Singapore Shelf: Vampires on the MRT in new manga

During the pandemic, Sean Lam wrote, illustrated and self-published the first volume of Geungsi. PHOTOS: SEAN LAM, STACI NG

SINGAPORE - In this monthly feature, The Sunday Times lines up seven hot-off-the-press home-grown books for readers to dive into, with a special focus on comics this month.

1. Geungsi Vol. 1: Geungsi In The House

By Sean Lam
Comics/Paperback/296 pages/$19.26/Available here

Step aside, Twilight. Western vampire lore may be dominated by the sparkly bloodsuckers of Stephanie Meyer's romance saga (2005 to 2020), but for Singaporean comic artist Sean Lam, it is the jiangshi of Chinese folklore that reigns immortal.

The reanimated corpse, which hops with outstretched arms and drains its victims of their life force, became popular in Hong Kong comedy horror films such as Encounters Of The Spooky Kind (1980) and Mr Vampire (1985), which Lam grew up watching.

Previously based in Los Angeles, he had returned to Singapore for a break at the end of 2019 and was stranded here by Covid-19 pandemic border closures. He decided to use the time to work on his first local graphic novel.

"I've worked with various publishers and writers through the years, but never had a chance to do my own book until now," says the 43-year-old, who is best known for his two-part manga adaptation of Larry Niven's award-winning science-fiction novel Ringworld (1970).

Lam, who aspired to be a comic artist from a young age, left Singapore for Japan to intern at a small comics publisher in his 20s. He was later headhunted as an artist by Macmillan Publishing in the United States.

During the pandemic, he wrote, illustrated and self-published the first volume of Geungsi (jiangshi in Cantonese), a horror manga series set in the Singapore heartland.

Shaun, an ordinary salaryman, takes a sneaky photo of a beautiful woman wearing shades on the MRT, only to discover she is a geungsi. Infected by her, he is rescued by Meng, a slayer, and the two become reluctant allies.

Lam's geungsi are an amalgamation of Western and Chinese vampire tropes - they drink blood instead of draining energy and are able to move around in the daytime.

He plans to expand the series to other parts of Asia, with geungsi and slayers battling it out in Hong Kong, mainland China and more.

If all goes well, he hopes to one day bring his Singaporean vampires to US comic conventions like Comic-Con International in San Diego.

"I'm hoping to bring this Asian folklore to the West and introduce it to the readers there," he says.

2. The Once-&-Marvellous DKD

PHOTO: BOON LAI

By Boon Lai and Meihan Boey
Comics/Mentalworks/Paperback/154 pages/$60/Book's website 

Four young Singaporean rockers tour 1969 wartime Vietnam in this three-volume graphic novel, conceived by Boon Lai and scripted by Epigram Books Fiction Prize co-winner Meihan Boey.

Lian wants to escape her overbearing father and spend her time onstage, belting out tunes by The Rolling Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

When a dodgy promoter offers her and her bandmates Din, Tony and Preet a chance at a lucrative gig entertaining American troops in Vietnam, they accept. On the road, they brave bullets, deal with drug addiction and witness the horrors of the war first-hand.

3. Through The Longkang 2

PHOTO: CHECKPOINT THEATRE

By Myle Yan Tay and Shuxian Lee
Comics/Checkpoint Theatre/20 pages/$7.90 (e-book)/$10.90 (paperback)/Checkpoint Theatre e-shop

The home-grown theatre company's comics publishing run continues with the sequel to its earlier horror comic about a boy who vanishes through a longkang into a spooky otherworld, and the mysterious duo with supernatural powers who go to his rescue.

4. Milk Teeth

PHOTO: CHECKPOINT THEATRE

By worms
Comics/Checkpoint Theatre/20 pages/$7.90 (e-book)/$10.90 (paperback)/Checkpoint Theatre e-shop

This black-and-white comic explores the relationship between a mother and her child through the subjects of teeth and food.

5. Rebranding For Sea Monsters

PHOTO: CHECKPOINT THEATRE

By Luke Somasundram and Ethan Sim
Comics/Checkpoint Theatre/20 pages/$7.90 (e-book)/$10.90 (paperback)/Checkpoint Theatre e-shop

Marketing agency Shiokvertising Singapore takes on its toughest pitch yet - the rebranding of a cult that sacrifices humans to a chthonic sea monster.

6. Footprints On Foreign Shores

PHOTO: GRACEWORKS

Edited by K.P. Menon
Non-fiction/Graceworks/Paperback/233 pages/$26.75/Available here

This book compiles the stories of Singapore's retired foreign service officers, from postings in war zones to handling the deaths of Singaporeans abroad. Also in the mix are more light-hearted tales like former bookseller Kenny Chan's experience of fielding book requests by telex, including from the late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

7. A Sikh Boy In Hokkien Gangland

PHOTO: WORD IMAGE

By Sukhdev Singh Gill
Non-fiction/Word Image/Paperback/172 pages/$16.05/Available here

This book, also titled Boh Cheng Hoo (Hokkien for "no government"), is the first of a three-part memoir about the author's kampung childhood in 1950s Singapore. Of Punjabi Sikh heritage, he became fluent in Hokkien while growing up with neighbours of many races, as well as dealing with gang attacks.

His tale continues in Bang Cheng Hoo ("help government"), in which he joins the police force, and Gong Cheng Hoo ("talk to government"), in which he travels to North Sulawesi to do volunteer work, builds a boat and sails back to Singapore.

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