Graphic novelist Sonny Liew is first Singaporean to win Eisner award, bagging 3 comics Oscars

Graphic novelist Sonny Liew won three out of six nominations for his graphic novel, The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, at the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards. PHOTO: CHAN SHIUAN
Local award-winning artist Sonny Liew with his Wonder Woman illustration. PHOTO: WARNER BROS

SINGAPORE - Graphic novelist Sonny Liew has become the first Singaporean to win an Eisner award, bagging three out of the six nominations he received for the prestigious awards, which are considered the Oscars of the comic world.

The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards were announced on Friday night (July 21) in San Diego by United States organisation Comic-Con International.

Liew, 42, won Best Writer/Artist for his graphic novel The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye at the awards. He also won for Best US Edition of International Material - Asia and Best Publication Design.

He lost out on three categories - with Best Lettering going to Todd Klein, Best Coloring to Matt Wilson and Best Graphic Album to Jill Thompson's Wonder Woman: The True Amazon.

Liew said over the phone from San Diego that he did not expect to 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."

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

He said the best part of the night was having his parents and older sister there to watch him receive the awards.

"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 being inspired by that."

Earlier in May, he became the first Singaporean to lead the awards with six nominations in the categories of Best Graphic Album - New, Best US Edition of International Material - Asia, Best Writer/Artist, Best Colouring, Best Lettering and Best Publication Design.

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

Liew, a Malaysia-born Singapore citizen, has been nominated in the past for works such as Liquid City, Wonderland and The Shadow Hero.

This is, however, the first time he - or a Singaporean artist, for that matter - has led the charge on the Eisner nominations.

He comes in ahead of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' space opera Saga, and Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' series on vigilante violence Kill Or Be Killed, which have four nominations each.

Epigram Books founder Edmund Wee, 65, the first to publish The Art Of Charlie Chan, said: "When we first asked him to do this book, we knew it would be something great. 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."

The Eisners are the cherry on the cake for a pile of accolades the book has already amassed. Last year, it became the first graphic novel to win the Singapore Literature Prize and also climbed to the top of bestseller lists for Amazon and The New York Times.

It sparked controversy in 2015 when the National Arts Council withdrew its $8,000 publishing grant for the book, which went on to become a bestseller.

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

The awards 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.

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