So I finally manged to get a copy of Sonny Liew’s The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye today and finishing it made me miss reading comics.
Sure, it was a really poignant tale of Singapore’s short history since the Japanese occupation. And sure, it pointed out the alternative history and possibilities like a Marvel “What-If” comic book. Yes, you can debate about the politics and ‘Secret History’ examined in the book – as Liew offers that much material.
To me though, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye felt like Sonny Liew’s tribute to comics. It was possibly a love (and possibly hate) letter to comics as a medium.
Reading The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye first reminded me of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. Sonny Liew demonstrates an obviously depth of knowledge of the medium by splicing his story and art style with various methods seen in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, Art Spiegelman’s Maus and even Mad Magazine. Despite this, Liew’s distinct art style was never lost throughout and his references never felt merely a copy. Several times, I found myself lingering over the panels just to let Liew’s art sink in.
Perhaps it wasn’t surprising as Liew’s strength was always his unique art style. This has seen him fulfil artist duties with stints on DC’s Doom Patrol and other titles by Indie publishers.
With The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye however, Liew has wonderfully demonstrated his ability to helm both writing and drawing duties, to tell stories visually. The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is a beautifully woven visual story narrated by an aspiring artist, Charlie Chan and interspersed deftly by Liew with faux interviews, news paper clippings and other ‘artefacts’ to tell the story of Charlie Chan and Singapore’s parallel lives.
They say that art is most powerful when it is personal – and I can’t help but feel that The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye parallels Sonny Liew’s personal story. I had the fortune of meeting him at a dingy comic shop in Katong once when he was promoting Malinky Robot: Stinky Fish Blues and I never imagined that he would come this far years on.
I’m glad there was someone who made the journey Liew did and really I hope he has more stories to tell.