Every now and then, histories are revisited and hybridised with fictional contents to create new legends. In 2017–18, with the support of Heritage Project Grant, Ethos Books published the Comics of Singapore Histories (COSH) series, which are graphic albums that ‘brings to light little-known stories of Singapore’s past, real or otherwise’.2 These series of books ranged from romanticised historical events, to wild speculative fictions: Terumbu by Cheah Sinnan depicts an untold love story between a young Riau pirate and the daughter of a chief in 19th century colonial Singapore (Fig. 8). The Guide Book to Nanyang Diplomacy by Lim Cheng Tju and Benjamin Chee is an action-driven historical fiction documenting power struggles between superpowered secret agents representing the British Empire, China and India, set against the Sepoy Mutiny of February 1915 (Fig. 9). We’ll Eat When We’re Done by Dave Chua and Max Loh presents a group of survivors hunting for lost Chicken rice recipes in post-apocalyptic Singapore overrun by zombies (Fig. 10). These comics contribute to the mythologization of cultural heritage, where identities are reimagined and reinforced.
Singapore’s history is more complex than what is presented in the official canon. Although now a sovereign nation state, the island had always been part of a larger geopolitical arena where boundaries were constantly redrawn by warring kingdoms. Rather than sanitising Singapore’s history and its image to one associated only with progress and modernity, the reexamination of ancient history and legends through comics form allows active engagement with cultural heritage.
History is more than the glorification of great men who won battles, as the everyday lives of ordinary people are important forces in shaping the culture of the region. In the final instalment, we will examine comics which document the experiences and memories of individuals and communities who made up Singapore.
1 Tan, T.Y., (2019). The Long And Short Of Singapore History: Cycles, Pivots and Continuities
In The Idea of Singapore. (pp. 1-38). https://doi.org/10.1142/9789811213359_0001
2 ‘About us’, Coshstudios.com <https://www.coshstudios.com/about-us> [accessed 23 July 2020].