Singaporean comic artist Sonny Liew 'stunned' by Eisner wins

Nicholas Yong
Assistant News Editor
PHOTO: Chan Shiuan

Despite gaining the most Eisner Award nominations of any creator in 2017, Sonny Liew is still “stunned” at having won three of them.

On Saturday (22 July), Liew became the first Singaporean to win an Eisner Award, the comic industry’s equivalent of the Oscars. Nominated in six categories, “The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye” triumphed in three: Best Writer/Artist, Best US Edition of International Material – Asia and Best Publication Design.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s going to take a while before I fully get what it all means,” Liew told Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore over the phone from San Diego, where the award ceremony was held. In fact, Liew was late to the ceremony, and did not expect his category to be called so soon.

“I had just sat down. I was a little bit stunned when they called out my name (for Best Writer/Artist) because I wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t have a speech prepared because i didn’t want to jinx it.”

In an earlier interview with Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore, Liew had said that he was prepared to come away from the awards empty-handed. But by the time Liew was given his third award, he did have some words prepared, thanking well-known industry professionals like Karen Berger, Shelly Bond and Paul Levitz and people who had read “Charlie Chan” along the way.

The award ceremony, which took place at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront on Saturday morning Singapore time, is held annually at the San Diego Comic Convention. Awards were give out to comic creators and works in 30 categories, with the winners chosen via online voting by industry professionals.

The Eisner awards caps two years of international accolades and acclaim for Liew, including the 2016 Singapore Literature Prize, ever since “Charlie Chan” was released. It has also garnered glowing reviews in major publications such as The New York Times, The Economist and The Washington Post.

Written and illustrated by Liew, the book is an ambitious meditation on Singapore’s history, socio-political issues, comic art history, censorship and more. It examines key incidents in Singapore’s history such as the Hock Lee Bus riots, and includes the late Lee Kuan Yew and Lim Chin Siong as comic characters.

In 2015, the National Arts Council withdrew an $8,000 publishing grant for “Charlie Chan”, citing its “sensitive content”. In a recent interview with Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore, Liew spoke of his desire for a greater dialogue with authorities on the book, and to hear feedback from the family of the late Lee.

Asked if his win represents a glass ceiling-breaker for other Singaporean artists to enter the comics industry, Liew said, “I can’t predict the future. All I can do is try to do good work, and if people are inspired, then that’s great. I remember seeing Singaporean authors’ books on the bookshelves like Colin Goh and Eric Khoo when I was younger and being inspired by them too.”

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