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More kiasu than Mr Kiasu: New character brings queue-cutting to next level

Author and artist Johnny Lau. (Photo: Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)
Author and artist Johnny Lau. (Photo: Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

In the 18 years since the last Mr Kiasu comic book, many aspects of daily life in Singapore have changed. Now, the iconic character’s newest outing is set to reflect that with new characters and situations.

“I hope that they (the readers) can see a more multi-faceted, multi-dimensional society that we live in,” author and artist Johnny Lau told Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore in an exclusive interview on Thursday (7 Sept).

“When we were doing ‘Mr Kiasu’ earlier on, it was a simpler world that we we lived in,” Lau said, two days before the Singapore icon’s official return to major bookstores. “But now with all the latest technology and devices, it’s a very different world.”

Indeed, since the time of Kiasu’s last appearance, the word “kiasu” has even made it into popular online dictionaries. The Hokkien word, which translates directly to “afraid to lose”, has been deeply intertwined with the attitudes of Singaporeans since before the comics first came out.

While familiar faces like Kiasu’s cousin Kiasee (literally ‘afraid to die’) and girlfriend Ai Swee (‘love looks’) will be making an appearance, the new comic also features three new characters – reality show judges with “superpowers” that Singaporeans can readily relate to.

For example, Cutter (aka Super-Q), who is able to “disguise himself very quickly to cut queue”, Lau revealed. “He’s basically like a chameleon,” the 53-year-old said. “He’ll be able to come in late, and, within a short time, find various ways to get in front… He’s able to cut queue very effectively by changing and morphing himself into a different person… He deploys different tactics.”

Kaiji, on the other hand, has to wear a helmet at all times because of a disease he has had since young, but improves upon it and the devices that power it. “He’s able to use that power to see the world (from) behind the glass. He’s able to hear things that normal people can’t hear,” Lau said.

The last character, Karang Granny, went through a “crisis in the family” and gains the ability to control and manipulate cardboard boxes. “These characters reflect the kiasu-ism phenomenon we still see. So, when Mr Kiasu meets these characters, he’s actually quite fascinated by them because, one way or another, some of them are more kiasu than him.”

Kiasu in a different time

Kiasu’s character is also set to evolve along with the changing times, with the protagonist now facing retrenchment from his job and having to work in a café.

“In the story, he (Kiasu) has to come out of his comfort zone… he’s facing a world that he’s not familiar with,” Lau said. “That puts him in a slightly different place, where I think my older readers identify with. At the same time, newer readers will understand café culture and co-sharing places.”

Lau said many of Kiasu’s experiences in the new book were based on his own observations of new technology over the years. “Now we live in a work environment where people have different gadgets and devices, and these constantly need (to be) charged,” Lau said. “When things are in the ‘low batt’ status, they panic.”

In the comic, the object Kiasu decides to charge at work “is a bit extreme, but also reflects what is happening now in the world”, he said.

While there is a Mr Kiasu movie in the works, Lau also hopes to bring back some of the older comics with publisher Shogakukan. “In the long term, if the response is good, we hope to continue with the adventures of Mr Kiasu and friends,” he said.

‘Mr. Kiasu: Everything Also Like Real’ goes on sale at bookstores on Saturday (9 Sept). The 128-page full-colour comic book is priced at $13.80 (inclusive of GST), and will also be sold at Shogakukan Asia’s booth at the CharaExpo 2017 event, held at the Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre Level 4 over the weekend. Lau himself will be at the event, holding a talk and autograph session on Sunday.

Here’s our interview with Lau:

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