Saturday, 27 June 2015

Book Review: The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (Sonny Liew)

"Hey, when you reviewed the book, did you know that Charlie Chan is made-up?"

Sonny Liew asked me this question after he read my review of The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye.

Truth is, I didn't know. I read the book under the illusion that Charlie Chan IS a real person. Sonny and Epigram's marketing revolved around the assumption that Charlie Chan is real, so naturally, I didn't think too much about it, and I read that book under that assumption, without questioning or assuming otherwise.

Blame it on deadlines, Blame it on my own ignorance. Blame it on my own blurness. Heck, I remember thinking how similar Sonny's art was to Charlie Chan, without ever making the connection. DOH!

On hindsight, I probably should have Googled "Charlie Chan Hock Chye" to see if he was real before actually doing the review, but hey, deadlines, work, yadda yadda etc etc. Sonny told me I wasn't the only one who made that mistake, but hey, it's still annoying that I did anyway.

I also had another problem when reviewing the book, particularly in a national newspaper. I didn't really want to put the spotlight on the more fiery political issues raised in the book, so focusing on Charlie's story instead of the politics allowed me to write a more objective (maybe a little tame admittedly) review that gets the word out there about the book.

Anyway, later, Sonny asked me - if you had known beforehand that Charlie Chan was fake, would you have written the review differently? Well, the short answer is, YES. Don't get me wrong, my previous review still stands, as it was written under the assumption that Charlie Chan is real. But had I been aware enough to realise that he isn't, I would have focused a lot more on Sonny's storytelling techniques, the way he weaved his "interviews" into the story, the different art styles he used, and the way he managed to tell the story and history of Singapore (and in a way, Malaysia), through the eyes of a comic artist. It is a masterful book, one, I fear, I did not do enough justice to in my original review.

But anyway, it grated on me that I made such a glaring mistake. So, Sonny, just to answer your question, here's what I would have added to the review had I known Charlie Chan was all in your head, haha. My previous review still stands though, since I wrote it from a different perspective altogether, but here's what I would have added in as well.

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Title: The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye
Writer/ Artist: Sonny Liew
Publisher: Epigram Books

Synopsis:
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is a biography showcasing the life and work of Chan Hock Chye, a pioneering but largely forgotten comics artist in Singapore. With a career spanning more than five decades, from pre-independent Singapore through its three Prime Ministers, Chan’s work reflects the changing political and economic environment in Singapore.

Containing Chan’s original illustrations, paintings and sketches, this is a groundbreaking work and labour of love aimed at recapturing the portrait of an artist, whose deep passion for comics and country is given a fitting tribute by award-winning comics artist Sonny Liew.

What I liked:

  • You can read my original review HERE for some of the other things I liked about the book. 
  • It's Singapore's history, seen through the eyes of a comic book artist. Whether it's Charlie Chan's POV or Sonny Liew's POV is beside the point, but this was a fascinating take on the subject nonetheless.
  • I still prefer the story of Charlie Chan over the actual story of Singapore though. I thought he was a fascinating character, and that Sonny really portrayed him pretty well (well enough that I thought he was real!).
  • It's a great history lesson, basically. If you wanted to know about the story of how Singapore was formed, and Malaysia's part in it, then this is like, one of the most entertaining ways to do so.
  • The way Sonny uses different art styles to illustrate Charlie's "work" really does add to the illusion that he is actually just "Presenting" the story of Charlie Chan.


What I didn't like

  • There really wasn't much I didn't like about the book, though I did think that some of political bits could have done with a bit more subtlety.
  • A few parts, especially the latter ones about the stationary company, were probably a bit TOO on the nose. No wonder the NAC didn't like it haha.
  • I also thought the book was a bit long and took a bit long to get to the point.


Where to get it:

Kinokuniya Suria KLCC. Last I heard they only had 30 copies of teh first edition left, but I think they might have gotten more already.

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