Saturday, September 22, 2012


I grew up reading the Amar Chitra Katha comics of the Mahabharata. Two years ago, Grant Morrison wrote 18 Days, his version of the Mahabharata.

In Indonesia, the late RA Kosaisih had made the Mahabharata his life defining work. A recent chat with Chris Lie of Caravan Studio at STGCC shows that Mahabharata comics is alive and well in Indonesia. The studio’s new series, Baratayuda, referring to the great war of the Mahabharata, is up to issue eight and selling well. The coolest character in the series is Gatotkaca.

Gatotkaca is also the lead character in another series by Is Yuniarto’s Wind Rider Studio – Garudayana. Garuda, the mythical bird and the national symbol of Indonesia, also appears in the Mahabharata. The Garuda is so popular that there is a kids’ version of the Garuda story, Garudaboi by Galang Tirtakusuma.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dr Jose Rizal

Miel did a drawing of Dr Rizal's hat for his last exhibition. Dr Rizal was nowhere to be found.

For Gerry Alanguilan, his new independent project will have Dr Rizal appearing and saving the day.

"It's called The Marvelous Adventures of the Amazing Dr Rizal. People asked me why I don't draw my own superheroes. It's hard for me to do it because that's not reality. I'd have no connection with the character.

My superhero must be grounded in reality. But he must be fantastic as well. So you need a concession. Dr Rizal will be my superhero. He does not have superpowers, but he has super intellect."

Looking forward to that.


STGCC 2012 Report: Interview with Edmund Wee of Epigram Books

Did not manage to catch the Epigram panel at STGCC, but I went down to Epigram Books the next day to have a chat with Edmund, the boss. So why comics?

“We set up Epigram Books over a year ago. Before that, we also did some publishing on an ad hoc basis. One or two books a year and that’s part of Epigram the design company. Along the way, we did The Diary of Amos Lee, which was very successful. We were not sure whether it’s real, the success, because it’s done as part of the design company. So it’s hard to know the real cost of publishing.

To do that, we set up Epigram Books.

This will give us a sense of the cost to edit, publish, paying the rent and employees.

Why are we doing it? We want to publish and to tell stories about ourselves as a country. If you look at theatre, poetry, they have gone ahead. But fiction is lagging behind. We felt there is a great need to publish local fiction and this is our mission.

We did some food books, design books. But the heart of Epigram Books is local writing, stories about Singapore by Singaporeans.

A few months ago, we felt why must stories be written, why not in graphic form? So we started working with artists/writers like Sonny Liew, Koh Hong Teng, Dave Chua, Troy Chin and Miel. Eventually, Troy dropped out.

We are aiming for the Christmas market this year, so hopefully there is no delay. The artists promised me they are working very hard.

Of course, we are not the first to publish graphic novels in Singapore. Times Publishing did Unfortunate Lives by Eric Khoo in 1989 and you have self-published efforts like The Resident Tourist and Gone Case. But this is the first time a publisher is doing it in a series of books to tell Singapore stories.

Will we regret it and lose money? I don’t know. But as a publisher, we take the risk. MDA has given some funding, so that helps. The artists need the advance.

Is comics literature, art? Of course. It is literature because it tells a story. There are simply not enough stories told about Singapore.

I’m not a big comics fan. I read Green Lantern, Spiderman, Daredevil and Fantastic Four as a kid. I’m not into superheroes, but I’ve read Maus and Persepolis. They are about contemporary life and about their own society, whether it is America or Iran.

We aim for the local market first. If the books do well, we will market them overseas."

STGCC Report 2012: Fave moments from Tita

In HK, comic characters are put to good use

Comiconexxions: Lala at work

STGCC Report 2012: A sense of history

One thing I learned about the Filipino artists at this year’s con is that they have a strong sense of history and an appreciation of the past.

Stephen Sogovia: In the Philippines, we love art and we love comics. It’s been a century since the birth of komiks in the Philippines. Artists like Alex Nino, Tony DeZuniga, Ernie Chan. We do remember them. In the past, we have the komiks first and then movie adaptations. The komiks served as the storyboards for these movies.

Leinil Yu: Filipino komiks started when the Americans came. Of course, we have Dr Jose Rizal’s fable, The Monkey and the Tortoise, drawn in 1885. They were more illustrations than komiks. I was influenced by Whilce Portacio, the Filipino-American comic artist (X-Men), when I was young. His was a different tradition. Young kids during my time would not draw in that 70s Filipino style of perfect anatomy. I grew up watching the Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, Transformers and Japanese animation on TV. Those things were easier to draw. When I got older, I know more about the older Filipino artists like Alex Nino and Nester Redondo and I have a lot of respect for them. But really, I’m an Image Comics guy. (smiles)

Gerry Alanguilan: I was not a fan of Filipino artists when I was growing up. I was a fan of DC and Marvel. But after 5 to 6 years of working on US comics, younger Filipino artists would come up to me to show me their work, which was very influenced by US and Japanese manga. I asked them if they knew about our own komik history. They looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language. They have no idea what I was talking about.

That got me wondering. I realize we don’t know our own history of komiks. We have no practice of preserving and reprinting old komiks. Even our National library, you could not find those old komiks. We have a long history of publishing komiks. Our publishing industry was very huge in the 1970s, more than a million copies were published a month.

There is no trace of it now.

People have no idea it happened. There are no books or articles about this that a young artist can study. It made me wanted to do research of my own. So I started collecting old komiks. It was very hard and I had to buy them on eBay. Now these sellers were Filipinos who knew the value of these old komiks. They were very expensive! I’ve spent a lot of money, almost all my savings on these komiks and visual art books. I have collected a few hundred titles and some original art. I scanned them and put it up on my website, so that young Filipino artists can find something that’s our history.

My website is regularly updated and I’ve scanned hundreds of artwork from the 1950s to 1970s. Some are from the 1980s. It’s to give a brief overview of our history.

One of the most underrated artist in our history is the late Francisco V. Coching. His El Indio (1952) is a classic Filipino masterpiece and was out of print for years. I started this project in 2003 to get his komiks reprinted and that finally happened when Vibal reprinted El Indio. There is also an art book out. The state does not want to make him a national artist, but that is okay. There are exhibitions of his art anyway and many considered him to be a national artist.

I wrote about El Indio in Paul Gravett’s 1001 Comics To Read Before You Die. (pages 166 – 167)

There are two important publications. One is the special issue of Comic Book Artist (Vol 2 #4, Sept 2004) on Filipino Komiks, which you showed me. Because of that magazine, I met John Lent who was researching for that issue. I told him that there are new komik books by Filipino artists, so when he did his book, The First One Hundred Years of Philippine Komiks in 2009, he included our generation of artists. It is a good book, which included female comic writers as well.

Whilce Portacio influenced Leinil. But you also have Western artists like Frazer Irving who is influenced by Alfredo and Rudy Nebres.

We have come a long way.

NB: some articles by Gerry:

Photos of Tony DeZuniga, Alfredo Alcala and Malang in New York, circa 1970s

Francisco V. Coching for National Artist

Filipino Comics Illustrator Ernie Chan Passes Away

Why Tony DeZuniga Mattered A Lot to Us

The State of Comics Preservation in the Philippines

STGCC 2012 Report: New comic by Ray Toh

Check it out.

Cricket Joe

I have been waiting for Ray to break out for years. One day he should get his comics published.

Go spot the Chester brown reference in here.

STGCC 2012 Report: A powerful man

And that’d be Leinil Yu. This is his third trip to STGCC, his second as an official guest of the con. What I noticed is that the books he is doing with Mark Millar, whether they are for the Marvel Ultimates line or the Millar World titles, it’s a Southeast Asian collective at work. Leinil will be penciling, Gerry Alanguilan and Stephen Segovia will ink it, Jason Paz will letter it (they are all from the Philippines) and Sunny Gho from Indonesia will colour it.

I ask Leinil why is this so. Eh, wouldn’t the Marvel editors have a say in this?

“Marvel trusts me to do the recommendations. I pick the guys who can make the comic book better. Editors will determine the lineup for the younger guys, but they trust me to recommend what’s best for the books. Same for the Millar books. He had wanted a different style for Super Crooks, and he wanted a different colourist. I told him Sunny can do a different style and it worked out.

I didn’t know Sunny was Indonesian when I first saw his work. It was not a conscious decision to gather creatives from Southeast Asia. I chose Sunny from four colourists presented to me. Sunny had worked with Kenneth Rocafort and I really like his colours.

As for Gerry, he is a friend for a long time, but he is really one of the best. (NB: Gerry inked Leinil’s very first work for Marvel – a Wolverine series by Warren Ellis in 1997) For Stephen, when I first pick him, we were not friends yet. He was influenced by my work, so naturally he is the right fit for my art.”

Leinil has said that DC and Marvel do not paid their overseas artists any less than their American counterparts. The determining factor is whether an artist is popular. And in 2012, Leinil is at the top of his game.

More Comiconnexions

This is really good. Reminds me of Phong's Bicof Story in Liquid City 2. And Sheila was in that volume too with her family trip to East Java.

Looking forward to Lala's new book about being a fulltime mom in Kuwait. And did you know she drew an ED story back in 2005? That is so cool.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


If you were at JKT this weekend, you could have attended Comiconnexions held at the Goethe Institute.

And gotten Sunny Gho to sign your copy of Avengers Vs New Ultimates: Death of Spiderman, which you have already gotten Leinil, Gerry, Stephen and Jason to sign at STGCC last weekend.

I was there to present on Singapore comics and cartoons and met some really cool German and Indonesian artists. Their hospitality is par excellence. Kudos to the Goethe for organizing this.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Please support our local bands

And by local bands, we mean the indie rock bands like Electrico and Great Spy Experiment. Some of them are artistically competent. They produce songs that are on par with their American counterparts.

But despite that, most of my listening time is spent on the music of overseas bands. Why? Because to me, they are way better in quality. Although it is not a fair comparison, would you rather waste time listening to Maroon 5 or Great Spy Experiment. Maroon 5 has a big record company behind them. This allows for high quality productions. And it doesn't help when the radio stations promote American music over Singaporean ones.

I took some time to analyze the differences between the recorded productions of Maroon 5, Great Spy Experiment and Electrico. To my ears, the majority of music produced by Great Spy and Electrico are seemingly influenced by nineties American rock music. If I am right, it means that both bands never evolved artistically, or did not keep up with modern American trends. Which is why they seem to me, a little out of place where American music is a huge staple in most people's music diet.

Listening to Maroon 5, I noticed their instrumentals can be catchy and easily identified. Moves Like Jagger for example has a distinct whistle. Their instrumentals, when compared to Great Spy or Electrico, sound "cleaner" and easier to pick up. Both local bands are capable at writing melodies. But instrumentals have a huge role in compositions. Just compare Rebecca Black's Friday and Glee's version. BIG difference!

Here is where a big budget can make a huge a impact. It is without doubt the quality of recordings by Maroon 5 is far superior to our local indie bands. Adam Levine's vocals are crisp and clear on record. For our local indies, the instrumentals kind of drown out the vocals.

When faced with such competition, it is not difficult to see why local indie bands are not well supported. It may not be fair to compare an indies band with a major one, but that is what indies are meant to have: niche support. To criticize Singaporeans for not supporting them is like criticizing Americans for giving too much support to Marvel and DC. Niche is niche. You cannot change a society if you don't have money and a good marketing plan.

Monday, September 3, 2012

STGCC 2012 Report: it’s hard to make a comeback when you leave

The fickleness of the American comic reading public has never been stronger. Not when even one of the most popular Marvel artists today said that he would think twice of taking a break to do his own stories.

“I’d like to do my own sci-fi stories, not superhero ones. But I’m scared of leaving mainstream comics. In a perfect world, I will do it.” – Leinil Yu

This is a very real fear as seen in the case of Gerry Alanguilan who left mainstream comics inking in 2005 to do his own projects like the Eisner nominated Elmer. But he made a return to Marvel in 2010 as it was difficult financially for him in the Philippines. Alanguilan said it was hard to make money doing your own things

“After Elmer was done, it was hard to find work in the US again. I visited Leinil and told him I’ll ink him again if there is a Mark Millar project because I’m a big fan of Savior. Earlier on, Leinil had offered me Ultimate Hulk vs Wolverine and Secret Invasion. I turned him down. But when Ultimate Avengers 2 came along, I started working on American mainstream books again.

“I still want to do my own personal stories like the one I did for Liquid City Vol 1 and the story I wrote, Where Bold Stars Go To Die. But it takes a lot of time to do them because of the Marvel deadlines I have. Still, I will do them because I want an outlet for my own stories. But at the same time, I cannot give up my Marvel jobs because I might not get them back again.”

This sentiment was shared by Tan Eng Huat, the artist for Thor and X-Men Legacy. Having returned from San Diego Comic Con in July, he noted that the Big 2 have cut down on their titles and they might not give you new jobs if you decide to take a break. There are many young and hungry new artists out there who want your gig.

Chris Lie of Caravan Studios (Indonesia) also said that with the closure of Tokyopop in 2011, even manga style artists in America are out of a job.

Bleak news to end STGCC 2012. But all the more it means that we cannot just depend on overseas market to grow our indigenous comics industry. We have to develop it ourselves, support local and neighboring works. So it is heartening to see more regional artists and studios setting up booths at the Artists' Alley this year. More can be done to bring these talents in to our shores for STGCC.

More incentives and deeper discounts perhaps?

STGCC 2012 Report: what happens when you ask a writer to draw

This 'Watch Out, Ryan!' sketch is Andy Diggle's contribution to this kid's retirement fund.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

STGCC 2012 Report: SEA Power

If you brought along your copy of the Avengers Vs New Ultimates: Death of Spider-man trade, you can get it sign by
Leinil Yu
Gerry Alanguilan
Stephen Segovia
Jason Paz

Now that's service.

The search for comics elsewhere

I had the chance to visit London's Forbidden Planet store this May. It is very impressive, although I was slightly disappointed. When it comes to popular genres, be it indie or not, the store has more variety than any comics store in Singapore. But when it comes to alternative comics, you find mainly the popular ones. For example, Guy Delisle's travelogues and Dan Clowes' albums. You;d be better off at our local Kinokuniya if you are lookng for more obscure titles.

In Paris, I did not come across any comics specialty store. But I shopped at a Virgin Megastore, where almost half an entire floor was devoted to comics. The other parts were a cafe and pop genre fiction. Titles and titles of comics that I have never known, and cannot read because I do not knwo French. Thus I am stuck with American translations. Though companies such as Fantagraphics have been publishing translated editions of European comics more frequently, they become very expensive when they are sold in Singapore.

If you check out Kino, you would notice that DC, Marvel and Image collected editions tend to be cheaper than the alternatives ,despite the US prices printed at the back of the books. Take any Marvel or DC book with a price of $14.95, and compare it to an obscure title of $10.95.

This is pure speculation. I guess Kino orders large stocks from Marvel and DC, allowing for economies of scale.