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 a further 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. The book includes satires and caricatures of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, as well as Singapore's first Prime Minister's political rival, Mr Lim Chin Siong.
It is written and drawn by Liew, a Malaysia-born Singapore citizen who received the National Arts Council's (NAC) Young Artist Award in 2010 and has been nominated multiple times for an Eisner, the Academy Awards of the comics world. His resume includes illustration work for big-name imprints such as Marvel and DC Comics and he is the illustrator of the latter's ongoing Doctor Fate superhero series.
In total, The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye 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The first run of 1,000 copies sold out within a week after The Straits Times broke the news that the NAC had withdrawn an $8,000 publishing grant awarded to the novel. Epigram Books had to return 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 about why the grant had been withdrawn, the NAC had said the graphic novel's "sensitive content, depicted in visuals and text, did not meet our funding conditions".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 more than 300 went to fulfil online orders 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 No. 2 on the store's weekly bestseller lists, just below the raunchy new E.L. James novel Grey and neck-and-neck with China Rich Girlfriend, a comedic romp about the super-rich written by Singapore-born Kevin Kwan.
"I'd been worried it would be a niche book with limited appeal," says Liew, 40, who will release an international edition of The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye next year with US publisher Pantheon Books. "All that NAC controversy aside, the response has been amazing, and I have been very touched by support for the book."