Friday, December 30, 2016

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (TACCHC) is one of the best biographies I have read about a comics artist, which is doubly impressive given that the subject of the biography is fictional. It is truly amazing how much was fabricated for this book. It is full of dazzling details, including in-progress sketches, manga excerpts, paintings, museum pieces, and other artifacts that make this book seem as chock-full and well-researched as an actual artistic biography.
The premise of this book is that Charlie Chan Hock Chye is supposed to be "Singapore's greatest comics artist," but in our world the political realities of the time period prevent his coming about. Really, this book is more about the various conflicts with colonialism, communism, and self-government that define modern-day Singapore than it is about a single person, though all of these movements, conflicts, and events are filtered through the medium of comics. The artist is an imaginary symbol of what was lost in the various decisions over time. His potential greatness is represented via various pastiches in the style of several comics virtuosos, including Osamu Tezuka,
Walt Kelly,
Mort Drucker, Frank Miller (a la Dark Knight Returns) and Winsor McCay. And perhaps the fact that all of these styles are borrowed are supposed to speak to the collage that constitutes Singapore's culture. Whatever the intention, the amount of thought and craft in this book is astounding. It is truly a work to read, ponder, and contend with.

Sonny Liew is the artist/creator of this book. He has been nominated for an Eisner Award and is best known for his collaboration with Gene Yang, The Shadow Hero, as well as his artwork on the current Dr. Fate series. His past works also include  Malinky Robot, Vertigo’s My Faith in Frankie, and Marvel’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. He speaks extensively about his work on TACCHC in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read of this book either praise it or remark on just how substantial and complex a work it is. Douglas Wolk called it "a mercurial delight." Etelka Lehoczky wrote that it seemed that Singapore itself,  "the pressure-cooker country — tiny and polyglot, globally competitive and politically repressive — seems to have been poured into this dense book." Dan Kois called it "funny and rich and satisfying, and one of the best comics of the year."

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye was published by Pantheon and they have more info about it here.

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