The Art Of Sonny Liew: Of Fate, Charlie Chan and going Boom

(Image: Epigram Books)
(Image: Epigram Books)


As an artist, Liew is also philosophical about whether he’ll be able to do something like this again.

“It’s the longest book I’ve ever done,” mused Liew, pausing. “Just in terms of length and time taken it’s the most I’ve spent on my own stories. I wonder whether I’ll get the chance to do something similar again, or when it’ll happen.”

“I (also) wonder whether I’ll come up with anything as interesting again, or whether I’ll end up a bit repetitive in the future,” said Liew. “I always liked playing with old comics, new comics, in Malinky Robot there’s one story where you look at that. So I’ve done that before, so there’s a slight worry that it’s going to be a sort of habit I fall into.”

“Even though there’s a story right now I’m thinking of that’s kind of like that, although it’s a different thing, there’s always that fear,” he added. “Even (director Martin) Scorsese, I don’t think he’s doing anything as good as his early movies – Mean Streets, Raging Bull – he’s come back to the same themes but it’s never quite as fresh.”

Pantheon Books has picked up the international rights for Charlie Chan, and it’ll even be available in France and Italy – proof to Liew that the book he did at least has some merit.

“It’s been sold to France and Italy, and for me I think that’s a way of saying maybe it’s OK in a sense,” said Liew. “It also helps in the ‘whether the book will reach a wider audience’. I initially had no idea if it would even have reach beyond of Singapore.”

“You never feel like you’ve made it, you know,” said Liew. “For a short period, maybe a couple of days, when I got the Pantheon deal, ‘yeah I’ve got a deal!’ After a few days, it’s like ‘what am I going to do next?’. It doesn’t last long, the euphoria.”

“What sells and what doesn’t sell is hard to predict,” said Liew. “The best selling comics in Singapore tend to be those movie and TV tie-ins … The Journey was selling like hotcakes, and I’m sure the comic based on Ah Boys To Men was doing very well.”

“If you want to sell comics, there is quite an obvious way to do it,” added Liew. “I hope it does well.”

The cover of The Shadow Hero. (Image: First Second Books)
The cover of The Shadow Hero. (Image: First Second Books)


The release of Charlie Chan marks another impressive milestone for Liew in just a short period of time: The Shadow Hero, for which he performed art duties, is nominated for the 2015 Eisner Awards under “Best Publication for Teens”. (Writer Gene Luen Yang is also nominated in the same category as well as best writer for his work on The Shadow Hero and Avatar: The Last Airbender.)

This isn’t even his first nomination – Wonderland (with writer Tommy Kovac) was nominated in 2011 – but despite previous work with Marvel and Vertigo, things weren’t always so promising.

“Two or three years ago I was wondering where my career was going – I felt like I was stalling,” said Liew. “The time when I was getting work from Marvel was because of one or two editors who liked my work. When they left, it was gone. I always say Disney killed my career.”

Liew says that two projects – one about Pinocchio and one about Huckleberry Finn – were canned after Disney bought over Marvel in 2009.

“Part of the reason of doing Charlie Chan was it felt like a bit of a moonshot,” said Liew. “Just try and see what happens. And right now it seems to be gaining traction, in terms of Pantheon, and Shadow Hero has helped as well.”

But even The Shadow Hero nearly wasn’t going to be a success – for Liew, who revealed that he nearly passed on the book before his agent forced him to take it up. And now, there’s more good news.

“Boom! is offering me a multi-book deal,” Liew revealed. “We haven’t signed anything yet, but I think it’s in place. I feel like I’m in a position to make some choices, which is good, but is scary.”

“One example I remember the actor who was supposed to play Wolverine instead of Hugh Jackman,” said Liew, referring to Dougray Scott who (in)famously had to give up his role as Wolverine after the filming schedule of Mission: Impossible II overran. “You wonder whether these these things impact your career and choices. Well, again, you can’t tell until it happens.”

With The Art Of Charlie Chan released, and with Dr Fate on its way, Sonny Liew, right now, is content.

“I have no complaints. It’s a good a place as I could imagine, two, three years ago.”

The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is now available at Epigram Books for S$34.90. Order soon for an autographed copy! Sonny Liew’s official book launch will be held TODAY, May 30, Kinokuniya Ngee Ann City, 2pm.

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