Monday, October 19, 2015

SWF 2015: Interview with Ken Liu

The Singapore Writers Festival is round the corner and one of the guests I am looking forward to to meeting is Ken Liu. You could say he writes science fiction, but he has his own opinion on that. He has just released his first novel, The Grace of Kings, after written many award-winning short stories. He is also a translator of Chinese science fiction.

Q: Tell us about The Grace of Kings which I really enjoy.

The Grace of Kings is the story of two unlikely friends, a bandit and a duke, who grow to be as close as brothers during the fight to overthrow an evil empire, only to find themselves on opposing sides of a struggle for the definition of a just society once the rebellion succeeds.

I describe the novel as a “silkpunk epic fantasy,” by which I mean that I’m writing with and against the tradition of Western epic fantasy—as began by Tolkien—by infusing it with an East-Asia-inspired aesthetic (both technological and philosophical) that embraces, extends, and challenges fantasy/historical tropes that are assumed to have medieval European or classical East Asian origins.

The story is based on a loose re-imagining of the historical legends surrounding the rise of the Han Dynasty in a secondary world archipelago setting. This is a world of politics and intrigue, of love purified and corrupted, of rebelling against tyranny and seeing one's ideals compromised, of friendships forged and sundered by the demands of war and statecraft. There are vain and jealous gods, clever princesses who overcome massive armies, battle-kite-riding assassins who hold on to the honor and glory of another age, queens and generals who strive for those who cannot fight, and teachers with magical tomes that tell the future written in our hearts.

Q: You have said that The Grace of Kings is about rebellion and change, and questioning the world. What sort of punk music do you listen to?

I tend to resist the idea of identifying "punk" with "punk music" – the very notion of rebellion is as old as there has been power and authority. I do think Mata Zyndu, my flying-kite-riding, massive-sword-wielding, no-prisoner-taking warrior would make a pretty good lead singer for a punk rock band.

Q: Which are your favourite wuxia novels and writers?

I haven't been able to find much contemporary wuxia that I enjoy, alas — though many Chinese-language and English-language writers are incorporating wuxia elements into other genres in interesting ways.

I think Jin Yong's accomplishments in traditional wuxia have never been surpassed

Q: Do you consider yourself a Chinese writer, an Asian-American writer or a writer of speculative fiction?

I'm an American writer, and I think all fiction is speculative insofar as it is the convention of art to literalize metaphors. I write with and against the Anglo-American literary tradition, a tradition that has been enriched and challenged by its imperial stance and history.

Q: Do you think your stories and translation change readers’ perception of what is Chinese science fiction?

My own stories are only sometimes "science fiction" (though I don't much care about genre labels) and always American, so readers coming to them to look for "Chinese science fiction" would be very disappointed. :)

As for the translations, I've always had only one goal: share stories that I love (like Liu Cixin's breathtaking The Three-Body Problem or Chen Qiufan's trenchant and thrilling The Waste Tide) with other readers so that even those who don't read Chinese get to enjoy them with me. I tend not to think in terms of broad, ill-defined categories like "Chinese science fiction," preferring to treat each work and writer as individuals, and I hope Anglophone readers who read my translations do the same.

Q: You talked about how traditional Chinese culture tries to avoid open conflict, preferring to find a way to encompass differences without losing distinctions. You said that a lot of your fiction is driven by this way of viewing the world. But the ending of The Grace of Kings and the final fate of Mata Zyndu seem to go against that. Kuni Garu went for winner takes all. Has there been a shift in your thinking about power and conflict?

You have quoted from an interview I did with Betsy Huang (

"In many Western ideas about conflict, there’s this notion that one must pick a side, and that there must be a right side and a wrong side, and that to be on the right side, you must defeat the wrong side. That is almost never how classical Chinese philosophy deals with conflict. Confucianism in particular has a deep aversion to that view of conflict. In Chinese culture, when there are two very different or opposing views, the tendency and the instinct are to combine or harmonize them rather than to pick one over the other. This frustrates Westerners a great deal."

Note the many qualifiers I put in there – they’re important.

I like to read the fate of Mata Zyndu in this context. Without spoiling the book too much, there isn't a clear winner when the ending is viewed through classical Chinese philosophy (which is, in any event, far more diverse than Confucianism). Indeed, there isn't a clear winner when viewed through a Western lens either. Mata Zyndu may have died, but that isn't the same as total defeat.

Q: How does one deal with representations and stereotypes in literature?

Literature is just a part of culture, and culture is constructed by all of us. The only way for culture to be redeemed from harmful and limiting stereotypes is for all of us to demand creators do better and to participate vocally in the construction of our shared global culture.

Q:Have you considered adapting any of your stories into comics or movies? How do you think silkpunk would translate into a visual format?

I think silkpunk would look fantastic. I'd love to see The Grace of Kings and my short stories adapted into a visual medium.

Q: Why is history important in speculative fiction?

There's this idea that art shouldn't be about what happened – but we're all products of history. The injustices of the past led to the imbalances of power in the world we must confront today, and as long as art is intended to be interpreted and consumed by audiences who must live in the real world, history will shape the interpretation of art.

Q: Do you think character is fate?

Probably depends on the definition of "character" and of "fate". I like to think that we are shaped by the world but we also shape it.

Q: The needs of many outweigh the needs of one or is it the other way round? (obligatory Star Trek reference question)

Neither. I don't trust any moral principle that can be reduced to an equation.

Q: Great men are products of their times or do great men create the times?

Ha! I'm afraid that this question will soon cease to be meaningful when we all live under the rule of machines far surpassing us in intelligence. By the way, this is why I always say nice things about our soon-to-be robot overlords.

You can catch Ken Liu at these SWF panels:

Featuring: SP Somtow, Ken Liu
Moderated by: Terence Chua
Date: 31 October, Saturday
Time: 2.30pm – 3.30pm
Venue: The Arts House, The Japan Foundation Play Den

From epic fantasy to science fiction, these modes of speculative fiction have emerged from both the East and the West in uniquely inflected ways. SP Somtow and Ken Liu discuss the emergence of Asian speculative fiction and its place in contemporary literature.

Featuring: Ken Liu, Stephanie Ye, O Thiam Chin
Moderated by: Philip Holden
Date: 1 November, Sunday
Time: 11.30am – 12.30pm
Venue: The Arts House, The Japan Foundation Play Den

“A short story is the ultimate close-up magic trick – a couple of thousand words to take you around the universe or break your heart,” opines Neil Gaiman. Some of today’s best proponents of the art form – American Ken Liu and Singaporeans, Stephanie Ye and O Thiam Chin – will analyse the craft.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

AFA 2015: Interview with Anthony Kang

STGCC 2015 has come to an end. As we prepare for the next major fan convention in Singapore, the Anime Festival Asia (AFA), we had the chance to interview Anthony Kang, Founder and Festival Chairman of AFA, which will take place at Suntec Convention Centre from 27 to 29 November. This homegrown event has grown from strength to strength since it started in 2008. It grew from an attendance of 27,000 to 90,000 last year. It has since ventured into Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. In fact, the Indonesian edition will be happening this month from 25 to 27 September.
We get from skinny from Anthony.

How has the anime market grown since you guys started in 2008?

The market has grown by leaps and bounds. In our first year in 2008, we had about close to 20,000 people attending the two-day festival. Last year we recorded close to 100,000 people over a 3-day festival. Our festival space has since doubled – in 2008, we occupied two halls in Suntec International Convention & Exhibition Centre. Last year, we occupied four halls.

In the ASEAN region, Indonesia has seen phenomenal growth; hence more and more Japanese content companies are focusing on that market.
Currently, how big is the pop culture market in Singapore in terms of monetary terms?

I’m afraid I would not be able to tell you about the size of the Singapore market in monetary terms as there are no official bodies in Singapore tracking that. I suspect the market has annual growth of at least about 15-20% year on year. This is derived by observing the increasing activities pertaining to J pop culture.

How do you decide who to invite as guests?

For festival content, we usually put our ears to the ground by getting feedback from anime enthusiasts, fans and otaku. We try to introduce new contents at each annual event as much as we can to give fans a greater perspective of the entire anime world.

AFA attracts attendees from Asia and Southeast Asia. AFA has gone to Malaysia (2012), Indonesia (2012-15) and Thailand (2015) - what prompted this move and any other Asian countries that you want to start an anime con?

The key reason why we do satellite AFA events in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand is mainly because of fans’ demand and request. There are many fans is these countries who have heard about AFA but are unable to come to the annual Singapore festival for one reason or another. So we thought it would be good if we could bring a smaller scale event to their respective countries. So far, Indonesia has been the best market outside Singapore and it has the greatest growth potential. On demand and request, we recently staged the “I Love Anisong” concert in the annual anime event in Sydney, Australia, called SMASH. And we are now exploring staging AFA in Manila in 2016.

Has there been more competition since 2008? – STGCC in Singapore, and also in Jakarta (Popcon, Indonesia Comic Con), Malaysia (Comic Fiesta) and Bangkok? There are also various cosplay events in Singapore in recent years.

We do not see the aforementioned events as our direct competitors. In fact they are complementary to AFA. And it is also a good way for our fans to distinguish AFA from such events as then they can see the real uniqueness of AFA once they have visited the other events. Not to sound boastful, we think there’s no other event parallel to AFA in the market.

What role does AFA play in the development of the local anime/manga scene? How does it promote local animators, writers, artists, publishers, cosplayers?

At AFA each year we put aside space to accommodate local creators, be they animators, writers, artists, cosplayers, etc to promote local talent. In fact, quite a number of local talent have been spotted by either our content participants/exhibitors or visitors from Japan over the years and some of them are now gainfully employed by the J companies. Quite interestingly, we also have four of our maids in the Moe Moe Kyun maid café (in AFA) spotted by talent scouts in 2009 (I think) and brought to Japan for training as a new idol group called SEA-A.

Are there more people in Singapore watching anime, reading manga and cosplaying as a result of AFA?

Yes, I believe AFA has ignited and spurred the popularity of Japanese anime over the last 8 years. There’s increased anime content on both local free-to-air and cable TV stations, more toys and manga shops and even more cosplay events being held by the various cosplay groups. Perhaps there are not enough J pop culture events that anime cosplayers are even flocking to events like STGCC and the DBS River Regatta. And where else can you see a 68 year old aunty happily cosplaying popular anime characters?

It's a few more months before AFA 2015 in November at Suntec - how hectic has it been?

The pace of organizing the festival is the same as when we started the first event in 2008. Although it’s double in size now and in the number of content participants, the pace is more or less the same as over the years we have developed standard operating procedures in many aspects of the organizational functions. And we also employ more people now; especially one month prior when we take in freelance employees to prepare for the launch of the event.

What is the future of anime / manga in Singapore and in Asia?

AFA has helped to position Singapore as the regional hub for the anime industry and events in Southeast Asia. AFA is well-known among all the industry players including anime artistes in Japan - so much so that every year we have requests from new artistes to come and perform in our events. It is also an event recognized by the Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry (METI) in Japan to help propel and grow the industry outside Japan. And we are pleased and honoured to play that part.

Further reflections from Anthony

I’m not too much into comics but I’m certainly glad to know that our artists have made inroad by winning awards overseas like the International Manga Award in Japan.

It’s a pity that the Singapore market is not big enough to encourage and support the comics market unlike the Indonesian market which has seen phenomenal growth over recent years.

Hence, the potential for our local creators is to look beyond our shores with storylines that are universal and appealing to the overseas audience. A good case is our locally produced animation movie, “Sing to the Dawn” which is based on a Singapore-centric storyline but failed to succeed beyond our shores.

It would be a waste if our local talents are not given opportunities to polish and shine their skills. One way is for them to go and explore in markets with huge potential for their skills; like in Indonesia. Also the local comics community need to band together to think of ways and strategies on how to help our locally produced comics succeed overseas.
Having been involved in the creative fields over the last three decades and in my current semi-retirement mode, I believe I could and I should help develop our young talents and the creative industry to put Singapore abreast and on top with the best in the world.

Hence, I'm still involved in the business and voluntary work related to such.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Not A Crime! An Interview with Kazimir Lee Iskander

A few weeks ago, I came across the comic story, Not A Crime by Malaysia born cartoonist, Kazimir Lee Iskander. It is a story about the arrest and discrimination faced by trans women in Malaysia and a particular incident that happened in Negeri Sembilan in June 2014. It came out of nowhere and it's really one of the best things I've read this year. I tracked down Kazimir to get the lowdown on him and his work.

Not A Crime is a fascinating story. If you have not drawn about it, most of us would not know about the Jempol arrests in Malaysia in June 2014. How did you get to know about it (you were in Malaysia at that time) and what made you want to do a story about this?

I had done some work with Thilaga, who is one of the members of Justice For Sisters (JFS – the group that helped the trans women after they were arrested), prior to learning about the Jempol arrests. Thilaga and I did some work with Food Not Bombs, another excellent lefty NGO. Thilaga actually put me on the Seksualiti Mederka (the Malaysian equivalent of Pride) and JFS mailing list, so I was informed about the Jempol arrests the night it happened, and watched it unfold over the week. I really wanted to make work that showed outsiders the state of Malaysian activism, that there were actually a lot of wonderful people working to fight bigotry and fundamentalism every day.

The story has been featured in Slate and a 1-page version of it is on the Guardian #OpenComics project. Have more people written to you about this story and wanting to find out more about the Section 66 law in Malaysia?

Yes! People normally contact me through my website. It's amazing to be able to refer people to the JFS homepage and it's really heartening to see so many people show interest in Malaysia's LGBT scene too. It's an amazing scene.

What are your politics?

I am a dyed in the wool leftist. I consider myself a feminist and advocate for LGBT (IQA) rights as well, though I guess time will tell if I can make a difference or if I'm just another middle class man shooting his mouth off. I'm also increasingly passionate about sex work decriminalization and worker's rights.

I looked through your website. There are many comics and animation which most people are not aware of - where have you been doing your work and where have you been published?

I am currently in grad school, but I spent the last few years working freelance, so a lot of my work is either published solely on the internet (through my website or tumblr) or self-published to sell at conventions.

Your bio stated that you have lived in Malaysia, USA and the UK - where were you from originally and what/where did you study/work?

I lived in Malaysia for the first 12 years of my life. Then I went to boarding school in the UK, in Tonbridge, Kent. I received my BFA in Animation at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

How would you describe your comic style - more American/Western?

I suppose my style is somewhat western or European, although Malaysian comics have been very influenced by publications like MAD magazine, and I draw from that as well.

What are your influences? What sort of comics did you grow up reading in Malaysia? Lat?

I grew up reading a lot of Tintin, Lat, Gila-Gila, MAD magazine, Ren and Stimpy comics, and standard superhero stuff.

You are currently doing a MA in cartooning at the Center for Cartoon Studies - how did that come about? Something you have always wanted to do? How is the course so far and who are teaching you?

The course is amazing. I feel like there could be more support for international students, but I think the course is always evolving and learning from its mistakes, so I think that will change. I really wanted to make more work that was overtly political, and there was no room for that in animation, so I decided to make comics instead. I feel privileged to have some really amazing course instructors, including Stephen Bissette, James Sturm and Jason Lutes. We get so much hands-on advice and instruction from these award winning creators, there is really no other school like this one.

What do you hope to achieve with your comics and animation?

I hope to reach a wide audience and hopefully entertain people while engaging with their politics. I want to make great art and bring people together, and make them laugh and cry.

Finally, a comment on what's happening in Malaysia right now..

It's disgusting how the culture of corruption and racial supremacy has eaten away at our democracy for so long. I can hardly even call it a democracy anymore, since the elections are so dirty. I am deeply disappointed that our leaders operate with the implicit approval of the West (because said leaders sell themselves as 'Islamic moderates' and are willing to sign the TPP).However, just this weekend we had a giant pro-transparency march that my amazing activist mother attended (I am so proud of her) so I have to believe things can change for the better.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

STGCC 2015: An interview with Ms Lin Koh, Assistant Project Director for the Pop Culture Cluster of Reed Exhibitions

Ever wonder what goes on behind the running of STGCC and how they choose which guests to invite? Well, the answers are right here as we managed to score an interview with Ms Lin Koh, Assistant Project Director for the Pop Culture Cluster of Reed Exhibitions, who gamely answered our questions…

1. Reed Exhibitions took over STGCC in 2010. How has the market grown in these 5 years?
We observed that the market has grown over the years and underscoring this trend is the continuous growth of STGCC since 2010. From 50 exhibitors in 2010, this year’s STGCC will host over 200 exhibitors from 13 countries. We have also seen a 42% growth in attendance numbers from 2010 to 2014 while our Facebook following has expanded from 9,750 in 2010 to 36,000 in 2015.

[according to its 2013 press release, the attendance for STGCC 2013 was 40,000, an increase from 35,000 in 2012.]

2. How far ahead do you plan for the next STGCC?
We typically start brainstorming on the strategic plans for STGCC and project how we want to shape the show three years ahead, while project management for the next edition usually kick starts right after the current one!

3. How do you decide who to invite as guests?
Input on who will make up each year’s guest list will be collected from our counterpart, ReedPOP USA, feedback from fan surveys, the blogger community, followers on our STGCC Facebook account, as well as through research by our content team and conversations with our exhibitors. From there, we will narrow down a list of pop culture personalities, a good mix representing the Eastern and Western spheres of comics, toys, games, manga, anime and cosplay.

4. STGCC attracts attendees from Asia and Southeast Asia. Currently, Reed is also going regional with Indonesia Comic Con, ICC - what prompted this move?
Indonesia is a big market with a lot of potential, in terms of population as well as the very strong pop culture community, and we have a local office there with the capabilities to leverage the opportunities there. We also see a lot of potential in other Asian countries, with rising demand for conventions from fans. There is also a growing pool of artists from the Western and Eastern hemisphere who are more open in venturing into new markets in Asia to grow their fan base and spread their love for art. Under the ReedPOP portfolio, we have also launched Shanghai Comic Con this year, so do stay tuned for more updates for new shows under ReedPOP.

5. As the Assistant Project Director for the Pop Culture Cluster, can you give our readers an idea of what goes on typically in a day of prep for STGCC?
For me, my day typically starts at 9am, and sometimes at weird hours as we have regular t-cons with our USA office to share updates for STGCC. My morning is usually spent tackling all the emails that cover sales, marketing and operations. After which, I start running through the to-do lists with my assistant project manager to identify urgent items that need to be “attacked”. In the afternoons, I will be leading project meetings with the team to go through the action points by each team member to ensure work is on track. We also like to stay well-connected with our fans and hence I work very closely with my marketing team to plan the online and social media content on STGCC’s website and Facebook. This is to ensure that our fans get updated with the latest news, announcements of this year’s pop culture personalities, exclusives and new products launches from our exhibitors and all the exciting things happening at this year’s con! The day gets busier as we lead up to the show but we all enjoy the adrenaline rush putting together Singapore’s biggest pop culture event of the year.

6. What role does STGCC play in the development of the local comic scene? How does it promote local writers, artists, publishers?
STGCC provides established and rising local talent in the pop culture scene – from artists to illustrators to toy designers – with a platform to showcase their craft to local and regional fans as well as companies in the industry. Each year, we see an increase in the number of exhibitors at Artist Alley, a dedicated space at STGCC for creative talent in Singapore and the region to showcase their works. From 166 artists from 12 countries in 2014, this year will have over 170 artists from 11 countries participating in Artist Alley. Local writers, artists and toy designers can also gain great exposure to the many local and overseas companies taking part in STGCC, as well as influential pop culture personalities, and provide them with opportunities to network which can pave the way for tie-ups and partnerships.

This year, STGCC will host a local comics panel with Kelly Bender, Lim Cheng Tju and Elvin Ching as they touch on topics on the past, present and future of comics making in Singapore. Fans will also not want to miss on a special SG50 collaboration between STGCC and talented local artists like Tell Your Children, Keh Choon Wee, Ong Ean Keat of Keatopia, Mas of Wanton Noodle, Ziqi of Monster Little and Caramelaw A.K.A Sheena Aw as they design an array of custom Munnies in celebration of Singapore's Golden Jubilee. These custom Munnies will be available for bidding at a silent auction at STGCC, where all proceeds raised will go to child welfare organisation, Club Rainbow. C.B. Celbulski, Senior Vice President of Creative & Creator Development of Marvel Comics and talent scout for the publishing giant, will also be doing a portfolio review at STGCC. More details will be announced soon, so stay tuned to the STGCC website.

The pop culture scene here is burgeoning and we definitely see STGCC continuing to play a strong role in its development.

7. Are there more people in Singapore reading comics, collecting toys and playing games as a result of STGCC?
We are definitely seeing more interest on the ground as seen from attendance numbers growing stronger each year, solidifying STGCC’s position as the must-go event of the year for industry players. Through our conversations with our key exhibitors, such as Toy Baze, The Falcon’s Hangar and Simply Toys, they have shared that there has been increased demand for their products through their participation at STGCC over the past few years.

8. It's a few weeks before STGCC 2015 - how hectic has it been?
We have been burning late nights but it is all worth it for the fans to make sure we put up a good show, do expect a lot of fun at STGCC 2015!

Photos courtesy of STGCC.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

STGCC 2015: Garrie Gastonny and friends

Garrie Gastonny is coming back to STGCC. This time, he will be travelling with friends, Yusuf Idris, Sami Basri and Iwan Nazif. Also coming are Is Elfandiary, Dika Toolkit and Yasmine Putri (Storm Lion).

I got the chance to get these goodies from him at Popcon. He obligingly drew Red Sonja and Darkseid. So make sure you grab this 2015 sketchbook at STGCC. Limited edition of 150. While stocks last. You can also get him to sign your copies of A1 and Supergod.

Now if only I can get him to answer my interview questions...

Interview with Ian Gibson

Ian Gibson is a legend in UK comics. Not only was he responsible for many a memorable run of Judge Dredd and Robo-Hunters in 2000AD, he was the co-creator of one of the most iconic female characters in comics, Halo Jones. Born in 1946, Gibson came to prominence with his strips for 2000AD, including The Ballad of Halo Jones, written by Alan Moore. Like many others in the UK, he would draw for American comics like Mister Miracle (DC) in the 1980s, but it was not a happy experience. Since then, Gibson has kept himself busy with projects in the wings, waiting to be released at the right time.

What struck me most about interviewing Gibson is his sense of humour. I hope we get to see his new comics soon. Thanks to Kenny Chan for the link up.

1. For your longtime fans, what have you been up to? Any new comics, writings?

I'm no longer fighting with deadlines. I'm working slowly on the Lifeboat project and playing with ideas for other things I've written. But they are all big projects, so I have no release dates for any of them.

2. You have been associated with drawing/creating strong female characters. Was it intentional? (you have talked about the influence of Heinlein)

The 'female lead' aspect of my work is, I suppose, somewhat influenced by Bobby Heinlein - from Podkayne of Mars to Friday, etc. Plus I never really enjoyed drawing big muscle bound dudes.

3. You worked for IPC Girls Comics Group in the 1970s. Can you tell us about those early days of girls comics in the UK?

When I started in comics there was no science fiction being published in the UK. So I had to look elsewhere to get work in other genres. First it was horror; then it was love stories and girls' adventures, with a sprinkling of oddments in between. I don't know who the writers were because in those days we were all 'anonymous'. But one of the other artists working through the same agency was Romero doing love stories etc. I worked with Blas Gallego as a way into girls comics as the editors thought my girls were too skinny!

You see, Blas Gallego was living in London at that time while I was too. So I had the chance to go and work in his 'studio' amid the clouds of smoke from his cheap cigarrettes! He was working on a variety of girl's comics that included stories like 'Sugar Jones' as a comedic piece and some girls' drama adventures. I was doing the pencils and Blas was inking the finished art. The editors at IPC girls comics had looked at the 'test' piece I'd done for them (I think it was for Mirabelle) and they declared that my girls were too skinny for their tastes. So working with Blas allowed me to work 'under his cover' without their complaints.

The readership for these comics was all young girls as far as I know.

4. You also drew the Bionic Woman story in the 1977 Annual. Do you remember much of that story and how did it come about?

The Bionic woman stories happened because the editor asked me. I think the writer was Steve Moore. I'd worked with him on other projects and he liked to take me out to small cinemas that showed Toshiro Mifune classics. So we had a good rapport for the stories. Sadly the second annual cut the budget and as a result I had to work in just two colours for much of the scripts. I think I got the Bionic job after I'd done some work on a Kung Fu annual and then that lead on to working on the Invisible Man annual too.

5. You created Halo Jones because you felt the female characters in 2000AD then were like 'men with tits'. Has the portrayal of women in comics improved since then?

Halo doesn't seem to have changed the face of comics very much. For instance the big hue and cry over the Milo Manara Spiderwoman cover. But if you look at any of the American comics the hypocrisy level is high, as most of the time the girls are thrusting their bosoms and wearing skin tight costumes and usually posed in a provocative manner. I think Manara was pointing this out in his own way, maybe?

But despite the clingy state of the costumes there is never a nipple in sight nor, perish forbid, and sign of a 'camel-toe'!

6. What was the experience like drawing for American comics (Mister Miracle for DC) in the 1980s?

I really liked the idea of working on Mister Miracle as homage to the legend of King Kirby. Sadly the writer had other ideas and the scripts betrayed the character and cheapened the story. So I spent a lot of time changing the scripts where I could to take out the flim flam. But eventually the editor asked if maybe they could recognise the stories when they got them back from me. My response was that if the editor had been doing his job I wouldn't have to change anything. This resulted in them dropping me from the series!! Their loss!

7. Still, there was the Steed and Mrs Peel (1990) series with Eclipse and written by Grant Morrison which I like a lot.

The Steed & Mrs Peel series was supposed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the TV show. And the release date was set for that anniversary. But all of the publicity came to naught as a certain American general decided that Desert Storm would start on the same date. So nobody noticed that it was the Avengers anniversary! You could say we got covered by a cloud of sand..? All to support a 'resource war' that was as illegal and disgusting as the ethnic cleansing of the native American peoples.

But I did rather enjoy working on the characters of Steed and Emma Peel. I also had fun with the 'back-up' story by Anne Caulfield. When I saw that the script started with Emma's hubby crashing his plane in South America, I decided, even though it wasn't in the script, to pay homage to the delightful Mayan Codex memories I have of studying pre-Columbian cultures. So I began the story in the style of a Mayan Codex and gradually integrated modern comics into the mix. I had a lot of fun!

8. Halo Jones is tied up in a copyright mess. But any chance of you returning to Judge Dredd or Robo-Hunter one day?

I don't think 2000 are interested in giving me any work after I quit half way through the Samantha Slade story. I got fed up with the quality of the stories and eventually it came to a point where I just couldn't stomach it any more. I told the editor 'Alan has beaten me! Not even I can turn this into entertainment!!' I haven't heard from them since.

9. Among the many characters you have drawn, which character did you enjoy working on the most?

My all time favourite character was Annie Droid which I wrote for the Times Saturday editions. A story called Millennium Bug, at the turn of the century when everyone was in a panic about the change of date on their computers. But very few people ever saw it.

10. Any update on Lifeboat? The premise is fascinating. How did you come up with this story idea?

The Lifeboat project started a long time ago. I was helping a friend get a start as a writer, and took him down to the Brighton seafront to chat and get inspiration. There I ventured into the Lifeboat museum and was fascinated by the displays and thought it would be great to celebrate their work by writing a story about how someone decided to start a lifeboats in space facility. From there the story took various turns and twists until I came up with the current version. It's a long and convoluted saga that will take years to finish.

[In another interview, Gibson explained the premise of Lifeboat:
‘combine “What if Romeo and Juliet had had a child?” with a ‘space’ version of the American War of Independence, where asteroid mining colonies are trying to break free from the Empire. Father becomes head of the Imperium; mother becomes Queen of the colonies – child raised by aliens. And it gets more complicated from there on in!’]

11. Is there a story you want to tell and an existing character that you would like to draw?

I have a filing cabinet full of the scripts I've written; some started; some complete; some just ideas. Destiny is one of my favourites. But sadly some games company has just brought out a game with that Title. So that could be a problem. Like the Halo game that appeared 'coincidentally' just after Halo Jones was popular..?

I have so many projects that I need another lifetime to get them all done!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Popcon 2015

Popcon 2015

What is it?
According to the organizers: POPCON is the biggest pop culture convention in Asia that is dedicated to celebrate and appreciate the professionals, artists, and creators in the creative industry, focusing on comics, games, toys, films, and animations.

Popcon Asia aims to encourage and support the creative industry ecosystem, as well as to become the platform for networking and collaboration among creators, brand, government, media and other stakeholders to grow the creative industries in Asia.

When is it?
This year, Popcon Asia will be held for the 4th time on 7-9 August 2015, which will be attended by visitors from various countries such as Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, Japan, France, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea, and Philippines. This event is a joint project between creative companies such as Revata, Fabula, Kibar, Kreavi, Layaria, Pionicon, and Plastic Culture.

Where is it?
Assembly Hall, Jakarta Convention Centre.

Who are going from Singapore?
Jerry Hinds (SupaCross)
Evangeline Neo (Evacomics)
Shawn Siow and Mark Koh (Silent War)
D’Creativeaholic (Wackymons)

For them, it’s their first visit to Popcon, although a few like Shawn, Mark and Jerry had participated in the first Indonesia Toy Game and Comic Convention (ITGCC) last year. It was a positive experience for them.

Shawn and Mark: It was very interesting. The best experience about attending such overseas event is of course meeting their local artists and letting people other than your own country know about you. It’s the best chance for networking and relationship building with artists of different backgrounds.

Jerry found ITGCC a bit slow in general and the entrance fee was too high for a small event with no big names present. Hence he was pleasantly surprised that he was able to sell many books & commissions.

Most of the artists do not have their books on sale in Indonesia, with the exception of Eva whose book is translated to Bahasa Indonesia and published by Elex Media. At Popcon, she will be participating on a comic panel on the second day of the convention, The Climate and Condition of ASEAN Comic Industries, which will discuss and assess the potential and possibilities of collaboration between South East Asian countries in order to strengthen the position of ASEAN comics as cultural and commercial product within the global market as a whole. I will be moderating the session, which also includes artists from Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

In general, the artists felt that attending overseas conventions has been helpful for them. Eva, Shawn and Mark was at Comic Fiesta 2014 in Kulua Lumpur last December. Shawn and Mark explained: As Singapore is a small country, attending only local events has a tendency to recycle the same group of supporters every year, and once you reach a threshold, it is hard for the others to notice your work. One of the best ways to show your art to a wider audience is through such overseas events, besides the Internet. This allows a very good chance for us to increase our supporters and making our work known to other countries. And by meeting other creators, it opens up many possibilities for collaboration.

So if you happen to be in Jakarta this coming weekend, do look out for them at Popcon. And also drop by Akademi Samali booth as there will be some Singapore comics on sale - Gone Case, Benjamin Chee, AnnaRex, Funics and Epigram Books.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

STGCC 2015: Interview with The Art of K

One of the best things about STGCC is discovering the talent we have at the Artist Alley. The Art of K has been around for the last few years. He's back again this year, so don't just spend all your time (and money) queuing up for Adam Hughes and the other big names. Go check out K at the Artist Alley Booth AA37.

Name: Keh Choon Wee (aka K)
Age: 39
Current Job: Lecturer at Digipen

What are some of your favourite comic titles and creators who have influenced/inspired you?
Some of my favourite comics are Slamdunk, Dragonball, Invincible, Saga, Amazing Spiderman and The Umbrella Academy. As for creators, there are so many that have influenced or inspired me over the years - Akira Toriyama, Takehiko Inoue, Mike Wieringo, Chris Bachalo, Joe Madureira, Humberto Ramos, Art Adams, Glen Keane and Claire Wendlinge, etc. just to name a few.

How long have you been drawing comics? Have you been published or self-published before?
I have not been drawing comics actively for quite some time now. Some of my past published comics works include 2 manga anthologies (Manga Doomei 98 and Comics Alliance 2000) and a comic on Zen wisdom published by Asiapac Books. Was involved in a few comic projects but unfortunately, those did not see the light of day.

When did you start exhibiting at STGCC? What did you sell and what was the experience like?
I started exhibiting at STGCC in 2013 and I have been selling my sketchbooks, postcards and prints. A new sketchbook every year is something that I have set out to do and STGCC provides an excellent venue to promote my art. So far the experiences and reception have been pretty positive which allows me to keep doing this year after year.

What's the big deal about this year's STGCC?
I guess the big deal with STGCC (not just this year in particular) is that it provides a venue for fans and creators to gather at an event which celebrates comics, games, toys and art.
This year, they managed to invite Adam Hughes and Jim Cheung to STGCC which is a big deal (at least to me) as I’m a huge fan of their works.

If I don't read comics, why should I attend?
Why not? ☺ There are more than just comics at STGCC. As the name suggests, there’s also games, toys and even cosplay competition if you are into those stuff. They have also invited creators from popular anime/mecha works to the event.

What is there to buy from you?
I’ll be selling my new Sketchbook 4 as well as postcards, original art and other prints. I will also be bringing limited pieces of my Ghibli Sleepover Tote Bags for sale.

When and where can I find you?
STGCC is on 12-13 Sept 2015 at the Sands Expo & Convention Center, MBS, Level 1, Halls B & C and you can find me at the Artist Alley Booth AA37.

What's the future of comics?
I think the future of comics is pretty positive and exciting. Especially with the recent boom of Hollywood Superheroes flicks, I think more people will be drawn to the world of comics. As for creators, there are so many platforms now to get their work out there to the public, eg. Kickstarter, Patreon, etc. The ways we get and read our comics are also slowly changing in the digital age. However, call me old school but I still prefer flipping through pages of comics than to read them on a digital device.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Maple Comics

Maple Comics is a new comics company in Malaysia who is making waves at CAFKL and Cooler Lumpur. Even with just three titles so far, you get a sense of their curated approach. Set up by Amir and Roy, I managed to ‘sit down’ with Amir and get the lowdown on Maple.

What is the genesis of Maple Comics?

Both Roy and I wanted to do comics - write, draw and publish them. So we decided rather than bitch about how bad things are, we'd go and do something.

Roy was in Gempak and then he published a comics magazine - Komikoo. It had a great start but couldn't maintain the momentum because the business model for comics magazines is not sustainable without massive investment.

I was never in the comics publishing business until Maple Comics. I read a bunch and got into credit card debt in part because of comics. I also spent 12 years in magazines, TV and newspapers though.

What is the meaning behind the name, Maple?

It's maple as in "mah-pleh". A common word in the 90s to denote 'makan place' or something. We came up with the idea of a comics publishing company at a maple, so we decided to call it Maple Comics.

What is the strength and weakness of the Malaysian comic scene right now?

We have an abundance of talent. A lot of it world class. And we have unique treasure troves of stories either with our folk tales, our culture, colour and also the very unique Malaysian perspective - this kind of identity is something others dream of having.

Weaknesses - we are way too whiny. Everyone's complaining and not many are actually doing something - anything. You want comics to be accepted? You can't simply tell the public to accept comics. You have to make comics that the general public will embrace and enjoy.

What do you mean by you are way too whiny?

'We are too whiny' is directed at some parts of the comics community who simply complain about a lot of things but hardly ever get anything done.

But we also believe that we can't promote the scene/industry by simply finding who is at fault. I don't believe we can rely on Governments or feel entitled enough to say that everyone should read more comics. These things have to come from the grassroots and of their own volition. You can't force people to love you or like you. You just have to keep at it until you get it right and be there IF the public wants comics.

It is very possible that at the end of all this, at the end of our lives, people still don't give a shit about comics, and that's fine. We just want to be there, if and when they decide to pay more attention to comics.

What niche is Maple fulfilling in the Malaysian comic publishing scene now?

Well, there are the hobbyists and convention people, and then there are the big players Gempak, PTS, Karangkraf. We want to be somewhere in between - we publish professional, high quality graphic novels like only the big boys do, but we want to be opened with our themes and genres.

In terms of content niche, we would like to have our comics to work on multiple levels, with different ages getting different things. We also hope to publish more adult comics with heavier themes. Something that works on teen, young adult and above. And we publish fiction and non-fiction comics.

Are there particular genres, art style or stories that you are inclined to?

We want Malaysian stories. This takes some explaining. It's not the locale or the people, or the clothes that make a story Malaysian, though it helps. We want stories that only Malaysian storytellers can tell. If it's a generic action comic or a manga style princess story set in Kyoto, I bet a lot more artists can do the job better. So we want stories and perspectives no other comics publishers in the world can do.

What are your titles so far?

We have three - Kuala Terengganu in 7 Days, Invasi and Taubat Si Tanggang. This year, we hope to have six or seven titles.

Invasi was a novel published by Buku Fixi. Written by Raja Faisal and adapted by the author as well as Azhar.

Kuala Terengganu in 7 Days is sort of a sequel to Beijing in 7 Days which Mimi self-published in 2013.

Do you see Maple as part of the pulp fiction wave in Malaysian publishing now albeit in graphic form? (e.g. using a 90s slang like ‘maple’ for your name)

We would like to tap into the pulp fiction wave but after six months, I can tell you that these are different markets. We hope to build our audience as the indies have done but the way comics are, and the way readers are, we see a long and winding road ahead of us before the thing can cross over and hit critical mass. We are hopeful, though.

In the near future, the website will have more titles as we open it up for products from other publishers. We aim to make a one-stop shop for all ASEAN indie comics. In fact, we are in talks with Epigram Books from Singapore and a few publishers in Indonesia to hopefully bring some titles over, in Bahasa Malaysia (BM).

Is language still an issue - ie to reach a wider audience, you need to publish in BM?

Yes and no. We see our country as having a huge opportunity cause we're all multi-lingual. Maple Comics prioritise getting things out in BM and we are also doing some titles in English. Our first book is in English - Kuala Terengganu in 7 Days, and it's our best-selling book so far, so it's really not an obstacle at all.

Language is a consideration, but it is not a problem. Marketing and distribution - that's an issue. We usually ask the artist - what language is right for the book (with a choice between BM and English)?

How has the comic scene changed/grown? There are indie cons now like CAFKL.

The indie cons are great, and we at Maple Comics believe some of these con-folk are ready to hit mainstream bookstores - they are that good! We hope to bring more of the artists out of the con and into the real world. You need to graduate from this very wonderful, supportive, tight and friendly community, to take on the greater Malaysian public. We hope to find some comics that will eventually make the whole scene mainstream and sustainable for those who may want to quit everything else and just do comics (like ourselves).

What's next?

We're doing something with Alan Quah - very excited about that. He's doing something personal that could be one of his greatest books ever.

Also, we're doing these anthologies in colleges called Donk! (Dongeng Kontemporari) where we get students to reinterpret and reimagine traditional fables in a contemporary setting. The project is to get college kids interested in comics, really. We are doing an all-star professional version of Donk! ‘cause the concept is great!

We are also publishing another travelogue called Pelempang Realiti (Reality Bitchslap) by Arif Rafhan. And there's a Japan travelogue with one female artist and she's just amazing. Jonsuraya is one of our greatest talent that needs a platform - we hope we're it.
We're doing our first adult/mature title - Iblis dan Kugiran Kambing Hitam. It's about some school kids summoned Satan and he actually appeared.

We have a crime/drama title coming up next year.

There's Nafiri - an epic fantasy that is late, but hopefully worth the wait.

There's a bunch of other stuff but we'll announce them when they're ready.

Also, it is our dream to one day publish Lat. We know we'll do a great job of it, if only he'd say yes...

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

[Read! Fest 2015] To Singapore with Love: Personal and National History in Comics

This is happening this Sat.

Date: Saturday Jun 27, 2015
Time: 04:30 PM - 06:00 PM
Venue: Multi-Purpose Room in Central Public Library

[Read! Fest 2015] To Singapore with Love: Personal and National History in Comics

Amidst Singapore’s rapidly changing cityscape and way of life, there has been a growing surge of nostalgic creativity that pays homage to an era long left behind. Find out from our graphic novelists what inspires them when they tap on personal memories or historical events to create their comics.

About the speakers:
Andrew Tan (aka drewscape) is a freelance illustrator from Singapore. His work consists of drawing storyboards and illustrating for advertising agencies as well as magazines. He enjoys creating comics just for the fun of it. He’s often experimenting with various styles and mediums, hunting for new art tools and discovering new graphic novels with fresh, interesting drawing styles. His inspirations come from daily life, manga, European comics, and watching science fiction. He blogs at

Cheah Sinann is a former editorial cartoonist with The Straits Times, where he also produced the popular comic strip The House of Lim for eight years. His cartoon strip Billy & Saltie, which highlights environmental issues in a humorous manner, appears in The Borneo Bulletin in Brunei, and in The Daily Frontier in Bangladesh. His collection Billy & Saltie: Cool Croc was published in 2010. Visit his website at The Bicycle, a graphic novel about the friendship between a Japanese soldier and a street urchin during the Japanese Occupation, was published in 2014.

Koh Hong Teng is a comics artist and painter based in Singapore. He published the two-volume Gone Case: A Graphic Novel, Book 1 and 2, with writer Dave Chua in 2010 and 2011 respectively. In 2011, he received the Arts Creation Fund from Singapore’s National Arts Council in support of Last Train in Tanjong Pagar. The graphic novel Ten Sticks and One Rice, illustrated by Hong Teng and written by Oh Yong Hwee, was published by Epigram Books in November 2012 and won a Bronze Award at the 7th International MANGA Awards. Hong Teng has also produced comics and artwork for the National Library Board’s irememberSG project and Project LAVA respectively, and is an external examiner for final-year illustration projects at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

Lim Cheng Tju is the co-editor of Liquid City Vol. 2, an anthology of Southeast Asian comics published by Image Comics in 2010, which was nominated for an Eisner award for best anthology. He is also the country editor (Singapore) for the International Journal of Comic Art. He writes and edits comics sometimes.

The Borneo Boys review

The Borneo Boys by Tom McLaughlin, Natasha Rusdy Wong and Helena Goh

Having a daily cartoon strip in Brunei about the wildlife in Borneo, it was to my surprise and delight to find out there's another cartoon work about the world's third largest island in the form of The Borneo Boys, a manga-type comic book set in Sarawak.

The story in the book centers around the legend of an antique giant vase which tests the friendship of two boys, one from Peninsular Malaysia and the other, a Sarawakian in East Malaysia.

Dzul is a young lad from Kuala Lumpur who moves with his family to Kuching, Sarawak where he meets Hong Huat, a local boy with whom he shares going to school. On one occasion, Dzul is mad at Huat for being late for their meeting at the weekend so he confronts the latter at the antique shop where he works. Eerily, a giant vase inside the shop begins to glow as if with shiny jewels inside it. Thinking as such, both boys dive into the vessel which is actually a time portal. They are met by another boy, who tells them they are in Kuching in the early days when there are no malls and cinemas and guides them through the history of the city.

While The Borneo Boys, aimed at younger readers, is a simple read, I also find it informative. Interspersed with facts about Kuching, there is also a historical centrespread on how the region came to be.

A good job and there is so much diversity and culture in Borneo, I would welcome more works to promote this great island.

- Cheah Sin Ann draws a comic strip set in Borneo, Budi and Saltie. His latest book is The Bicycle, published by Epigram Books.

You can see some images of The Borneo Boys here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Growing up reading comics in Singapore in the 1970s meant you have the diversity to choose between American superhero comics, British weeklies like The Beano and The Dandy, Hong Kong action comics, Taiwanese pirated reprints of Japanese manga, comics from Malaysia, China, India, etc. While the comic scene today is dominated by manga and superhero movies, one lone UK bastion from the 1960s has survived till today. Commando, published by the ubiquitous DC Thomson in Dundee, is an institution and rightly so. Here is an interview with Calum Laird, the current editor of Commando and currently pursuing a PhD on British war comics at the University of Dundee.

1. For those unfamiliar with Commando, what is your one line sales pitch?

“Stories of action and adventure for boys of all ages” or “68-page compact graphic novels”

2. British comics has a long history of war comics. Titles like War Picture Library, Combat Picture Library and Battle Picture Library, weeklies like Warlord and Battle. Most have come and gone. What explains the longevity of Commando? (since 1961)

This is a tricky question and there’s no concrete answer, really. When Warlord and Battle launched, boys’ comics in the UK were in decline. The only part of the market that was untroubled was the area where Commando operated — exclusively war stories. However, Battle and Warlord — while hugely successful in their concentration on war stories — ultimately closed down. The only differences between them and Commando were the size and anthology format. My feeling is that Commando and the other “libraries” had the appeal of being self-contained so they could be enjoyed on a one-off basis without having to buy every week to get to the end of the story. In addition, the longer stories that were allowed in the libraries gave greater potential for complicated plots and characters.

As to Commando outlasting the other compact format offerings, I've often wondered. The market was definitely shifting away from war stories by the 1990s, probably due to the events of World War Two moving further into history. It could be that our economics lent themselves to continued production where the others' didn't. At that time, we (DC Thomson) did all our print production in-house and handled much of our own transport. We were also producing a raft of titles from Dundee. This might have meant some of our costs were significantly lower than theirs.

I don't think there is room for another war comic like Commando or like those of old. If there was to be something launched, I think it would have to be more contemporary in both tone, content and appearance. Bearing in mind the changed age group that buys many comics (older than before) a more "adult" tone could be adopted.

At the moment, though, mainstream comics rely heavily on TV/film/toy tie-ins to be successful.

3. Is it jingoism?

Being honest, I really don’t know. Most of the time, I think not (and it’s certainly not on the part of the Commando editorial team) but sometimes, I’m not sure. On balance, I think most people read them for the entertaining storylines and the players, not any misplaced patriotism.

4. This harks back to the Cold War of the days of MAD, but it is still relevant today. With the stockpile of nuclear weapons that we have to destroy the Earth many times over, why are readers still fascinated with war comics, movies, etc?

This is something I’ve thought about a lot and I don’t have the answer. There is a certain amount of escapism involved and a certain nostalgia for a time before the Bomb when things seemed clearer and more human in scale. The main thing for me, though, is that a war setting allows story-tellers to suspend a lot of society’s normal rules, freeing their characters to act in a way that they wouldn’t be expected to or permitted to in the normal course of events. All fiction tends to be more extreme than fact; war fiction is no different. The other thing to bear in mind is that most war stories are not really about war itself, they are about the characters in a war setting.

5. How have war comics changed over the years?

Generally the plots have become more advanced. In the early days, secret weapons and special missions were all you needed for a successful story (although even then, Commando gave a bit more). These notions have all been done to death so more subtlety and sophistication is needed. The stories in general, and I mean here across the whole genre, have reflected the growing knowledge of wars and the effects conflict has on those caught up in it so they have become more thoughtful, more reflective. Even those titles that concentrate on action and adventure reflect this trend.

6. Which conflict is the most ‘popular’ today? (WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, the recent campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq…)

With our readership it’s WWII, in Western Europe and predominantly featuring ground troops.

7. Has Commando done comics on the war on terror? (Especially in light of the London bombing of 2005 and the ISIS public outcry of the beheading of British aid worker Alan Henning by Jihad John)

No, we haven’t. To do comics on these subjects is far too far from Commando’s current editorial stance. From a story-teller’s point of view it would be very difficult to get a good action and adventure story out of such conflicts/situations. In addition, doing them as a Commando could potentially be seen as trivialising them.

8. How did you become the editor of Commando? What do you do, your role and responsibilities?

In 2007, I was offered the job of Commando Editor while I was assistant editor on one of our publisher’s — DC Thomson — other titles, The Dandy comic. Prior to this I had worked on Commando in a junior capacity for various periods of time since 1981. In between stints on Commando I had worked on teenage magazines, women’s magazines, a specialist motorcycle title and one of our commercial departments.

As Editor I am responsible for all aspects of Commando whether it is work I have done myself or work done for the title. This covers stories, art, proof-reading, feature material, graphic design, advertising, promotion and so on. I am part of a very small team so I have done just about everything; from maintaining our web presence to speaking at comics events to collaborations with our local Art College.

I think that Commando’s biography below will give you an idea of a lot of things I have to keep an eye on. One of the most important is making sure our contributors are paid. We rely heavily on our freelances so we like to look after them.

9. How do you go about commissioning new stories? How is it done and how do you decide on the writer/artist/conflict?

As I’ll indicate in Commando’s biography, everything starts with a blank sheet on to which goes an idea. Normally this comes from one of our freelance writing contributors but we might suggest something to one of them if we think it’s something that might appeal to them. They’ll build up a synopsis either on their own or with us. Once that’s agreed, they deliver a finished 135-frame script of 12 – 15,000 words.

Once we have this we will select the artist whose style and talents best suit the story. That’s based on experience but sometimes if it’s something new or unusual we’ll check with the artist just to be sure. Maybe they’ve drawn too many stories with horses, for instance, and would prefer something with ships.

Generally the conflict is decided at the synopsis stage. If we’ve had a run of similarly set stories we might turn down an otherwise promising story. Too many WWI stories one after another tend to get a bit boring for the readers…and the editors.

10. What are the sales and circulation figures of Commando like? It is sold widely in Singapore and Malaysia. Which other countries or territories is Commando doing well in? (Is it Commonwealth states?)

That’s an interesting one. Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand are all good markets for us and they’re Commonwealth states. Yet we are no longer asked to supply the market in South Africa or Canada, again Commonwealth states.

Commando on sale at Kinokuniya, Ngee Ann City, Singapore

11. Do you get letters from the UK and overseas? What sort of feedback and response do you get from the Commando readers? As a matter of interest, any idea whether Commando was on sale in Malaya and Singapore in the 1960s?

Commando never had a letters page. But thanks to the web, we get communications from all over the world now, and in much greater volumes than we did in the days of pen and paper. Lots of readers are quick to pick us up on all sorts of points or to send us an encouraging note if we’ve done something they like. Very, very few are wholly negative. Yes, we were on sale there throughout the 60s. As you’ll know, we launched in the UK on June 27th 1961 and export sales rapidly followed the successful launch.

Commando on sale at Kinokuniya, KL

12. You have some titles that are about the ‘War in the East 1941-45’. Do they sell better in Malaysia and other parts of Southeast Asia? Were there titles on conflicts like the Malayan Emergency?

I don’t have broken down figures for the sales of those titles in South-East Asia so I can’t really comment on the first part of the question. We supply comics based on the numbers requested by the local distributor but I think they generally ask for the same numbers irrespective of the storylines. For the second part, yes, there were (and are soon to be more) stories on the Emergency. Our popular recurring characters Ramsey’s Raiders were involved there in our most recent foray into Malaysia.
We had previously done a series of stories to coincide with the anniversary of VJ-Day. Nos 4315-4322 are definitely set in Asia and SE Asia.

13. What did you read as a child? Did you read Commando?

Yes, I really did read Commando and it was my favourite. The other title I read regularly was Victor, also by DC Thomson, though I had no awareness that it was a publisher in my home town of Dundee who was responsible for both.

14. Which are your favourite Top 3 Commando stories, writer, artist and cover artist?

My top three Commandos have yet to come in. The best part of this job is looking to the future to see what fresh notions and art will come through the door. We have had, and continue to have, some absolutely wonderful contributors but the nature of this business is such that there is little time to look back.
[ct: if I have to pick, it would be the late Jorge and those gorgeous covers by Ian Kennedy.]

15. Which is the most collectible Commando issue?

Copies of No 1 in good condition have been sold for silly money, but anything in the first 100 are sought after and will sell for a good price. Some collectors go for particular artists (inside or cover) but most try to secure a complete run from 1 to 4800+.

16. How are the Carlton collections selling? Have they helped to bring a new generation of young readers to Commando? Or do appeal more to the older fans/collectors?

The Carlton Collections have sold very well indeed. However, they have definitely peaked in popularity and we will have to find a new product to entertain readers. We don’t have precise information on the age group the editions are bought for but at signing sessions, it’s a mix between old and young.

17. Finally, for those uninitiated to Commando, how and where should they start? (which issue, collection or conflict?)

They should start at the latest ones out and, if they like them, carry on. With our policy of re-releasing re-mastered classic issues, they’ll be getting a mix of old and new tales. There should be enough variety in there for them to make their own decisions after a month or so.

Calum’s biography:

"Born in Dundee, home of Comic Kings DC Thomson & Co, there was always a fair chance that I would end up working in the comics industry. No-one, however, had told me that and I took a science degree at St Andrews University in the late 70s. Once I’d graduated, though, the comic magnets were switched on and, after a brief spell as a labourer at the firm’s print works, I landed a job as a trainee on Jackie Magazine. After 18 months there I moved to Commando Comic which became my home from home. Despite several “postings” to teenage magazines, women’s magazines, a motorcycle title and one of the commercial departments, I returned to Commando in 2007 after three years on The Dandy Comic. I was in the fortunate position of taking over from the man who had mentored me in my early days and was delighted, if not a bit overwhelmed, to be doing my best to fill his very large footprint. I suppose I’m expected to say this but it’s true – Commando was my favourite comic growing up. To be responsible for nurturing this national treasure is a privilege, a dream come true…and one big responsibility.

I recently graduated from Dundee University with a Masters Degree in Comics Studies, one of the first intake to a new and exciting development at the University. I am now studying war comics for a PhD at Dundee. Anything to help keep Commando the UK’s most popular series production action title."

Commando’s biography:

"What is a Commando?

Physically it’s a complete 63-page story of around 135 black-and-white illustrated frames with text in panels and balloons to provide the narrative.

This is wrapped in a full-colour cover which wraps around the back of the book where lies our trademark dagger and the back cover write-up.

Between the covers lies the story. These are always fiction but they’re always set against an authentic background based in solid fact and the author’s research.

But a Commando is more than just paper and ink. It’s the story of a struggle against adversity, a tale of action and adventure that can be set against the background of the Roman invasion of Britain, the battlefields of Nazi-occupied Europe or, sometimes, the imagined battleground of the future.

The action can take place anywhere from the depths of the ocean or the dizzy heights of space.

Where does an individual Commando come from?

Every Commando starts with an idea. These can be the slightest thing and can be prompted by almost anything. They could be born as the result of seeing a piece of military equipment, the tale of an actual event, an imagined piece of dialogue. There’s no formula, every writer is different and may come up with ideas a hundred different ways.

All we know is that the ideas come and we’re glad of it.

So, you’ve got your idea, what’s next?

From the idea, the writer has to build his story into a plot with a beginning a middle and an end. And characters. Commando revolves around characters. Square pegs in round holes, the fearful, the daring, the compassionate, the cruel. All must overcome or be overcome.

When all that comes together it’s written down as a synopsis, a stripped-down outline of the incidents and the players who will bring the tale to life.

Next there’s the script. It follows a format and contains a picture description for the illustrator to follow, a panel or panels to carry the plot forward and balloons to reveal what those vital characters are saying or thinking.

This completed script is given form by the artist. He gives faces to fighting men, gives them guns and uniforms, gives them life. And, where the script demands, he may bring death to them too.

Once he has done his bit, the words and pictures finally meet up on the finished page.

And all that from a chance remark or observation."