One Small Voice: Lim Cheng Tju

Published on 26 February 2017

Can comics be the next big thing in Singapore? Comics reviewer Lim Cheng Tju shares his views.

BY PAMELA HO

A good comic must be a good story that grabs by the jugular right from the start. With so many titles out there, the script and art must come together to offer me something that I can’t get from a film, a novel or a poem. Some comics that deserve a wider audience, in my opinion, are Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Old Master Q by the late Wong Chak, and our very own Mr Kiasu [by Johnny Lau].

As an educator, I’ve started a comics section in the school library in all the schools I’ve taught at. For junior colleges, I’d buy The Sandman or Hellboy; for secondary schools, Superman or Batman. The important thing is to get students to read! I’ve also used comics in class. To teach Arab-Israeli conflicts, I chose Joe Sacco’s Palestine. For General Paper, I’ve explored many issues using comics.

On the train, I do see young people reading manga on their phones, probably downloaded from sites like comiXology. The comics scene here is definitely more vibrant now. We have more creators and publishers like Epigram Books putting out graphic novels. There’s also government support in terms of funding and exposure — the Singapore Writers Festival started a Sequential Arts tract last year.

Sonny Liew winning the 2016 Singapore Literature Prize for his graphic novel The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye was a milestone; but the turning point happened earlier with him winning the Young Artist Award in 2010, and then Troy Chin in 2011. On the industry side, there’s also the Singapore Toy, Game and Comic Convention (STGCC), which brings fans and overseas artists together.

But the small local market and the structure of funding has created a situation where indie and serious comics are the norm, which is strange. Overseas, it’s genre comics like superheroes, horror or humour. I think it’s partly because comics fall under the ‘literary arts’ in terms of funding. My take is that if we want the scene to grow, we need different types of comics.

Our indie model, where the writer is the artist, is just one model. There’s also the DC/Marvel Comics model, where a writer works with specific artists; and the Hong Kong model — which is similar to the Japanese manga model — where a comic is done by a whole studio of artists. It’s collaborative, much like an animation or film studio.

Producing comics is labour intensive. I’m currently working on a project that pairs writers and artists. We’re also exploring a variety of genres like humour and adventure. I think the way forward is more genre comics, more collaborations, and to have an eye on the market.

Lim Cheng Tju is an educator, a comics reviewer, and country editor (Singapore) for the International Journal of Comic Art. He also co-edited Liquid City Vol 2, an anthology of Southeast Asian comics (published by Image Comics in 2010), which was nominated for an Eisner Award for best anthology. Apart from writing and editing comics, Lim also writes about history and popular culture in Singapore. His articles have appeared in The Journal of Popular Culture and Print Quarterly.

EDUCATOR TIPS

How can comics help you academically?

– It helps broaden your horizons and imagination of what’s possible, of a present/future not constrained by realities. That’s needed as we’re all products of our society and upbringing.

– Reading comics is different from reading prose, in terms of processing. Between one panel and the next, your brain processes the in-between. Cognitively, you learn how to anticipate.

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