Editorial – Issue 1
Some people may think that the start-up of SG Cartoon Resource Hub is a well-thought-out and carefully planned project before submission, but it is quite the opposite. The envision of this project came rather quickly the moment I learnt that I am eligible to apply for the Self-Employed Persons Grant (SEPG) from NAC. Perhaps I have been awarded a different grant earlier (from NAC) as my gut feeling told me that I would be successful in this grant as well!
I quickly called CT Lim and told him my plan. I contacted Clio Ding and told her I needed a writer. I messaged Clio Hui if she could build this platform for me. I was surprised that everyone said “ok” and the team was set up the same day with the proposal crafted and submitted on the same week. The project was approved and we have eight months to complete it!
The original name for this project is known as Singapore Cartooning Resource Hub and we shortened the name to make it easier to remember. When asked why I chose the word cartoon instead of comics, my explanation is that comics (or comix) is commonly used in comics-related websites or social media platforms and that can make it hard for people to differentiate our platform from theirs. But the main reason is the word comics may trigger an expectation and mindset. Liked-minded people who liked western-style comics may be attracted to a platform that used the name comics. If I used manga, people who are into the Japanese comics style and fan-art would become the main dominator. However, the word cartoon seems neutral and feels like it can embrace a larger cartooning and comics community in Singapore. Thus, the idea of a resource hub bridges this connection nicely.
The purpose of SG Cartoon Resource Hub is to promote local artists in the comics and cartooning related field regardless of whether you are a student or a professional. The problem with many artists is they are good at what they are doing (creating their art) but they are not as good when it comes to promoting themselves.
This platform aims to spotlight local content creators and make them visible to the general audiences. So if you are supporting our platform, you are supporting the people who have made the comics and cartooning industry possible.
Ho See Kum
Founder of SG Cartoon Resource Hub
Origins are arbitrary. A starting point is as good as any. The comics scene in Singapore started more or less in the early 1980s with the comics column in The Sunday Monitor, one of the many newspapers in Singapore in the pre-Singapore Press Holdings era. It had articles, reviews, news, comics listings and a letters column. When The Sunday Monitor folded in 1985, its editors started BigO fanzine, which continued the comics column. At around the same time, speciality comic shops surfaced in Singapore with the games shop, Leisurecraft importing direct editions of mainstream comics and other independent titles. (see the article on the early comic shops in Singapore)
A scene was born which allowed readers to communicate and exchange views and comics with each other. I was a letter writer to the comics column in The Sunday Monitor and BigO and later contributed reviews and articles to BigO.
From there, we have the sparks of a comics industry as we have artists drawing and publishing their own comics in the late 1980s/early 1990s like Eric Khoo’s Unfortunate Lives, Johnny Lau and gang’s Mr Kiasu, Wee Tian Beng’s Dream Allegory and Gwee Li Sui’s Myth of the Stone. Some eventually went into comics full time like Johnny Lau and Wee Tian Beng. Today, both are still doing comics and we have others like Sonny Liew and Foo Swee Chin.
But wait. The account above is one version of the comics scene and industry in Singapore but largely through the lens of English medium comics and largely male dominated. One can shift the starting point to earlier comics magazines and columns in the Chinese newspapers like 漫画包 and 漫画快餐. Some of the interviews we have conducted are with artists who grew out of 漫画快餐. That’s a strand of comics history in Singapore that had more artists drawing their comics in Chinese and there were more female artists from this group.
What about Malay and Indian comics? This is where the story gets more complicated. Does that mean one is writing and drawing comics in the Malay or Tamil language or one who is of Malay ethnicity but drawing comics in English? This applies to Chinese comics too. Whenever I am asked by friends overseas whether we have Chinese comics in Singapore, I find that question hard to answer. It is not as simple or straightforward. Sonny Liew is of Chinese ethnicity (originally from Malaysia) but he draws comics in the English medium. So where do we place him? Foo Swee Chin draws her comics for 联合早报 in Chinese but when she republishes them for her Patreon page, she translates them into English.
So you can say that when one examines comics in Singapore, it is complicated by language, race, class and one would need to take into consideration the gender dimension as certain trajectories of our comics history narratives could be more male dominated. See our interviews with Weng Pixin and Liu Jiahui as we acknowledge this gap in the story of contemporary comics in Singapore.
But wait. Did the history of comics and cartoons in Singapore start in Singapore per se? So 1965. But what about our historical ties with Malaysia / Malaya? Our article on the history of comics and cartoons in Singapore AND Malaysia explores that dimension. What if we had stayed on in Malaysia? We could still be the center of publishing in the whole of peninsula Malaysia. Lat would have come down from Ipoh to work in Singapore instead of Kuala Lumpur. Despite the separation from Malaysia in 1965, many still came from Malaysia to work in Singapore like Cheah Sin Ann and Dave Chua. Today we have collaboration between Singapore writers and Malaysian artists – see review of Sprawl by Felix Cheong (Singapore) and Arif Rafhan (Malaysia) in the next issue. Heck, even the comics column in The Sunday Monitor mentioned above was influenced by the comics column in The New Straits Times in Kuala Lumpur. It had started earlier in the early 1980s.
Add into that mix the issue of genres. Why do some groups like Association of Comic Artists Singapore (ACAS) focus more on American-style superhero comics and others like TCZ Studio publish more magical girl manga? Does that determine whether you have more or less male or female artists in your group? We hope to explore some of these in the upcoming issues.
So our comics scene and industry are complicated and fractured by language, race, class, gender and history. But we do not want to focus solely on that. We want to focus on building the comics community.
We have seen good effort in that in the last few years. On social media, we have the Singapore Comics Community FB group and also comix.sg, an initiative by Asiapac Books, who is also doing their own anthology. There are more comics groups and collectives now, both in Singapore and Southeast Asia.
I want to thank Ho See Kum, Clio Hui and Clio Ding for being fellow travellers in this journey to build the community.
Writer & Editor
When I decided to take a sabbatical from my teaching career to pursue a Master’s Degree in Comics and Graphic Novels, I received my fare share of skepticism from industry professionals and practitioners who questioned the value and necessity of comics criticism: as compared to comic artists toiling in the content creation frontline and entrepreneuring publishers who make their works visible, of what use are the critics and the academics spouting opinions from the comfort of their armchairs, without having experienced the struggle of making a living out of drawing and marketing comics?
Globally, comics criticism is a relatively recent phenomena, initially undertaken by university departments such as sociology and psychology which examine comics under their respective disciplinary lenses to prove certain theoretical points. While such discussions provided opportunities to elevate the status of the comics medium, they rarely engaged the general public. In Singapore this phenomenon is very pronounced, where comics only gain mainstream attention when something controversial arises. Most of the time, comics are still relegated to cultural peripherals to be enjoyed by a handful of enthusiasts. While researching Singapore comics for my thesis, I realized there were very few existing publications on Singapore comics.
Most history books and online articles tend to give attention to a few popular household titles and artists who have achieved success and recognition (whatever the criteria of those might be), yet the local comics scene is much more organic and vibrant than what has been written about. There are a lot of works, people, and events which are politely deemed “indie” by mainstream standard, but as small scale and ephemeral as they might be, they are an integral part of the formation of our local comics culture.
Given that the majority of local comics are not commercial by nature and many artists do not draw comics full time, the division between artists, publishers, fans, critics and educators are sometimes blurry as one can take multiple roles. As someone who has dabbled with making comics, I do recognise that artists deserve more respect than self-professed critics, but as an art educator I also realise that the relationship between artists and audiences are more than one-dimensional: it takes a symbiotic ecosystem consisting of publishers, critics, academics and educators to support the artists and make their works known to the public, through ways beyond the confinement of commercial market channels. An opportunity arose when See Kum invited me to contribute towards a project about making a “one-stop resource site for things related to local comics”, which can provide a dialogic platform for these communities to be made visible, and incidentally putting my non-essential degree to productive use.
Yet there are so many questions to be asked when it comes to writing about Singapore comics: Who do we choose to write about and how do we evaluate success, when we do not enjoy the same ecosystem as other established comics cultures such as Japan, the United States and Europe?(or more recently, Korea and China with the proliferation of webcomics?) What aspect do we focus on and who do we write for, when we consider the diverse range of audiences who might be remotely interested in something related to comics? How do we make our contents accessible while also academically reliable? And then there is the existential one: How are we qualified and how long would this project last? As a history teacher, Cheng Tju is a seasoned comic critic who has written many of the limited articles I came across during my research, not to mention curating a dozen exhibition and moderating many talks; See Kum is a practitioner and educator with years of experiences and organisational discipline to put things together, while Clio Hui is our website designer and the creator of on-going comic series A Deal With Lucifer. With a team consisting of educators and practitioners who straddle the domains of production and consumption, this project took months to come to fruition. We hope our collective efforts can be one amongst many other initiatives to plug the gaps of documenting Singapore comics culture. We also wish to see more contributors come on board to make comics criticisms diverse, sustainable and relevant: Whether you are a new artist who wants to publicise your work, an amateur who wants to hear and learn from a professional, an avid fan with good recommendations, a veteran with experiences to share, or a student who want to research about local comics for your assignments, we welcome your supports and inputs in making the community a more lively space.
Writer & Editor
Comics is something that connects us together, at least for those who are reading this now.
Having read someone’s comics, you seem to know the author a little better, be it an autobiographical comic or not. We see their worldview when we read their works. We empathize with them or their characters. We see a part of ourselves in their stories.
I believe many of us can relate to this when we look at the works in our comics anthology – My World. Some showed us how they have overcome their struggles, some told us how they got into creating comics and cartoons, some spread their positivity and hope through their works, and some shared light-hearted moments with us. These are just some of the wonderful things about comics.
Having said that, while many of us here truly appreciate and enjoy comics, comics is often also an underrated medium of storytelling, well, at least in Singapore. Some see them as kids’ stuff, and some see them as not real writing or not real art. But creating good comics is often harder than it seems. There are many aspects to it: the writing, the drawing, the storytelling, the pacing, the panelling, and more… For instance, since we can’t draw every single frame, we need to choose and plan carefully what to draw and what are the visual effects we could use to tell the story effectively and to achieve the effect we want. E.g. How can we make readers feel an intense fight scene from looking at still images? This is just one out of the list.
There’s just so much more to talk about comics, be it the how-tos, the stories, the comic scene, or the academic aspect of it etc. We hope to cover a diverse variety of topics in this portal, reach out to both artists and non-artists, and help build the community.
Considering the fact that SG Cartoon Resource hub is a very new initiative, we’re delighted to see a wide variety of artists supporting us and participating in our first comics anthology. They come from diverse backgrounds in terms of gender, age, and experience. We received works created in different art styles and genres and we compiled them into this anthology. Quoting CT, “…our comics scene and industry are complicated and fractured by language, race, class, gender and history. But we do not want to focus solely on that. We want to focus on building the comics community” , so this is an awesome start for us! We hope everyone had fun creating them and we had fun reading them too!
I’m happy and honoured to be part of this team with See Kum, CT Lim, and Clio Ding. Thank you to all the artists who have participated in the anthology and interviews, our Facebook group members, and everyone who has visited this website. We look forward to having more fun in this journey together!