Tutor's short story on the Battle of Bukit Chandu adapted into graphic novella

Mr Leroy Lam and his son Brennan (left), and the book cover of Hero illustrated by James Pereira, Ada Chan and Azri Djokoloro. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF RYAN MENNEN, CS COMICS

SINGAPORE - To protect his new wife and homeland, a Malay soldier joins the Malay regiment set up by the British and fights at the famous Battle at Bukit Chandu in 1942 - but his enemy is a lot closer than he thinks, and a moment of carelessness could cost him his life.

A short story of many twists and turns, Hero is a historical romance written in 2012 by tuition centre English teacher Leroy Lam, 49.

Ahead of the date of Singapore's fall to the Japanese 80 years ago, it has now been adapted into a graphic novella, with more than 40 backers across Singapore, the United States, Australia and other regions.

The story is inspired by movies such as Pearl Harbour and Titanic, which got Mr Lam thinking that the events that transpired here in World War II were deserving of an epic of their own.

The 24-page fully-coloured illustrated book is a wholly Singaporean creation - involving CS Comics, penciller James Pereira, a full-time national serviceman, colourist Ada Chan and inker Azri Djokoloro.

"I was thinking about famous last stands when I wrote the story, and I have always wanted to turn the story into a movie, which is pretty much out of my reach at the moment," Mr Lam said.

"It is a fictionalised account of what happened that fateful day on Bukit Chandu. I embellished the incident, sort of like how Hollywood does when they do war movies."

The Battle of Bukit Chandu is not new to Singaporeans. Over three days in 1942, a 13,000-strong Japanese force - more than a third of its troops deployed in Singapore - was met with defiance by 1,400 soldiers of the Malay regiment, an experimental creation by the British to give military training and employment to young Malays.

They were led by wartime hero Lieutenant Adnan Saidi, whose feats are memorialised at the newly reopened Reflections at Bukit Chandu in Kent Ridge Park - sited not far from where the soldiers made their last stand.

Many of the soldiers fought to their death and Lt Adnan himself was shot and bayoneted. His body is said to have been hung upside down from a tree.

But Mr Lam's story chooses to centre on a fictional character, Yaacob, a soldier under Lt Adnan's command.

At first a physically unimpressive soldier, his ideals and desire to give his wife a better life drive him on, even as a love rival stalks menacingly around him, never letting go of any opportunity to send him to an untimely death.

Mr Leroy Lam's son Brennan's book cover was inspired by images of American soldiers lifting the American flag. PHOTO: CS COMICS

Mr Lam said he chose not to write from the perspective of Lt Adnan as many people have read and written about him. He included a love triangle because "nobody would want to read just about fighting and killing".

"A hero needs motivation, in this case, to protect our loved ones. The question I ask is 'What would you sacrifice to defend your home?'"

The gestation of the story, which Mr Lam and CS Comics founder Ryan Mennen thought could be told more visually through a graphic novella, has taken years.

Once they decided to proceed with it, they put the idea up on crowdfunding website Kickstarter to fund publication, with a goal of raising $888. Hero has since raised over $2,500.

One of its unique features is that Hero boasts an additional eight special covers, illustrated by artists representing every decade of Singapore's history after World War II. Each is a different interpretation of what the war means to his or her generation.

The youngest among them is Mr Lam's son, Brennan Lam, who is 12. His cover is inspired by images of American soldiers lifting the American flag.

He describes his art style as "expressive stickmen", taking inspiration from the popular Diary Of A Wimpy Kid book series.

Another, by Year 2 Singapore Polytechnic student Tasha Leah Santiago, 19, is illustrated using digital software. She did some research on military uniforms and was surprised by how much they have changed.

Singapore Polytechnic student Tasha Leah Santiago's book cover was illustrated using digital software. PHOTO: CS COMICS

"Seeing the actual photos made me realise that these people were actually real. When we talk about total defence, we don't often think about people like this, especially since we have no imminent threats," she said.

Mr Mennen, 34, said the team decided to have eight special covers because comics often come with specially designed collectors' covers.

"What's really interesting is the very different art styles, from colour pencil on paper and traditional watercolours to using digital software to render images," he said.

"The artist who was born in the 1950s is from Malaysia, as we thought it important to reflect our deep relationship with Malaysia then, which is often glossed over when we talk about Bukit Chandu."

Mr Lam added of the Battle of Bukit Chandu: "It is our Alamo, our Gallipoli. Our soldiers fought with everything they had - the heroism, the rousing speeches, the brotherhood between warriors. It is important to show these."

The novella will be launched on Feb 19. The digital copy can be bought at $8, the physical copy for $18 and a package of copies of all cover editions at $188.

Orders can be made at CS Comic's website.

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