Singapore’s government may not have appreciated Sonny Liew’s graphic history The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, but everyone else certainly does! Despite losing a promised National Arts Council publishing grant due to “sensitive content” just before the book’s initial launch, Liew has been riding a wave of international success ever since. His unique pseudo-biography of a fictional Singaporean cartoonist appeared on numerous best-of-2016 lists, is currently nominated for six Eisner Awards, and this past weekend was named Best International Comic in Denmark’s Pingprisen comic awards.
The book chronicles Singapore’s turbulent history in the latter half of the 20th century through the life of fictional cartoonist Charlie Chan Hock Chye. Liew adopts various narrative “voices” by using different artistic styles, and incorporates realia such as photographs and news clippings to bring Charlie to life. Just before this tour de force was published in Singapore in 2015, however, the city-state’s National Arts Council abruptly revoked the grant of S$8000 (currently about $5800 USD). An official from the NAC explained at the time that the book’s “sensitive content, depicted in visuals and text, did not meet our funding conditions.”
Nevertheless, Liew’s publisher Epigram went ahead with the launch–and quickly sold out of the first printing of 1000 copies. The book’s success continued last year as it was published in the U.S. by Pantheon. Last month it was nominated for Eisner Awards in six categories:
- Best Graphic Album–New
- Best U.S. Edition of International Material–Asia
- Best Writer/Artist
- Best Coloring
- Best Lettering
- Best Publication Design
Liew humbly notes on his blog that this “maybe means 6 times the pain in July” when winners are announced, but we wouldn’t be so sure! This past weekend, his Singapore Literature Prize and Book of the Year accolade from the Singapore Book Awards were joined by Denmark’s Pingprisen. In accepting this latest award, Liew marveled at his international success:
When I was writing and drawing the book, I never imagined it would be read in Denmark, much less win any awards there – so this is a real surprise and honour. I’ve actually looked up what the award looks like on the internet, and it’s one of the nicest statuettes I’ve ever seen – it’s full of character and whimsy, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the little guy in person.
Huge congrats to Liew, and we wish him luck at the Eisners! Voting is currently ongoing and open to all comics creators, publishers, editors, historians, educators, librarians, retailers, and fellow nominees. If you haven’t read the book yet, you’re in luck: we have hardcover copies signed and sketched by Liew available in the Rewards Zone!
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.