KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 8 — With superhero movies such as Avengers and the Dark Knight trilogy gaining mainstream popularity in recent years, is it any wonder filmgoers are starting to get curious about the source material? Folks who have never read a comic in their lives (or at least, would not admit to doing so) now flock to bookstores where they flip through graphic novels, book-sized collections of the adventures of the X-Men or Superman.
However, these are mostly American or European titles such as Tintin. Where are the local comics?
Enter Malaysian publisher Maple Comics, founded by the dynamic duo of Fairul ‘Roy’ Nizam and Amir Hafizi. So far they have published Kuala Terengganu in 7 Days, a comic travelogue by Mimi Mashud and Invasi, illustrator Azhar Abdullah’s adaptation of author Raja Faisal’s FIXI novel of the same name, with more titles in the pipeline.
What exactly distinguishes Maple Comics from other local comic publications such as Ujang and Gempak Starz though? Amir explains, “While we are indeed a comic book publisher, we are focusing on indie books rather than more mainstream superhero fare. More importantly, we publish graphic novels, which are complete volumes of stories, rather than periodicals or what is known as serialized comics.”
The distinction is more than the mere length of the books. Roy says, “In this fast-paced age where everyone is on social media, no one really has the patience to wait a month for the next chapter of a story, which is what happens with periodicals. By publishing graphic novels, our readers get to finish the story in one go. While monthly comics become obsolete in a few weeks, graphic novels have an indefinite shelf life.”
That sounds perfect for those of us with ADD (attention deficit disorder), which may be just about everyone with smartphones these days.
The name of the company is a great conversation starter as new readers always ask them why “Maple Comics”? It certainly sounds like they are paying homage to The Great White North. Amir says, “Most people confuse our name with maple leaves or a love of Canada. Actually ‘maple’ stands for ‘makan place’, which is a colloquial term for typical Malaysian outdoor eating spots.”
They even had a competition to design the company logo. Roy says, “Most of them came with maple leaves in the design; they took the name too literally. The winning design was actually the first submitted. It featured a typical moustachioed server at a mamak stall, which really caught the spirit of our enterprise. How more ‘makan place’ can you get than that?”
Maple Comics was originally set up two years ago but has been only active in the past few months after securing funding via bank loans and personal savings. One thing that sets their business apart in the industry is their belief in creator-owned comics.
“What this means is that we give all the rights to creators,” says Amir. “We used to work in the film industry where creators usually have no active control or royalties over their work. We want our comic creators to retain the rights to the fruits of their labour.”
However, the flip side to this magnanimous policy is that there is no advance payment for the creators either. “Folks still ask for it though,” laughs Roy, currently also a freelance writer for local television dramas and animation.
The direction Maple Comics are taking with their titles is fashioned after Vertigo Comics, an off-shoot of the more well-known DC Comics. Amir says, “In the late 1980s, the British invasion of comics started in earnest, particularly through the then brand-new Vertigo Comics. Alan Moore wrote Watchmen and Swamp Thing; Neil Gaiman introduced his take on The Sandman. Together these comic authors started pushing comics to women, whereas before most of the readers were male. Now, more than 20 years later, we have more female comic readers and also more female comic creators such as Mimi Mashud.”
Maple Comics will publish both fiction and non-fiction titles, with plans to also introduce essay comics and illustrated books. Upcoming titles include Taubat Si Tanggang, featuring a Mervyn Pumpkinhead-like character but with a “labu” (gourd) head in lieu of a pumpkin), and Nafiri, Amir’s alternative/fantasy history of numerous legends based on a fictional island in the Straits of Malacca.
Roy believes that Malaysian readers are craving for more good quality local comics. He says, “The brand loyalty of local readers to Malaysian publishers is surprisingly strong. Take book publisher FIXI for example. They know how to take care of their fans’ needs and they constantly ask for feedback. The biggest lesson I’ve picked up from them is consistently serve good products by listening to what fans want and then publishing those.”
Apparently, they conducted a poll on their website recently and most of the requests were for “seram” or horror stories. Amir says, “So that’s something we’re looking into now. Honestly, while it is nice to have international recognition as a comic publisher, the way Marvel and DC Comics do, it’s more important to us as both a new and local outfit to get acceptance by the audience here. We know who we are creating our comics for — they’re Malaysians.”