KUALA LUMPUR, May 1 — The late Lee Kuan Yew, long considered the father of Singapore, has always been an impressive figure. There are calls now by Singaporeans to commemorate the founder of the island nation by renaming Changi Airport or incorporating his visage into the national currency.
Perhaps the least expected homage to Lee Kuan Yew would be having him appear in a comic book, but that’s exactly what Malaysian-born, Eisner-nominated comic artist and illustrator Sonny Liew has done.
Part graphic novel and part narrative essay, Liew’s The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is a reflection on the past half century of Singapore through the eyes of a local comic writer and artist. Naturally, the formidable founder of Singapore makes an appearance in the book, which combines a history of Singaporean comic creators with the history of Singapore.
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, published by Epigram Books, will be officially launched tomorrow (May 2, 2015) at Kinokuniya Bookstores KLCC. Umapagan Ampikaipakan, programme director of the Cooler Lumpur Festival, will be on hand to chat with Liew on how he deftly comments on Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy using comics as his storytelling device.
We catch up with Liew ahead of his book launch to get a preview of what’s to come:
What does The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye mean to you, as its creator, now that it's completed and out in the world?
It’s been the kind of book where there’s always one more thing to tweak or fix, and there are still things I would want to improve for the international editions from Pantheon Books due out next year. Most of it involves technical issues that I overlooked such as the CMYK formula for the black colours used in the book.
These things that probably don’t get noticed much but I can’t help but nit-pick over when I’ve already put so much into a project. But I am definitely relieved the book is finally out in Singapore and Malaysia!
Given Lee Kuan Yew's recent death, has the book taken a deeper meaning or relevance?
I think reflections on his impact on the country have always been part of the book, as were considerations about his age and health. It was extraordinary to see the outpouring of public mourning, but at the same time maybe it was only to be expected.
For me, there was a curious thing going on – the loss felt maybe not just for the man, but also for what he represented as one of our last tangible links to Singapore’s early history. But maybe it was a loss so keenly felt precisely because so much of the nation’s landscape has been erased through the kind of modernization policies Lee himself put into place.
What will you and Umapagan cover, in conversation, at the Kinokuniya book launch?
Umapagan and I are both big fans of anything comic-related so we’ll likely talk about comics, Batman vs. Superman, and the Avengers. There are the more political topics as well, issues about the histories of Singapore and Malaysia, and the way that comics can play a part in our understanding of them.
Congratulations on your recent Eisner nomination in the Best Publication for Teens category for The Shadow Hero, which you illustrated and Gene Luen Yang wrote. What are the differences between collaborating with another creator vs. being the sole creator?
It’s a different sort of challenge as it involves a little less work in terms of worrying about story structures and text. However, it also doubles the pressure when it comes to trying to do justice to another creator’s vision.
I do feel more fully engaged working on my own stories, but collaborations are also a chance to learn more about the medium, especially with someone like Paul Levitz and his deep well of experience.
Singapore-based Liew’s past work includes the Xeric-awarded Malinky Robot as well as titles for DC Vertigo, Marvel, First Second Books, and Disney. His next comic will be Dr Fate with writer Paul Levitz (formerly the publisher and president of DC Comics). To learn more about Sonny Liew and his work, visit http://sonnyliew.wordpress.com.
Book Launch: The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye
Sonny Liew in Conversation with Umapagan Ampikaipakan
Date: Saturday, 2 May 2015
Venue: Kinokuniya Bookstores KLCC