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The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (Pantheon Graphic Novels) Hardcover – March 1, 2016
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“A startlingly brilliant tour de force….Although the premise sounds simple—it purports to be the biography of a fictional comic book artist—what Liew does with it is anything but. At once dizzyingly meta and deeply heartfelt, the book spans 80 years, and in its complicated layering, reminded me of everything from Maus and The Tin Drum to, believe it or not, Ulysses….Probably the greatest work of art ever produced in Singapore.” —John Powers, Fresh Air
“Readers are treated to Chan unfurling his life story, with Liew himself occasionally popping in to provide further context within the margins. Over the course of the book’s 300+ pages, Liew presents examples of the artist’s work in between the more momentous occasions of his life, both in paintings, sketches, and most enticingly, through comics he created throughout his ever evolving career. Ducking and weaving between genres, and the historical interests of comics readers in given years, what Liew ends up concocting is a fascinating bildungsroman that rivals other Eastern-based works like Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life, with a dash of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. This is an awfully impressive achievement given that Chan is a fictional character….Easily the first comics masterwork of 2016.” —The Comics Beat
“Liew’s graphic novel is a fascinating look at a cartoonist’s growth over time and how his creative output reflects the culture around him, and Liew tells Chye’s story in a way that only comic books can….A beautifully multidimensional portrait of the cartoonist, beginning with Chye’s personal interpretation o the past before showing comics and sketches that provide further insight….The color palettes, the paper quality, the incorporation of photographs and sketches, they all combine with the text to provide a complex view of Charlie Chan Hock Chye that has a strong sense of history behind it.” —The A.V. Club
“Virtuosic….The portraits—of friends, family, Charlie himself and, significantly, both Lim and Lee—display Liew’s high-art chops. It’s his versatility, though, that’s really dazzling….Throughout, Liew advances a consistent critique of Singaporean politics. He’s deeply dedicated to the insurrectionist legacy of Lim, suggesting the man occupies a kind of opposite pole from Lee. But the fact remains that one is merely an exiled Communist, while the other led Singapore for decades. That fact brings a sadness—or rather, another layer of sadness—to the book. For all that it brims over with diverse, colorful creations, it’s fundamentally about a lack: the absence of an artist who should exist, but was never allowed to. The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye mourns all the creators who have never been permitted to thrive in Singapore. Liew’s own existence seems to be evidence of a change, but only partly. The government withdrew its support from his book, but it didn’t ban it outright. That’s a kind of progress.” —NPR.org
“A hugely ambitious, stylistically acrobatic work….the book is a mercurial delight, constantly switching between Liew’s invented narrative (in a relatively neutral nonfiction style), images of Chan Hock Chye’s works in progress over the course of his career and mock-weathered clippings from his printed creations, most of which are immaculate pastiches of famous cartoonists.” —New York Times Book Review
“Brilliantly inventive….Charlie is mild but steel-spined, observant and proud; with masterful economy of detail—an arched eyebrow here, his head at a resigned angle there—Mr. Liew crafts him into a fully realised character.” —The Economist
“Wholly original….Liew demonstrates an almost inhuman amount of diversity of skill. Like any great creator, he has stepped aside so his creation can live a life of its own….Ultimately, Sonny Liew has compiled a work of fiction so innovative and thoughtful that even the most observant reader can’t distinguish fact from fiction, biography from creation, memory from truth. And why should we? It’s a quiet story about an individual’s purpose, where one fits into society, how to live, the passion of good work, what else we should’ve done, and, perhaps the most important notion of all, what is possible. It invites, not demands, that we focus on the now, and let the past be past.” —The Rumpus
“A stunning tour de force masterpiece of imagined and real history as Liew recreates the entire career of the titular cartoonist via art and photos to explore the history of both comics and Singapore.” —Publishers Weekly, “The Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2016”
“An early candidate for the various best-of lists for 2016, this superlative achievement from Liew tells the story not only of Singaporean artist and comics creator Charlie Chan Hock Chye, but of Singapore itself. It hardly matters, of course, that the titular character is an invention of Liew’s, because his story is so real that some early reviewers assumed Liew’s protagonist had to be a real person. Chye’s story, from his youthful beginnings and early career as an artist to his later reminiscences, is fascinating in itself, but Liew’s inclusion of fabricated newspaper clippings, old sketches, and mixed media works—and even an occasional photo collage purporting to show us first-hand evidence of Charlie’s life—is riveting. As Chye’s life is revealed, so is the history of Singapore, a tumultuous sweep that is mirrored in the history of cartooning. Make no mistake: this multilayered book is a masterpiece.” —Publishers Weekly, *starred review*
“Liew incorporates a dizzying range of styles and influences, from midcentury manga to Mad magazine, to trace the career of the fictional cartoonist. In the process, he also explores the myths and realities of postwar Singapore, casting a critical eye on policies that place adherence to the established order above personal expression. The combination of a powerful message, artistic virtuosity, and a fascinating framing device make for an un-put-downable read. This relentlessly engaging work stretches the boundaries of the graphic novel medium and is highly recommended for fans of political satire, Chris Ware, or Art Spiegelman.” —Library Journal, *starred review*
“[An] impressive tour de force….it’s exhilarating to discover a talent as brilliant as Liew shows himself to be with this virtuosic triumph.” —Booklist *starred review*
“A collector’s item….can be read and enjoyed on many levels….knowledge of the true story is almost incidental to the pleasures to be gained from this fictional biography.” —Los Angeles Review of Books
“An inspired, artifact-rich account of a fictional comic-book creator struggling to lead an artist’s life in 20th century Singapore.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“The fictional title character, a cartoonist himself, is a deft framing device for viewing Singapore’s culture and history through many crisp prisms. Liew keeps us fully awake to his intellectual ambition and political potency by unveiling a parade of shifting visual aesthetics — with nods to such comics legends as Winsor McCay.” —The Washington Post
“Easily one of the greatest books of the year….Renowned comics artist Liew not only tells the heartbreaking yet inspirational story of this fictional comics artist, but he uses the narrative as a platform to discuss a larger, though equally heartbreaking and inspiring story: that of the history of Singapore. This multilayered, beautifully executed work is like no history book you’ve ever seen. It will leave you speechless….While Charlie Chan Hock Chye may be Singapore’s greatest comics artist, Sonny Liew is on his way to becoming the greatest in the world.” —Cedar Rapids Gazette
“A multilayered masterpiece of comic-book and real-world history, a portrait of the postwar world made in a thrilling postmodern style. It’s funny and rich and satisfying, and one of the best comics of the year.” —Slate
“A tour de force artistic performance….This may be the book that truly makes him a star in the U.S.” —Mental Floss
“In The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, author and illustrator Sonny Liew masterfully juxtaposes history and fiction—so much so that at first I couldn’t tell the difference! This genre-bending graphic novel follows the story of fictional cartoonist Charlie, now in his 70s, and his art, beautifully rendered in contrasting styles to add to the realism, intertwined with the history of Singapore.” —BookPage
“In this graphic novel, Liew (Shadow Hero, 2014, etc.) presents the life and work of an obscure comic-book creator in tandem with the turbulent modern history of Singapore, the land both call home…. Liew provides sharp commentary throughout, illustrating interviews as well as accompanying strips that decode Chan's layers of allegory. A fascinating look at a clever, uncompromising artist married to the times in which he lived.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Unless one Googles Chan, one wouldn’t realize he is a brilliantly conceived fictional invention….Liew uses a variety of mediums—pencils and ink, oil on canvas, photographic reproductions of actual historical events—to tie Chan’s fate into the unrest throughout the country. The result is a surprising revelation of a master storyteller who manages to turn a controversial and largely buried story into a personal reflection on art and freedom of the press.” —Shelf Awareness
“It’s going to be incredibly difficult to beat this book. I mean I’m already penciling it in for my best original graphic novel of the year....It is an onion that doesn’t stop until the end….Masterful.” —Comic Bastards
“One of the most intricate and impressive graphic novels I’ve ever read….A dense and dizzying tour of 20th-century Singaporean history….Only someone with an enduring love of comics could have produced this work.” —BoingBoing
“With The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, Liew gives you as the reader a complex, multi-dimensional insight into the history of Singapore in the context of artistic creation….Unbiased, self-effacing, and outstandingly clever, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye sets a new standard of how to demonstrate the evolution of culture and politics outside of a textbook or formal essay. While Western audiences should absolutely read this to understand the complexities of capturing multiple perspectives in history, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye at its core aims to educate and inspire the people Singapore.” —Forces of Geek
“A meta-fiction masterpiece.” —Pod Sequentialism, meltcomics.com
“Liew’s book is remarkable, a meta-history of Malaysia as told through the biography of ‘Singapore’s greatest comics artist,’ the fictional, but entirely credible, Charlie Chan Hock Chye…. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s just dazzling.” —Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
“The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, an intricate tapestry of comic art and political comment, is a stunning achievement that should well and truly propel [Sonny Liew] into the global premier league of cartoonists.” —BrokenFrontier.com
“A strange book—in a great way….[Liew] expertly presents an unadulterated story of Singapore, through the eyes of Charlie Chan….Brilliant on many levels….Highly recommended.” —Parkablogs.com
“A joy to read. Sonny Liew masterfully weaves the history of Singapore with the history of comics into something you've never experienced before.” —Gene Luen Yang, creator of American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints
“A remarkable graphic novel….It has everything going—just brilliant.” —Peter Kuper
“Unique and unprecedented... a masterpiece... This book is a joyous, beautiful, million-faceted thing – a celebration of the comic book medium, a technical masterclass, a thrill ride, a Bildungsroman and an unflinching retrospective of the post-war-into-modern era. I love it, and I'm in awe of it.” —Mike Carey, author of Lucifer, The Unwritten and The Girl with All the Gifts
“Prepare to be swept away by a history of Singapore as you’ve never seen before. Sonny Liew delivers a brilliant and fiercely perceptive appraisal of this remarkable island-state.” —Paul Gravett, author of Comics Art and 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
“Only rarely can a book inspire such delight and joy as this. It is a treasure of graphic storytelling, not least because it does things that only graphic storytelling can do…. Everything here is gorgeous and rewarding, adding up to one of 2016’s most important graphic novels. It’s perfect.” —Metro News (Toronto)
“Part graphic novel, part art book, part narrative essay, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Malaysian-born, Eisner-Award-nominated comics artist and illustrator Sonny Liew is a look at Singapore unlike any other before. By reflecting on the life and work of a comic creator whose career spanned half a century, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye comments wryly on Singapore′s past and present while honoring comics as a storytelling medium.” —The Malay Mail
“One of the most visually arresting and thematically remarkable books published this year . . . A landmark work in Singapore comics history.” —Akshita Nanda, The Straits Times
“One of [the best], if not the best, comic books in the past five years . . . [A] labor of love and a triumph of storytelling that transcends any medium . . . A must-read.” —Amir Hafizi, Malaysian Reserve
"Riotously funny, heartbreakingly beautiful, fizzing with provocative ideas, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye breathes life and intimacy into the multi-layered history of Malaysia and Singapore. Sonny Liew has produced a true masterpiece. " —Tash Aw, author of The Harmony Silk Factory and Five Star Billionaire
About the Author
SONNY LIEW is a comics artist, painter, and illustrator whose work includes the New York Times best seller The Shadow Hero with Gene Luen Yang, My Faith in Frankie with Mike Carey, Malinky Robot, and a new Doctor Fate comics series with Paul Levitz.
Born in Malaysia, he lives in Singapore, where he sleeps with the fishes.
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As someone grows up in China Mainland, this book really resonates with me.
Premier Lee is one of the most stubborn anti-communist, which everybody knows. But it's REALLY WEIRD that China Mainland's communist government regards Singapore as their role model. Not only so, but they also sends a lot government officials to Singapore to study its ways of running the country. Can you imagine that? Such a BIG BIG country, with over 1.3 billion people, learning from such a SMALL SMALL city, with 5.4 million people. You know how many communist party members in China Mainland? 80 million. That's 16 times of the population of Singapore.
In retrospect, it's easy to see what they want to grasp is how to implement authoritarianism combining confucianism, nothing else. How does that turn out? For them, I'd say, pretty good, except the anti-corruption part. For the ordinary people? Well... I mean yeah, many many Chinese people has more money, more freedom ( comparing to 30 years ago), but how about ruining the eco environment which will provide foods, water, even air for the children? And their children? How about brainwashing the young generation and making them provincial nationalist? How about close the Internet one step a time while other countries embracing the shared knowledges and wisdoms of human being?
By reading this book, I gradually sees where everything happens around China comes from.
And there's much more about the book: the structures are amazing, both the page structures and the underlying plot lines. Between the lines and squares, the character develops some extraordinary twists. Or should I say to Charlie sadly and pitifully: I told you so???
After having read the book from cover to cover 3 months ago, I've been keeping thinking about Velazquez's painting - Las Menias.
They all have so many layers, and so many different ways to be interpreted, while my way of course is only one of them which is shallow and transient. But I'm pretty sure that this book, as the painting is, will be one of the classics forever shining in mankind's history.
I really went down the rabbit hole with this work because it has so many layers and levels of reality and history that I immediately wanted to talk to someone about it or hear an interview. I had been constantly walking way from the piece, trying to realign my thinking about who was telling the story. Sometimes it seemed like it was written from the point of view of this artist and comic-book writer, Charlie Chan Hock Chye, born in Singapore in 1939, and all his life aspiring to be Singapore’s own greatest graphic artist and political commentator.
Sonny Liew was merely republishing, or publishing for the first time, Charlie’s un-published work, including a graphic autobiography begun late in his fifth decade of life and left unfinished until his seventh decade. But occasionally Liew would pop in and add commentary since he was showing us only representative pieces and scraps of Charlie’s body of work. Charlie took the writing of episodic and serialized comic novels to the pinnacle of political commentary, making such astute analysis that he was having trouble getting his work published in the conservative political environment of a colonial city-state and its aftermath.
A high point for me was the RoachMan comic series which imagined a man in 1950s Singapore whose back-breaking job it was to collect honey pots of night soil from houses in traditional neighborhoods. One day on his rounds he is daydreaming about the resilience of cockroaches when—suddenly— he is bitten! Over the next days and nights he feels delirious and tingling sensations only to discover when he is nearly mowed down by a car at night that he has acquired new physical abilities…
Of course, it did occur to me to wonder about the choice of a cockroach as a hero, but Liew tells us that Charlie’s idea was picked up and changed slightly for the Spiderman comics that were popularized in the English-speaking western world the following decade. What looks like formerly scotch-taped examples of his pages are reproduced for us to judge, the artwork changing and so amazingly similar to famous Marvel works that we wonder which came first.
All the while, we are experiencing Charlie’s day-to-day reality finding a publisher, and creating characters that reflect the city’s struggle for political leadership. This is no ordinary comic. It is dense with history, drama, commentary, humor, and art. When Liew pops up again to provide commentary—we can tell it is Liew who sometimes writes captions—we need to slow down and ask ourselves which person is talking because it matters to the interpretation—one is concurrent with events and one is long afterward.
Spoilers won’t ruin this piece for you, but I just want to say that the ending is terribly poignant and meaningful; we feel as though Liew has given us a great gift to have introduced us to this unknown cartoonist, who finally finished his autobiography. He’d finally travelled to Comic Con in San Diego in 1988 after an entire career in comics, bringing with him representative samples of his work. That episode is included in the final pages. I won’t tell you how it turned out—what Charlie saw or who saw him—but suffice it to say it provided grist for mill.
Charlie Chan Hock Chye’s story feels like it has burst onto the scene with the power of a neutron bomb, laying all other artists flat because of its virtuosity and depth. We are intensely curious how Charlie could escape attention for so long, but also wonder about the connection between Sonny Liew and Charlie. The book won three 2017 Eisner Awards at this year’s Comic Con, for Best Writer/Artist, Best US Edition of International Material—Asia, and Best Publication Design Winner.
Read the book first, and then get a taste of how it has been received in the U.S. by checking out the Comics Syllabus 008 podcast produced by Paul Lai who interviews Sonny Liew about the book. Also, Youtube has a short Epigram Books clip of Liew talking about the book’s conception and execution. But read the book first. Get the whole experience.