Sonny Liew: The Eisner Award-winning comic artist and writer from Singapore shares his life in six outfits
Eisner Award-winning comic artist and writer Sonny Liew's most well-known graphic novel, 2015's The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, is at once a chronicle of the birth of Singapore, a document of the comic book's evolution throughout the 20th century, and a tale of its fictional protagonist's artistic nomadism. Spanning decades, visual styles, and the intertwined worlds of the personal and political, CCHC's creation was not without its controversy.
Before it was internationally acclaimed and landed on the New York Times best seller list, Liew — who began his comics career in the '90s, and has worked for Marvel plus DC's now-defunct prestige imprint Vertigo — and publisher Epigram saw their $8,000 grant from Singapore's National Arts Council withdrawn. CCHC's contents were vaguely flagged as "potentially undermin[ing] the authority or legitimacy" of the Singaporean government, with many suspecting that objections were raised for its less-than-idealised portrayal of the country's early years, particularly the life of its central founding figure Lee Kuan Yew.
Fortunately for the artist-writer, the kerfuffle only intensified interest in CCHC and made it essential reading for those seeking to understand Southeast Asia's most mythologised — and frequently misrepresented — nation. In the leadup to National Day, we turned the tables on the Cambridge University/Rhode Island School of Design-educated storyteller, and asked him to resume own his life in six outfits.
"At three years old..."
"In my mind, I must have been the toughest, coolest, cowboy in town, with my fancy knitted cap, singlet, and shorts, ready to rid the world of varmints."
"Me and my sis, at what looks like Clifford Pier."
"There are quite a few photos of me in this Mickey Mouse "The Sailor" T-shirt in the albums, so it must have been a favourite, though I don't remember it at all. A Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back one featuring Han Solo I still kinda, sorta wish I had."
"School uniforms are probably one of the strongest identifiers you have at that age, here in Singapore."
"Getting to switch to long pants at secondary three must have felt like a minor rite of passage. This one was probably taken during the collection of O- Level results in 1991. Next to me is Bhaskar; we're pretending we have two guitars. We had dreams of being part of an indie rock band, in the usual way. He went on to form the Lilac Saints. We saw each other off and on at football kickabouts over the years, but have now completely lost touch."
"Going to art school at the Rhode Island School of Design..."
"... it felt like I'd found my niche — doing drawings, comics and paintings for homework felt like being on holiday all the time. I'd spend every hour I could at the studio space in the illustration building, wearing increasingly paint-covered cargo pants with pockets for paintbrushes, and possibly snacks."
"Suits, ties, and me aren't really a fit."
"I feel out of place in them, like an impostor, somehow. This one was bought at a thrift store, so that I could get reference photos for a painting. I've shaved my head twice: once in JC over hard-to-explain teenage angst, and then again in art school, because I was doing a lot of self-portraits. Trying to learn how to handle paint was tough, and dealing with hair shapes and highlights felt like additional problems that I wanted to avoid at the time."
"T-shirts and jeans are my default choice"
"This Peanuts one is from Uniqlo. I have two of them, which always reminds me of Jeff Goldblum's character in The Fly, who owns a week's supply of the same shirt, suit and pants combo, so he never has to worry about what to wear. This was taken at my sister's place in San Francisco in 2017, after going to the San Diego Comic Con — I must have still been buzzing after the Eisners then."
Browse Sonny Liew's work below, and click on the gallery captions to purchase them all: