Three cheers for Char­lie Chan Malaysia-born Sin­ga­porean comics artist Sonny Liew won three Eis­ners for The Art Of Char­lie Chan Hock Chye.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads - By MICHAEL CHEANG star2@thes­tar.com.my

FOR those who work in the comics in­dus­try, there is no big­ger ac­co­lade than win­ning a Will Eis­ner Comic In­dus­try Award. Pre­sented an­nu­ally at Comic-Con In­ter­na­tional (pop­u­larly known as the San Diego Comic-Con), the Eis­ners, as they are known, are the comics in­dus­try’s equiv­a­lent of the Os­cars and the Gram­mys.

While Western comics usu­ally dom­i­nate the Eis­ners, this year’s awards, given out last week, gave Asian comics fans and cre­ators some­thing to cheer about when Malaysi­aborn, Sin­ga­pore-based comics cre­ator Sonny Liew won three Eis­ners for The Art Of Char­lie

Chan Hock Chye (Char­lie Chan).

The graphic novel won Liew awards for Best Writer/Artist, Best Pub­li­ca­tion De­sign, and Best US Edi­tion of In­ter­na­tional Ma­te­rial from Asia. It had also been nom­i­nated in the Best Graphic Al­bum, Best Colour­ing, and Best Let­ter­ing cat­e­gories.

In an e-mail in­ter­view, Liew said that he had been fully pre­pared to go home emp­ty­handed de­spite hav­ing six nom­i­na­tions – the high­est num­ber this year.

“All the cat­e­gories had very strong cre­ators and ti­tles. But I’d have to say af­ter the book had won three awards, I thought it stood a de­cent chance of win­ning the fi­nal cat­e­gory – but it’s, you know, the year of Won­der Woman!” he said, re­fer­ring to the Best Graphic Al­bum (New) cat­e­gory, which was won by Jill Thompson’s Won­der Woman: The True Ama­zon. Char­lie Chan is es­sen­tially a his­tory of Sin­ga­pore told through the eyes and works of the fic­tional Char­lie Chan Hock Chye, a pioneer­ing but largely for­got­ten Sin­ga­porean comics artist.

Us­ing Char­lie’s works to re­flect the chang­ing po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment in the is­land state, Liew touches on some sen­si­tive events in Sin­ga­pore’s his­tory.

This led to some con­tro­versy when the Sin­ga­pore Na­tional Arts Coun­cil with­drew the novel’s pub­lish­ing grant just be­fore its May 30, 2 015, launch, say­ing that it “un­der­mines the au­thor­ity or le­git­i­macy” of the Sin­ga­porean Gov­ern­ment.

Not only did that give Char­lie Chan even more at­ten­tion, it also didn’t stop the graphic novel from get­ting praise and ac­co­lades from all over the world.

The Sin­ga­pore edi­tion pub­lished by Epi­gram Books won Book of the Year at the 2 016 Sin­ga­pore Book Awards, and Best Fic­tion Ti­tle at the 2 016 Sin­ga­pore Lit­er­a­ture Prize. The US edi­tion made The New York Times best­seller list for graphic nov­els, as well as nu­mer­ous year-end must-read lists by over­seas pub­li­ca­tions such as The Econ­o­mist and The Wash­ing­ton Post.

Liew reck­ons the key fac­tor in Char­lie Chan res­onat­ing with in­ter­na­tional au­di­ences de­spite it be­ing a very lo­cal, Sin­ga­porean story had to do with the book’s for­mal ap­proach.

“It ap­proaches nar­ra­tive in a way that maybe hadn’t quite been done be­fore. Beyond that, it also cel­e­brates comics his­tory and the comics medium, and the way comics and art can be an ex­pres­sion of pol­i­tics and his­tory.

“So there are lay­ers there to be ap­pre­ci­ated even for read­ers who may not have a keen in­ter­est in Sin­ga­pore’s his­tory,” he ex­plained.

Since he was born in Malaysia, Liew’s friends have sug­gested that he do a sim­i­lar comic book for Malaysian his­tory, but he reck­ons that should be tack­led by some­one more fa­mil­iar with the sub­ject.

“An ac­count of Malaysia’s his­tory would be bet­ter done by cre­ators liv­ing in Malaysia, who are closer to the ground. But for me, the big­ger is­sue would be to find an in­ter­est­ing for­mal ap­proach to do it.

“That ap­plies to other projects too

– I hope to be able to find ways of sto­ry­telling that will be as in­ter­est­ing as Char­lie Chan’s with­out re­peat­ing the same nar­ra­tive gam­bits,” said the 42 -year-old, who is cur­rently re­search­ing a new orig­i­nal graphic novel about cap­i­tal­ism and also work­ing on shorter term projects for pub­lish­ers like DC, Boom and IDW.

No sur­prises

Liew’s wins aside, there were few sur­prises at the Eis­ners this year, with Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga con­tin­u­ing to reel them in.

This year, the se­ries grabbed another Best Con­tin­u­ing Se­ries Eis­ner, its fourth in the last five years, as well as in­di­vid­ual ac­co­lades for writer Vaughan (who won his fifth Best Writer award and fourth for Saga )an­dartist Staples, who won the Best Pen­ciller/Inker or Pen­ciller/Inker Team and Best Cover Artist cat­e­gories.

One of the big­gest win­ners was writer/artist Thompson, who got three Eis­ners. She won for Best Painter/Mul­ti­me­dia Artist, Best Graphic Al­bum (New) for Won­der Woman:

The True Ama­zon, and Best Sin­gle Is­sue/OneShot for Beasts Of Bur­den: What The Cat Dragged In, with Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer.

Writer Tom King won two Eis­ner awards, one for DC and one for Mar­vel. He won Best Short Story with David Finch for Good Boy, an ori­gin story of a peren­nial favourite Bat­man char­ac­ter, Ace the Bat-Hound, fea­tured in DC Comics’ Bat­man An­nual #1, as well as Best Lim­ited Se­ries for Mar­vel’s The Vi­sion (to­gether with artist Gabriel Walta). Writer Ryan North and artist Er­ica Hen­der­son were also mul­ti­ple win­ners. The duo won Best Pub­li­ca­tion for Teens (ages 13-17) for The Un­beat­able Squir­rel Girl, and shared the Best Hu­mour Pub­li­ca­tion Eis­ner for Jug­head with Chip Zdarsky and Derek Charm.

The Best Re­al­ity-Based Work award went to March: Book Three, a hard-hit­ting se­ries about the United States’ civil rights move­ment, told through the per­spec­tive of well-known civil rights ac­tivist and Con­gress­man John Lewis.

The first vol­ume, re­leased in 2013, was nom­i­nated in this cat­e­gory in 2014. March: Book Two went one bet­ter by ac­tu­ally win­ning in 2016, which was re­peated this year by the fi­nal vol­ume, March: Book Three.

Liew with his three Eis­ners. — SONNY LIEW

Won­der Woman: The True Ama­zon won Jill Thompson the Eis­ner for Best Painter/ Mul­ti­me­dia Artist, and Best Graphic Al­bum (New). — DC Comics

Good Boy, which won the Best Short Story Eis­ner, is the story of how Ace the Bat Hound came into the Bat-fam­ily. — DC Comics

The Un­beat­able Squir­rel Girl is one of Mar­vel’s most con­sis­tently funny and en­ter­tain­ing on­go­ing ti­tles. — Mar­vel Comics

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