Singapore Literature Prize winner Sonny Liew encouraged graphic novel medium is recognised

For artist-illustrator Liew, the win is a big boost for the graphic novel scene. — TODAY pic
For artist-illustrator Liew, the win is a big boost for the graphic novel scene. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, July 15 — Last night, the Singapore Literature Prize for English Fiction went to a graphic novel, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew for the first time since the prize was established in 1992.

For artist-illustrator Liew, the win is a big boost for the graphic novel scene.

He said he is “encouraged and happy about winning the prize” and heartened that “the graphic novel is receiving recognition as a medium of expression like any other.”

The Singapore Literary Prize, which recognises published literary works in all four national languages, is the most significant literary award here.

It is organised by the National Book Development Council of Singapore.

The biennale competition is supported by the National Arts Council — which had incidentally caused a stir when it withdrew a publishing grant for The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye in May 2015 due to “sensitive content” — on the eve of its Singapore launch.

The experimental graphic novel follows the story of comic-book artist Charlie Chan during the formative years of Singapore’s modern history.

It brings together fictional and historical elements, including events and personalities in the nation’s history, such as Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, opposition politician Lim Chin Siong and Operation Spectrum (the so-called Marxist Conspiracy) in 1987.

In spite of the grant withdrawal, the book published by Epigram Books sold over 9,000 copies in Singapore and is currently in its fifth print run.

It has been released overseas this year through Pantheon Books, an American publisher and 10,000 copies have been sold to bookstores in America.

Liew told TODAY over the phone, “The award is given by the Book Council rather than NAC, so I don’t think it represents change in NAC’s stance towards the book but it is a real honour winning this prize and (it) gives me more encouragement for future projects.”

He is also more focused on the bigger picture of getting more readers for graphic novels and comics.

He added: “It would be great if this meant more people would give comics a try rather than perceiving them as something just for children. More people learn to appreciate and take this form of literature seriously instead of perceiving it as juvenile.”

Liew is currently working on a DC Comics issue titled Dr Fate with writer Paul Levitt and will be starting work on a new graphic novel later this year. — TODAY

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