NAC takes back grant for artist's new comic

NAC takes back grant for artist's new comic
Local comic artist Sonny Liew, photographed at Goodman Arts Centre.

A hot-off-the-press graphic novel seems to be in hot water, with the National Arts Council revoking its $8,000 publication grant because of its "sensitive content".

The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by award-winning comics artist Sonny Liew tells the story of a Singaporean artist who represents 60-odd years of local history through his satirical comics.

Founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and his political rival Lim Chin Siong appear in the 340-page book in cartoon form.

The 1987 Operation Spectrum, in which 16 people were detained allegedly over a Marxist conspiracy to overthrow the Government, is turned into a plot to replace all music in Singapore with the melodies of American singer Richard Marx.

Published here this month by Epigram Books, the comic scored a publishing deal with American publisher Pantheon for an international edition next year.

It was awarded a grant of $8,000 from the council before publication, of which $6,400 was disbursed, according to Epigram Books' publisher Edmund Wee.

He will return the $6,400 and is printing stickers to cover up the arts council logo in the printed books. About 1,000 copies were printed and it retails for $34.90 at major bookstores.

Mr Khor Kok Wah, the council's senior director, literary arts sector, said in response to queries from Life!: "We had to withdraw the grant when the book The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye came out because its sensitive content, depicted in visuals and text, did not meet our funding conditions. The council will continue to support and work with Epigram, a leading publisher for Singapore literary works, on their other projects."

He did not specify what these conditions were.

On its publishing-grant application form, the council states that it has the right to withdraw funding for various reasons, including if there are "illegal or negligent acts" that "adversely affect the reputation of the National Arts Council, any government bodies, public institutions, national leaders or (the grant applicant's) organisation".

Malaysia-born Liew, 40, draws for big-name American imprints such as DC Comics, including the monthly series Doctor Fate launching next month.

He has been nominated three times for the Eisner Awards - the comics industry's Oscars - and, in 2010, won the council's Young Artist Award in Singapore. He became a Singapore citizen while working on The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye.

"I'd hope that the book was able to approach things in a nuanced manner," he said.

"The withdrawal feels unfair to the publisher, especially given the fact that the materials they submitted for the grant application was an accurate representation of the final work.

"However, at the end of the day, the book is still available in bookstores and we'll just have to work harder to try to make readers aware of the title." He launches it today at Books Kinokuniya's Ngee Ann City store.

In 2011, a collection of plays by Chong Tze Chien published by Epigram Books also had its funding by the council revoked - before its publication.

Mr Wee declined to comment further. The book included Charged, a controversial drama about race relations and national service.

This article was first published on May 30, 2015.
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