel comics when I was 8 years old, and I never looked back.” Another said, “I was introduced to it by my late father when I was 5 years old… I do not collect for the sake of collecting or selling. Every comic I own, I read.”

It is encouraging that as a result of FB groups like SCK, more comic collectors get to know each other to exchange information about their passion. Friends are made through comics.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Who is the comic collector in Singapore?

Questions for article on ‘Who is the comic collector in Singapore?’

Some of us have always wondered about who is the comic collector in Singapore. Newspaper reports can only give rough estimates based on ballpark figures provided by comic shops or booksellers. This is an attempt to find out who is the comic collector in Singapore. As for myself, I have been reading/collecting comics for the last 35 years.

Please be assured that all information will be kept confidential. All the results will be aggregated. No form of the raw data will be released or read by anyone else.

You can send your answers to or reply me via FB messaging.

Thanks in advance for your help.

Area of residence: (eg. Ang Mo Kio, Jurong, etc.)
Number of years reading comics:
Number of years collecting comics:
How often do you buy comics: (eg. once a week, once a month, everyday!?, etc.)
Buy comics from: (eg. comic shops, Kinokuniya, mail order, etc.)*
Do you go down to a comic shop on shipment day? Which one?
Amount spent on comics per month:
Do you consider yourself a fan of: (eg. DC/Marvel/ Image/Dark Horse/ IDW/ Fantagraphics/etc.)*
How many comics do you own:
What other comics do you read: (eg. manga, HK kung fu comics, comic strips, editorial cartoons, etc.)*
Top 3 favourite comic:
Top 3 favourite characters:
Top 3 comic movie adaptations:
Top 3 most valuable comic in your collection:
Do you sell your comics to other collectors:
What else do you collect: (eg. toys, trading cards, original art, other merchandise, etc.)*
I read comics because:
Do you have good friends who read comics? How many?

* list as many as you want

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Activist

Check out the comic on page 5 of the Substation magazine.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Article on Singapore Comics

Here's an article on Singapore comics, hot off the press from Draft by Drama Box.

English version (pp. 37 - 47):

Chinese version (pp. 33 - 43):

A very nicely designed mag, I must say.

Monday, June 16, 2014

D-Day cartoons

The Daily Mirror reprinted their 7 June 1944 edition of the paper and these are the cartoon strips that appeared on that fateful day:

Buck Ryan
Beelzebub Jones
Just Jake…

And a huge editorial cartoon that dominated 3/4 of another page depicting Allied soldiers kicking down the walls of Nazi Germany.

All cartoons were uncredited as per the custom back then.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Tiananmen at last!

Epigram Books is bringing out a new edition of Morgan Chua's Tiananmen, the lost classic about the crackdown of the student movement in China in 1989. People don't talk about Tiananmen these days except for the Chimerica play of last year

and this book is almost unheard of. I have been wanting for it to be back in print for some time and it's finally here, the 25th anniversary special edition. I first read it in the national library eons ago. It was the only Morgan book available then in Singapore in the 1990s.,7

Urban legend has it that agents from Beijing swept into HK to buy up all the copies when the original book was released in 1989. This is unconfirmed but the fact remains that the book was sold out almost immediately and has been out of print since then. If there is some truth to this myth, it is no wonder. Because this is Morgan at his satirical prime, before he decided to do cartoons about Mdm Kwa and Mr Nathan. This is Morgan drawing blood and letting it bleed.

IF you do not know who is Morgan,

This is the Morgan we should remember. This is the standard of work we should aspire to. Historical amnesia is a terrible thing, to forget what was possible and achieved in the past. The same goes for Tiananmen and the tank man image. I suspect that's why this Cirque du Soleil production got passed by the Chinese censors in the first place last year. Even the censors had no knowledge of the event and the image.

I told Joe Gordon of FP blog about the book and he has written about it here.

Go get before it disappears again.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Lesson from Mike Carey

"The question of the narrative voice…in novels, the omniscient narrative voice has long and honorable tradition and is so universal a convention that it's become almost invisible. In comics, it was similarly ubiquitous right up until the eighties, but then there was a strong reaction against it which has made it the exception rather than the norm - and all of this was recent enough that an omniscient narrative voice, unless it's handled very carefully, can make a comic feel dated and awkward. The protective shield of invisibility provided by long ingrained familiarity just isn't there in the way it still is in prose."
-- Mike Carey, Introduction for Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere collection (Nov 2006)

I recently attended a class by Carey and he said exactly the same thing. Which means the craft of writing is never far from his mind.

We need more writers like Carey in Singapore who thinks long and hard about the craft. Too many people take writing for granted.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Comic shop strategies

Forbidden Planet and Gosh Comics lie at two ends of the spectrum. You go to FP for everything mainstream, from DC, Marvel to Dr Who novels and merchandise. There is a small selection of alternative and independent comics. But you go there for the range of toys, tikam tikam and comics you can buy. It's fun to shop there, you can literally hang around there for hours. There are always things to browse.

Gosh Comics, on the hand, wear its indie heart on its sleeve. You enter the shop and you feel you are in the zone, surrounded by Robert Crumb, Love and Rockets and British homemade like Self Made Hero, Blank Slate, Nobrow, artists/collectives like Tiny Pencil, Isabel Greenberg and Katie Green. Stepping into Gosh couldn't be anymore different from going into FP. But Gosh has a huge section of mainstream and back issues in the basement level; they just chose to have their front filled with indies and alternatives.

So it's how they decided to position themselves and the shopfront strategies they adopt. Who they want to attract into the shop (mainly tourists for FP and the more hardcore crowd for Gosh) and what they want to promote (exclusive signed bookplates for mainstream or local books) for their identity as a comic shop. Both work as different shops appeal to different folks, and mainstream fans can find their groove in Gosh as well.

Now what we need in Singapore is a shop like Gosh...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hound - new kickstarter project about a Celtic myth set in ancient Ireland

This is an interesting one.

From the sample images, it looks kick ass.

The only Celtic comic character I know is Slaine from 2000AD. Hound should appeal to fans of Game of Thrones and also those who have read Beowulf or seen the 2007 film version written by Neil Gaimand and Roger Avary.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

3 forgotten classics

3 forgotten classics. Some back in print, some you got to hunt on ebay.

1. Where Bold Stars Go To Die by Gerry Alanguilan (story) and Arlanzandro C. Esmena (art)

First time I saw this was at STGCC 2 years ago at the Komikon booth. Have been waiting for it to be back in print and thanks to SLG, it is available to a wider audience in North America. This was artist Arlanzandro's first and last book before he passed away from cancer in 2010. A tribute to the bold stars of Pinoy cinema, and a rising star whose light dimmed too early.

2. Voltar by Alfredo Alcala

The classic Alfredo Viking story. The details are crazy. I have not seen the original Filipino version from the 60s, but it was printed in The Rook, a late 70s Warren magazine.

3. The Tin-Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman by Raymond Briggs

Most people know When the Wind Blows, The Snowman and Ethel and Ernest. So this really took me by surprise when I saw it in a school library. Published in 1984, this is a damning critique of the Falklands War. It might have been influenced by Splitting Image, which started the same year. Or it could have influenced Splitting Image. Nonetheless, look for this if you can.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

New model needed

We need a new model. Something small, intimate that focuses on the work and the artists. STGCC has the Artists' Alley but that is not enough.

We need something like The Millionaires Club.

Makes you feel like a millionaire even after spending tons of cash on North European comics.

Or things like this

and this

KL's Comic Fiesta is huge but they remained focused on the artists. Its feel is more Comiket than San Diego Comic Con. Rows of tables filled with doujins and self-published works.

Anyone with cash to spare to kickstart this? Don't think it will cost a million.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Educating Rena

Ok, autobio is not the only mainstream in Singapore comics. (see previous post) Educational comics is popular in Singapore as well. Singapore parents are willing to spend a lot of money on providing tuition and buying assessment books for their children to do well in school. Some of these get trickle down to educational comics. Otto Fong's Sir Fong's Adventures in Science is one successful example.

A new online educational comic, The School Never Asked, reminds us that there can be a social role for comics and cartoons in Singapore. People do not take comics seriously, so to deliver an important message about sexuality and relationships in this kiddy medium is subverting expectations. Kudos to the creators. The comic is colored by one-eyed Xiao Yan, the artist of The Girl Under The Bed.

As for how serious comics and cartoons in Singapore can be in the past,

Date King 2

So the book is out which got me thinking how unusual it is in this current climate of comics production in Singapore, which is basically more 'artistic' given that most artists cannot depend on drawing comics to survive. My take is that this explains the autobiographical trend in Singapore comics - since I can't make a living drawing comics, mainstream or otherwise, I may as well draw what I want. Thus the development of comics in Singapore as a medium of self expression. Nothing wrong with that, but it can limit the kind of stories told. There should be a meeting of audience halfway.

Which brings us back to Date King 2, and to me, it is one of the few in the market that has an eye on the market. Let's gostun a bit to look at this better.

What makes a good commercial comic that will have mass appeal? In the 1990s, it was a funny comic lampooning Singaporean’s bad social behaviour like Mr Kiasu. 20 years later, crass humour still works. Adrian Teo (story) and Ken Foo (art) are the duo behind the relatively successful Date King series, published by Epigram Books. So far, it is the only book from Epigram’s line of comics that have produced a sequel. The concept is simple: jokes about the dating culture in Singapore. The 1000 print run of Date King 1 is sold out. It is a book people like to buy but they do not like to be seen buying it because of its un-PC nature. Teo is a towkay kia and would be in the same category of those who do not depend on comics for a living. He has played the role of publisher in putting out the first two volumes of The Resident Tourist and Foo’s Freedom Love Forever. Date King is his first foray into writing comics and its success has spurred him and Foo to product Matchpoint, a school sports comic in the vein of Slam Dunk, but less PC. The humour is crass but they seem to have to tap on to something readers like.

Alternative (autobio stories) is the new mainstream in Singapore comics. But then again, you have things like Date King.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Troy's new comic. Macham choose your own adventures.
Is he still in love with Minx?
Thanks to Dave for alerting me about this.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A tale of 2 cities - more of the same

2013 is over. I had the chance to attend two comic cons in two different countries. So how do they compare with each other?

Singapore Toy Game and Comic Convention (STGCC) (31 August to 1 September) – a staple in the pop culture event calendar of Singapore. No surprises here, STGCC runs like a well-oiled machine. The usual Western guests were invited: Adi Granov, David Mack, Joe Madureira and a returning CB Cebulski. We have two invited artists from the Philippines, Dexter Soy and Lyndon Gregorio. Stanley Lau is the local rep, although he is originally from Hong Kong.

Other than the official guests, the Artists’ Alley was the place the catch up with what local and Southeast Asian artists were up to. Andie Tong had a great Ultraman poster for sale and Carlo Jose San Juan, the medical cartoonist, was back to sell his unique comic strip. Lefty and Tan Eng Huat had a new Zero Hero: Giant Killer graphic novel. Others who were around: Garrie Gastonny, Sonny Liew.

But the real stars of the con are the beauty and machines – sexy cosplayer Vampy Bit Me attracted a lot of attention and everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of her, and maybe a bite... The machine is Iron Man. The Marvel movie franchise is the still hottest thing in town and all the suits were on display. Iron babes were also walking around to take photos with fans. If you don’t pay attention, you would think you are at an Iron Man convention.

MCM London Comic Con (25 to 27 October) – dubbed UK’s leading comic con and the biggest event of its type in Europe. Here are the stats: the show had grown from strength to strength. In terms of exhibition space, it has expanded from 25,000 to 34,000 square metres. Which still didn’t help if you had tried to come in on Saturday afternoon (26 October). You would have easily queued up for an hour just to buy the tickets and another hour to get in. No wonder, a record-breaking 88,000 people attended the event over the three days, up from the previous high of 76,000 attendees when the event was held in May.

So does the show live up to its hype? For sci-fi TV fans and cosplayers, it does. The EuroCosplay Championship 2013 had its finals there. The cosplaying was global and cross-media, from manga to games. But for the comic fans, there were not many big name artists. Bernard Chang and Sean Chen were there. Still, if you hang out at the Comic Village, you have David Hine, Gary Erskine, Aces Weekly (David Lloyd), Emma Vieceli, Tim Bradstreet and Al Davison there to chat, sign your books, and maybe get a sketch. Our own Hu Jingxuan had a booth there as well to draw you in the style of Downton Abbey.

STGCC and MCM London Comic Con are great for weekend excursions and family affairs, if you can tahan the crowd.

Both cons highlighted that for one to get the audience, you need to showcase the whole spectrum of pop culture. Comics is just one component in the cons now. It has to struggle to stand out. The fans will have to look out for it and give their support.