Second sell-out success, third print run for controversial Sonny Liew graphic novel

Book cover of The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew.
Book cover of The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew. PHOTO: EPIGRAM BOOKS/ SONNY LIEW

The controversial graphic novel by Sonny Liew which raised official hackles sold out its second print run of 1,500 copies within a week, according to its publisher, making it the top-selling local fiction title so far this year.

With a backlog of hundreds of orders to meet, Epigram Books is reprinting another 3,000 copies of The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, says publisher Edmund Wee.

The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye features a fictional Singaporean artist who depicts the past 60-odd years of history through his comics. Acclaimed graphic artist Liew's book includes satires and caricatures of the late Lee Kuan Yew, as well as his political rival Lim Chin Siong.

In total, the book has sold 2,500 copies since it was released last month. Of the half-dozen graphic novels published by Epigram Books, most take two years to sell 1,000 copies, Mr Wee said.

The first run of 1,000 copies sold out within a week after The Straits Times broke the news that the National Arts Council had withdrawn an $8,000 publishing grant awarded to the novel. Epigram Books had to return the the $6,400 disbursed and printed stickers to cover the arts council's logo on the books.

In response to queries from Life! about why the grant had been withdrawn, the arts council had said the graphic novel's "sensitive content, depicted in visuals and text, did not meet our funding conditions".

The second print run of 1,500 copies was in stores by June 18 and copies have been flying off the shelves again: 165 sold within two days at the Singapore Book Publishers Association's pop-up store at Isetan Orchard in Wisma Atria, while over 300 online orders were made at Epigram Books' website and online store Agora.

A spokesman for Books Kinokuniya says its Singapore outlet has sold at least 800 copies of the graphic novel so far. It is ranked #2 on the store's weekly bestseller lists, just below the raunchy new E.L. James novel Grey and ranks neck-and-neck with China Rich Girlfriend, a comedic romp about the super-rich written by Singapore-born Kevin Kwan.

akshitan@sph.com.sg