Stories have many different functions or roles in our lives - lessons, marketing, escapism. For S. Mickey Lin, Uncanny Valley is the fictional culmination of his observations, experiences, and insights to the intriguing, different, and possibly disturbing aspects of Singapore or people in general… with an urban, fantastical twist.
Finally having a chance to go through this collection, I was easily captivated (and at times, humbled) by the relatable, yet quirky stories coming to life on the pages. If anything, Uncanny Valley reminds us that Art is meant to provoke, to disturb, and after all the “weird feelings” subside, inspire reflection and education.
The Apex opens the anthology strong with a man who can speak to the wind. Seeing Singapore from his vantage point, construction worker Jian Guo is the personification of the helpless wise - the ones who know better but are ignored over the flashy confidence of the powerful. The Mentor speaks of a thought most do not even consider voicing in fear of looking petty or being disregarded. When youth and talent outshine the experienced, even the most patient can lose their cool.
However, my favourite story had to be Moral Clarity in Small Numbers. Never have I been so shaken with at how a story can reflect a personal experience of mine so clearly. The change in tone from the story’s “antagonist” when the protagonist expresses a view against an unwritten “straight and narrow” is so sharp, be careful of the phantom stabs to the heart while you flip the pages.
Before we go though, Sharks of Singapore gets a quick bonus mention - mostly because it was in Pulp Toast #2 too. Hehe. - Imagine yourself trying to do the right thing, stopping a con man from cheating the elderly of their retirement funds. Now imagine yourself as the con man - what made you do it?
Definitely not for fun and giggles, Uncanny Valley will keep you entertained and thinking. Hopefully, we will be able to take that step to and look at others complexly. Perhaps then, we might have a chance to understand our humanity better.
Uncanny Valley is written by S. Mickey Lin and published by Marshall Cavendish. For more information on the collection or to get a copy yourself, click here.
Another month, another writing challenge. This time, it’s endings! Again, I get my prompts and challenges from NIka Harper’s Wordplay series on the Geek & Sundry Vlogs. It has been up for a while, but you can still check out these challenges for yourself here.
Prompts: Alarm Clock that Won’t Stop Ringing, The Joy of Watching the Sunrise, The End?
Wai took her time to inhale the night breeze.
Leaning over the edge of the balcony railing, she closed her eyes and let the wind from the sea crashing just below them play with her hair. Next to her, Chong stood, his hand ready to hold hers as she reached out for him.
“How long?” she asked.
“About now,” he replied.
While the dark indigo of the horizon started blending into a lavender blue, the same sky echoed with a trumpet orchestra - One of Wai’s favourite songs, Ride of the Valkyries. Chong tightened his grip around Wai’s fingers.
“Nervous?” she asked.
Chong smiled, before turning his gaze back to the lightening horizon.
“We haven’t gone this far before,” he replied.
Wai shuffled closer, letting Chong put his arm around her.
And as the horizon shifted colour at those few inches, the couple leaned against each other, finally watching the lavender sky gradient to a warm orange, brightening with the crescendo of the orchestra in the air.
Because who knew when they’ll be back again, at least on this layer.
Her eyelids protested against the jarring sound coming from her night stand, head pounding, throat parched. Like she remembered, Wai woke up, arms in the same way Chong and her left them on that balcony.
“How long, this time?” Chong croaked.
Wai checked her watch, the one she used from the first time.
“Real world time, or the time from that parallel?”
So that’s it from me for this first half of 2018’s worth of writing challenges. Thank you all for reading once again and see you all next month!
The Role-Playing Games (RPG) market has been on the incline over the past couple of years - thanks to series like Tabletop, Titansgrave, and Critical Role, the spotlight has returned to the gamers who sit around a table, living out the fantastical lives of their created characters.
Let's start from the top - what triggered the creation of Roleplayers, one of your more prominent titles?
It is all sorts of reasons combined. Firstly, I wanted to make a comic that was interesting to draw. A comic about roleplay gamers had many themes and genres that I could play with. I could draw slice-of-life scenes as well as fantastical scenes. Secondly, I was also into tabletop RPG and board games then so it helped that I was drawing something I was excited about. Thirdly, there isn't much comic content revolving around tabletop RPG so I decided to make a comic about roleplaying and based it on a premise that I myself would've wanted to read - The Big Bang Theory meets Dungeons and Dragons. Whether I had succeeded in capturing or conveying my original vision or not is another discussion.
Roleplayers was released before a surge in popularity of Tabletop games and RPGs in Singapore - How was reception different in the later issues when they were released during a time where analog gaming started to pick up again?
I was not aware that there was a surge in popularity for tabletop gaming between the production and release of Roleplayers. I knew the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons came out before Roleplayers but I didn't think many people in Singapore would pick up the game.I still don't think tabletop gaming is popular in Singapore today. I may be wrong and ignorant. Overall, the sales of the title is actually pretty consistent since the release of the first issue. This is especially encouraging for me to learn that units are moving despite a 2 year hiatus for the title with little to no promotion in the 2nd and 3rd year of Irrational Comics. The consistency in sales is a major reason why I decided to work on the title again. In fact, I've just completed issue 7 of the series as of this writing.
After a story arc with Roleplayers, you decided to create Kitsune (another Irrational Comics title) - what prompted the shift?
To be more accurate, after a story arc with Roleplayers, I decided to create two titles, Kitsune: Assassin For Hire and Socute the Corgi, primarily to experiment and test the market/platforms that I am selling my digital comics on. With one title, I would have no other statistics to compare in order to learn how well Roleplayers is actually doing or if there was really a market for the title. I wanted to test what works and what doesn't. Kitsune: Assassin For Hire is a comic for an adult audience while Socute the Corgi is family friendly. Two extremes of the target audience spectrum. I made 5 issues of each title over the course of the year and analysed the results. Roleplayers went on hiatus for me to do this.
I've stopped production of Socute the Corgi and focused on Kitsune: Assassin For Hire to confirm the results. The reality of the situation is that sales will always dictate whether a series survives or not. It costs time and money to make a comic series. If a series isn't selling, there is no way I can keep it in production. Also, it is important for me to state that although a family-friendly kids title such as Socute the Corgi did not work for me, that does not mean family-friendly titles don't sell. There are plenty of family-friendly titles such as Kazu Kibushi's Amulet and Raina Telgemeier's Drama that make hugely wonderful sales.
Now, I am working on Roleplayers and Kitsune: Assassin For Hire.
Roleplayers and Kitsune are rather different comics under Irrational Comics - what were your favourite and most challenging aspects of both?
My favorite aspect of both Roleplayers and Kitsune: Assassin For Hire is drawing the sexy girls! The most challenging aspect for both comics is in the storytelling. It is always a negotiation between sacrificing dynamism for clarity, exposition for fun moments, navigating between plot points, selecting and trimming scenes etc in order to tell a compelling yet visually arresting story. Visual storytelling, the craft of it, is so frustrating but so fulfilling at the same time. I just love it so much.
What would you rather have happen to you? A revenge-filled Dungeon Master or a friendly kill done out of the player's spite?
A friendly kill done out of player's spite. You never asked why so I'm not explaining. (Jo’s Note: DARNIT!)
If anything, what's your go-to race, class, and land in the realms of RPG?
Anything new we can expect from you soon?
Issue 7 of Roleplayers and Issue 11 of Kitsune: Assassin For Hire.
I have 50 words for you to go and promote yourself - Go!
I am Derek Chua. I make comics. You can check them out here: https://irrationalcomics.wordpress.com/comics/. If you want need advice on, or want to talk about the craft of making comics, you can reach me at email@example.com.
Thank you all once again for coming down to take a look. Stay tuned for more talks with storytellers from the APAC region, and do check out Derek’s comics here!
When I first got into the indie publishing / storytelling scene in Singapore, I was bombarded with many new comic titles - Roleplayers (by Derek Chua), Dimsum Warriors (by Colin Goh and Woo YenYen), Charsiew Space series (by Benjamin Chee), just to name a few.
This title, however, got me when I was helping out at one of the first few sales tables during a 24-Hour Comics Day session at LASALLE.
What drew me to this comic was the notion that there was no dialogue throughout the entire book. Good comics often balanced the use of images, colours, characters, settings, and dialogue to tell the full story, so I was intrigued.
The first aspect I noticed was how immersive the comic felt - the details, the clean art, and the panelling all played a part in giving you a glimpse of how the setting was like. After all, the artist had no choice but to show, you can’t “tell the story” with words this time.
With that said, S!LENCE lets you dive into the world Tanky has created - a science fiction, survivalist landscape - with the cover’s character as your guide. A simple story that sets you up with a twist or two, what the artist has done in this case was to keep you flipping to the next page, while letting your imagination fill in the gaps that would otherwise be indicated through text.
Tanky’s S!LENCE is just one of his many works in this particular world, do give this a read if you ever have the chance to purchase any of his works.
Note: S!LENCE is read manga style - the front cover flips right instead of left.
Based in Singapore, Tanky is an illustrator and comic artist. Check out more of his works here.
This is out a little late, mostly thanks to some new stresses from the day job. Nonetheless, we’re pushing on! This month’s writing challenge - ghost stories. Not a huge fan of in-your-face horror, which seems to be the go-to whenever someone mentions ‘ghosts stories’, but let’s see how this goes.
Also, this short piece is for my good friends - Lyn and Raven - thank you for inspiring this story. LOL.
Prompts: Lilies to say goodbye, a needed conversation
Welcome, welcome! You must be here for the open house. You’re five minutes early, so why don’t you have a seat by the flowers while we get you come water.
Allow me to introduce our team - I’m Lily, and my partner here, is Lilly - yes, two Ls. People keep getting us confused, so that’s why she doesn’t talk to interested buyers. But not to worry, you are in safe hands here. Shall we start?
Now, what we have here is a newly-renovated, three-storey, semi-detached unit with a modern facade. The owners are rather keen to sell this place off, something along the lines of needing to find themselves after working to death in the city. Nevertheless, you’ll find that this property will be well worth your money.
This place boasts seven separate rooms, including the balcony with an open bar. Starting here, past the vast living area, you can see the outdoor patio and pool, that can be used for your morning swims and a nightly soak at the jacuzzi corner - the dark marble pool floors and lights do make this area rather romantic in the evenings.
The kitchen is outfitted with your usual fixings - stovetop, oven, microwave oven, a wine cooler, and yes, a walk-in fridge and freezer for all your needs. Huh? What floor entrance? Nah, that’s nothing - probably a floor cooler for more storage. Why is it locked? Well, you have people coming in all the time, you’d want to keep some privacy to yourself, right?
So this is level one, with a guest bathroom, a guest bedroom, and another smaller room at the corner that doubles as a library. You don’t have to fill this place up with books, but that was how the previous owners did up this room - you can also exit from this room, with a hidden door built in just for fun!
Any questions so far? No? Alright then, let’s head up to the upper levels, you can take a look at what the previous owners did to make this place a livable masterpiece.
Starting from the top, here’s their rooftop patio with an open bar and barbeque grill - great for your outdoor parties and such. Hmm? The deadbolt and security cameras? Those are for your safety, can’t have burglars taking advantage of this entrance, can we?
Here’s the Master Bedroom, you have the entire third storey to yourself - great for privacy and space to unwind. That being said, you have to admire the creativity of these owners, building a walk-in on such a small space! They even have a sliding door at the end of the corner for your laundry - convenient, ain’t it?
What do you mean you didn’t recall a laundry area? It’s clearly downstairs, you’ll see.
The second level boasts another two rather spacious bedrooms - for kids, or for entertainment. Hmm? More cameras? Might be a security thing - you can always remove them once you move in. And here… huh? What sound? What murmuring and muffled shouting? It must be your imagination, or the neighbours turning up the TV volume a bit too loudly.
Come on, let me show you the backyard, put your mind at ease.
There, you see? There’s nothing to worry about.
What’s wrong now? That door? That door leads to the library, remember where we saw it first? Huh? What do you mean the library was on the other side of the house?
Oh, you need to go now? Alright then.
Just remember to call us - it’s Lily and Lilly - and this place is getting offers, so remember to contact us soon! You don’t want to be that person.
I hope you’ve enjoyed what I managed to churn out this time - until next month!
I came to know about Terry Ho and his work about the same time I saw Joyce Chng’s work get published. Before ‘The Crown of Earth’s Desire’, the thought of an epic fantasy set in Singapore was almost unheard of - after all, whatever happened in Singapore?
This time, I got to sit down with Terry and pick his brain (and fictional time machine) on his processes and his characters’ adventures through the land of Turasik.
When we first met, The Crown of Earth’s Desire was probably one of Singapore’s first few epic fantasies. How did it feel to tackle a genre that continues to be heavy - did you already have a story in mind?
As a child, I was particularly drawn to myths and legends from around the world. Greek and Norse myths were among my favourites. The Fantasy genre is probably closest to Mythology – I grew up on a diet of Tolkien (LOTR), Eddings (Belgariad), Feist (Riftwar), among others. Naturally, it has also been my inclination to write Fantasy.
When I conceived of The Forbidden Hill Chronicles, I didn’t have a fully fleshed-out story in mind – just a story arc and some themes and settings in mind. This is not unusual for writers embarking on fiction projects, as I learnt from the interviews of several well-known authors.
The basis of this story is significantly different from the histories many of us learn as well. How was research like, considering how our colonial history seems to be more prominent when it comes to access and research materials? Were there also advantages and challenges when it came to applying context but also keep true to the story of Turasik?
I didn’t actually do much research for the book. Pre-colonial Singapore / Temasek has always fascinated me, and since I wasn’t writing historical fiction, I could just loosely draw on local folklore. Along the way, I picked up nuggets of information about archipelagic Southeast Asia – traditional architecture, customs, trading practices, etc. – which I tried to adapt and incorporate into the story where appropriate. However, the book isn’t intended as an accurate depiction of life in 14th Century Temasek.
Each book shows points of view from each main character - Anna and the merpeople, Vijay’s clairvoyance (SPOILER ALERT). Was there any mythology you particularly had fun exploring and why?
I particularly enjoyed exploring the local and Southeast Asian elements through this series. Much of High Fantasy can be traced to Western myths and classics, so it was exciting to bring tales from our part of the world to life in a Fantasy setting. While The Forbidden Hill Chronicles also borrows from the mythology of other cultures (Norse, Egyptian, Chinese, to name a few), local legends remain at the core of this series.
Who would you rather have be your PhD advisor? Dr. Haw Meng Kah or Royal Mage Corai? Why?
The Royal Mage of course – child-like enthusiasm over a brooding presence anytime.
How about bodyguards - Makal or Muqa?
Makal – for conviction and loyalty!
The Forbidden Hill Chronicles is set to see another two books join the series (after The Crown of Earth’s Desire, and The Sceptre of Sea & Sky) - without too much of a spoiler, what can we expect?
A kaleidoscope of mythological themes, fantastical settings and, of course, magic! And a progressive revelation of the protagonists’ true nature – how each individual’s struggles and choices matter in the overall cosmic tug-of- war.
I have 50 words for you to go and promote yourself - Go!
I invite you to immerse yourself in a fantasy world different from, yet similar to our own – a world of vengeful spirits, powerful wizards, haughty rulers as well as fallible human beings. Books 1 and 2 of The Forbidden Hill Chronicles are available on Amazon. Please visit my Facebook page!
Terry Ho is the author of The Forbidden Hill Chronicles, The Manic Memoirs of Terry Ho and other works he’d rather not disclose. A Singaporean of Peranakan heritage, he has lived and studied in Singapore, the UK, US and France. Find out more about his works here.
And I’ll see all of you next month with a new storyteller!
A few years back, I gave myself a mission to introduce my youngest maternal cousin (who didn’t like reading at all) to local authors and fun stories. I started with Sherlock Sam, then DimSum Warriors. And as she takes her PSLE this year, I was scouring the market for something she could enjoy, and relate to as a person who is about to go on a few changes in her life.
Enter Mount E.M.I.L.Y.
Set at Mount Emily Girls’ School, the series zooms in on best friends Patsy and Elena. In a spot of adventure, the girls find themselves transported almost three decades into the past, and trapped in the bodies of their mothers. Do they find their way home? Or do they end up losing their identities and friendship?
The book presents a fast-paced adventure, egging you to turn each page to satiate your desire to know what happens to these two girls next. As a story reader (a.k.a. A person who reads for the story rather than the language), this appeases me. At the same time, I know my cousin can go through this without getting bored with overly descriptive exposition.
At the same time, it tugs at the heartstrings, with Patsy’s inner struggles in the face of her longtime best friend. Issues like the questioning of keeping their friendship with two separate and often-clashing personalities - with Elena being the popular one, often expecting Patsy to be available and committed 24/7, but often ignoring Patsy for her other friends once the former presents herself to be less than enthusiastic. These are common issues teenagers face and it was comforting to know that the characters were not all just smiles and giggles.
But before I leave you, there has to be a shoutout to the various references Low managed to slip into the story - pay phones, the old Bras Basah Complex, and of course (and most importantly), A&W. I’d go back in time just to have my Coney Dog and Curly Fries at the A&W Ang Mo Kio branch, so I’d understand why at least one of them would want to stay in 1987 for a while.
The entire series spans Patsy and Elena’s lives in Mount Emily Girls’ School - with each book for each year that they were in Secondary School. Will Patsy and Elena stay best friends and graduate together? Start with Mount E.M.I.L.Y. and find out!
The Mount EMILY series is written by Low Ying Ping and published by Epigram Books. You can find out more about the series here.
Today, on "Writing Challenge on Jo's Blog", we'll make this dialogue short and sweet.
The Mission: Write a dialogue-only piece with the theme Starlight and an acoustic guitar and You just don't get it.
The Added Challenge: Let's see if I can write this in 15 minutes.
Cradled Cats and Tarnished Spoons
"Here it is, sweetheart, the beauty herself."
"Say, where did you find out about the Starlight? This was recommendation-only."
"My father was in the music industry."
"A comrade, then?"
"Perhaps I've heard of him?"
"Alright then, tell you what, I'll take five hundred off the asking price, and throw in the trimming kit for free."
"For the strings?"
"The wood. 25 years old and still growing, you'd think the trimming will have you give up this work of art quickly but once you hear her sing, you'll know it's all worth it."
"Sounds like something you'd do for your kids."
"Pah! Never had the time nor the style to have them."
"You never had kids?"
"Them screaming buggers who have no appreciation for anything but to ask you for money? Not my thing."
"If you want, you can hold on to it while I get you the case."
"That wouldn't be necessary."
"Huh? You kids need to take care of these things!"
"You still don't recognize me?"
"So this was what took you away from us. This should be easy."
"...and the cat's in the cradle and a silver spoon... Silver spoon? As if."
And with three minutes to spare! Thanks for reading guys, tuned in for next month's writing challenge!
When I was paired with Elvin to work on Unstable Foundations, I was really impressed with his work as a designer and with big labels like Marvel. What I was more impressed with was what a joy it was to work with him. Also known as Zero-Point-Five (his Facebook), here’s a look at the artist behind our (and my) first work of partnership in comics.
P/S - I told him to say whatever he needed to say for this interview, given how the both of us have worked together quite a bit for this project.
Congratulations on the launch of Unstable Foundations! We both know that you were recommended to draw for this comic - what was is about the story that drew you to it?
Thank you, I’m happy with another milestone achieved! Funnily enough, I wanted to work on this story because it’s not something I usually do. I’m more familiar with the superhero genre and Unstable Foundations was more of a drama with a historical background and I was interested in doing something different.
How is this different or similar to the previous projects you’ve worked on?
I’m used to the flashier and more action-packed comics of the superhero genre, so when it came to my quieter comics, those were my own stories and it was faster to make decisions on how to tell them. With Unstable Foundations, it was about interpreting the writer’s vision, and knowing how I could add to that vision. I loved the collaboration. It allowed me to question: How could I add to it? How do I respect the author’s perspective and put my own sensibility into it as well? I’d like to think that to some positive extent, the final work was nothing either of us expected and it’s a good thing we has some level of surprising ourselves in spite of being the creators.
What would you say was the main challenge with Unstable Foundation and why?
I think the main challenge for me was time (haha). Not that there wasn’t enough time given to finish the work, but I had a terrible schedule when it started and there were areas where I wish I had more time to explore and improve upon with the comic's writer. That being said, I’m still very proud of the final work. I think we worked on it as best as we could and still pulled off a great story in spite of the obstacles.
We’ve seen your illustrations, comics, and designs in various comics, webpages, and artbooks - is there a particular type of art you find yourself being drawn to?
I’m drawn to anything with a graphic edge… I know that sounds generic so I guess to be specific, the kind of art that really grabs me usually goes from one extreme of minimalism to the other of highly-detailed drawings. It’s all technical but I’m obsessed with silhouettes and tiny details at the same time. So you can see from my illustrations that my focus is usually on a strong shape with intricacy within. I find drawing details very interesting, it really feels like I’m building a little world from scratch. Other than the technical aspect, it’s usually whether the style suits the story that it’s telling. Stories that are personal to me will usually make me attracted to the art.
And who are your influences on them?
Mike Mignola and Leinel Yu for their strong graphic silhouettes and details. There are simply too many artists that inspire me because I love many genres of comics. Adrian Tomine is another writer/artist that I feel I will be influenced by soon.
How has working with comic writers worked for you so far?
Pretty great! Honestly, I still feel like my education is at its infancy but thus far, I’ve been really lucky to be able to work with writers who are highly cooperative and trust me with what I do. I’m looking forward to working with more writers.
What are some tips you have for freelancers or artists working with writers or other creatives?
I would say choose your projects wisely. If it’s a comic, it’s for the long haul so you need to identify with the aspect of the project that attracts you. It sounds silly but you’ll be amazed at how many times I walk into a project without thinking and regretted it later. Haha… If there’s nothing to work with, be it a good writer, a story you’re interested in offering a visual opinion on, or anything something to fuel your interest for the duration of the project, then you’re going to end up with a painful process. And if it’s just for the money, it’s not worth it.
Aside from that, be professional and communicate always. It can seem tiring or minor, but checking with your team member on any concerns or brilliant ideas as often as possible really makes the project smoother. You have to remember it’s a collaboration.
You have fewer than 30 words to promote anything you want - go!
Check out Unstable Foundations now! Haha… Seriously, check it out and give us your thoughts. We would love to hear them. And check out the other titles of COSH studios too!
And finally, any clue on what’s next for you?
Not for the long haul yet… but I’ve been thinking of cleaning up my house, it’s a mess…
… and after that, work on a long overdue personal comic project of mine haha.. Can’t really talk much about it except that it’s a fantasy story and there’s going to be lots of bloodshed (cue dramatic music). Other than that, keep my cats fed.
Drawing on his experiences in film, storyboarding, and cinematic art, Elvin has had work featured in Liquid City (Image Comics) and the comic book miniseries The Drift. You can find his work on Instagram (@elvching) and Facebook (Elvin Ching a.k.a. Zeropointfive)
Unstable Foundations can be found in any major bookstore in Singapore. To find out more about Elvin and the amazing work he does, click here. For more information on COSH Studios and the other comics they’ve published, click here.
When I sit down with a book by Wena, I’m sure that I’ll end up with a bunch of laughs.
My first encounter with “The Adventures of Snow Fox & Sword Girl” was during a performance reading by the author, Wena Poon, herself. Intrigued, I bought the book (together with her other novels out by that time), excited by the prospect of a story rich with adventures and swordfighting.
I was not disappointed.
If there’s one thing I love about Wena’s writing, it’s that it’s bound to entertain.
The first novel of her Hoshimaruhon series (loosely translated to “The Book of the Star Ball”), Snow Fox & Sword Girl introduces us to the Jing and Noh Empires, where the masked Emperor Taliesin of Jing tries to bring the constant war between Jing and Noh to an end with the help of his bodyguard and childhood friend, Sei Shonagon - the best but also the most mysterious swordswoman in all of Jing.
It’s not difficult to like Wena’s storytelling, especially if you’re in to know what happens next. Set up like the liberetto of an opera, each Episode represents a Chapter happening in the midst of the story’s chaotic worlds (physical or spiritual). Wena combines contemporary language with mythical tales to paint a vivid landscape that serves as the background to the hilarious banter between our two main characters.
Be prepared to see the sounds of swords clashing, bells sounding, and waves crashing throughout the voyage. Laugh at (or with) the antics of the young Emperor and his reactions to his dear Sei-kun, with dialogue that wouldn’t feel out of place in an Adults-only Disney Animation Party.
That being said, I’m grateful for my retained fundamental Simple Mandarin reading skills in this book. If anything, the Episode titles and their umm… “Mandarin translation” will set you up for a journey filled with laughs, smiles, tears, and most definitely, adventure.
So now, if you’d excuse me, 我正在修生, 别烦我. (Or translated on Wena’s terms: Self-Cultivation).
For more information on Wena or the Hoshimaruhon, click here.
My adventures with in urban speculative fiction.