Graphic novelist Sonny Liew wins three comics Oscars

Graphic novelist Sonny Liew with the three Eisner awards he won for his graphic novel, The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, which retells Singapore's journey to nationhood.
Graphic novelist Sonny Liew with the three Eisner awards he won for his graphic novel, The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, which retells Singapore's journey to nationhood.PHOTO: CHAN SHIUAN

Charlie Chan author is first Singaporean to be recognised at prestigious Eisner awards

Graphic novelist Sonny Liew has become the first Singaporean to win an Eisner award.

He won for three out of six nominations at the prestigious Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, considered the Oscars of the comics world. They were announced on Friday night in San Diego at Comic-Con International.

Liew and his graphic novel, The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, took home Best Writer/Artist, Best US Edition of International Material - Asia, and Best Publication Design.

Malaysia-born Liew, 42, said on the phone from San Diego: "I didn't even write a speech because I felt it would be silly if I didn't win and I didn't want to jinx it."

He was a little late to the ceremony, arriving just when the award for Best Writer/Artist was announced. "I just felt stunned."

"I can't predict the future, but I hope this gives encouragement to other Singapore authors and artists. When I was young, I remember seeing local authors on the shelf and that inspired me."


Graphic novelist Sonny Liew with the three Eisner awards he won for his graphic novel, The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, which retells Singapore's journey to nationhood. PHOTO: CHAN SHIUAN

He was also nominated for Best Graphic Album - New, Best Colouring and Best Lettering. These eventually went to Wonder Woman: The True Amazon by Jill Thompson, colourist Matt Wilson and letterer Todd Klein respectively.

The Art Of Charlie Chan, which was published in Singapore in 2015 by Epigram Books and abroad last year by American imprint Pantheon, retells Singapore's journey to nationhood, from the 1950s to the present, through the eyes of a fictional artist of satirical comics.

Liew has been nominated for the Eisner in the past for works such as Liquid City, Wonderland and The Shadow Hero.

The awards are the cherry on the cake for the pile of accolades the book has already amassed. Last year, it became the first graphic novel to win the Singapore Literature Prize, was featured in Best Of 2016 lists by publications such as The Economist and The Washington Post, and climbed to the top of the charts at Amazon and The New York Times.

Just last month, it won Best International Comic at the Pingprisen awards in Denmark.

  • THE AWARDS HE WON

    Best Writer/Artist

    Best US Edition of International Material - Asia

    Best Publication Design

It sparked controversy in 2015 when the National Arts Council withdrew its $8,000 publishing grant because it "potentially undermines the authority and legitimacy of the Government and its public institutions".

The book depicts founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and his political rival Lim Chin Siong, and refers to historical incidents such as the Hock Lee Bus Riots and the detentions without trial of alleged Marxists in Operation Spectrum in 1987.

Epigram Books founder Edmund Wee, 65, the first to publish The Art Of Charlie Chan, said: "It's a world-class act. I hope this means it can get more recognition in Singapore, where it deserves to be read by many people, including students. I doubt it can get a foothold in schools, but we will persevere."

STUNNED BY WIN

I didn't even write a speech because I felt it would be silly if I didn't win and I didn't want to jinx it... I hope this gives encouragement to other Singapore authors and artists. When I was young, I remember seeing local authors on the shelf and that inspired me.

GRAPHIC NOVELIST SONNY LIEW, 42, a Malaysia-born Singapore citizen, who won three out of the six awards he was up for.

Other local comic artists called Liew's win well-deserved and said they hope it opens doors for more Singapore artists on the global stage.

Illustrator Andrew Tan, 43, who is known as Drewscape and was nominated for an Eisner in 2013, said: "I think it will give us fellow comic artists something higher to aim for. And hopefully more in Singapore will think, 'Let's try and create more comics that are of Eisner quality'."

Association of Comic Artists (Singapore) president Jerry Hinds, 53, said that while Liew's achievements may inspire young comic creators to follow in his footsteps, they must also be prepared for the amount of work required to reach that level.

"Sonny has served his apprenticeship, he worked under other editors and he learnt the process.It takes a lot of mental strength to produce a comic, and it takes collaboration. Sonny is gifted enough to both write and draw, but not everyone can do that and young local artists need to learn to work with each other.

"You can come from Singapore or anywhere in the world, and if your work is good enough, you will be noticed," he added.

The annual Eisner awards are named after Will Eisner, the pioneering artist and writer behind the classic comic series The Spirit.

They are voted on by professionals in the comic book industry. This year's nominees include more than 120 titles from some 50 publishers and by creators from all over the world.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 23, 2017, with the headline 'Sonny Liew wins three comics Oscars'. Print Edition | Subscribe