Comics Connection draws to a close

AFTER 23 years in Singapore, home-grown comic chain Comics Connection - which had outlets in many heartland malls linked to train stations - is no more.

One of the last remaining Comics Connection branded stores was the one at Plaza Singapura, before its signboard was changed to retailer Toy Or Game's (TOG's) last month.

In fact, many of Comics Connection's stores islandwide have been taken over by TOG, which specialises in collectible toys and video games.

TOG managing director Felix Chan, 39, told My Paper that the handover was completed on May 1 last year, with TOG retaining 12 of Comics Connection's stores, along with 10 per cent of its staff and some of its stock.

Comics Connection, a family-owned business helmed by businessman Daniel Yeo, started out as a single store called Comics Paradise in Bukit Timah Plaza in 1992.

It grew to 25 outlets across Singapore at its peak in 2011.

Mr Yeo - who has said he is not "crazy" over comics but is a fan of Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball series - declined to comment on Comics Connection.

But a TOG partner, who did want to be named, said Mr Yeo, 70, "is very reluctant to give up the business but it's just that he has no successor".

He added that Mr Yeo's age and health are "catching up with him".

The partner also noted that Mr Yeo is "a very sincere guy and a good businessman" whose passion helped carry him through.

Mr Yeo, who wished to retire, eventually handed over the business to the TOG partner, who is his friend.

Speculation on Comics Connection's impending closure began early last year when several outlets shuttered.

Some stores began cutting back on the number of comic book titles on their shelves.

There were fire sales - with up to 70 per cent discount - as early as March last year.

TOG still sells comics that Comics Connection used to retail - such as translated Japanese manga and Hong Kong and Taiwanese comics - but has cut the number on shelves, focusing more instead on Japanese and Western geek culture offerings such as toys, collectibles and video games.

TOG's Mr Chan, who has been in the retail business for 16 years, explained that "we cater only for popular titles that can justify the current high rental prices".

Insiders from the local comics industry said while Comics Connection's closure was a pity, it was also inevitable.

They cited high rentals, slowing comic readership and the advent of online comics as possible reasons for its shutdown.

Jerry Hinds, president of the Association of Comic Artists (Singapore), said: "Generally, most people read comics online and that hit Comics Connection very badly."

He added that fewer people read comics now, with a drop of at least 50 per cent here in the last 20 years.

Lim Cheng Tju, country editor for Singapore of the International Journal of Comic Art, said Comics Connection rode the rise of the global manga phenomenon in the 1990s, back when even American comic publishers DC and Marvel had manga versions of titles like X-Men.

He added that the comics scene is slowing worldwide, not just here but also in Hong Kong, Taiwan and even in Japan.

Still, Comics Connection played an important role in building readership for comics here, Mr Lim said.

Local comic artist and founder of publisher TCZ Studio, Wee Tian Beng, known for illustrating series such as Return Of The Condor Heroes and The Celestial Zone, said Comics Connection's closure was "inevitable", as "there's too much other entertainment online nowadays".

Still, it managed to outlast other book stores here like Page One and Borders, noted Mr Wee, who attributed this to the chain diversifying into merchandising, games and toys.

Some non-comic products Comics Connection began selling at one point included photo prints and folders of K-pop stars.

But not everyone agrees - local comic artist Troy Chin said he felt the chain "over-expanded and started losing its core focus".

A public relations representative of the National University of Singapore Comics and Animation Society, who gave her name only as Naomi, agreed.

The chain's jump on the hallyu bandwagon meant it "lost its niche among us anime and manga fans, as not many of us are K-pop fans", she said.

Still, she added wistfully that Comics Connection, with its many heartland outlets, was "a memorable childhood hangout" for many older fans of Japanese anime and manga.

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