Amateur artist recreates 57 comic sketches amid Covid-19 pandemic

Mr Benjamin Foo's interest in comics goes back to his primary school days.
Mr Benjamin Foo's interest in comics goes back to his primary school days.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - Mr Benjamin Foo’s love for comics has spanned decades, with a collection of thousands of books to show for it. 

When the circuit breaker was announced in April last year, the 57-year-old felt he needed a hobby to help keep his mind off the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic. 

Over the next six months, Mr Foo, a general manager at a market development company, set out to recreate 57 comic sketches, the same number as his age.

Having worked in Shanghai when the Sars epidemic hit in 2003, Mr Foo realised early last year that the Covid-19 outbreak would be far more severe than Sars.

“The pandemic weighed me down mentally,” he said. “I needed a hobby that could be sustained amid the pandemic, and that’s what triggered the thought of taking up this project.”

Mr Foo’s interest in comics goes back to his primary school days. It remained strong until his national service. A lull set in when his focus shifted to his career and family.

He said: “I started reading comics again when I was in my 40s. My passion for it was always there in the shadows, waiting for me to pick it up again. The epitome of ‘comic geekiness’ was when I went with my son to the San Diego Comic-Con in 2011. It was really the mecca for comic lovers. I had a wonderful time sharing the experience with my son.” 

He started sketching again and “after a few false starts, I found the right rhythm and method to keep drawing”, he said. 

He kept at it from April to August, recreating some of his favourite Marvel and DC comic sketches. He kept the initial drawings of some pieces so he could track his progress. 

He eventually compiled the sketches into a book.

“I would sketch after office hours and during the weekends. When I became more productive, I was able to do even five works over a weekend. When I started off, I never thought I could complete 57 sketches.

It was surprisingly easier to get back to drawing than I thought it would be,” he said.

The Straits Times caught up with Mr Foo at Comics World in Parklane Shopping Mall, a favourite haunt for the past three decades. Surrounded by comic books at the store, he said the art form helps him stay positive amid the pandemic.

“There’s so much negativity in the world, particularly during this pandemic. While we cannot travel or explore like we used to, we have to continue trying to find joy in the simple pleasures of life.”


Other snippets from readers

Mr Foo was one of the people who responded to a call from The Straits Times who asked readers what changed for them during the circuit breaker period last year. Here is what some other readers wrote in to say:

Lost weight with exercise

"I lost 7kg. I started with YouTube exercises every day for 20 minutes. I also had Zoom personal training classes twice a week with a fitness instructor. Gradually, I found myself shedding the extra pounds.

Exercise has become a routine for me now. I will do 10 minutes of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) at least twice a week, have dance fitness classes once a week and personal training twice a week. I used to pant a lot when chasing buses, but I no longer do so.

I’ll keep this routine, especially since my wedding is in December and I want to look good in a wedding gown. Seeing my successful attempt at losing weight, I’ve inspired my fiance to lose weight too."

- Ms Chua Jia Ying, 31, accountant

Ample time to do courses

"I did so many online courses as I had lots of free time while working from home as I didn’t need to travel. I saved more than two hours a day of travelling time. I think I did more than 28 courses. I even studied Turkish as I love to watch the Turkish series on Netflix."

- Ms Clarice Pereira, 54, who works in administration

Worried about grandma

"Circuit breaker changed my breakfast routine with my grandma who resides at a nursing home. She has dementia and her condition has deteriorated. After circuit breaker, she could barely recognise us with our faces hidden behind masks. She is 94 and has taken her two doses of Covid-19 vaccination. I hope she can be allowed to resume her occasional weekend breakfast with me." 

- Ms Candice Yeo, 45, nurse

Life’s important lessons

"Circuit breaker was a two-month crash course in life’s important lessons. It taught me how to count my blessings and appreciate small things in life. I realised there’s no better happiness than giving back to society. I had the opportunity to prepare a portion of breakfast every Sunday for a migrant workers’ dormitory and spread some cheer to an underprivileged child via online coaching. The feeling was surreal!"

- Ms Lekshmi Chandran, 38, IT engineer

Had to change glasses

"Circuit breaker affected my vision. As a student, I had to do home-based learning during my Primary School Leaving Examination year. This made me look at screens, like computers and phones, more often. With that, my eyesight deteriorated and I had to visit Owndays to change my glasses so that I could see more clearly."

- Shyeanne Cheong, 12, Secondary 1 student

More bonding time

"Circuit breaker has changed my life – it has allowed me to have more meaningful conversations and bonding time with my parents. I have also adopted cashless payment and like the convenience of food delivery.

Since then, I have realised that having a healthy lifestyle and spending quality time with my family members are more important than anything else.

Without the care and support of my loved ones, it would have been difficult to overcome the tough days during the circuit breaker. One thing that stands out is how people have become more resilient in the face of adversity and challenges."

- Mr Alan Chin, 30, accounts assistant

Timely distraction

"Circuit breaker changed my life as it was a good distraction from my chemotherapy that also started in the same month. Whenever we saw the cases increase, our worries increased too. But we all believe that with the right measures in place and with people adhering to them, Covid-19, like cancer, can be contained."

- Ms Goh Ching Yi, 44, accounts executive

Younger, more happy now

"My day used to start from basic cooking, readying kids for school and finally leaving for work and eventually, after work, I would be cooking again for dinner, then I would play with the kids at home and sleep.

Since the circuit breaker, I decided to follow some YouTube videos – I took up a challenge for myself and lost a total of 10kg... between April 2020 and December 2020. I am still doing my exercise and runs, with a balanced diet.

My days have changed now, thanks to the circuit breaker. I am highly energetic, with less mood swings, and I feel younger and more happy."

- Ms Nisha Agarwal, 32, project management office analyst

Back with pen pals

"Working from home for a year allowed me to continue with my long-lost hobby of writing to pen pals.
I first started having pen pal correspondence with various people when I was 15 and till date continue with this hobby. The circuit breaker inspired me to get a typewriter as an additional tool to make writing more interesting.

I decided to buy a vintage typewriter, the Royal Quiet De Luxe which is a 1950 model. To my surprise, the machine worked perfectly fine and was in tip-top condition, allowing me to type my letters to my friends overseas instead of writing.

Now I have several pen pals from all over the world to whom I write during my free time in the evenings and weekends."

- Mr A. Kannan, 55, manager

Rediscovering hobbies

"It was during the circuit breaker in the midst of my retirement years that I decided to go back to basics for my hobby – art.

After ploughing through pen and wash and watercolour for years, I picked up the long-neglected colour pencils and rediscovered the thrill of reacquainting with this medium for beginners.

Then around the same time I found that I had two battered scrapbooks of old football cuttings that no one wanted to bind. I embarked on a project to digitise all my sketches to preserve them – for they are personal and, in all modesty, unique to me."

- Mr Yeo Hock Yew, 72, retiree

Turned into a songwriter

"Circuit breaker turned me into a poet and a songwriter. I poured out my emotions in writing. I started to write poems, expressing my longing for church services. Later on, I thought why not put melody, tunes, to these poems? After a few hits and misses, I completed my first song and posted it on Facebook. To my surprise, I gathered lots of praises and positive remarks about my new hobby. This encouraged me to make another song.

I have already posted nine songs on YouTube, aside from other songs I initially posted on Facebook. And I’ve been going on making more songs. So far, I have made 15. And there are more poems waiting to be composed. "

- Mr Ulpiano Gutlay, 65, retiree