Sunday, February 28, 2010

National Book Development Council Talk Part 1

Why should a Singaporean writer feature local content?

Here's a small segment of a talk I gave on the 20th Feb 2010. It's a seminar series called "All In! Young Writers' Festival". 

I was given 30 minutes to talk about my experience as a comic book artist/publisher.

I feel that featuring local content and environment are important for Singaporean creators. All the best works in the world featured very localized settings and universal themes. This segment is titled "Why Feature Local Stuff"?

My old friend Jerry Hinds, President of the Association of Comic Artists Singapore (ACAS) shared the one-hour space with me.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Future IS Graphic Novels

Phil Yeh is the creator of America's first graphic novel "Even Cazco Gets The Blues".
Amongst his amazing adventures, Yeh was the first to interview Jerry Siegel, the co-creator of Superman. At that time, Siegel was not given due credit (nor compensation) for his creation. Yeh's interview helped Siegel win back his rightful credit as co-creator of the world's most famous American superhero.

Clockwise from left: Lim Chengtju (green shirt), Otto Fong, Hilary Ho, Miel, JF Koh, Phil Yeh and Linda Yeh

In my earlier posting, Yeh is in town to give a workshop. We met for lunch before his book promo at the Kinokuniya Bookstore.

I won't write too much about our afternoon together here. Instead, I'd like to share a few very good insights:
1. The graphic novel (G.N.) format is THE way to go. For the average modern city folk, a full-length novel becomes a luxury as our schedules become packed. A graphic novel allows us to absorb much more information within a shorter time. Afterall, a picture is worth a thousand words. As I often told my audience, manga or graphic novels are popular with Japanese adults. Obviously it's not because Japanese adults have not grown up - they're simply too busy to spend a lot of time reading a traditional novel.

Maus II by Art Spiegelman

2. Hugely successful genres such as the American superhero comics and Japanese Manga, while popular, only appeal to a small population. Their dominance now stands in the way of the general public seeing the graphic novel as the future of reading. Because the general public thinks that graphic novels only offer superheroes or manga, they are slower to check out great titles like "Logicomix", "Persepolis" or "Maus". "Logicomix" is a G.N. about the search for truth using Mathematics. "Persepolis" is about a girl growing up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran, while "Maus" is famous as the one which portrayed Holocaust survivors as mice.

 Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

3. Similarly, some Singaporeans have a negative view of comics. This can be traced to two historical eras: 
a. the dominance of Hong Kong kungfu comics. These were popular amongst gang members in the 60s and 70s, creating a negative view of comics in general.
b. the rocky relationship between political comic artists and Asian politicians. The Western concept of Freedom of Speech (including lampooning politicians in comics) could not work well in the region, resulting in friction between the comic artists and politicians. Again, this discouraged young people to pursue a career in comic drawing. With some education, people will come to see the importance of G.N. as the future of reading.

Logicomix by written by Apostolos Doxiadis. Character design and artwork by Alecos Papadatos and color by Annie Di Donna

These are all very good news indeed for the future of G.N. In a way, my comics are G.N.s because they do not fit the popular genre of manga or superheroes. I'm excited about the future of the Sir Fong's Adventures In Science series!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Why Avatar Should Win Best Picture!

Why I Think Avatar Should Win Oscar Best Picture!

Recently, I commented on Facebook that Avatar should win Best Picture. The reactions showed my friends were clearly rooting for the main contender, The Hurt Locker.

The Oscars have traditionally ignored science fiction movies, and in 2009, the Avatar script is not even the best sci-fi offering in the cinemas. On, a popular online collection of film reviews, District 9 scores a whopping 90% approval rate, Moon boasts a close 89% while Avatar managed 82%! Even at a whopping 94% favorable review rate, The Dark Knight could not bring its creators a Best Picture Oscar in 2008.

And, most damning of all for my arguments, I have not even seen The Hurt Locker! PLEASE DO NOT STOP READING! I trust that you will find my argument sound and compelling.

I’m sure The Hurt Locker is a brilliant movie. And I wouldn’t miss it since I was a Combat Engineer who dealt with explosives and bombs in the Army. Yet, while good movies could be found every year - from American Beauty to Shindler’s List to Slumdog Millionaire – how often have we come across an Avatar?

Before Avatar came along, CGI-enhancement had gone to the dogs. George Lucas created the much-loathed Jar Jar Binks and even more clinical Star Wars Prequels, and Roland Emmerich showed us disaster porn via 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow. The promise to infuse a new sense of wonder and magic back into the cinema was unfulfilled – it only resulted in bigger/better/more. We the audience breathed in a collective sigh of boredom.

The problem is, we knew how the effects were done: computers. Big Effing Deal!

Worse: cinema was dying. People have more and more excuses to stay home with dvds and big-screen televisions. Instead of ushering in a new age of community wonder, new technology only brought more isolation, dvd pirates and illegal downloads. Artists wondered if they would ever get paid for their creativity, since more money was bled to bootleggers.

It is true that technology is simply a tool. One can use it for good, but often many use it for a quick profit or cheap thrills, draining life and possibilities from humankind.
Similarly, we can expect more of the same from future technologies. As robotics, artificial intelligence and genetic engineering become reality, many will choose to exploit these technologies for quick profit and cheap thrills. If you’d seen The Matrix or Terminator, you will have seen a future where technology runs amok of its human creators.

It takes an artist like James Cameron to harness and command existing and emerging technology. Avatar brings wonder to cinema as only the original Star Wars did in 1977. Avatar defeated bootleggers by finding new ways to lure audience back into a crowded movie theatre, thus showing other artists that truly creative approaches can halt the hopelessness brought about by bootleggers and illegal downloads. Avatar delivers what was promised us decades ago: that computer graphics and digital filming can bring untold wonder to the screen.

We must recognise an artist like James Cameron. As new technologies spring up, we’ll need more artists like him to be able to use these technologies for the good of humankind. We need artists who can harness robotics to enhance the quality of human life. We need artists who can ensure that genetic engineering also benefit all living things on Earth, not produce new Frankenstein monsters which could enslave us – just as bootleggers, illegal downloads and mindless cgi-enhanced stories had threatened (and is still threatening) to deaden our nerves and kill off our creative impulses.

Bill Gates showed the world that a technology geek can become the world’s richest man. James Cameron will show us that ultimately, an artist can command that technology and use it in ways that open up new possibilities for mankind. 

Like the Jake Sully avatar who wrestled the big red Toruk and tamed it, Cameron wrestled the mother beast of cinematic technology to show us that artists – like the Na’vis – stand a chance against the pirates and reclaim our creative spirits. For that, he and Avatar richly deserve Best Picture Oscar.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sci-Fi and Science

Today, The Straits Times' Life! section carries an article by Kezia Toh. It talks about a new Discovery Channel programme called "Sci-fi Science" hosted by Professor Michio Kaku.

In my workshops and school visits, I insisted that we should not poo-poo science fiction.

Certainly, the gaps in many sci-fi shows are as big as Black Holes. For example, space battles are usually noisy, but we know that sound cannot travel in the vacuum of space. Or if Peter Parker (Spiderman) was really altered by a bite from a radioactive spider, he wouldn't spew webbing from his wrist. He would spew webbing as a spider really would: his butt. Or Lightsabers can exist as a finite length of particle (Star Wars). Or creatures on Pandora (Avatar) consistently grew six limbs but the Na'vis somehow managed with four.

Certainly there are big gaps between what we know as Science, and what sci-fi stories present. Some of us see those gaps as unbridgeable. 

But consider this: Once upon a time, before humankind can fly, the skies belonged to the birds.

Then one man imagined humans flying. He sketched out a drawing of a man flying with some weird contraption. 

You can imagine his friends all laughed when he showed them the drawing.

"That's impossible!" They knew that flying was impossible at that time, but somehow they believed it would never happen. To them, that drawing was a work of fiction. Science fiction!

We know it's possible. Because we fly in airplanes all the time now.

That artist/scientist was Leonardo da Vinci. His sketches of human flying remained with us as a reminder that our imagination should never be taken lightly.

I was having a conversation with Professor Leo Tan (often known in Singapore as "Mr Science Centre") when he mentioned Flash Gordon as one of his favorite movies.

Dr Michio Kaku knows that the difference between science fiction and science is simply a matter of time. He believes that the gap can be bridged. He even thinks that time travel is possible!

 Science educators and parents do a great disservice when they focus only on the acquisition of science knowledge (usually for grades). If the students' imagination are not acknowledged, and if students only studied Science as unchangeable facts, then Science will not advance.

Without Science and imagination, there would be no "inventions, cities, technologies, factories or jobs" (Prof. Michio Kaku).

So do tune in to Sci-fi Science on Fridays (Starhub Channel 12) on the Discovery Channel!

Cover of Sir Fong 2

Cover of Sir Fong 2