Illustrations bring a wealth of meaning with them. As an integral part of the graphic novel format, they serve a multitude of purposes in driving the story and communicating unspoken messages to readers. This panel will dive into the works of three illustrator-writers and look at how they have effectively employed the medium in communicating their stories.
This panel will take place on 28 May, Saturday from 9 am to 10 am. To attend, you can buy your festival pass here: https://www.eventbrite.sg/e/afcc-2022-festival-passes-tickets-289028450877?aff=AFCCWebsite
If you have not heard of Harmony, that’s because she is a relatively newcomer in the comics scene. But she has been doing good work. The first book she drew, They Called Us Enemy, about the internment of the Japanese in America during WWII, is based on the childhood experiences of George Takei, the actor who played Sulu in Star Trek. It had won many awards and is a bestseller.
Harmony’s second book, and the first written and drawn by her, is Himawari House, originally a webcomic on Tapas. It is a YA graphic novel about three exchange students (Japanese-American, Korean, Singaporean) living and learning together in Japan. Harmony’s mom is Japanese and she was an exchange student herself, having lived in Korea for one and a half years. She wanted to do a story about cultural exchange and the confusion of language learning. While stories about studying overseas and migrating are not new in comics (see Erica Eng’s Fried Rice and Robin Ha’s Almost American Girl), what’s innovative about Himawari House is Harmony’s graphic depiction of the language and auditory dissonance a foreign student would experience in a new country and linguistic environment. I leave it to you to experience this when you read the book. Needless to say, I found Harmony’s approach refreshing.
Talent, hard work and luck. Harmony had all three and will be the first to admit that she is extremely lucky to achieve her current level of success within the last few years. I was trying to draw out lessons from her experience, but like she said, “It’s really difficult to predict the whims of the algorithm gods, as well as the fickle public!” So it’s really to put yourself out there and not just be active on social media. In fact, Harmony shared something very illuminating – it is very difficult to move a fan base from one platform to another. With covid restrictions lifting and physical events returning, comic artists should start boothing again to connect with their audience. Singapore comic artist Sean Lam said something similar about the importance of meeting your fans and getting immediate feedback when you attend conventions. Philippines comic artist Philip Tan could have easily stayed on in Manila and worked for DC and Marvel remotely. But he chose to move to America so that he could be closer to his editors and his readers. Staying connected with the ground and your stakeholders is important.
[as a side note, SG Cartoon Resource Hub is involved in a mall residency project that allows local comic artists to engage with the audience – more details soon.]
Another point Harmony made is the importance of editors and agents in the eco-system. (Jillian Tamaki made the same point about literary agents) It is something I realise we need to have sometime ago but it is still lacking.
Do buy the AFCC festival pass and attend the Drawn Narratives panel, I’m sure Harmony and Jillian Tamaki will have lots to share.