KUALA LUMPUR, March 19 — You know something’s funny when you laugh out loud in public, oblivious to the stares of other people. That’s the effect My Giant Geek Boyfriend, a bilingual comic book written in English and Chinese, had on me.
What’s more startling is the realisation that it could have been written in Malay or Tagalog or German and it would have been just as hilarious. Words are almost an afterthought when the pictures, in this case, speak a thousand rather funny words.
Written by Malaysian comic creator Fishball (a private person, she prefers going by this bouncy nom de plume), My Giant Geek Boyfriend chronicles her life as a gamer, a geek and a comic artist.
Her boyfriend (the “giant geek” in the title; at 199 centimetres, he towers over her 158-centimetre frame), another dedicated gamer, features prominently in the book though he, too, is rather shy and remains anonymous.
My Giant Geek Boyfriend is published by KL-based Maplé Comics. A rising star in the Malaysian comic publishing industry, Maplé Comics has an eclectic roster, spanning travelogues such as Beijing in 5 Days by Mimi Mashud and family histories such as Scenes of the Father (penned by co-founder Amir Hafizi, with art by IDW Publishing’s Transformers artist Chee).
As a publisher, Amir prefers comic creators who are confident and have their own style. He explains, “What I’m looking for in these writers and artists are those who are having fun with what they’re doing but also those who finish. I think if you stop to address all those Internet trolls, you stop working. It’s essential that they finish... or we won’t have books to read, would we? Basically, we publish stuff that we like.”
Amir first met Fishball through work: she was the colourist for both Beijing in 5 Days and Kuala Terengganu in 5 Days. Always on the lookout for new talent, he asked her if she drew comics too and the two hit it off from there.
Fishball says, “The first strip I showed Amir was one involving a Pikachu T-shirt. It was based on a real episode between my boyfriend and me. You see, I always try to stay as close to reality as possible. So it meant a great deal to me when he laughed and I could tell he really enjoyed it.”
From an early age (“as young as I can remember”), Fishball began drawing with pencils and crayons on walls and doors, much to her parents’ dismay. She recalls, “It was after multiple punishments that I learnt to scribble on paper instead.
“I was always interested in art throughout school and did it well enough that my parents let me further my studies in illustration. Growing up with a father who loves movies, I found my love for storytelling from there as well. He used to watch a lot of Stephen Chow and Wang Jing movies, which probably influenced my sense of humour!”
Deciding on illustration as a career was a no-brainer for Fishball; she confesses that she has never considered any other line of work. She explains her burning need to draw comics: “I chose it because it was natural to me. Even when I tried to deviate and pursued other things, it will eventually fail spectacularly, and I still find myself going back to drawing. No point going against what you really love, I guess.”
Resolute in her choice of vocation, Fishball did an illustration course at The One Academy and later worked at a local comics company upon graduation. She says, “At my previous company, I was an assistant to the main artist. I helped with the background art and the finishes. Now as a freelancer, I try to differentiate myself from the previous style and focus more on being able to quickly whip up drawings.”
Amir confirms this effusively: “She is so professional. Her work is very good, and she matches her high quality output with timely delivery. That’s really rare as many creators can miss deadlines so I’m very thankful. Fishball is someone you can count on.”
In terms of Fishball’s stories, her focus is on accessible real-life experiences. She says, “Consider it a slice of life, something that others can connect with. Looking for the humour can be a challenge, I have to admit. It’s very situational and the trick is observing enough to capture it. If you create for the sake of creating, the piece will be very dull and flat. It’ll have no heart.”
Inspirations and comic heroes include The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé and Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. Fishball says, “I started reading Tintin during primary school. I really liked Hergé’s clean lines and how his characters would express themselves.
“Calvin and Hobbes is another favourite. Both the boy and the toy tiger are so alive because of their imagination. There are layers of meaning: there is always some deeper message underneath the surface.”
Another book that has influenced Fishball, particularly on how she hopes to craft her content in future work, is Asterios Polyp by American comic book writer-artist David Mazzucchelli. She says, “The book itself is a grand work of design: what comics should aspire to be — a beautiful marriage of words and pictures.
“There are just so many nuances to his characters, it makes you relate to them on a human level, and forget that they are merely characters on paper.”
The same could be said about Fishball and her boyfriend as they appear in the pages of her book: a geeky gamer girl and her gentle giant of a partner — as different from each other as they are from us, yet in all the ways that matter, much the same.
Very human and very funny, full of flaws and foibles, with moments of casual insight and painful insecurities, just like the rest of us.
Find out more about My Giant Geek Boyfriend and Maplé Comics at http://maplecomics.com.my