2 years after gov’t funding snub, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye gets comics’ Oscars nomination

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Sonny Liew signs a copy of "Charlie Chan" (image - The Agora Facebook page)

Two years after the Government withdrew funding for his book, comic artist Sonny Liew continues to attract international accolades for his work, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye.

It was announced on Tuesday that he is being nominated for 6 awards at the Will Eisner Industry Awards, the most a nominee has received this year.

The categories the book is being nominated in are:

  • Best Graphic Album–New
  • Best US Edition of International Material–Asia
  • Best Writer/Artist, Best Coloring
  • Best Lettering
  • Best Publication Design.

The Eisner Award, as it is also called, is the comic industry’s equivalent of the Oscars for film or movies. The nominations are thus a badge of honour for a man whose work was frowned upon by the Singapore Government in 2015.

The nominations, however, are not the first time that the Malaysian-born Mr Liew has received from the Eisner Award. He has had three nominations previously.

Mr Liew has done work for the revamp of the Doctor Fate series under DC Comics, and for Marvel as well.

“It’s been a wild and unexpected journey so far, and I’m a little lost for words at the moment,” Mr Liew told local media. “I’m sort of caught in between steeling myself for the possibility of having six times the disappointment, just enjoying the moment, and seesawing between the two!”

He said he’d “encourage anyone in the comics industry here to get registered and vote, whatever their favourite titles and creators are.”

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye was first published in Singapore by Epigram Books in 2015 and partly due to the controversy over the fund withdrawal by the National Arts Council (NAC) quickly sold out and several reprints had to be made.

Now published in the US by Pantheon Books, the book chronicles the life of a fictional Singaporean who lived in the 1950s to present day Singapore, against a back drop of real political events and political figures in Singapore’s history.

The NAC had, in 2015 when the book was first released, explained that the book “potentially undermines the authority or legitimacy” of the Singapore Government.

A spokesman for the NAC said at the time: “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.”

Since then, the work has gone on to win the Singapore Literature Prize and the Singapore Book Award’s Book of the Year 2015; and was also named in various international publications’ must-read list, such as The Economist, The Washington Post, and Publishers Weekly.

In 2015, Mr Liew told the TODAY newspaper, when explaining why he did the book:

“I was trying to meet the challenge put forth by the PAP (People’s Action Party) that someone without a stake in the country, who could run off at any time, shouldn’t be offering critiques of Singapore, which I knew this book would be doing at some levels.”

All professionals in the comic book industry are eligible to vote. The deadline for voting is June 16. The results of the voting will be announced in a gala awards ceremony on the evening of Friday, July 21 at Comic-Con International.

You can view the full list of nominations here: Eisner Awards Nominations.