The Hungry Ghost Month, while not a purely Singaporean affair, is something that many of us will be familiar with – for some the month is marked by devoted prayers and incense for the dearly departed, for others it’s marked by garish getai performances, huge oil drums used for burning paper money, the smell of burning in the air irritating those with nasal problems. With his latest comic, writer Dave Chua brings horror into the Singaporean heartlands – but will The Girl Under The Bed haunt your dreams or leave you screaming?
The Girl Under The Bed is a graphic novel that features main character Jingli, a schoolgirl who’s a little absent minded, a little awkward. Set within the Hungry Ghost Month, Jingli gets visited by a girl ghost in the flat she’s recently moved into. The girl ghost’s lost her memory, and Jingli vows to find out more about her, and Jingli ends up with a young medium-in-training, Weizhong, who’s tailing her to try and help. Little do they know that there’s more to meet the eye …
The Girl Under The Bed marks writer Dave Chua’s return to comics after his critically acclaimed Gone Case series. Now paired with artist Xiao Yan, I’d like to start by saying that the duo have crafted a most enthralling read. If you’ve read Dave Chua’s Gone Case, you’d know that he is good at distilling the essence of being a heartlander in Singapore, and I’d say that is once again the strongest part of the book. Whether it’s the locations like the Bedok Swimming Complex, the getais, the housing blocks or whether it’s the way the characters speak and act – there’s a strong sense of Singapore that those of us who grew up here would grasp, especially if you your childhood was spent in the housing blocks. Couple this with Xiao Yan’s loose but emotive pencils and this truly is a very beautiful book to behold. Gone Case, with Koh Hong Teng’s art, had the clean lines that evoked a silence and yearning for the good old days, but here Xiao Yan’s pencils bring each and every location to life. With a character like Jingli anchoring the story, The Girl Under The Bed is a story that is wholly relatable.
Add to that Xiao Yan’s renditions of the various “brothers” of the ghostly nature and you have a lovingly rendered book that made the wait worth it (the book was delayed from the original launch date last year). At times creepy, at times scary, and many times just rendered with such a strong sense of home, it’s easy to just slip into the tale that is The Girl Under The Bed. That’s not to say less-familiar readers will be alienated – Dave Chua provides enough within the book to help readers familiarise themselves with the setting without bogging it down with a appendix or countless explanations (though there’s a cleverly constructed appendix to fully explain the Hungry Ghost Festival for those who need it). And the book is also lightly humourous, helping to prevent the horror of the tale from bogging it down. From little quirks in the colourful characters to even a whole page of a getai singer past her prime, the snippets of humour break up the tension of the haunting.
The Girl Under The Bed veers toward a more epic story as it reaches its climax, and I think that’s what sold the book for me above all the bits that struck close to home. I believe this is why some have described the book as “A Chinese Ghost Story minus the sex”:
— Nicholas Yong (@incoherentboy) May 3, 2013
I can’t say my knowledge of Hong Kong cinema is what it used to be, but those familiar with the type of ghost stories told in Singapore will recognise many of the tropes coming together into one big bad. Thinking back to my time as a kid, it is those truly terrifying moments that we grew up on – the tales my grandparents would tell me that would leave me shuddering under the covers, the essence of that is here. Dave Chua and Xiao Yan also don’t let it get too fantastical – beneath it all there’s still the toils and troubles we still see and hear about that affect the heartlanders.
I can’t help but recommend The Girl Under The Bed. With this Epigram Books has another winner – it’s a mighty fine tale that strikes close to home and features some amazing writing and art. It’s a standalone tale so there won’t be more, but I’m looking forward to seeing more from Dave Chua and Xiao Yan.
The Girl Under The Bed is published under Epigram Books’ new graphic novel line, joining titles like Drewscape’s anthology Monsters, Miracles & Mayonnaise which has an Eisner nominated story inside, Koh Hong Teng and Oh Yong Hwee’s Ten Sticks And One Rice, and Miel’s Scenegapore. Want more? Check out the preview here.
Meet creators Dave Chua and Xiao Yan at Kinokuniya Ngee Ann City for the official launch of The Girl Under The Bed as part of Free Comic Book Day 2013. The event starts at 2.30pm. Read Red Dot Diva’s interview with Dave Chua here!