Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Diva's Interview With Artist Sean Lam - Geungsi Is About Human Emotion and Subconsciousness

After decades of working in various high profile projects overseas like the two-part graphic novel adaption of New York Times bestselling Larry Niven's sci-fi novel RINGWORLD, and the mega 40-page manga IT TAKES A WIZARD by Thomas R. Hart, local artist Sean Lam has been returning back to his roots. His self-published graphic novel GEUNGSI Vol 1: Geungsi in the House was launched recently during the National Library Board's annual Night at the Library event, together with an art exhibition that showcased the creative evolution of the comic.

GEUNGSI (the Cantonese pronunciation of jiangshi, the vampire from Chinese lore) is a horror fantasy tale about Meng, an energetic HK slayer who moves to Singapore, and meets Shaun, a young salaryman. Bad news for Shaun though. He has been turned into a geungsi by a mystery woman named Alice. Can Meng and Shaun be friends? Or will they end up as frenemies and end up fighting the unexpected dangers of the underworld? If you are interested in checking out this new horror comic based in the streets of Singapore, GEUNGSI is already available at several local bookstores, including GnB Comics, Kinokuniya and Basheer Graphics Books.

To find out more about Sean Lam's thought process in creating GEUNGSI, Red Dot Diva got in touch with him for a short interview.

Red Dot Diva: Hello Sean! Congrats for the launch of GEUNGSI! These have been unusual times with the pandemic dragging on for nearly 2 years. As a creative person, how have you been coping, and what major lessons have you learned from the situation?
Sean Lam: Thank you. Indeed, the pandemic was quite unexpected, but it offered a time for reflection. Especially as an artist, it was an opportunity for me to finally organize my own work during this hiatus. I read a lot of local news, tried to understand more about people and the situations that affected everyone globally. The arising societal issues in the news about what triggered people, provided substantial amount of content for the making of my book GEUNGSI. I felt that the pandemic was handled better here, unlike riots and chaos elsewhere. Perhaps people are compliant here and coping well. It shows a test of resilience.

The situation was very reflective for me to learn about self-care, and to be more mindful of my personal reactions when I interacted with others during the pandemic.

Red Dot Diva: What made you decide to focus your comic book creation efforts back home in Singapore? In your opinion, how much has the local comic book scene changed?
Sean: It was situational, definitely. I mean due to work with my publishers, I have been writing my own story on the side for quite some time, in between projects, and this was often disrupted. Once I came home to Singapore, I was finally able to stay focused and put everything together. I have been away too long to make any comments about the local comic book scene. Before I left Singapore, I only know Wee Tien Beng and Johnny Lau. Now, I am delighted to get to know and meet a lot more local comic artists, since my return.

Red Dot Diva: It seems that South-East Asian horror is having a mini resurgence recently. There is HBO Asia's anthology series FOLKLORE making waves in the film festival circuit, the positive buzz for Malay indie film ROH and Filipino comic adaptation TRESE on Netflix, as well as more local horror comics published recently - some of which feature our favourite ghoulies. Why did you decide on the GEUNGSI for your book, and what makes this particular monster stand out from the rest?
Sean: Frankly, my story concept is not about the supernatural stuff. GEUNGSI pays tribute to the HK Jiangshi films that I used to enjoy in the 90s. When I was overseas, I felt the need to introduce an Asian icon, and it was natural for me to revive the hopping vampire with a new twist. I would love to share this with the rest of the world, by introducing Geungsi in Singapore to my global fans. GEUNGSI focuses on social issues and concerns, which I hope, are expressed out in a fun and engaging way, and yet it is a semiotic representation of human emotion and subconsciousness. The monster part is only a façade, a referent element to depict desires and suppressed emotion.
Red Dot Diva: That is true. Based on my absurdly extensive consumption of horror stories in pop-culture, I do find that the best ones always offer multi-layered perspectives about the human condition.

Red Dot Diva: While writing GEUNGSI, did you seek out any South-East Asian paranormal "experts" (or even mediums, haha) to learn more about the geungsi and other regional supernatural entities?
Sean: I did a lot of reading and research, googled a lot about Geungsi. To be honest, I depended a whole lot of reference from my binge-watching of past HK horror films. The content from those films was the foundation for my story. However, part of it also came from the day-to-day people interactions that I experienced during the pandemic, and still, until now, with people I meet.

Red Dot Diva: Singapore has a mostly urbanized landscape. So, what are your key tips for crafting a scary and dramatic local horror universe?
Sean: Very easy. Create places that you can relate to on a daily basis. When horror strikes close to you, the familiar senses will do its magic. There is no need to be significantly dark and eerie to create scary scenes. It can be just the void deck that you enjoy hanging around so much or even the coffee shop. Anywhere can be scary when one can relate to them easily.
Red Dot Diva: eeeks. That reminds me. I am going to check under my bed before I sleep tonight.

Red Dot Diva: What soundtrack or song do you think is the best accompaniment for the GEUNGSI comic?
Sean: Interesting question. I do listen to a variety of music as I draw, my current preference for GEUNGSI is a Cantonese song (雌雄同體) by Juno Mak. But anything goes, something melodic, don’t have to be metal, but fast-paced tracks help, canto pop song or whatever language.

Red Dot Diva: You will be appearing at THE YUREI x SEANLAM booth at the upcoming SG Toy Con on 17-19 December. How did that collaboration come about, and what can fans expect to get from your booth?
Sean: The Yurei is part of Grimoire of Horror, a media website that focuses solely on Asian horror with over 24,000 followers all over the world on their Facebook page. This exclusive collaboration, which gives us an opportunity to join forces and share the fascination for the undead, was pegged almost immediately after they covered the book review of GEUNGSI in October. I am honoured to represent Singapore as well as Asia’s paranormal and folklore culture on their platform, and also advocate for cultural exchanges through comic media.
Red Dot Diva: It does sound so awesome, and I think it is exciting that other people are getting familiar with our region's supernatural creatures and folklore.

Sean: To mark our collaboration, and as an inauguration for many more projects to come, the exclusive The Yurei x SEANLAM limited-edition merchandise, such as tee shirts and bandanas will be available at the SG ToyCon as a bundle pack on first come, first serve basis only. Some artist print collections and posters will also be on sale. And, I will be in to meet and greet, perhaps to also draw some sketches for my fans. Hope to see you there too.
Red Dot Diva: Can't wait. Hope to see ya soon!

The first Singapore Toy Convention 2021 (SG ToyCon) is happening at the Visual Arts Centre, from 17 to 19 December. Besides The Yurei x SEANLAM booth, there will be many other retailers offering their wares at the event. Check out for more information in my SG ToyCon article here, or click to the event's Facebook Page.

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