Friday, September 29, 2017

Munching with the Moomins: Interview with Roleff Krakstrom, Managing Director of Moomin Characters Limited

The Moomins are coming! One of Finland’s strongest export (way before Angry Birds) and loved over the years by children and adults of all ages, these classic characters will be featured in two Singapore Writers Fest programmes:

A life size Moomin troll will be making its appearance too at the Moomin storytelling by Paula Parviainen, Ambassador of the Embassy of Finland in Singapore.

Sophia Jansson, the niece of Moomins creator Tove Jansson, and the current Chairman of the Board and Creative Director at Moomin Characters Ltd, and Roleff Kråkström, the managing director of Moomin Characters Ltd, will be in town for Finland 100, a celebration of Finland’s 100 years of independence.

I had a short chat with Roleff over the phone about Tove Jansson (1914 – 2001) and her beloved Moomins. Like other Finns I have met in Helsinki and in Singapore, Roleff’s response can be rather reserved. But you can still hear his passion for the Moomins in his voice when I called him in Helsinki on a Friday evening.

What is your first memory of the Moomins?

My first memory of the Moomins was my parents reading the books to me when I was a small child. I was 3 or 4 then. I was very young at that time so I don’t have a very clear memory. But it has become a very safe and comfortable memory for me since then – this image of being read aloud by my parents.

Later, I work with the publisher of the Moomins. I have a very long common history with the Moomins.

How did this long association with the Moomins come about?

I started working for WSOY, the Finnish publisher of the Moomin books in Helsinki. That was back in 1992 or 1993.

I did meet Tove once at the publishing company dinner. She didn’t know me then. I was just a junior staff member. But my impression of her was that she was very kind and a very small woman in size. She was a petite person.

Is this your dream job?

I have worked very long in the publishing company and I am an extremely lucky person so far to only have worked with things I am passionate about.

So yes, you can say that it is a dream job.

In your opinion, what is the appeal of the Moomins? What accounts for its longevity?

What sets the Moomins apart from other licences in the industry is that we are not a manufactured entertainment company like those for anime series. The Moomins have always been about the art and the universal values it embodies. So the stories are about love, courage, tolerance, respect for nature and family. Thus they have been able to travel over time and culture as compared to other properties in the manufactured entertainment industry. For the entertainment industry, it is a default setting to always replace the old characters with new ones. There is always a target audience for them, which is the antithesis of the universal.

For me, the aesthetics of the Moomins is a combination of being brave and respecting your fellow person and surroundings. Often, freedom and bravery lead to arrogance. But in Tove’s stories, the main character solve the dilemma by being brave and also respecting everyone at the same time. It’s not me, myself and I, but by doing and solving things together.

This is very different for the US where you have individualistic superheroes. You can even take it a notch down and look at the children literature. The protagonist’s family gets killed. There is a war and horrible things happen. But basically the protagonist makes it on his or her own.

The Moomins solve things as a family. The character gets into a dilemma. He takes off and have an adventure. He finds something. But the family always come together. He is never alone. The family will always come looking for you just like in the first Moomin book, The Moomins and the Great Flood (1945).

What explains the success of the Moomins in Asian countries like Japan and China? In China, there has been a 300% increase for the retail value of the Moomin brand.

For our Asian success, the reasons are different for Japan and China. In Japan, it is the Moomin aesthetics which is very clear and the artwork is appealing to the Japanese. Tove was influenced by the Japanese masters like Hokusai in terms of the composition and dynamics, so the connection is there.

But at a deeper level, Finnish and Japanese societies are similar in the sense that the infrastructure of both countries were almost completely destroyed after the war. The old way of life was gone and urban society took over. The Moomins resembled the values of the village way of life in Japan and Finland that was dominant only two generations away in the early 20th century. So the stories bridge today’s society and values with the beginning of the 20th century. There lies the appeal and popularity of the Moomins in Japan.
In China, it is different. After years of rapid economic growth and urbanization, the people are in a state of immense wealth. The Moomin stories focused on values and they could possibly serve as a roadmap for happiness.

Moomin Characters and Bulls Press, who does the licencing for the Moomin brand, have formed a new literary rights and brand licencing agency, Rights & Brands, to expand Nordic properties worldwide. How is that doing?

Thanks for asking about that. Rights & Brand has been in business for slightly over a year and we are the biggest brand agency in the Nordic region. We work with over 50 properties and our turnover has doubled in the first year.

We only represent literary properties that represent our values. There must be a value proposition in terms of art, design and they are handcrafted. It is not entertainment.

There is demand for such values anchored properties. We do not want to offer the same things that everyone already has.

It sounds like your properties have a very strong hipster appeal. Has there been any backlash?

It might be but then again our characters, our brands and our legacy are what they are. We do not allow ourselves to tweak it to a mass market product. They have to be true to what they are. We do not alter them.

Sophia Jansson has said that the Moomins have always been like a family business. What is it like for you to join the family and join the family business?

Sophia and I are friends when I joined the company. Now we are married. It was a natural progression. Today I feel very much part of the family where before I was a hired executive.

The Moomin stories are a body of art created by Tove. We manage it and we are committed to it. I am happy that all five of our children work in the group or with companies that we are associates with.

Have there been many offers wanting to buy the Moomin brand?

During my time here, I have only received one direct offer to buy the Moomins, so it is impoosilbe for me to assess how serious it was. It is a very valuable brand and now it is more clearly defined. Rights wise, it is a much tighter package than before.

Are you looking forward to your visit to Singapore?

Yes, this will be our first time to Singapore. We have visited Thailand many times but we have not been to Singapore or Indonesia before.

I didn’t get the chance to talk to Sophia Jansson, but I asked the Moomin trolls for a quote from her. Here’s what she shared:

“My earliest memories of Tove are from our mutual summers together in the Finnish archipelago. They are memories of the family being together, going on picnics, swimming, or other similar activities you do in the summer. Tove was always a warm and welcoming person and never made me feel inferior or like a child that was in the way.”

Thanks to Paula Parviainen, Marina Kelahaara, Laura Karttunen and others in the Finland 100 team for their assistance.

All images: © Moomin Characters™

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Chinese Editorial Cartoons in 2016 / 2017: 看点漫画

Back in the late 1990s, when Cherian George was the art and photo editor of The Straits Times, SPH used to put out The Year in Cartoons books, compilations of the ‘best’ cartoons from the paper. They are similar to the Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year book series. Good for teaching of current affairs and social studies, but they get dated real fast. Quality varies and they serve better as visual guides to review the events of the year. Reminder of what happen to who and when.

Sales were probably not very good and The Year in Cartoons books stopped after a few years. The internet has removed the need for such books when news and images are easily found using search engines. So it is surprizing that SPH took another stab at this – a compilation of the cartoons from Lianhe Zaobao. Maybe they are testing the market. This book was launched at the Singapore Book Fair at Suntec City during the June school holidays and only about 500 copies were printed.

A total of four artists’ cartoons are featured and only cartoons dealing with local topics are compiled here. That explains why Heng Kim Song’s cartoons are not included as he draws mainly about foreign politics and not local events. Some of the topics covered: new PSLE scoring system, the maid situation in Singapore, our obsession with our mobile phones, Michelin Star hawker food, HDB flats being too small, aedes mosquitoes, and so on. You get the idea. Even if you read the papers every day, you can still learn something new from perusing this book as there might be some local news that you may have missed out.

If nothing else, this book reaffirms the fact that the best editorial cartoonist is the angriest one. And so Li Tai Li wins over the rest hands down. You can feel the seething anger rising from the lines in some of his cartoons. He does not jump from one trendy topic (eg. Pokemon) to another – he sets his targets and keeps firing. So he is at his most satirical and critical when he takes on issues about education, this whole notion of meritocracy in Singapore and how stressful a society we are. He touches on the unemployment problem we face, structural or otherwise and he saves his best bullets on the useless young adults who are still living off their parents. He is relentless. Li Tai Li deserves a book of his own.

Some suggestions to improve the book: to organize the cartoons thematically, so that it is easy for the reader to find all the cartoons about a particular topic. To include dates of original publication and to provide some context / background to the events depicted in the cartoons. Memory is short these days. Some of these events should be remembered.

Sold at $15 if you can find it. ;)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Ye Zhen's Singapore Pok Kai Zai!!!

Sold at STGCC 2017 but will be having its proper launch at SWF in November (10.11.17, 8.30 pm – 9.30 pm at the Arts House), Book 10 of Ye Zhen’s Singapore Horror Hip Hop, Singapore Pok Kai Zai, is still the most far out comic series in Singapore. Skateboard P and his posse (Snoop Eastwood, Spacegirl and Kate Li, etc.) are still defending Earth from alien enemies. The new super villain is Nonpander Yingjie (where does Ye Zhen get the names from? His enemies in real life? People who stole his girlfriends in the past?) who is instigated by Skateboard P’s archenemies, the time-traveling Warbabies, the main troublemakers of the series.

Since 2008 when Ye Zhen released the first four volumes of his horror hip hop epic, comic readers have been trying to figure him out. Where did he come from? Where did he study comics? Why is he doing comics? And why these type of comics? Singapore Horror Hip hop is totally different from the stuff put out by Sonny Liew, Troy Chin, Koh Hong Teng (circa late 2000s) which are more autobiographical and ‘serious’ in nature. Ye Zhen is simply doing his own thing and you can say he does not quite fit in with the other comic creators or what readers expect of comics from Singapore.

Which, to me, is a great thing. We need variety and diversity in our comics. Even if they absurd and non-PC comics – sexy babes with tattoos fighting renegade aliens together with their Afro boyfriends who look like they are on dope and constantly getting it on with the babes to the sounds of Marvin Gaye. And these are the heroes of the series.

Artwork wise and in terms of pacing and storytelling, Ye Zhen has improved. This is evident since the last book. If you have been following the series, it is getting more fun to read. Even if you are a new reader, you will be impressed by the verve and energy of his lines and strokes.

There is a confidence at play here when Ye Zhen starts the story with our hero Skateboard P having bizarre bad dreams about an Attack on Titan experience in primary school and then witnessing the death of his mother in hospital. Except that he knows it is not his real mother, but “the one in my nonsensical dreams.” But it does not make the vision any less terrifying. There is a certain bleakness when Ye Zhen writes the lines, “I guess everybody has to sleep in a hospital bed at some point. Either sooner or later. As a baby from the start or as a victim of human regression.”

It’s almost social commentary at some point – just before the big fight, Skateboard P and Nonpander Yingjie had a heart to heart talk walking down the streets. They are like a mouthpiece for Ye Zhen and his beliefs: “This country has paid the price for its prosperity. Despite the advancements, we still have a ‘colonial state’ mindset. We have nothing important culturally to call our own but our great wealth. And no amount of wealth can change the fact that we are servants to our colonial cultural masters.”

But it is not clear what this colonial state culture is. Ye Zhen is influenced by Western music, movies and Japanese manga culture (he cited Hunter X Hunter) – are these colonial or contemporary cultures? How have they shaped us and our decisions? Ye Zhen has not quite sorted out what his heroes and villains represent – the status quo or chaos/anarchy? He may need to think harder about his characters and their motivations.

Still, it is still one hell of a read especially if you like Jo Jo Bizarre Adventures and Hong Kong kung fu comics. Singapore Pok Kai Zai is emotionally charged with kinetic energy and almost non-stop fighting.

“Even the best of us have to scream madly at some point. Together or alone, yes sir.”

The book is sold for $15 at:

Kinokuniya at Takashimaya Lvl 3

Comics World at Parklane #B1-22

Ghim Moh Book Corner 929 Ghim Moh Rd Blk 19, #1-239

Books Actually at No. 9 Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

FSc exhibition

Once upon a time, Foo Swee Chin (FSc) was one of our most elusive comic artists in Singapore. Despite contributing cartoons to Liahe Zaobao since the 1990s and drawing her own comic titles for Nekopress and Slave Labor Graphics (predating Sonny Liew as the first comic artist from Singapore to be published in America), she remained relatively unknown in her home country. She is more famous overseas, especially in Japan where she has been documenting her attempts to break into the competitive manga market there. She has boothed several times at Comiket but it's still tough.

So why has FSc been languishing in obscurity? Part of the reason is her own quiet character and quirky personality. She doesn't like crowds, which I can understand - Singapore is getting too crowded! She is slightly introverted and not one to self-promote herself. A few of us comic / manga scholars have been trying to get her introduced to a wider audience. We featured her in the Women's Manga Beyond Japan conferences in Singapore (2011) and Vietnam (2012) and she has been invited to present about her work at various manga conferences in Japan, Australia and elsewhere.

Things are better in recent years as she has come out of her shell more - she made appearances at local events like Panelgraph in 2015 and was featured at last year's Singapore Writers Fest which presented her with lots of love from her old fans from the 1990s. They have been trying to track her down. She is that elusive.

She was also an invited guest of the Comic Art Festival Kuala Lumpur in 2016. She is also featured at STGCC this coming weekend and will also be speaking on panels at the upcoming Comics and Translation symposium at The Arts House, 23-24 Sept.

Now thanks to Eddie Cee and Artblovk, she will be holding her first solo exhibition in Singapore.


ANSUZ: FSc launch night
15 Sept 2017
at Artblovk
195 Pearls hill terrace #03-05
Singapore 168976

The exhibition will run from 15 Sept to 15 Oct - free admission!

In the meantime, you can try to look for her Clairvoyance e-comic online and hunt down the sketchbook, EP (Extended Psychoneurosis) published by Funics in 2015. She has a new book out in Japanese by Kadokawa, Nihon Lah, which was originally serialized online on Kadokawa's Comicwalker. The book has also been translated into Chinese and sold in Taiwan.

See you at the opening on 15 Sept.

Some links:

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

STGCC 2017: Interview with Arthur Adams (and Ann Nocenti)

Art Adams is coming to town with his comic artist wife, Joyce Chin.

Here is his bio from the STGCC website:

Arthur Adams, a self-taught artist, became a fan favorite when, at the age of 19, he left his job making pizzas for the masses to pencil the critically-acclaimed Longshot limited series, written by Ann Nocenti and published in 1985 by Marvel Comics. He has been in high demand as an artist since.

Adams' highly distinctive and detailed artwork gained him considerable popularity amongst fans and editors, if not his inkers, and he's enjoyed being a cover artist, and the artist and sometime writer for miniseries, specials, and annuals. These days, in order to spare inkers the pain, his work is largely shot directly from pencils or inked by himself, with some exceptions.

In his career, Arthur has worked on many titles, Batman, Superman, Spiderman, X men, Godzilla, Vampirella, Rocketeer, the Authority, Danger Girl, Excalibur, and the Hulk, to name a few. He also launched his creator owned, written, and drawn series Monkeyman and O'Brian in 1993 with Dark Horse Comics "Legend" imprint. He also had a ten-issue run on an anthology series featuring the character Jonnie Future. The eight page Jonnie Future stories appeared in Tom Strong's Terrific Tales (2002–2004). More recently, Arthur has been working on Ultimate X for Marvel Comics with writer Jeph Loeb, and issue one launched in 2010.

Adams has provided cover images for issues of the Justice League of America, Appleseed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Green Lantern, Hulk, Avengers, X Men, Red Sonja, Superman, Batman, and Vampirella, among other titles. In addition to his work in comic books, he has also produced popular commercial art, such as numerous illustrations for trading cards, posters, shirts, and various other comics-related merchandise. Outside the field of comics, he has also provided illustrations for various magazines, movies, video games, and worked in toy design, packaging art, and even a series of X-Men-themed Campbell Soup cans.

Arthur lives in Northern California in the woods somewhere, like his hero, Bigfoot. When told he should have a "Web" site he went outside and tried to spin his own web. It was funny and sad all at once. We got him back inside and gave him his medicine.

I managed to speak to Art on the phone on a Saturday morning (it was Friday evening in California). The phone was on speaker mode as Art was drawing and answering my questions at the same time. A hard working artist, his quick wit and humourous side came through loud and clear over the phone.

Q: You were an army brat, and you are not the only one in the comic industry eg. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Ed Brubaker also grew up in military bases. What is it with the army and comic books?

A: I didn’t know that about the other army brats in comics. My dad was in the air force and the first two comic books I had was given to me by my father. He came back from a long period of being away and he brought back these two giant comic books, which he didn’t even buy. They were some comics an airman had left behind on the plane. My dad was in charge of keeping the plane clean so that it can be used the next day. So he gave them to me and I love them!

Q: What comics did you get?

A: Giant Superhero Holiday Grab Bag and Marvel Special Edition: The Spectacular Spiderman, both from 1975. These were the treasury editions and the Spiderman one had him versus the Sinister Six and also reprinted the first appearance of the Lizard.
I wish all my comics were like that in that size!

Q: You breakout work was Longshot in 1985. I remember picking up #1 and it was a breath of fresh air with its kinetics and crazy details. In hindsight, did you expect it to be so popular and successful when Ann Nocenti offered it to you? (I can’t believe all the other artists who rejected it…)

A: I was very fortunate when Annie asked me to do draw Longshot. I wanted to draw comics so badly that I would have drawn anything offered to me at that time. So you will never really know how things would have turned out.

Q: Do you get any royalties from Marvel for co-creating the character?

A: Not much, just some.

Q: Some writers have described Longshot as proto-Image with inks by Whilce Portacio and an uncredited Scott Williams, and even helping to popularize cheesecake art in comics in recent times. How do you pled?

A: I have never heard that before (laugh). I was more influenced by Dave Stevens and his Rocketeer. And he was influenced by Bettie Page and all those wonderful artists like Frank Frazetta.

Q: It’s water under the bridge now, but why didn’t you join Image and went with Dark Horse for the Legend imprint instead back in the early 1990s?

A: I thought about doing that, going to Image. But when I had wanted to do my own creator owned book, I was already friends with the artists at Dark Horse. I knew Walt Simonson, Frank Miller, Mike Mignola and John Byrne who were all doing stuff for Dark Horse. So it was a matter of wanting to hang out with people we already knew. And I got along with the Dark Horse people like Mike Richardson.

Q: I bought the Gumby Summer Fun Special #1 published by Comico back in 1987 and it was lots of fun. Are you still a fan of Gumby?

A: Well I’m not a huge Gumby fan. I was a fan of the first Gumby comic writer, Bob Burden (who wrote The Flaming Carrot Comics) and I wanted to work with him. Gumby was silly fun, so I don’t mind a career drawing him. It will be easy to draw.

But I am not sure how much cheesecake art I can put into Gumby.

Q: Why the obsession with monsters and B-movies?

A: I just love these monsters as a child. I just didn’t grow up and they became part of my career. I still like King Kong and Godzilla. The idea of radiation baking a big monster on a jungle island, that appeals to me. Also the good thing when drawing monsters is that even if it’s ugly, no one knows. You make a mistake with the monsters, no one will know. They are monsters.
Yeah I saw the new King Kong film and also the recent American and Japanese Godzilla films. I like them. They are well done.

Q: That old DC-Marvel team-up book, The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans (1982) drawn by Walt Simonson was described by you as “the bible of how to draw comics”. You have drawn the X-Men many times over. Ever want to work on the Teen Titans? (other than that pinup you did of Starfire)

A: It’s the bible of how to draw a teen superhero comic book. There were so many characters in that book. To draw Teen Titans? Not particularly. That’s because I only like the George Perez-Marv Wolfman period. The team was different by the time I can draw them and you have these other characters that I don’t care about so much. I suppose I’m more of a Marvel kid.

Q: You are known for being slow in drawing. Have you gotten faster over the years?

A: Oh no. I think I’ve gotten even slower. All the details are still there. Even more in fact.

Q: Reading your earlier interviews, your desire and determination to be a comic book artist could be seen at a very early age. (you published your first story at 19) Do you think that is what’s important for someone to break into the comic industry – guts and drive? (other than talent and luck, of course)

A: It’s a combination of factors. I truly wanted to do it, to draw comics. But there were others who really wanted to draw comics, they were not given the opportunity. So I got lucky that I started out on Longshot.

It’s a complicated story but Louise Simonson had just ended her editing career at Marvel and went freelance. She had started editing Longshot while still on staff and Ann and I were worried whether Louise would continue with us. She did, as a freelance editor. Now, we were worried how fast I could draw to complete the series. If a fulltime editor had been handling the book, there might be more pressure on me to complete it faster and it might not have come out the same or turned out as well as it should. So who knows, that might be my last book for Marvel. Luckily because of Louise being a freelance editor, that gave me time to learn. During the two years it took me to draw Longshot, I also spoke to other artists and I learned a lot of stuff.

Q: There are quite a few comic professional couples working in the industry today. What are the pros and cons of being married to a fellow professional?

A: We both understand each other when we have deadlines. Joyce is better at it, she draws faster. Those who are not couples in the industry, they may not be as understanding as much, so there could some problems.

The bad thing is that neither of us are good housekeepers (laugh). The house is a disaster, a mess!

Q: What do you look forward to in Singapore? What food you and Joyce are dying to try?

A: Chicken rice! I like all kinds of food. I heard there are good and fresh seafood in Singapore so we are pretty excited. When I was dating Joyce, her mom didn’t like me. She was not thrilled her daughter was dating a white boy. So she tested me by getting me to try new food. I met the challenge. Even chicken feet.

We welcome Art and Joyce to the food paradise that is Singapore.
(Thanks to Joyce Chin for helping to arrange for the interview)

x x x

A Chat with Ann Nocenti

To make things more complete (and I’m a big Longshot fan), I reached out to Ann Nocenti to tap her memories of the early 1980s…

Ann is the famed writer and editor at Marvel who co-created Longshot with Art. She also wrote X-Men, the New Mutants and Daredevil, creating the explosive Typhoid Mary with John Romita Jr. She took a break from writing and editing comics and went into journalism. And now she is back creating a new series for Karen Berger’s new line of comics with Dark Horse. Art by David Aja. We are looking forward to that.

Q: I read that Longshot was a result of your readings and studies of existentialism and media theories. Looking back, would you have done Longshot differently?

A: I have certainly matured as a writer... When I look back at that comic, I think it was too complicated perhaps, too much story, too many characters-- but maybe that is also what made it fun-- the over-the-top zaniness of both the writing and the art. Arthur and I were both young, enthusiastic, thrilled to be making a comic, and I think that enthusiasm from both of us is there in the pages.

Q: Did you expect the character to have such longevity?

A: Not really, but I think it was Arthur's artwork that gave it longevity -- fans were amazed at the power and detail of his work, and he influenced many artists to come.

Q: Do you still follow the comics featuring Longshot, Mojo and Spiral? (and Typhoid Mary for that matter)

A: I don't follow the comics. I am usually overwhelmed with other things I need to read for various projects. I am just happy to know they are all still leading fun (or villainous) lives!

Q: Your run of Daredevil explores various societal issues. Typhoid Mary is particularly memorable. What is the impetus of creating and writing the character?

A: My run on Daredevil was influenced by living in New York City -- many of the stories came from things I experienced on the streets. Typhoid was one of the few elements that came from another place -- I think maybe frustration with how women were portrayed in comics, and she was a kind of satire on that -- she was all the female stereotypes in one crazy bundle. Also, Johnny Romita Jr. and I wanted to create a villain that could attack both Daredevil and Matt Murdock.

Q: You went into journalism and filmmaking in the 1990s. Why the departure from comics?

A: I've always been a restless type, and my stories, especially in Daredevil, had some journalistic aspects to them. So I think I was headed into pure journalism and documentary filmmaking all along.

Q: You have returned to comics in recent years. What brought that about and how has the comic industry changed from your point of view?

A: More women in comics! That is the best and most welcome change.

Q: The new project with Karen Berger is exciting news. Can you tell us more about that, the new series that you are writing? (The Seeds drawn by David Aja)

A: Well, every panel is a spoiler in that comic, so it is difficult to talk about without ruining the mystery, but it is an eco-thriller, in the not too distant future.

We should get Ann to Singapore one day.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

IAF 2017: interview with Fishball 阿鱼丸

Fishball 阿鱼丸 is one of the most popular Malaysian cartoonists on social media.

Check out her hilarious facebook page:

Her book with Maple Comics, My Giant Geek Boyfriend, is a best seller.

Even Heidi MacDonald and the Huffington Post wrote about her:

She will be boothing at IAF this weekend. Sadly, her giant nerd boyfriend won’t be here.


Details for IAF 2017:

Q: In a sentence, how would you describe My Giant Geek Boyfriend?
A: Height difference is not as fun as it seems.

Q: Is your boyfriend real?
A: Yes he is!

Q: What gave you the idea of doing a strip like this?
A: I like to record interesting things. I'm not good with words, hence I draw them out into strips.

Q: How / when / why did you start drawing cartoons?
A: Primary school, I think...?

Q: Who influence you? (pls don’t say it’s your boyfriend)
A: My dad.

Q: Who influence your style of comics?
A: Hergé and a lot of manga.

Q: Is your fan base more English or Chinese speaking?
A: English.

Q: Is your fan base more local or foreign?
A: Foreign, somehow.

Q: Even my friend in the Philippines want me to get your book when you hawk your wares at IAF. What gives?
A: Yay come meet me for the book! :D

Q: Did you expect this level of success / infamy?
A: Nope, not at all...

Q: Was a conscious strategy to use social media to conquer the world?
A: Wait, I didn't know I had so much power in the first place!

Q: Is your boyfriend embarrassed of you?

Q: Are you embarrassed of your boyfriend?
A: Wait, why would I?

Q: Maple told me you do your own translation for your comics. Was it fun translating all the f*uck f*ck sh*t sh*t?
A: A lot of fun. So many variations of profanities!

Q: Why are your strips for mature readers only? My 7 year old niece is very disappointed her mom doesn't let her read Fishball. My sister told her only can eat fishball.
A: Duh, profanities. Please do enjoy fishballs, they are delicious.

Q: Do you say a lot of bad words in real life?
A: I do have the tendency to swear...

Q: Are you really that small size and is your boyfriend really that big?
A: I would say I am at an average height...? He's the one that's freakishly huge, haha.

Q: Is your boyfriend more famous than you?
A: Haha! Maybe!

Q: Why isn’t he coming to Singapore?
A: He couldn't fit in the bus seat hahahahaha! Nah, he's busy.

Q: Do you know how disappointed people will be?
A: Aww I'm sorry ):

Q: Are you looking forward to meeting your fans at IAF in Singapore?
A: Yes!

Q: Finally, why do you call yourself fishball?
A: It's cute, easy to remember, and delicious.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The house of lee

The Lee siblings dispute over 38 Oxley Road has come to an end for now.

(cartoon by Don Low, 6 July)

What the debacle has thrown up is a series of cartoons on social media that will not see the light of day in the mainstream press.

The first shot was fired by Dan Wong / A Good Citizen on 14 June.

This was followed by James Tan / SingaporeInk on 15 June.

In fact, I met up with James that morning and told him he need to get to it, throwing down the gauntlet for him to draw a cartoon about the house of Lee. And the cartoon was up that afternoon, inspired by Richard McGuire no less.

James followed up with a few more cartoons over the next few weeks.

(3 July)

(4 July)

(5 July)

(6 July - this is my favourite, modelled after Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World, of course)

Others also got on to the act, like The Cartoon Press.

(3 July)

And Sonny Liew.

(19 June)

The best political comics and cartoons are on social media these days. Last year, when Professor of Communications and comic scholar pioneer, John Lent was in town to research on political cartoons in Singapore, I sent him to interview Dan Wong, James Tan, Don Low and Sonny Liew. While there are more cartoons in the press now about local events, there are still very little usage of political caricatures. That is reserved for satirizing foreign politics and politicians. It reminds me of what Kuo Pao Kun said in 1998 – what kind of cartoonists do we have when they only make fun of other countries’ leaders and not our own?

Do we have a sense of humour? Can we laugh at ourselves?

There is a curious history to all these.

Singapore used to have a vibrant political cartooning scene in the 1950s and early 1960s. But with the demands of nation-building and the need for national consensus from the late 1960s onwards, there were less and less political cartoons in the newspapers and magazines. Most cartoons illustrate social and economic affairs with a light and humourous touch rather than commenting on the politics and government policies.

For a long time, there was no political caricatures. That’s why we always enjoy Morgan Chua’s caricatures of Lee Kuan Yew when Morgan was the chief artist for the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) in the 1980s.

(NB: this is not a Morgan cartoon from his FEER days, but taken from his book, My Singapore)

And also memorable ones by overseas artists like David Levine.

It was only with the launch of National Education and the mounting of the National Education Exhibition at Suntec City in 1997, and the publication of The Singapore Story by Lee Kuan Yew (volume one of his memoirs) in 1998 that history made a ‘return’, which allowed some gentle caricatures to be featured locally. In 2000, we have the children’s book, Growing Up with Lee Kuan Yew by Lawrence Koh Choon Teck and also My Singapore by Morgan Chua.

But we are still a long way from holding up the savage mirror to show the emperor is really, well, naked.

Many years ago, when I did my research on political cartooning in Singapore, some told me that they do not tackle local politics head-on because that is not the Asian way of doing things. We do not make fun of our leaders or wash our dirty laundry in the public and any disputes or problems should be resolved behind closed doors.

Things have not changed that much as this cartoon by James Tan shows.

(23 June)

Except things have changed with social media and globalisation. For those who still read political cartoons either those done here or overseas, we know what the standards are. Sure, one can draw political cartoons without using caricatures and use exaggeration, symbols, metaphors or animals as representations instead. But by doing that, you are depriving yourself of one of the key tools in your chosen medium. It’s like swimming with your hands tied behind your back.

We know things are not easy like in the Leslie Chew’s case.

The Charlie Hebdo attack has shown the potential powder keg political cartooning can be – welding the satirical pen can be bad for your health. Still, you cannot take on giants if you don’t expect a few chipped nails or two.

(Cheah Sin Ann's The House of Lim, the long-running comic strip in The Straits Times in the 1980s and 1990s. It was originally to be called The House of Lee. Until it was decided otherwise...)

To cross boundaries without making offense. But what kinds of boundaries are you crossing then? What kind of changes or improvements are you hoping for?