Over the last weekend, Singapore received a huge win. Comic artist Sonny Liew won three Eisner Awards for his book, “The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye”. He is the first Singaporean to win the Eisner Award, which is considered to be the comic world’s equivalent of the Oscars.
These awards have put Sonny on the map, with Singapore’s literary scene sitting front and center. However, it would appear that Singapore does not seem to care. While major media outlets did release the news, public figures and statutory boards in Singapore have largely remained mum about his achievements.
The National Arts Council issued a delayed response to the news. In a Facebook post, the NAC congratulated Sonny and mentioned his new works, which will be showcased at “the NAC-commissioned Singapore International Festival of Arts”. However, the NAC omitted the name of his award-winning work.
One of the main reasons for this could be the content of his book. The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is a political comic book that looks at Singapore’s changing political and economic environment.
The book follows the life of fictional artist Chan Hock Chye, set against the backdrop of Singapore’s history. However, the book challenges the established history of Singapore and offers an alternative perspective.
In parts of the book, Sonny imagines a world where Mr Lee Kwan Yew loses the elections and his political rival, Mr Lim Chin Siong, becomes the first prime minister of a modern Singapore.
Of particular interest is the part where he talks about the merger. Sonny accuses Mr Lee of skewing the referendum.
In 2015, the book made waves when the NAC pulled a $8,000 grant because the comic’s content “potentially undermines the authority or legitimacy” of the Singapore Government.
As expected, there was an uproar at this decision.
In a Facebook post, academic Cherian George said: “No, MPs won’t welcome Sonny at Changi Airport, there won’t be a victory parade, and the Prime Minister won’t laud him in his National Day Rally Speech.”
So the question is, why is he not acknowledged? Yes, we are a society that generally does not condone speaking out against the government. However, shouldn’t we at least support alternative works? After all, Sonny has put Singapore on the map with his win.
Regardless of the content of the book, Sonny has still achieved something big for our country and he should be celebrated and his work given the appreciation it deserves.
Keep culture journalism alive, at just the price of a kopi. For a little bit more, get access to exclusives and a monthly gift box. Support us at patreon.com/popspoken