Award winning artist Sonny Liew on the future of the local comics scene

Award winning artist Sonny Liew on the future of the local comics scene

He tells us what is needed to ramp things up, but what will he reveal about his new top secret project?

If you look close enough you may just be able to make out what Sonny Liew is working on. Comic artist Sonny Liew is working on a real gem.

To be specific, the Eisner award nominee is working with writer Gene Yang on recreating a character that made its first comics appearance back in the 1940s. And when it‘s not on Wikipedia and un-Googleable with less than four search terms, you get the sense it is going to be special.

So it’s particularly fitting that the man behind the Secret Robot Spy Factory is illustrating such a top secret project.

I can’t tell you what it is yet, but here’s a hint: like how David Carradine replaced Bruce Lee in the 1970s series "Kung Fu'" race politics at the time meant that the original protagonist of this secret project couldn’t flaunt his true identity.

Since then, the 35-year-old Malaysian illustrator has also garnered critical praise for Vertigo’s "My Faith In Frankie" (2004), contributed to Kazuo Kibushi’s "Flight" anthology (2005-08), edited two volumes of Asian comics anthology "Liquid City" (2008 and 2010) and most recently, was one of five recipients of the National Arts Council 2010 Young Artists Award -- the first comics artist in Singapore to receive such an honor.

He tells us what he thinks of the local scene.

CNNGo: Why did you choose to base yourself here for work?

Sonny Liew: I didn’t have much of a choice. In the USA you can’t get a visa if you just have a temp job, there are all those other requirements… and I wanted to do comics. So I had to come back here. Yeah, the creative community here isn’t the best… one thing I really liked about SDCC (San Diego Comic Convention) was the feeling I got going there -- it was a really tight knit group and there was a real sense of community spirit.

CNNGo: Well, some artists say they work better in isolation.

Liew: I don’t know if I agree about people being more isolated… I think that having a community is good.

"Sailor's Moon'' oil painting by Sonny LiewCNNGo: There are a lot of self-taught artists and writers out there. As someone with a formal art education, do you think it’s necessary for a medium like comics?

Liew: I guess to a certain extent you can teach yourself anything, from painting to sculpture, but I guess if you don’t go to art school, it’s good to have family and friends who are in the arts somehow, so they have some kind of existing education.

If you don’t have that kind of circle, if you don’t have that kind of environment, then it’s good to have teachers who can guide you and inspire you. On a base level, art school really helps you to develop your work, give you feedback… and that’s kind of important. As for myself, before I went to art school, I couldn’t paint, I didn’t know color theory… stuff like that.

CNNGo: What are you looking forward to at the Singapore Toy & Comic Convention this month?

Liew: Like I said before, I think [events like] the SDCC in the past has been the best way for people to get together and hang out a little bit, so having something similar here is good. People from Singapore and Malaysia have somewhere to go.

CNNGo: You did a lot of legwork to publish "Malinky Robot" (2005), which went on to be a Xeric award-winning title, do you think it would be a different story doing it today, with all this DIY new technology?

Liew: I don’t know. There are definitely more channels now, but at the end of the day, it still doesn’t change how things are done. At the end of the day, you want to make comics that people want to read.

CNNGo: What do you think can be done to boost the local comics scene?

Liew: I think that local publishers have to start publishing more stuff and take risks, and market it… though on the other hand, at the same time, creators have to step up a little bit too. A lot of artists here have different visual styles and that’s good, but the storytelling isn’t on the same level.

CNNGo: Do you agree that the story should be the principal focus of a comic?

Liew: I do think that storytelling structure is important for some comics. There are definitely some comics that don’t have the strongest narrative but the art is just so cool that you keep reading it, so in that case it’s about presentation.

CNNGo: What’s your favorite medium?

Liew: It depends on what I’m doing. Usually pencil and ink because of the way it looks. I also like painting in oils as well -- for quick sketches I’ll use pencil and ink, though. I also like brush pens. I have a Wacom too -- coloring is a lot faster on it.

CNNGo: What do you think of the impact of the iPad/Kindle on comics as we know them?

Liew: Comics on the iPad, I think, are still geared toward gaming and animation etc... What makes comics unique is the fact that they are static and you get to take in the page as a whole, whereas with the iPad there’s a lot of zooming in and out, panning and animations. It’s really more like animation than comics.

The Singapore Toy, Games & Comic Convention will take place December 10-12 at Suntec Singapore Halls 401 & 402. Go to for more details.