Sonny Liew

Capturing the comic world with The Art Of Charlie Chan

Singaporean of the Year nominee Sonny Liew on why comic books are a good medium of expression and what inspired him to be draw comics.
Sonny Liew won three Eisners for his graphic novel on Singapore's political history.
Sonny Liew won three Eisners for his graphic novel on Singapore's political history.ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

Cartoonist Sonny Liew, 43, came to Singapore from Seremban, Malaysia, when he was five and became a Singaporean about five years ago, when he was working on his acclaimed graphic novel, The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye.

The defining moment was Singapore's 2011 General Election.

"It was the first election I really felt engaged in, partly because social media played a bigger role in that election," said Liew.

The first Singaporean to win an Eisner award, he scooped up three for The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye at the coveted Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards in July.

The annual awards, named after pioneering artist and writer Will Eisner, are considered the Oscars of the comic world and are voted on by professionals in the comic book industry.

Liew's graphic novel looks at Singapore's political history through the eyes of fictional artist Charlie Chan, focusing on the 1950s and 1960s when the People's Action Party rose to power.

He said: "One of Lee Kuan Yew's arguments about foreign media or foreign meddling in Singapore is that they don't have a stake in the country.

"I wanted to take on the challenge, and say, I'm willing to be a part of this country. I believe what I do is not anti-Singapore... Singapore should explore it's history more, look at more different narratives about its past."

Liew is working on a new graphic novel about capitalism, which he said might be set in Hong Kong in the 1980s. He is also doing the art for Eternity Girl, under DC's Young Animal imprint, as well as Boom! Studios' Adventure Time comic books.

He studied philosophy at Cambridge, and later received formal art training at the Rhode Island School of Design.

The artist, whose relationship with the National Arts Council (NAC) has been strained, said more dialogue between the NAC and art practitioners "can only be a good thing".

But he feels dialogue is also "often elusive" on the part of the NAC. "Instead of having to justify what they do in open debate, they can rely on bureaucratic systems to deliver the results they want."

Toh Wen Li

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2017, with the headline 'Capturing the comic world with The Art Of Charlie Chan'. Subscribe