Cultures collide and past lives come calling in Tom Steephen's graphic novel Return.
This is the 38-year-old's first foray into comics and he credits the colourful array of characters in his book - from an Indian princess to Korean gangsters - to his time in Singapore.
He was born in Kerala and worked in cities around India before moving here for work in 2005.
"Singapore is a modern urban city, with a mix of cultures. People there are strongly culturally rooted and follow their traditional belief systems, but respect each other," says Steephen in an e-mail interview. He left for Australia last year.
"In our daily life there, we interacted with people of different races and nationalities and that helped me understand this rich mix."
It was in Singapore, too, that the life-long comic fan's view of comics expanded. He had always adored Western superhero titles and Indian comics based on Indian mythologies, but his first brush with Japanese manga came during his time here.
The 126-page Return follows Sayana Takada, a Singaporean girl of Japanese descent who looks to be living the perfect life: She has a doting boyfriend and a loving father, and a home with a view of the Marina Bay skyline. But she is haunted by dark dreams of death and betrayal. She soon sets off on a soul-searching quest around Nepal and India, looking to unravel the meaning behind these visions.
Although Steephen, who has worked mostly in the import/ export industry, had scant knowledge of how to create a comic, he was bent on bringing his book to life.
Research on the Internet led him to Jerry Hinds and the Association of Comic Artists (Singapore). "I sent him two stories: a story of a Singaporean games developer and an Indian superhero. Jerry requested I make the Indian superhero concept suitable for a wider audience," says Steephen. "So I sent in a third script instead, Return: a story where three strangers of different nationalities share a common nightmare and the unravelling of the mystery behind the strange phenomena."
Return, which had a print-run of 500 copies, involved a team of artists, including Malaysians Kevin Low and Amira Arkin, both of whom had worked with Hinds. Sales figures are not available yet.
Steephen says: "We took more than four years to complete Return, but I have no regrets. I'm extremely happy with the final outcome.
"If readers like it, I wish to continue with two more stories from this series. I also have a few superhero stories in mind. I hope everything goes well getting them into production in the future."
•Return is available at $24.95 from major bookstores and select comic stores.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 09, 2016, with the headline 'Colourful characters in comic a result of fan's time here'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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