Detective Conan may be set in Singapore

Gosho Aoyama (centre) with Singapore artist Sonny Liew at the talk on Sunday.
Gosho Aoyama (centre) with Singapore artist Sonny Liew at the talk on Sunday.PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Singapore may well be the setting for the 1,000th instalment of beloved anime and manga series Detective Conan.

Its creator Gosho Aoyama - after looking to one of his editors seated nearby for permission - dropped this tidbit at a talk at the Singapore Writers Festival last Saturday, to the delight of fans.

As a frenzy of joyful squealing started, the 53-year-old cautioned with a chuckle: "It's still in my head. Sorry if we disappoint you and Singapore is not used."

Even that disclaimer was not enough to dampen the excitement, as fans at his talk, Creating Detective Conan: The Life And Works Of Gosho Aoyama, jostled for a chance to pick his brains and sing praises of him.

Aoyama, who writes and draws the series, fielded a rapid-fire stream of questions - many of them prefaced by fervent gushing - on everything from his creative process to what the future might hold for the series and its characters.

Detective Conan had its start in manga form in 1994. It follows the adventures of a high-school student who, while investigating a mysterious syndicate, is transformed into a child.

Since then, more than 900 chapters have been released and the series is still going strong, spawning 20 feature films and a long-running anime of more than 800 episodes.

When moderator Yukari Fujimoto asked him whether the series - packed with twists and turns and mind-boggling mysteries - was nearing its end, Aoyama admitted through a translator: "Well, yes, it's reaching its climax."

Disappointed groans echoed through The Arts House Chamber at his statement, prompting a fit of laughter from the man.

"Hey, everything has an end," he told the crowd. To think he started the series expecting to end it after one volume.

"I predicted people wouldn't want to read a manga with so many words. I thought they'd be too tired," he said. "But after the first volume came out, I realised this was something big."

Slouching in his chair, a black skull cap pulled over his head, Aoyama seemed like a man caught off guard by the rabid following Detective Conan has inspired.

His replies, though brief and sparse on details, often drew cheers from an audience that quizzed him eagerly on the fates of their favourite characters and begged for more details of his plans for the series.

And when the talk ended last Saturday with the announcement that he would be meeting and signing books for just 100 fans, most of his audience rushed to save themselves a spot in the queue, leaving Aoyama laughing on stage in astonishment.

In the queue, which snaked out the door of The Arts House, was sales manager Catherine Teo, 31, who had with her the five Detective Conan volumes she loves best.

She said: "He's my favourite manga artist, so it was an honour to hear from him. I'd also like to have a career in illustration one day. He's an idol to me."

Aoyama had in elementary school decided that he would be a professional manga creator, but faced with his parents' disapproval, dabbled for a while with the idea of becoming an art teacher instead.

Then, he enrolled at the Nihon University College of Art, where he joined the Manga Studies Club and reignited his dream of a career drawing manga.

Decades after making his debut in 1987 with the manga story, Chotto Mattete, he still approaches his work with a child-like sense of fun.

His constant refrain when asked about the reasons behind the choices he made - be it the setting or the naming of members of the shady Black Organisation after types of alcohol: "Because it's fun. Because it's cool."

At another talk on Sunday, Two Comic Icons: Gosho Aoyama Meets Sonny Liew, Aoyama revealed that he works on his manga with a handful of old friends from university, who now serve as assistants.

"It's just all old folk. Recently, a young girl joined us - one young girl among all these old people. So everyone is trying desperately to get some fresh air from her," he said to another round of laughter.

While Singapore artist Sonny Liew spoke on dealing with the pressure to meet deadlines for his acclaimed graphic novel, The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, which came out last year - two years later than planned - Aoyama said he chose not to worry about pressures.

"I just blame my editors for anything that goes wrong," he said cheekily.

As the two comic-book heavyweights swopped thoughts on the medium and bonded over their shared preference for physical books over digital copies, Aoyama also complimented Liew on his work.

Flipping through The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, which this year became the first graphic novel to win the Singapore Literature Prize for Fiction, he told Liew: "Your drawings are really good. I can draw only one style, so I respect how you can change your way of drawing so easily."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2016, with the headline 'Detective Conan may be set in Singapore'. Subscribe