Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Gone Case" Creators Answer Diva's Questions

Think local and one may haplessly have Jack Neo's movies in mind, as well as the incessantly repetitive Channel 8 Chinese serial dramas. Or even worse, have mental images of that *gasp* gratingly annoying Singlish-spouting contractor who's "best in Singapore, JB and some say Batam".

Therefore, it is with much relief, that Red Dot Diva is now able to replace these mental pictures with a realistic yet heartwarming story that's identifiably local.

The story she is referring to is the graphic novel "Gone Case" written by Dave Chua and illustrated by Koh Hong Teng.

The graphic novel, which was launched at STGCC 2010, is based on the book by Dave Chua, which was first published in 1997. The book received the commendation award at the Singapore Literature Prize 1996.

Set in the familar yet unescapable HDB landscape of Red Dot Island, "Gone Case" is centred around Yong, a 12-year-old boy who is observing and experiencing various key events surrounding his family and his friends. The novel showed Yong dealing with his parents' separation, his grandmother's death, conflicting religious beliefs, the gradual transformation of his housing estate, the meaning of brotherhood and friendship, and even, romance...

What seems like a typical coming-of-age story is actually a keenly accurate depiction of the Red Dot Island heartland.

Red Dot Diva and her mom both loved the character of Ah Ma (grandmother). The segment where she gamely adorns a pair of wings just to keep the peace in the family and out of love for her Catholic daughter was heart-wrenching to view and read.

In particular, after reading the graphic novel, Red Dot Diva's mom said that the best indication of how "Gone Case" is so emphatically local, are those scenes concerning Ah Ma's funeral. The clash regarding religious rites is such a common scene these days, and personally, Red Dot Diva's family had experienced quite a few of these similar, angry skirmishes.

Not to mention the other "silent" scenes that visually speak more than words. Like Yong's observation of her sister's romantic tiffs with the Ah-beng-ish boyfriend, and the last scene of him attempting to shave for the first time.

Red Dot Diva has to point out that the story of "Gone Case" was made so much more enjoyable by the amazingly detailed drawings by artist Koh Hong Teng. Hong Teng certainly has an eye for the little things - like the type of grills and window panes of the HDB flats, how the shoes and potted plants are placed outside the corridor, the elaborate funeral rites, how energetic schoolboys have fun with the wooden swings in the neighbourhood playground.... Red Dot Diva couldn't help checking out the nitty-gritties in the panels because it was so obvious that they had been lovingly drawn.

So, having enjoyed the graphic novel very much, the nosy side of Red Dot Diva kicked in. And she wanted to get to know more about the creators of the book. Both Dave Chua and Koh Hong Teng very amiably obliged to her request. (Perhaps they don't know how busybody Red Dot Diva can be?? Sssshhh...)

Red Dot Diva to Dave: Could you tell us how the original book came about? What inspired you to write it and get it published?
Dave: Well at the time the Singapore Literature Prize was open to unpublished novels. I won the Golden Point award a year before and was inspired to tackle something longer to set aside some time for "Gone Case". I wanted something firmly set in the Singapore heartland, so decided on a sort of coming-of-age story about a 12-year-old boy and the struggles of coping with extreme changes in his life.

Red Dot Diva: Throughout your years growing up in Singapore, and observing this HDB-lifestyle around you, did you consistently document your thoughts in a journal?
Dave: Not really, but I did that via photographs. I also file it away in some reservoir in my head. I've stopped trying to keep a journal as I always lose the journals.

Red Dot Diva: What made you decide to do a graphic novel adaptation of the "Gone Case" book?
Dave: Koh Hong Teng approached me on adapting the book after he read it. So why not? I was also interested in his own take on it.

Red Dot Diva: Were there any challenges in crossing over from book to comic?
Dave: Definitely. I viewed him (Hong Teng) as a director, and certain parts have to be sacrificed in the process of adaptation, as well as added to make parts of the story that he felt was more important to him.

Red Dot Diva to Hong Teng: For those who are not familiar with you yet, could you give a brief background about how you came to draw comics?
Hong Teng: I was raised in a kampong and was introduced to comics (mostly HK kungfu stuff and Japanese manga) by visiting cousins when I was 7 or so. This new found interest had gotten me into a bit of a trouble as I started drawing, with permanent ink, on the walls at home. Ever since then, I don't remember I have stopped drawing.

The desire to draw comics grew stronger as I went to secondary school, when I met like-minded friends and was exposed to even more comics from US and Europe. I was fortunate to have very supportive art teachers in both secondary school and junior college.

I went through the phase of producing 'home-made' comics, submitting works to so-called comics publishers here, rejections by overseas publishers and ... it was not until 1996 when I collaborated with a good friend to self-publish "01321" (out-of-print), and I'd never look back since.

Red Dot Diva: How did the two of you decide to collaborate with each other for "Gone Case"?
Dave: As above. Hong Teng approached me about it.
Hong Teng: In 2008, I submitted 2 stories for Sonny's "Liquid City" Anthology and was also preparing a joint art exhibition with him and two other artists. I was developing a painting series "BLKS and NOS" at that time, which allows me to put on canvas what I discover in my neighborhood and other HDB estates.

It turned out that Dave was the emcee for the exhibition and I learned that he wrote a novel set in a HDB estate back in 1996. I got hold of the book and was intrigued by the idea that this could well be my next comics project. I approached Dave and that's how it happened.

Red Dot Diva: Did you guys know each other for a long time?
Dave: Not really.
Hong Teng: I heard about him and met a few times before the art exhibition. I read his film reviews as well. No, I don't think we know each other for a long time.

Red Dot Diva: How long did it take for Book1 to come together as a final product ready for print?
Hong Teng: 1 and a half years.

Red Dot Diva: Who are your favourite comic artists? Who are your artistic inspirations?
Hong Teng: From Hong Kong - Mah Wing Shing. From Japan, Akira Toriyama, Katsuhiro Otomo, Osamu Tezuka, Yoshihiro Tatsumi.
From the US and Europe - Dave McKean, Jon J Muth, Ken Williams, Bill Sienkiwiez, Geoff Darrow, Seth, Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine. From China and Taiwan - He You Zhi, Zheng Wen. They're all my inspirations.

Red Dot Diva: What was your personal favourite scene/ segment to draw in "Gone Case"?
Hong Teng: The Ah Mah's funeral.

Red Dot Diva: And which was the toughest to depict?
Hong Teng: The mundane ones. Like conversations in the kitchen.

Red Dot Diva: Do you hope that the story might go into TV/ film one day?
Dave:  Well if it happens it happens. I'm quite happy with the comic adaptation and I've worked in the media scene here before, and I know a lot of folks tend to take shortcuts. At least in graphic novel form, one has more control.
Hong Teng: I don't hope for these things. It complicates and compromises the creative process that is going into producing comics.

Red Dot Diva: How has the response to the "Gone Case" graphic novel been? Were there any strong brickbats?
Dave: I think the response has been quite strong and it's been selling quite well. Of course not all comments have been favourable, but we're taking it in stride.

Red Dot Diva: What are your thoughts about the STGCC last year? Did you geek out over anyone?
Dave: I think it was good, though I attended some of the panels and thought it was difficult to hear anyone because of the volume. But it was great to meet people who picked up the book; would be comic artists and fans. It was great and a little weird to see Edward James Olmos there, especially since I was at San Diego Comic Con in 2009 and saw him there browsing as well.
Hong Teng: I thought the last two events had a better turn out... then it could be because the admissions were free. But I had a good time there.Ya, I discovered one hell of an artist and Sonny's getting him to do a piece for "Liquid City Volume III", hopefully.

Red Dot Diva: What do you think of the comics scene in Singapore recently?
Dave: I think it's on the way up, but definitely not an industry yet. We're seeing lots of comic artists here getting international exposure - Kenneth Loh for example is doing some pages for DC. It's also great that the National Arts Council is also recognizing comic talent, as can be seen in Sonny Liew's Young Artist Award win. To me, for Singapore to fully develop its media potential, you need a whole ecosystem of books and comics. Stories that you can tap into.
Hong Teng: Amidst all the post STGCC excitement, We've got a long way.

Red Dot Diva: What other stories are brewing in your mind right now? Do you already have plans to publish a different kind of book or graphic novel next?
Dave: I was a recipient of the Arts Creation Fund and was working on a book of short stories, so hopefully it'll come out next year. Hong Teng and I are working on "Gone Case" Book 2 of course, and we are bouncing ideas off for what next.
Hong Teng: The pressing issue is to get Book 2 out by 3rd quarter this year. Then Dave and I will be developing a story idea. Not much time spared for art projects though.

Red Dot Diva: When will Book 2 be ready?
Dave: Hopefully 3Q of 2011.

Red Dot Diva: Would the art be in colour for "Gone Case" Book 2?
Hong Teng: No. It will be like Book 1.

Red Dot Diva: How much do you like geek girls?
Dave: Love them. Especially Felicia Day. They need to erect a temple dedicated to her.
Hong Teng: I don't know how to answer this question as I do not know them personally. (Red Dot Diva reckons that this pressing issue needs to be rectified! hehe)

Touching. Nostalgic. Accurate. Relevant.

Red Dot Diva sayangs a poignant Red Dot on the "Gone Case" graphic novel.

The comic is recommended especially for the heartlander within, who is looking for a realistic and not too dramatic take on what life is like for most living in Red Dot Island. Red Dot Diva is sure, that unless you belong to the very upper echolons of local society, there would definitely be a scene or other that one could connect deeply with.

"Gone Case" is found in local bookstores Kinokuniya,Prologue, BooksActually, Woods in the Books, Basheer and Comics World. Go grab a copy!


Do check out the first part of this blog post where Red Dot Diva met Dave and Hong Teng at the Kinokuniya book signing!

And for more information about "Gone Case" the graphic novel, check out the official website!


Specially for the non-local folks
Ah Beng - Usually loud, uncouth Chinese male who tends to speak mainly a Chinese dialect called Hokkien. They tend to be stereotyped as being involved in gangs or some kind of dubious criminal activity or other. Although these days, the rather English-educated Ah Beng is also quite prominent. Ah-Beng-ness transcends "money". Yes, there are rich Ah Bengs. They wear even flashier clothing and drive customized cars.

Sayang - A Malay word with meanings varying from love, adoration, 'what a pity' and to assuage or sooth. The word was used in this blog with the last context in mind.

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