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.