Report on comic drawing scene in Singapore

Singapore’s comic drawing scene is still in its infancy with no major publications done by Singaporeans or by any local publishing company. This report aims to attempt a brief cover of the Singaporean comic scene as well artist attitudes as gathered from on site surveys as well as information sources from local active comic forums.

The comic drawing scene

There is a general segmentation of comic artists in Singapore.

The older generations of artists are in their 30s and Chinese educated. Their works are mainly influenced by Hongkong or China comics as penetration of manga and anime during their teen years are still low and largely self taught. They generally received no formal education in comic drawing and have strong local flavor in their comics. A lot of their publications are in local magazines and newspapers where they provide the comics where they specialize in 4 panel or 1 panel comics.

The younger generation of artists is in their 20s and below and is much more influenced by anime and manga. However there is still an offshoot of comic artists that are influenced by the Western styles as well as a hybrid of both. There is an active interest in learning how to draw comics as evidenced by growth of manga classes such as offered by those from TKG, Inoue School of Language and Funics. As well as formalized training, the comic scene is also active as evidenced by forums such as www.sganimez.com, www.sgcomics.com and www.sgcafe.com/ Contests are held as well as meetings are held for members to interact in real life as well as to pick drawing tips from each other. The outlet for artwork includes conventions like cosfest2005 where artists are able to rent booths to sell doujinshi, fanart, original prints, etc etc.

Some of the barriers that new comic artists face are the lack of interest in works done by local artists. As the comic market is saturated with comics from overseas, comic artists have to contend with established works which makes the market hard to break into. This view is enforced by the manufacturers such as Chuanyi publishing and Gotham comics which aim to increase the volume of overseas comics. Furthermore, most young comic artists do not have a mentality to produce comics that have a local selling point such as Mr Kiasu produced by Johnny Tay that have the potential to be their differentiation from overseas comics. The local market for comics is also small in volume which makes it hard to break even in comics publishing.

However even though there are barriers, local comic artists are finding ways around them. One of the alternatives to publishing comics is web publishing which allows local artists to reach a greater volume of audience at a much lower cost. Some artists which have already done so are http://www.slackerscomic.com/ and http://www.squarebrain.net/category/comic/. Other comics studios like Imaginary Friends Studios (http://www.imaginaryfs.com/projects.htm) has aimed to collaborate with overseas publishers such as Devils Due Publishing on comics such as Dragonlance Chronicles. Funics studio (http://www.funics.com.sg/) also has aimed to produce a comic tie in with the MMORPG game Myth online. These projects allow local comic artists to hitch onto existing fan base as well to develop experience needed as well as exposure.

Interview

The following transcript is an interview is done with members of Funics Comix Academy on the state of comic artists in Singapore as well as the background of the comics scene in Singapore.

Travis is the Manager of Funics Comix academy
Shawn is the Head instructor of Funics Comix academy
Shaoyang is the part-time instructor of Funics Comix academy

Interviewer: Firstly, how did you all became interested in anime and manga?

Shaoyang: When you’re young, there are a lot of things around you, and then you just pick up and read the books you have. My elder brother was an avid comic fan and he bought a lot of comic books. Then when I was small I just pick them up and read lor. That time I read doeramon….

Interviewer: So it was from your brother’s influence?

Shaoyang: Yah, my older brother.

Interviewer: Yah okay, then what about you?

Shawn: Very simple lah, when you are young walking down the street, pick a book, see wah very cute pictures then start reading lah. The first thing that interested me was not Japanese stuff. The oldest one was Lau Fu Zi.

Interviewer: Well, I also read Lau Fu Zi last time in primary school.

Travis: Actually this question ah, you must ask someone who is born in 1980. People born in the 1970s like me and Shawn ah, during our time, we didn’t have manga to read.

Interviewer: Then what about other types of comic books?

Travis: Yah, there are other types. Mostly from newspapers and I believe all of us started readers you see, but nowadays slightly different from the young artists in Singapore. A lot of people start to draw not because they read manga but watch anime. For art things, normally you would start as interest groups, the reason is because, and for artist ah any form of arts, artists are very lonely. They can draw anywhere just with a piece of paper and pencil. But when you draw until a stage, you find that there is no one there to guide you, that’s when you start going out there to meet people. That’s when you want to learn. That’s how we started to form groups, to share our experiences our techniques.

Interviewer: When did you all started drawing? I mean just drawing, not even for professional purposes?

Shaoyang: Oh I see. Since young, just take exercise book and just draw lah.

Shawn: Doodling right? They start at quite a young age, when you look at mine or other artists exercise books, they will have doodles around.

Travis: This question is a bit tricky. Everyone started to draw when they are young, but how do you become an artist, is when you read a manga or watch something until a stage whereby you feel that you have something in your heart to express, then you start to create things. But a lot of people they just read, and doodle and that’s it. This is what happens in manga, Japanese comics. You can see that the element is the same. But what makes us differentiate between styles between artists is the feeling and style that the artist has. So drawing style is actually something that is copied everywhere. Japanese copied the Americans, the Americans dunno copy from where…Hong Kong copied from manga and America, and after the copy stage, artists may start to draw and differently by bringing in their own elements and that may result in new drawing styles.

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Interviewer: Then why do you guys just draw manga and not other kinds of comic styles?

Travis: (points to Shaoyang and Shawn) they draw manga.

Interviewer B: I mean the 2 of you are born in the 1970s. The Hong Kong and American comic culture should be more influential right? So why did you guys moved towards anime and manga styles in particular?

Shawn: It’s more because of variety you see. When you look at American comics in the early stages, there are mainly just super heroes and…only super heroes. And when you look at Hong Kong comics, the super heroes all look like they’re on steroids with huge muscles. So in the end, I made a shift towards Japanese manga where there are more varieties, where there are more different stories and elements, where they provide for a huge range of ages and interest.

Shaoyang: And most of the time, Japanese manga is easier to read ah, they’re pace is faster.

Interviewer: Pace is faster meaning what?

Travis: Meaning the story is very simple and straight forward. A Japanese comic always comes with a thick book of a few hundred pages. But the US and HK comics only come in about 30 pages. To me, I think this question is a bit different for me because it’s a generation thing. I am already very old, I’m 32. For my generation their generation (Shaoyang) is very different. When they are young, the books they read are manga, the cartoons they watch are anime, so they are subconsciously affected by the Jpop culture. So its very natural for them to adopt such influences and create things out of that. But for me, I belong to the Mr Kiasu generation. We had no references, so for me, what I draw, people will say is very local. So its actually the environment and culture. I think that is the only reason that will affect someone. This is a real life example (points to Shaoyang). He cannot draw anything other then manga style.

Interviewer: So are you trying to say that the later generations have fewer varieties in term of their drawing styles?

Travis: To put it in another way, because Japanese have successfully created a subculture that affects our life that does not come as manga alone or anime alone, but comes in a package. It includes TV series, pop songs and everything else you see. So variety wise I think that, as long as they like it, I think it’s okay.

Interviewer: Comparing anime or manga between local drawing styles, what are the differences?

Travis: I told you already, in the first place, culture. It’s the culture that makes the difference.

Interviewer: So in terms of storyline…?

Travis: It’s still the same. It’s the culture you see. The things we see are the Japanese life.

Interviewer: But how does that affect drawing style?

Travis: Drawing styles are based on what we copy. That’s why watching manga affects our drawing styles. Like what I say, the manga style that we see are not entirely original Japanese creations. But because they represent a large part of the anime and manga culture, we will subconsciously think that any drawing style similar to this is done by the Japanese. In real life, we can never find Japanese with eyes that big, in fact, most of them have smaller eyes. It is a cultural thing. It affects us and it comes in a package.

Interviewer: So you are saying that the most comics’ books we see today have Japanese elements in it?

All 3: Yah…definitely

Interviewer: So what do you identify as Japanese culture in manga and comic?

Shawn: Culture ah? It’s the lifestyle, the way they express themselves, the customs, their rules, ermm…

Travis: Basically its Japanese life lah.

Interviewer: Do you do any research before you guys start drawing?

Travis: Actually to draw something that looks like manga is very simple. As long as you copy the style people will say its manga. And the interesting part is when you draw a character like that in a Singaporean context, taking MRT eating Laksa, you will find that it is very awkward. So we have to adapt to the lifestyle the way they speak.

Interviewer: Then do you all try to in anyway add in Singapore styles? In storylines….?

Travis: Like what I said, it will look very weird.

Interviewer: But do you think that but making it more local, will it attract more audiences?

Travis: I don’t think so.

Shawn: No.

Travis: The reason is because of the way readers tend to buy the Japanese idea and not the local idea. They rather spend more to eat Japanese food.

Interviewer: But if there was more local flavor to the comics, wouldn’t they identify with it more?

Travis: This will go back to the culture problem you see. I will use an offensive word, Japanese culture is “invading” the world. This is happening in the US now you see. More and more Americans are starting to draw manga. They will start to do cosplaying and dress up like Japanese. So, they are our readers, if we want to please them we have to do things this way. That’s it. Because they people who eat laksa, like my father and mother, most probably they would not eat Japanese food. It’s a different culture thing. Really. Of course if we draw in a local style, we also have a market, but it’s different from the manga readers you see. They are the people that admire Japanese culture, they want to be like Japanese, so they might give themselves Japanese names, listen to Jpop, keep close touch with cultural events and information in Japan. So if you are going to target that audience, coming from a business or commercial point of view, you have to do something close to that. That’s why a lot of comic magazines in Singapore like MAGE and ROUGE??, the drawings and art are very Japanese, you can’t even tell its local.

Interviewer C: How did you guys started this studio?

Shawn: Not long ago, about a few months back.

Interviewer B: Do you conduct drawing courses? How do you conduct such courses?

Travis: When there’s need, there’s supply.

Do all the students you have already know how to draw from the beginning?

Travis: Let me share with you guys what is so unique about us lah. We are a group of artists that draw in public. So we really don’t mind sharing out artworks in front of the public. We get involved in a lot of community and charity events. So when the people there see and know that we can draw, they will ask if we offer lessons or courses. This happens in RC centers and social services centers. They want to give problematic kids a skill or to help occupy their time.

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Interviewer B: So the majority of the students are younger in age. Are there like older students..?

Travis and Shawn: Yes, of course.

Travis: we had students like fathers and mothers at the age of 34 to 45. Those are the good fathers and mothers. They don’t spend money in getting all their kids to learn from us. They learn so that they can go back and teach their kids themselves.

Shawn: We also had people of around 60 years old that are interested in the courses. There’s quite a wide variation nowadays with increasing acceptance.

Interviewer: Do the older students stay for long?

Travis and Shawn: It’s more of an interest for them. Mostly are short term interests.

Shawn: Most of them just want to pick up new skills.

Travis: We have a interesting class made up entirely of school teachers from primary and secondary schools whose age are from 20+ to late 40’s

Interviewer B: So do they go back and teach the students what they learnt?

Travis: They don’t teach because I believe that their students are widely affected my manga, so they just want to know more about manga.

Interviewer: So they jus learn the basics?

Shawn: Yes

Interviewer: So what’s the maximum level that you can go?

Travis: Maximum ah…..

Interviewer: like graduate already can draw for you guys….

Travis: We can’t use a system of measurement for our drawing classes. Of course we can teach them basics, but they need a lot of time to practice. After they can draw, they might want to think up storylines (for short production). What we can do is we will tell them what are the basic things to observe so that they would not need to do trial and error and waste time on the wrong things.

Shawn: Basically, we give them the fundamentals, after that, its up to them to practice. If they don’t, there’s no way we can force them.

Interviewer: what are the y popular genre types now? There are many different types of genres right?

Travis: Yah yah, there are many.

Interviewer: So what’s the most popular one right now?
Travis: Now ah…Yaoi lor…

*LAUGHTER*

Interviewer B: Isn’t that sort of like “gay porn”?

Travis: Yaoi…might not be gay porn you know.

Interviewer B: That’s the impression I get from what I read in anime forums.

Travis: ohh, Yaoi is basically girl fantasy, it’s not really gay porn, and normally gays don’t read Yaoi.

Interviewer: Then what would be the second most popular series?

Travis: Second one would be like….

Shaoyang: Naruto lor

Shawn: Nowadays marketing research tells that popular titles tend to be those that show the growing up process. Because as the readers read, they will feel as they are growing with the main character.

Travis: Accompanying the character. Like seeing your children grow up.

Shawn: Yah. You know like him like that (points to Shaoyang) from young always kena hit and bullied, then slowly as he gets bigger and bigger and stronger and stronger, then people will start admiring him.

Interviewer B: So that’s like the Naruto storyline isn’t it?

Travis: Actually that is the formula. If you realize Dragon Ball is also like that, so is Slam-dunk. You can see a no-body turn into a somebody though fighting and winning.

Shawn: One piece is also like that.

Interviewer: So do you think Yaoi comics affect mindset of people? Like those readers.

Travis: This question is very interesting. Because we were also at MDA discussing it. The people at MDA also recognize these problem, but most of us here, don’t read Yaoi…
According to a few young girls and their classmates who read Yaoi, the content doesn’t affect them. The reason is simple, because most of the readers are female. What can a pair of gays affect them in one way or another.

Interviewer: How do you think help spread anime or manga?

Travis: Actually, for there isn’t a need for people to spread them. As long as the Japanese culture remains highly influential, these things will be there.

Interviewer: So do you think the internet help spread anime or manga?

Travis: If you are talking about widespread right, internet is not a good media. Internet groups people up into small communities.

Interviewer: But for anime? Exchange?

Travis: Yah lah, but that ‘s the whole piracy issue. Hahaha… Free thing is always good.

Interviewer: But anime and manga are closely related right?

Travis: Yah they form an industry.

Interviewer: So when I watch the anime will I start reading manga as well? Will that happen?

Travis: Personally I don’t think so. A lot of people who watch anime would prefer to watch it instead because you don’t have to wait for another issue to be published. And due to time constraints, anime storylines are summarized, or the best stories will be shown instead. It’s a separate thing altogether. The reason is, according to marvel and DC comics, nowadays, the profit that comes from comic or manga, is about 40%. The profit that comes from animation, movies and other related merchandise is 60%. So it shows that the anime side has more consumers then compared with the manga side.

Interviewer: So you don’t think they affect each other?

Travis: I think anime will help to bring titles to more people. People might not have read the book but they may know the anime title. I have a friend who can tell me a lot about Shaman King. She didn’t read the manga but watched the anime instead.

Shawn: If I’m a comic artist, those people who buy my books will know me, but for those who don’t will know me as well, because they have watched the anime.

Interviewer: So what I’m trying to say is if there anime fans right, will they catch the manga after watching the TV series?

Travis: Not necessary.

Shawn: Some will lah…or most will. More hardcore fans will do it. For normal fans, watching the anime and manga is the same, so they probably will catch either just one or the other. Most will catch the movie though

Travis: like initial D. Sometimes, its not the manga or the anime that attracts people to movies. People watch the initial D movie for Jay Chou and not for anything else.
Interviewer: then do you have any comments on the synergistic activities of anime, manga and related merchandise? Like the whole Pokemon phenomenon? Do you think the synergy is good?

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Shawn: I think it’s good.

Travis: I think it’s good to the industry.

Interviewer: For example, for Kelvin and Hobbs, the person who drew the comics did not want to or refused to come up with merchandise because he was afraid of piracy issues and all that.

Travis: Yah.

Interviewer: So why do you think it’s good?

Travis: Its good because it can bring us income. That’s the main thing. Do you know how that Japanese deal with the Chinese in China? The Japanese will let the…or let me use Bill Gates instead. Bill Gates knows that the piracy problem in China is very serious. But he allows it, he doesn’t take legal actions against piracy. He allows the people to but the cds, until every computer has installed it and is dependent on the cd. Then he will take action and get back the profits. Actually, piracy is the most efficient form of marketing.

Interviewer: Japanese manga and comics are cheaper than US comics right?

Travis and Shawn: Yah that’s right.

Interviewer: Do you think that cost is a factor?

Travis: Cost is not a factor, culture is a factor.

Interviewer: so if the price is the same: people will still choose manga?

Travis: that’s right. The reason is very simple. Manga has a wide variety. The manga covers readers from the age of 5 to 50 years old. The only place you can find a 50 year old ah pek reading manga is in Japan.

Interviewer: maybe that has something to do with their reading culture.

Travis: that is one thing lah. And because of variety lah. Because I think after world war 2 right, that batch of manga artist came from a wide range of occupations, so that’s why they were able to come up with a wide range of different genres that attracts different groups. That laid a very strong foundation for Japanese manga. And after 20 30 years of hardwork, we will find that wherever manga goes, we can still find and get titles from the late 70s and 80s. That’s the strong thing that manga has. It has a whole range of libraries to show people, by circulating these oldies; they are able to support their industry for the next 10 years, which is what they are doing now in the US. They are bringing all their old titles to the US. But in the US, manga is something new to them. That’s why I say that manga has very strong influence worldwide thanks to their 20, 30 years worth of strong foundation.

Interviewer B: Does MDA regulate the content?

Travis: MDA actually confiscated a lot of Yaoi manga titles that were quite hardcore.

Interviewer B: So they (MDA) are actually quite strict ah, regarding the genre.

Travis: in general, the censorship criteria are quite strict. But they are giving more freedom now and that’s why we were they discussing these issues. We were there to give our opinions and help decide when to draw the line. Like how old a reader should be to be able to read w comic book with a half naked woman in it. MDA wants to give more freedom, they just don’t know where to draw the line.

Shawn: if you allow 16 17 year old kids watch half naked pictures of women, the parents will complain. The manga industry is different in that there are no age classifications for the titles.

Interviewer B: Yah because I know that for anime broadcasting, there is this watershed timing thing whereby anime rated not suitable for children are shown, including some movies. So is there such a classification for manga?

Travis: because the parliament has not passed the law, so MDA does not have the ability to implement classification schemes. But they are thinking of doing it…But for now, full naked bodies are not allowed.

What do you think is truly unique about Japanese anime that really makes it different from marvel or dc cartoons or comics? Other then drawing styles or actions or behaviors of the characters?

Travis: For Japanese styles right, not only in movies, in pop music, in anime and manga, there is the Japanese spirit. The spirit that does not give up. Of course also happens in US comics. But it’s “ying xiong zhu yi”. They have only one variety. So you can expect a lot of super heroes with the same storyline with different drawing styles. But in manga you can have different styles and different storylines catering to different ages and different type of stories and varieties. They can have stories on planes, fishing and basketball.

Interviewer: then for yourself? What kinds of storylines do your like?

Shawn: that depends. It’s different for different people. I like violent things…etc

Travis: I like those with interesting storylines. But I feel that this question is very personal. There are many genres available and the ways the different stories are presented are different. Like I believe that you will not be interested in submarine comics. But that is a very good comic and I like it. So it hard to differentiate good and bad comics, it’s very personal and reader based.

Interviewer C: In the next 2 to 5 years, how do you think the manga trend will change according to the preferences of the Singaporean fans?

Travis: the manga trend wouldn’t change. But animation wise, the Koreans are catching up. The reason why I say the manga trend will not change is because the Japanese are aware of the rise of the Korean culture. That’s why they are increasing their budgets to increase their Japanese cultural influence everywhere in the world. This was stated in the papers last year…I mean in the beginning of this year. So you can expect more and more Japanese cultural related events happening in Singapore. Because they are willing to sponsor.

Interviewer: so do you link up with other organization and co organize events?

Travis: we will have one in Dec at the national library. We will have cosplay…

Interviewer: have you ever thought of making your comic books into animation?

Travis: everyone has hope or thought about it…haha. But it’s beyond our control.

Interviewer: so if giving the opportunity, you guys will take it?

Travis: yah yah yah, animation is part of merchandising. Because we draw manga, the toys the stickers are all related merchandise. For the animation and manga companies, their products are the merchandise. Nowadays, manga, animation and games tie together. Normally for successful products, you will expect these 3 to happen. This is how we gauge popular manga, when theres games animation and of course piracy…

Interviewer: That’s all for the interview, thank you so much!

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About the author

Nadia Petrova

I'm running this blog because I love Japanese culture, especially the art of geisha. When I was a little girl, I used to dream of becoming a geisha myself. In my spare time, I enjoy watching good anime and reading some manga.

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