Within a span of forty years after the World War 2, comics existed in Singapore in two forms: 1, as a vehicle for educational and promotional purposes and 2, solely as entertainment and pastime products, featuring stories by Hongkong, Taiwan and Japanese artists.
Martial arts comics from Hongkong were also in hot pursuit by kungfu fans, except that this genre was banned due to excessive violence. Majority of the local talents were publicised through daily newspapers and magazines in the form of single-frame or four-frame formats. Topics revolved around social issues and current affairs, hinting of educational value to the masses.
The earlier pioneers of comic artists or cartoonists were mainly journalists with artistic training, for example: Lin XiZhong, Weng Yi, KeFu, and Man TianFei.
Lin XiZhong specialised in portraying metropolis and the many facets of city-living, productions including “Nanyang Comics”, “Tastes n Senses” and “Clippings of Kid’s Babble”, while WengYi (original name Weng SiCheng) focused on political and educational satire. His works include “The Warring Age” and “ZhuBiSan”.
Man TianFei is a penname for Lin YuCong, who resided in Singapore since the age of 17. His work “Mr. Specky” was the title for a bespectacled man whose antics won a huge following from both Singapore and Malaysia.
Though politically discreet, Singaporeans have their fair share of political comics, with distinguished ones coming from Morgan Chua. He penned his first artworks in1970 which appeared in the Singapore Herald. After being banned from publishing his works in 1971, Morgan Chua moved on to “The Far Eastern Economic Review” and drew a hallmark of internationally renowned creations.
Heng Kim Song, another cartoonist in the Chinese medium, had his depictions of social life published in the “Lianhe Zaobao” and “Yazhou Zhoukan” magazine. Heng’s artworks expressed acute views of the international and Singaporean affairs from the eyes of a typical Asian, gaining popularity among comic fans.
After the eighties, comics in Singapore experienced a glorious era. In 1981, the “Sin Chew Jit Poh” started a comics section, and attracted tremendous support from schooling comic fans. This batch of new talents was then nurtured into a group of competent comic artists like: Peng HuiGuo, Si DaTu, WuYu, YeYe and Chen ZhiJian.
Towards the end of the 90s, the comics industry burgeoned, with the successive generation of artists maturing into highly creative masters. At the peak of its glorious era, comics productions were of immensely high standards.
Wee TianBeng, who moulded the drawing techniques of Hongkong with those of Japanese manga, concocted a uniquely handsome comics style, was the first Singaporean to have successfully marketed into the Hongkong market. His titles include “Heroic Couple and the Heavenly Condors”, “The Legend of Wisely” and “The Celestial Zone”.
Jeffrey Seow in his “LunYu”, “Principles of Amassing Richness” and “The Story of the Laughing Priest” displayed fervour and humour with his lively pen strokes, while Johnny Lau (Mr. Kiasu), Foo Swee Chin (Beloved Dog), Zhang ShengFu (City Hero, Cockroaches) were all comic masters representative of Singapore.
Comic publishers which contributed to the Singaporeans comics scene were Asiapac Book Publishing, Art Creation Publishing, Comix Factory, TCZ Studio and ShenZaoShe.
Competition within the small island city of Singapore unavoidably met with a cap on readership expansion, thereby arising the need to explore new opportunities.
With the government’s encouragement and support to embrace e-commerce, online and web-based publication would definitely stack up to be the next frontier.