Thursday, June 9, 2022

The Comic Embassy - An Interview With Multi-faceted Freelance Artist James Leong

An exciting and experimental communal space for comic artists called The Comic Embassy is currently being set up at Tekka Place. The embassy aims to promote local interest in comic creation, and will shine the spotlight on two artist ambassadors each month.

Local freelance artist James Leong is one of the artists who will help kick off the launch of The Comic Embassy. Upon first impression, James’ buff and tough exterior might remind you of an Asian Jason Statham, all ready to dive into action with guns a-blazing. However, instead of drawing real-life weapons, James draws gorgeous art pieces of highly imaginative characters and creatures.

Before he went freelance, James spent decades toughing it out as Art Director in the advertising industry, working with client projects like OCBC and SK-II. Now, he not only creates comics and manages his own wearable art brand #DaCatPeeps, he also flexes his knowledge as a professional educator teaching enthusiasts about art, story-telling and related topics.

As an artist with several years of working experience, James certainly has a lot to share. So, Red Dot Diva pumped up a few nosy questions, just to find out a little more about the man behind the drawing board:

Red Dot Diva (RDD): I am in awe of your extensive and multi-faceted artistic career. How did your years grinding your nose in the fast-paced advertising industry help with your freelance art projects since then?
James: Working in the brutal and intense industry has sharpened my thinking process and concept very much. My storytelling skills reached another level besides just reading comics, especially with the heavy involvement of countless pitches and TV Commercial jobs. As a commercial illustrator, it helps with my time management, the ability to listen, and problem-solving.

RDD: You are also actively involved in teaching art and its related skills to enthusiasts. Do you believe the adage that "anyone can draw"?
James: Everybody can draw and it is not a talent. It is a skillset which can be acquired through patience and constant practice. In my teaching or rather tutoring, I provide guidance and evaluation to polish those passionates. I am also very proud of one of my students whom I tutored on fashion design and guided her in building her portfolio for further studies. She is doing great in overseas study now. And another one who is going to UK to pursue his dream as well.
RDD: Maybe I should start digging out my old colour marker pens... if they haven’t dried out by now!

RDD: I enjoy your variety of artwork, especially the ones with cats! How would you personally describe your art style?
James: I had been exposed to Hong Kong comics style in the 70s from Tony Wong Yok Long’s “Little Rascals”, which was as re-titled “Oriental Heroes” or “Dragon Tiger Gate”. In the 90s, I gradually leaned towards Hong Kong’s Ma Wing Shing’s “A man called Hero” and “Storm Riders”, Japanese’s Ryoichi Ikegami’s “Crying Freeman”, Tetsuo Hara’s “Fist of the North Star” and Katsuhiro Otomo’s “Akira”.

I am also influenced by Taiwanese’s Zheng ZhengZhong(鄭正忠) and Zheng Wen’s Chinese painting style comics. At that same time, I began to follow some western comics from Simon Bisley, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane and Travis Charest as well.

Technically, I have a mixture of style from these comic artists, so I cannot exactly define my style yet. But, it is definitely action-genre inclined infused with a sense of realism. I can roughly describe it is as heavily textured in line-art and colours, with a love towards animal and creature drawings.

RDD: What aspects of your artistic journey do you still find challenging? How do you intend to overcome these challenges?
James: During the initial period of comics creation, I hated to do background drawings, especially those huge landscapes which are important for storytelling. To overcome this, there is no short cut. I joined a local urban sketching group, to sketch on site and capture the essence of the landscape subjects to study and understand different aspects and details I saw while sketching.
RDD: As they say, the thing you try to avoid is sometimes the thing you need to spend time on the most.
James: Yes. Getting out of my comfort zone to try out different approach of drawing techniques is a constant challenge. One never knows when the opportunity comes, so just do it and get prepared always. Anonymity is also always an issue. I rely heavily on social media to gather fans, keep on drawing and postings for more exposure. Anyway, I have prepared a talk on sharing this journey at The Comic Embassy.
RDD: Awesome! I hope there will be a bunch of people attending and learning from your experiences.

RDD: You seem pretty fit. What are you other interests besides creating art and stories?
James: I am a badminton lover and martial arts practitioner. Badminton is a game I picked up rather late at 24 years old, but I didn’t stop playing ever since except for a period of nursing my injury, which I regrettably sustained from playing soccer. My interest in martial arts was heavily influenced by my late idol, Bruce Lee in the 70s. I was a blue belt in Tae Kwon Do, trained a little in Choy Lay Fatt and now, I focus on practising Wing Chun.

I am also a movie buff and animal lover. For movies, I personally love action-genres the most, and have a huge collection of blurays.

RDD: Comics are such a unique medium. In your opinion, what is the "magic" factor that makes a comic successful?
James: There is no ‘magic’ factor. All products need advertising and promotion, and publicity. To be heard, seen and spread the voice are the key elements to initial establishment. Content is king, as we all know, so If it is entertaining and engaging, the motion will take its course towards a certain degree of success.

RDD: I believe that The Comic Embassy is a great way to give more exposure to our many local artists. What will you be doing or promoting at this new artist space?
James: At The Comic Embassy, I will be holding sharing session, a few workshops and “live” art demonstrations. While some projects are in planning stages, the latest project in the pipeline is to publish Blockudoku-inspired art book. It is a series of beast/ creature drawings which is based on the “game over” graphics of Blockudoku game app. I am also planning to compile some short comics strips and drawings which I have created during the circuit breaker period into printing.

You can meet James Leong and admire his artwork (as well as his biceps) at The Comic Embassy this Saturday, 11 June. Local sketch artist Collin Yap will be accompanying James as co-artist ambassador. Come visit the brand new artist space and get to know our local talents better!

Where: #B1-01/02 at Tekka Place, 2 Serangoon Road, Singapore 218227
Date: 11 June 2022, Saturday
Time: 3 PM
Admission is FREE

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