Local comic book wins manga award

Illustrator Koh Hong Teng (far left) and writer Oh Yong Hwee (left) are behind the award-winning Ten Sticks And One Rice.

SINGAPORE - As more graphic novels are published in Singapore this year, Oh Yong Hwee and Koh Hong Teng have become the country’s first comics creators to win a prized international award from Japan.

Their 2012 comic book Ten Sticks And One Rice won a bronze this month in the 7th International Manga Award, said a press release from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The poignant story of a satay-seller’s life is loosely based on Oh’s hawker father and published by Epigram Books.

The International Manga Award has been given out annually since 2007 and this year had 256 entries from 53 countries and regions. In total, 15 prizes were awarded, including one gold, three silver and 11 bronze.

Writer Oh, 41, and illustrator Koh, 45, will receive their certificate and token this Sunday from the Embassy of Japan and Japan Creative Centre at Books Kinokuniya’s main store at Ngee Ann City. Gold winner Prema Jatukanyaprateep from Thailand, and the four creators from the United States, China, Belgium and Spain who took the three silver awards, received their prizes in Tokyo on Feb 14.

A spokesman for the Japanese embassy in Singapore says the award “honours the manga artists who are contributing to the development of manga culture in the world” and is a notable achievement for any artist, given the number of entries.

No Singaporean has ever won this award, which has been given out to notables such as American comics writer Joe Kelly, who wrote Batman, Superman, Spiderman and X-Men for giants DC Comics and Marvel. He won in 2012 for fantasy story I Kill Giants, illustrated by Spanish artist J.M. Ken Niimura.

The prize is a “pat on the back” for Oh, who was in the Republic of Singapore Navy for nine years and now runs Web design company Patroids Creative Works. “I’m very honoured to have it. I didn’t come from a writing background and this award is something that tells me I can continue doing this.”

He and Koh had been talking as early as 2006 about doing a comic based on “real life in Singapore”. Oh came up with the story of Ten Sticks And One Rice when his father was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer a few years ago.

Koh was equally invested in the story as his parents are also retired hawkers who sold Hokkien mee. He says the award is an “encouragement” to continue telling the local tales he enjoys. He turned Dave Chua’s critically acclaimed novel Gone Case into a two- volume self-published comic in 2009 and 2010, and is working with Oh and Chua on a graphic novel about a rambutan orchard beloved of Chinese artists in Singapore.

In April, Epigram Books will bring out a comic Koh wrote and illustrated solo, about the now-defunct railway station at Tanjong Pagar.

Koh is happy to see more investment in local comics from publishers and the Government – Ten Sticks And One Rice was partly funded by a grant from the Media Development Authority (MDA) – and says readership is growing. “People are more open to reading local stuff now. With the recognition from overseas, I hope this will pick up. I also hope that, one day, the scene will be mature enough to not rely on overseas awards.”

Ten Sticks And One Rice has sold 650 copies of its initial 1,000-copy print run.

Another comic brought out by Epigram Books with MDA funding in 2012, Monsters, Miracles And Mayonnaise by drewscape (Andrew Tan), had a short story within the collection nominated last year for an Eisner, America’s biggest comics award. It sold out all 1,000 copies of the print run and is being reprinted next month.

Readers can expect several more comic books from Singapore creators this year. In June and August, local publisher Math Paper Press will bring out its first graphic novels, with founder Kenny Leck, 36, citing his love for the art form.

He is investing in debut works from Temasek Polytechnic student Stephanie Raphaela Ho and Australia-born, Singapore-based Gene Whitlock. Ho’s Fatman & Superchub poke fun at chiselled Western superheroes and society’s obsession with body image, while Whitlock’s Unsavoury Alphabet is the diary of a reptilian detective keeping tabs on animal criminals.

Math Paper Press is also republishing the first volume of Troy Chin’s self-published, diary-style comic The Resident Tourist.

Epigram Books’ founder Edmund Wee, 62, says he invests in graphic novels because the next great Singaporean novel may well be a comic book.

“It’s like To Kill A Mockingbird in the US. Every American has read it and knows the values in it. They all identify with it. It’s their national narrative, not something the government dictated. We need a book, or more, like that for Singapore,” he says.

This month, he published Date King 2: Mating Season, an over-the-top look at Singapore dating by Adrian Teo and Ken Foo. In the works is Sonny Liew’s The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, the story of an early Singapore comics artist.

Liew is also the illustrator of The Shadow Hero, a six-issue superhero monthly e-comic brought out from this month by US-based First Second Books and published in print this July.

akshitan@sph.com.sg

Book it

TEN STICKS AND ONE RICE: AWARD PRESENTATION & BOOK SIGNING

Where: Books Kinokuniya Main Store, Level 3, Ngee Ann City

When: Sunday, 2 to 3pm

Admission: Free

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