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Reviews of In the Year of the Virus and Sprawl

In the Year of the Virus and Sprawl - Singapore comics review
In the Year of the Virus by Felix Cheong and Eko (Marshall Cavendish, 2020)
In the Year of the Virus and Sprawl - Singapore comics review
Sprawl by Felix Cheong and Arif Rafhan (Marshall Cavenish, 2021)

Comics are hip now. Local writers are getting into graphic novels. Joshua Yip had a comics project some 10 years ago but it did not come out. Felix Cheong is the latest to dip his hand and pen into this format.

His first foray, In the Year of the Virus, came out in 2020, one of the first graphic documentations of how we were affected by Covid-19. Since then, we have others like Joseph Chiang’s Chronicles of a Circuit Breaker (2021). What’s unusual is that Cheong wrote in verse instead of the standard prose description and dialogue. We do have poetry comics before back in the late 1980s but those were local adaptations of William Blake.

The stories are told from the point of views of the virus, someone suffering from covid, a healthcare worker, a dear one who did not survive, our surroundings and even the frustrations of a zoomed life (akin to being trapped in a zoo). Artist Eko does a competent job in translating Cheong’s poetry into drawings. I wonder how their collaboration is like – does Cheong provide a full script and breakdown of the pages and panels? The last story, Let the Morning In, was conceived as song lyrics and has been recorded by Rachel Wong. Cheong had said in a 2021 interview that he is collaborating more with others working in different medium.

Sprawl is Cheong’s second comic book, drawn by Malaysian artist, Arif Rafhan, and couldn’t be more different from In the Year of the Virus. A full-fledged tribute to Frank Miller’s Sin City, Sprawl provides escapist relief in our second year of covid. Set in the Sprawl, which may or may not be a futuristic corrupt Singapore, the story features the city’s last honest cop relating his first person narrative from the grave – it is like the 1982 theatrical version of Blade Runner’s Deckard meets Sunset Boulevard.

In the Year of the Virus and Sprawl - Singapore comics review
Inner pages of Sprawl
In the Year of the Virus and Sprawl - Singapore comics review
Inner pages of Sprawl

Cop meets femme fatale, fights city hall corruption and comes to an end in a dark alley. But his sacrifice was not in vain as the bad guys were brought down, or so it seems. All these in 64 pages which might be a bit too rush and that could have led to some of the inconsistencies found in the storytelling – the first person narrative shows things the dead cop would not have known, unless being dead, he is also showing us an omnipresent view. Like the epilogue – is that from the point of view of the dead cop or the femme fatale? It is also unclear if she is working for the bigger bad guy or out to get him.  
This is a good attempt by Rafhan, who is prominent in Singapore comics these days. His Malaysian comic, Reality Bitchslap (2015) was translated and published by Epigram Books in 2020. He is also drawing the Amazing Ash and Superhero Ah Ma series (written by Melanie Lee) for Difference Engine and now this. He makes good use of the black and white and reds, again a nod to the lessons he learned from Sin City. The cover, in particular, is eye catching. I almost miss the cop was covering the femme fatale with his overcoat. But if there is one criticism i could offer, it is that Rafhan could better define and differentiate the look of his characters. It is not clear if it was the cop’s superior who was arrested at the end. I had to check the earlier pages.  
The title is inspired by the Arcade Fire song. But I wish it had also drawn from William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy. That could have added more texture to the story, ie. to draw more from science fiction than noir. More Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep than Blade Runner. Maybe we will have that in the next volume, Sprawl 2: God’s Lonely Man. But we will see.  
Kudos to Marshall Cavendish for starting their graphic novels line too. 

Where can I get it?


In The Year Of The Virus:

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