I knew Joyce from the Singapore chapter of the National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo), and she was probably one of the first authors of what I’d like to call mainstream pop fiction in Singapore - books you read for the adventure, fun, and speculative worlds. Now an author to various novel series, picture books, and a number of RPGs, she continues to show how we can tell the stories we want, but also not worry about the “local flavour” of our work.
Without further ado, Joyce Chng.
You have a variety of works - Rider, Oysters, Pearls, & Magic, Starfang, Wolf at the Door - and those are just your novel series. Which, do you think, continues to speak to you deeply?
Oysters, Pearls & Magic continues to speak to me deeply, soul-level. The story is an individual’s path to self-discovery which takes the form of a long and unforgiving journey. At the end, the protagonist finds themselves or continues to find themselves… which is life, isn’t it? Oysters, Pearls & Magic was originally written as a web-serial aimed at an YA audience, but the story motifs are universal.
My first encounter with your works started with Wolf at the Door and the Rider series - both of which told the story of ethnic Chinese ladies adapting to their environments. How much of yourself do you see yourself in your characters? Why?
I tend to write a bit of myself into my characters. Jan Xu, the werewolf protagonist in Wolf at the Door, is a mother - and I often wonder if there are mothers in urban fantasy. I wrote it to challenge or counter the stereotype of the leather-wearing hero(ine). Where are all the mothers? Or, better, are heroines still heroines when they become mothers with children and households to manage? Lifang, the teenager in the Rider series, is the teenager I was a long time ago. Impetuous, impulsive, idealistic, but hampered by circumstances (sometimes of her own making!).
Which one of your protagonists do you still want to have tea with today and what would you talk about?
Jan Xu. We would probably complain about our spouses and our children.
You have novels, picture books, children’s books, and now game books (RPG Manuals) out in the world - which medium do you find yourself gravitating to these days?
I find myself shifting towards visual storytelling like picture or graphic novel/comics books. I am also leaning towards more game design or RPG narrative writing.
Many writers who are parents tend to say that they write to leave stories to their children - What lessons or stories do you want yours to take away from your work?
That the sky is the limit if they believe in themselves.
And always believe that you have support, no matter what.
Don’t be afraid to seek help if you need it.
The Wolf, the Bear, the Phoenix, or the Dragon? Why?
Even the Wolf has always been a motif/metaphor/personal symbol for me, I would say the Phoenix, because my life has been a series of deaths and rebirths. Also the fire can be both creative and destructive at the same time (for the Western Phoenix). The Eastern Phoenix (feng huang) is a symbol of balance and harmony - which I hope to achieve in my lifetime.
What’s next for you?
I will have a YA fantasy out under Scholastic Asia. The novel is titled Fire Heart. That reminds me… I need to write the second book!
I have 50 words for you to go and promote yourself - Go!
I write science fiction and things in between. Here’s my wolfy blog: http://awolfstale.wordpress.com, if you want to know more about me and the things I do. If you are on social media, I could be found at @jolantru (Twitter). Psst, buy my stuff.
Joyce Chng lives in Singapore. Their fiction has appeared in The Apex Book of World SF II, We See A Different Frontier, Cranky Ladies of History, and Accessing The Future. Joyce also co-edited THE SEA IS OURS: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia with Jaymee Goh. Their recent space opera novels deal with wolf clans (Starfang: Rise of the Clan) and vineyards (Water into Wine)respectively. They also write speculative poetry with recent ones in Rambutan Literary and Uncanny Magazine. Occasionally, they wrangle article editing at Strange Horizons and manages Umbel & Panicle, a poetry journal and ezine about and for plants and botany (which they also founded). Alter-ego J. Damask writes about werewolves in Singapore. You can find them at http://awolfstale.wordpress.com and @jolantru on Twitter. (Pronouns: she/her, they/their). Fire Heart, a YA fantasy, will be published by Scholastic Asia.
Before we head off and wait for November’s profile… Happy Halloween!
I am excited about this post because she is probably one of my greatest influences, especially in the realm of storytelling and managing your artistic / creative side hustle.
So without further ado, here’s Wena’s profile.
You have been incredibly prolific, to say the least - Spain, China, Japan - each travel producing a piece or a series of works. Which have spoken to you the most deeply?
Chang’an, the novel I wrote after spending too much time in China and Japan, about how the two tribes love and hate each other so deeply. The title of the novel is of the Chinese city on which Kyoto is modelled. I followed the words of a Chinese artist who once told me to go to Japan to find China. I did not know what he meant until I was older. China and Japan have reflected each other for thousands of years. As we say in Chinese, 我们之间有讲不完的故事 “between us there are endless stories.”
You have always struck me as an author who places the story and the feeling behind writing the story first - have there been times where you are concerned about the ‘messages’ behind your story and how did you manage to curb the feeling?
Huh? (Blogger’s Note: Oops!) I am always concerned about the message behind my story. If what you mean by message is the idea. The ideas come first, then the story, then the writing it down. No idea means no story. When I hear people saying they have writers’ block, it’s probably because they have no ideas. When there are no ideas, writing becomes a chore.
Which one of your protagonists do you still want to have coffee with today and what would you talk about?
Probably all of them! I miss them so I read my own books whenever I feel like visiting old friends. The designer Alessi said he uses his own products in his home. I agree!
This, however, doesn’t mean I write or self-publish for myself only. Stories are meant to be told and shared. I self-publish not because I can’t find real publishers, but because I have been published by real publishers when young, and now I am mature enough to, like those older Hollywood actresses, “have my own production company”. I distribute on Amazon and major book retail platforms because I hate to get an email from a reader saying, “I can’t get your book in my country.” Traditional publishers can’t guarantee whenever-wherever availability like Amazon’s POD services can. I belong to the Generation of “Instant Click To Buy.” So I want my books to be available the way I expect books to be available to me. I also binge-read and I write my books to be binge-read too! Can you imagine if you read Volume 1, only to be told Volume 2 is sold out or not available in your country? I would go insane. That’s why I do it via POD.
Looking at your Bibliography, you can release a part of a swordfighting serial in the first half of the year, then a chapbook about making madeleines the next - how do you keep your ideas in line and track of each of your projects?
I don’t. I just do whatever. When someone who wanted to write a novel recently asked me what my “process” was, I said “none”. I completed and shared with my friends my first novel at age 14 and wrote many, many novels since. I have been writing novels for 30 years. So, for those MFA types who ask me how I was trained if I didn’t get “training” in writing, I said how many years do you work at a job before people say you have adequate training? Does 30 count? 笑
You’re on a deserted island and you’re stuck with one of your characters, who would you be stuck with - Kai, Siegfred, Taliesin, or Roberto? Why?
Taliesin. He is a fox spirit and can take any form. He is crazy funny and is never boring and will never grow old! How entertaining that would be. And I see you have not met Arthur, hero of Chang’an and Cafe Jause...Arthur would be grim. It would be like spending time with a German philosopher. I can take Arthur in small doses - although he has female (and male) fans.
You’re stuck in a maze with only an hour to get out, who would you pick as your partner - Imogen, Regina, Sei, or Alejandra? Why?
Sei would know how to get me out because she’s the Greatest Swordsperson in the Empire of Jing (gender-neutral title at her request)!
So what’s next for you?
I am writing a turn-of-the-century mystery crime supernatural novel set in Victorian Singapore with an international cast. Using the fun characters in The Great Impresario Oguri: Sparrow, an American woman boxer raised in China by monks, Koto, the Chinese-Japanese son of a prostitute, and Nakayama, a British-educated magistrate from Nagasaki. Singapore will never be the same again when seen through their eyes! 笑
I have 50 words for you to go and promote yourself - Go!
Wena has published 16 books of literary fiction and won or was shortlisted for a bunch of international literary prizes, including twice nominated for Singapore Literature Prize. Her website is www.wenapoon.com.
And that’s Wena for you! Stay tuned in October for another story, and its teller. See you all next month!
I first met Joyce after Pulp Toast’s first panel at All In! Young Writers’ Festival 2017. While we didn’t converse much on the spot, it was clear that the both of us are interested in Young Adult (YA) fiction and telling stories.
After reading her debut novel, ‘Lambs for Dinner’, I got more interested in the imaginative mind behind her stories. So today, I’m happy to have Joyce come and talk with us about her work, and what’s to come for her.
What spoke to and inspired you to write ‘Lambs for Dinner’? Could you share more about how you came about the story?
For me, a novel always begins with the characters. I read Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse in my second year of university, and was very taken by the idea of the man/wolf dichotomy. I wanted to explore the psyche of a person who believed he housed two disparate identities and how that would affect his relationship with people around him. How would a person like that approach a romantic relationship? What kind of relationship would he have with his surrogate parents? His actual parents? His best friend? How far would he go to protect them? That was where it all started.
Which one of your characters do you still want to have coffee with today and what would you talk about?
Come to think of it, a lot of my main characters are pretty damaged! But I still want to have tea with all of them. I like characters who are irreverent, speak their mind, and can talk about the most random things. For that reason, I'll have to go with Lexi, this free-spirited character from a YA magical realism novel I wrote back in university. Drew from LAMBS FOR DINNER comes a close second, mainly because he's so snarky sometimes. We'd trade insults back and forth until Skye tells us to break it up.
You have novels, picture books, and collections released - which medium do you find yourself gravitating to these days and do you think you’ve found a focus?
I typically write novels and short stories these days, but I've always loved writing novels the most. It was what first made me fall in love with writing, when I wrote a (terrible) mystery novel when I was 11, inspired by the Nancy Drew series.
I set up a short story blog with a couple of friends and write a short story every month, which offers a nice break from writing novels and keeps the creative juices flowing. But there's something about the process of writing a novel that keeps me coming back for more every time - plotting, developing character arcs, exploring character relationships, world-building, building the story up to the climax. It's also inevitably painful each time, but so, so worth it.
Writing is often touted as a solitary practice, but you have managed to participate in short story blog Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand for a while now. What are your greatest differences with writing on your own and with a group?
I set up Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand with my friends with the intention to keep myself accountable (nothing like a deadline and a posting schedule to make sure you produce those monthly short stories - no excuses!), to grow a reading/writing community, to experiment with different ways of telling a story (e.g. writing in different genres and forms), to get the creative juices flowing, to break away from writing the novel, and to discover new writers.
Managing this blog with Meredith and Nicole is really a group effort - we make a great team, with Nicole the meticulous organiser consistently keeping us on track, Meredith updating our Twitter profile and reaching out to fellow writers, while I handle the Instagram profile and brainstorm ideas for regular and new features.
Writing is a solitary effort, and sometimes it gets a little lonely. But with a project like that bringing us all together, it makes writing a more social activity because we share a common goal of making the blog as helpful and engaging as possible for our readers.
What’s Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand’s direction heading to nowadays? Is it aligned with where you’re going creatively speaking?
Apart from our regular stories, we're veering towards building a community and sharing our writing experiences and tips with our readers now - with regular series like Wondering Wednesdays and Writing Notebook, where we talk about each stage of the writing process, from brainstorming to writing to querying to publication. Because writing is often such a solitary activity, I love talking about process with fellow writers. It definitely reinforces my love for writing!
So what’s next for you?
I'm currently working on two manuscripts, one YA contemporary and another YA East-Asian fantasy. You can read about them in this blog post. I plan to finish either by this year and gather as much feedback and critique from beta readers and critique partners as possible so I can polish it as close to perfection for publication.
Just before we finish up, which quirky superstition do you still hold close to you today? And why?
I'm not a particularly superstitious person. But I do sometimes knock on wood especially when I accidentally blurt something unfortunate, like death.
I have 50 words for you to go and promote yourself - Go!
I'm a magazine editor by day, novelist by any other possible time. I write stories about broken people looking to belong, to settle, to escape. Those are also the stories I gravitate towards. Occasionally, I stumble upon a really good story that sweeps me away into another world, another life, another reality - and I hope my stories do the same for whomever stumbles upon them too.
Joyce Chua graduated from the National University of Singapore with a degree in English. Her contemporary YA novel, LAMBS FOR DINNER, was published by the Straits Times Press in 2013 as part of a nationwide competition. She currently lives in the perennially sunny island-city of Singapore, where she writes short stories at Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand and shares her thoughts at The Writes of Passage in between writing her next novel and dreaming about mythical worlds.
August has come and gone, but September will arrive soon with another Story, and its Teller. Stay tuned!
Samantha is one of the first few Speculative Fiction writers in Singapore I’ve had the pleasure to meet. When Val (the bestie) said her cousin had written and published a fantasy series, I was intrigued. Fast forward about almost a decade later, and here she is - a stalwart in the local self-publishing scene.
Let’s see what she has to share about her works and our publishing scene, especially for speculative fiction.
A few years after “Blood on the Moon” was released, you re-released another edition - how was each release like and what were the differences you were happy to make?
The first edition was my virgin foray into self-publishing, and that was a significant milestone for me. The second edition was more of a return to my formative years spent with Gothic Lit with a contemporary take on it. So instead of letters and news articles à la Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I use instant message transcripts and emails to tell parts of the story. I would say that the incorporation of these different modes of narrative was the change I was most happy to make, because it added so much lovely texture to the story.
Alegria does fight to keep many things together - non-human relations, her relationship, her job, her life - how does she do it and how similar do you think the both of you are?
Hah, she does have a lot of moving elements in her life at the same time! I think in the first book, Alegria’s way of dealing with it was compartmentalizing, but it became apparent to Alegria, towards the end of Blood On The Moon, that this approach was not exactly the best. She definitely does a better job accepting the overlaps in all the (rapidly) moving elements in her life in Hunter’s Moon, and part of that is a result of her embracing the shadow sides of herself in Blood On The Moon. This is still going to be a big challenge for her moving forward, because there are always more moving parts.
As to how similar we both are … I think in terms of keeping many moving parts together, I was more like her when I started writing Blood On The Moon, and now I’m markedly less so.
Which one of your protagonists do you still want to have a barbecue with today and what would you talk about?
Oh, for sure I would want to have a barbecue with Joao — like literally, co-host a BBQ with the Prince of Sleet City. Not just because the meat would be perfectly seasoned (and also sponsored by the Sleet City Clan, muahahaha), but because … as I and my characters evolve in tandem, I feel at this point I have much more in common with Joao than I did when I wrote Blood On The Moon. I think we would have a pretty riveting discussion about impostor syndrome and the corrupting nature of power, and how one deals with both.
You have been to various countries and places for research and for some time to just write - Portugal, Indonesia, just to name a few - which have been your most fruitful and why?
That’s a tough choice! I would say that my first hike up to (very) high ground in Taman Negara, my solo sojourn to Koh Lipe in Thailand, my first ride on the northbound Malayan railway up to KL, which — I later learned — my great grandfather helped to engineer (the railway, not my journey, though he did sort of indirectly engineer that journey if you want to get super technical about it). Happily getting lost in the streets of Tokyo, and also my forays into the mayhem of Jakarta and Saigon, cobbled streets and the crisp, gentle Mediterranean winter for the first time … these were all very fruitful for me.
Why? Well, every place I go has something to teach me, and each place makes my stories richer. And these places stood out particularly in terms of the value of the gifts I received from my experiences there. The first railway ride on the northbound Malayan rail up to KL felt like I was time-travelling and there was a possible Narnia situation impending; Koh Lipe because every minute spent underwater hanging out with grumpy fish among the corals helped me to create the sense of the sublime in Hunter’s Moon, and Barcelona because it was there that I understood what it would be like to live in the Sleet City Clan, i.e., surrounded by really good-looking men all the time. So. Fun. (Non-facetious reason: it was there that I was inspired to start using ley lines in the plot.)
If you had to rewrite Alegria such that she didn’t meet any Daywalkers, what other communities would you have her meet and why?
I would really like her to spend more time with Southeast Asian Supes, like apsara, werecobras, and rainforest dryads. Because I think a lot of urban fantasy and paranormal fiction focuses way too much on mythological and supernatural creatures in Western folklore, while this rich (and often terrifying) tapestry of Southeast Asian myths and spooks is largely unknown to international fans of these genres. Possibly she could also meet zombies, but sort of advocate for them as they have very few legal rights (or rights of any kind, really). I’m not ruling either of these out as smaller plot threads!
You have come to a point where you have to choose an animal partner for life - which one of your were-animals would you want by your side and why?
I would like a wereotter by my side for life. Because they move really fast in the water, and they’re fantastic at catching fish — and I am at my happiest when in any body of water and while eating sashimi (both at the same time would be so frakkin awesome). As far as lycanthropes go, wereotters are freakishly strong, making them also very handy with gardening and heavy lifting. Romance, thy name is … not Samantha. :P
So what’s next for you?
There’s the next book in The Daywalker Chronicles to write, titled Dark Moon Rising. Before that, I also have a surreal and absurdist comedy + sci-fi(ish) fiction project that will be released by the end of the year, titled Molly and Manuel Find Earth-42. It features parallel universes and sentient plush creatures, including a mercenary plush lobster.
I have 50 words for you to go and promote yourself - Go!
Yippee! About me TLDR: author of The Daywalker Chronicles, developmental editor, Cylon, and accidental sociopolitical commentator. Always happy to talk shop with makers of stories and other cool things/ discuss world-building of many sorts. Ping me on Twitter here (@mysterybunny) or find out more about The Daywalker Chronicles here.
That being said, that’s all for July! Stay tuned in August for another conversation with another regional storyteller - until then!
My first encounter with Kane was during my friend’s graduation from Ngee Ann Poly - he was graduating as one of the top students in Film, Sound, and Video the year after I graduated from Mass Communications. Fast forward to 2014, and I see him waiting outside the interview room for the National Arts Council’s Mentorship Access Project.
Fast forward again, and here we are - releasing stories and talking about Arts Management, especially in the storytelling and publishing scene. Today, Kane and I talk about his work in various mediums, Maxine Starr, and turning our creative goals into reality.
Let’s get the technicalities out of the way first - Film, Prose, Podcasting - what are the main differences when you write for these mediums and how did you get into these areas?
Writing and developing content for all three are very different! For me, my first love has always been writing. But as I got older, I realised there are so many other mediums to spread ideas and tell stories. So I experimented and just exposed myself to everything.
I firmly believe in being a dreamer - and a practitioner. To get in there. To get your hands dirty. What have you got to lose?! So today, I'm a scriptwriter by profession but also a content creator and social-scientist (self-proclaimed). I'm personally fascinated by how stories can be told in different mediums, using new technologies, apps, and platforms. And at the same time, how can they engage people to read, take action or feel a certain way.
I'm fine with writing TV scripts and film, but realised many years ago that if it doesn't work, or I don't have the money to execute it, there's nothing stopping the idea from being a podcast series, short story, blog article or Instagram post. I feel many writers forget this - if it's a film they only want it to be a film. Then it gets stuck when they can't make it happen. If the goal is storytelling, then any medium should work for you. Just do your research into what makes each medium work first!
When I met you at our Mentorship Access Project, your project then was the first book of the Maxine Starr series. Since then, it has flourished - commendation by Mike Mingo, InkShares - will we be seeing Maxine soon, or where is she now?
That's right! YA-Sci-fi novel, Maxine Starr: Last Vanguard of the Zodiac, is probably my first big novel that I aim to release this year. I ran a crowdfunding initiative a while back on Inkshares, but ultimately, I think it wasn't as effective as I wanted it to be. Although the book cover was amazing - done by a mutual friend of ours called AK - I needed more experience. I rushed the campaign.
I realise that now, and I think in the age of Kickstarter and Indiegogo, you really need to develop your own platform first before trying to get people to support your projects. So right now, that's my focus. I'm editing the manuscript with an editor and getting it in tip-top condition. Thereafter I will probably self-publish, as well as develop the next 2 books.
At the same time, you balance creation with your blog and podcast - what are your biggest motivations and strategies to maintaining a sustainable creative life?
Many really inspire me. One is Gary Vaynerchuk - he's a known entrepreneur, social media expert and writer. I really believe in his philosophy that if you want to lead a creative life and achieve your dreams - JUST GET STARTED. Don't talk. Just make stuff. Get it out there. Get feedback. You have time. Just create, experiment, adjust, and find your niche. Another person that inspires me is marketer and writer, Seth Godin. I love his daily email posts, and I think his mindset about what "creative" means, has changed me in profound ways.
That's why I decided to start my own blog and platforms. It's not for money. It's to spread ideas - as he so aptly puts it. If you're not spreading ideas, you are static and no-one will hear what you have to say. In fact, no-one cares. No-one owes you their attention. So earn it by creating great content that inspires and resonates with people. That's all.
Start with the audience first - what do they need? What do you have that can provide a solution? For me, that meant creating a unique platform where I talk about storytelling, film, media, but in a way I felt hasn't been done before. I just started, but I'm happy that I'm seeing results, such as my article on 'What Singaporean filmmakers can learn from A Quiet Place' and 'Lessons that Thanos can teach Singapore Creatives'. The rest for me is just time management and making sure I have multiple projects in various states of production. It makes me feel good to start, edit, and complete things every month. It's tough, but I only really write 1 hour a day in between work, family, and taking care of a baby... haha.
Going back to Maxine Starr, what was the inspiration to her and her world?
For me, the book was inspired by me playing around as a child. It was my sandbox world. I used to act out and pretend to be some of the aliens in the book, going on interstellar adventures. Later, it was inspired by my migratory experiences from the UK to Singapore, as well as astrology and cosmology. I've just always been interested in it, and I wanted to explore it in an action-packed, fun and adventure-styled story. From there, I developed the story over the course of nearly 10 years. A long time!
Give us a glimpse of the Zodiac Vanguard - which of the signs are you most likely to fit into and why?
Haha - well I'm Aries. I've always felt that if being "Aries" was an alien species, that race would have the ability to create regal-looking horns. Simple, I know, but cool! The species itself, in the book, is pretty technologically advanced, a firm believer in "the Gods will", and lives on an ever-shifting homeworld (eg. the trees are glass-like, the seasons change every week, and the starships are living, breathing behemoths with wings). So that's what I put in the book. But like some of the Arien characters in the book, they are also deeply emotional, sometimes stoic, and thinkers. Not good thinkers...they just think a lot. I think that sums me up.
Without too much of a spoiler, what can we expect next from your many creative avenues?
More podcasts, an R-rated adult-targeted novel about superheroes in Singapore, short stories, blog articles, and a gamer-themed sci-fi TV show called Glitch! that will be out on Toggle on Nov 1st!
I have 50 words for you to go and promote yourself - Go!
I'm a writer, storyteller and content creator that just believes in leading a creative, passionate life. I believe in failing, but failing forward, getting up, and making your dreams a reality no matter what. You can find out more on my website www.kanewholder.com, FB page, and Instagram. Cheers!
And that’s it for this month! Stay tuned in July for another Stories with their Tellers conversation with another creator.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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!
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!
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.
Web comics have presented a new platform for many comic artists looking for an avenue to express themselves. Whether or not they see the Internet as a place of serious business and opportunity, or just want to use it to communicate and share their stories with friends near and far, you cannot deny that many of these web comics are great as a quick read, or a nice story on-the-go.
I met Fishball (not her real name) in real life during last year’s Illustration Arts Festival. Putting aside the fact that the Tiger already knew her personally, we were booth neighbours during the event. Previously, I had only seen snippets of her work turning up on my Facebook feed, but I can now say that my heart jumps with that bit of excitement whenever I see a LINE WebToon notification for her web comic, My Giant Nerd Boyfriend.
Here’s a glimpse into what she had to say when we met:
Congratulations on hitting over 100 strips on WebToons! How does it feel producing the comic strips now as opposed to when you first started with this series?
Thank you! When I started drawing My Giant Nerd Boyfriend (MGNB) strips, I drew them solely at my own pace, though I tried to update as frequently as possible (which was once per week). Now I have to churn out three entries per week, which is quite daunting at times!
And has your process changed so far?
Quite drastically, I would say! I used to draw whenever a particularly funny idea came to me, but nowadays, I jot down any ideas that comes to mind in a sketchbook that I bring everywhere, so that whenever I'm short on ideas, I could refer to them for inspiration.
To date, we’ve seen strips that depict your day-to-day lives, a particular event, character “backstories” (like when you have an entire strip dedicated to introducing us to your brother or mother), how did you end up managing these strips and requests?
I would say instead of just solely boyfriend-girlfriend interactions in my strips, readers would like a small break from couple strips and have something different for a change. Since my comic strips focus on relationships in general, I think these odd few strips of my brother and my mom (and friends too!) offer something different for readers to relate to, and I'm glad that they enjoy them as much as my usual couple strips! Special occasions, requests, and events could also spice up the strips a little, because let's face it, if MGNB is completely about me and my boyfriend doing couple things together, it's going to get boring real fast.
And which kind of stories are your favourite to tell?
These slice-of-life strips are my favorite type of stories to tell! Although I would love to try a different genre some time :)
How have your readers been to you? I’m sure there have been a crazy variety of them.
Oh yes they do come in all shapes and sizes! They have been really kind to me, not to mention very enthusiastic! Sometimes they even gave me ideas for my strips, which I am really grateful for.
That being said, I know both you and your boyfriend have been asked the craziest questions at events, what has been the weirdest question so far?
"Are your boobs really that sharp?" - GUYS! It's just my way of depicting my lack of boobs, really!
Okay, many of us know the story behind how the strips came about, but I think many of us would really want to know - how many outtakes were/are there?
Plenty! Sometimes I could hit a specific tone in my strips quite easily, at other times I struggle to convey what I really want on paper... which results into a lot of different takes of a single panel. Sometimes I scrap the entire idea and start a new strip because I don't know how to properly conclude a strip. It could take me from four hours to finish up a strip, to a day just mulling on the execution/conclusion of a particular scene.
Any tips to give to people who are on WebToons or considering posting their work on WebToons?
DO IT. WORRY LATER. Also once you have fans, do listen to what they have to say about your work!
And finally, I think some of us will be interested in this - What is the status of the Pikachu t-shirts in your closet?
They are steadily growing in numbers, you can be sure of that :D
A height difference of 30cm and above might seem adorable to some, but it usually causes a lot of minor inconveniences. Follow Fishball as she navigates the Malaysian life with her 199cm-tall, geeky boyfriend.
Fishball is a freelance artist based in Malaysia. She lives with her (literally) huge boyfriend, and really likes her banana leaf rice drowned in a pool of dahl. You can check out her comic, "My Giant Nerd Boyfriend", on her WebToons page.
Once again, I hope you've enjoyed this interview. Stay tuned for more features and indie works coming your way!
Stories are not bound by pure words, impeccable editing, cream paper, and perfect-bound hardcovers. In this series, I sit down with other storytellers to talk about their works, how they came about them, and any surprises they found along the way.
For my inaugural post, here's when I sat down with the ever-talented Benjamin Chee and Wayne Rée (The Rolling Ronins) and talk about their first collaborative work together - a short-story-turned-comic named "Mr. Memphis".
Wayne, what inspired you to write “Mr. Memphis”?
I don't know if it's a bizarre side-effect of my Catholic upbringing or just a love for villains that was nurtured by all the cool bad guys from the shows I watched while growing up, but I've always loved writing stories about devils. One of the first stories I ever wrote way back when was about Lucifer and his best friend. Because of that fascination, the Faustian bargain trope, likewise, holds a special place in my heart. The western setting of the original short story was inspired by the atmosphere of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' "Red Right Hand". I think there's even a line in the original that references the "dusty black coat" line from the song.
Ben, Wayne’s book “Prompt” had many other stories, not to mention the fact that Wayne has other very interesting short stories. So why Mr. Memphis?
When I thought of adapting something Wayne wrote, I went through both of his books. There were a few stories that I liked a lot (The one with genesis-in-a-cup was my close second, but I can’t figure out what to do with it that ‘Sandman’/‘Lucifer’ didn’t already), but I picked MR MEMPHIS because I got flashes of images from it. I could imagine what it looked like as I was reading it, I could think about it easily in terms of images. It might have been the strong setting, the way the characters play off each other, or the dialogue. There might be also that part of me that loved ‘True Grit’, ‘Westworld’, and all those cowboy movies I watched as a kid, itching to do something Western.
Any characters you particularly enjoyed the company of? And would you: Have dinner with them? Travel with them? Or get into a fist fight with them?
Ben: Lou! I’d like to hear the stories she has to tell. My wallet won’t last at the pace she’s selling me drinks at, though...
Wayne: Lou Ann is probably the only really good person in the story. She strikes me as the kind of woman I'd love to share a drink with and who'd have the best stories to tell.
One of the most distinct traits of Mr. Memphis is the juxtaposition of two very different settings - Wayne wrote it, influenced by wild westerns, while Ben drew it, influenced by wuxia and clan wars. What, in your opinion, made it work in this form?
Ben: 'Westworld’, ‘East Of West’, and ‘The Sixth Gun’ - three visual works I liked a lot that fuses the Western genre with sci-fi/fantasy in a way I found quite unsurpassable. From there, I thought about what I would do differently with MR MEMPHIS if I were to adapt it visually. I grew up on Chinese wuxia tales (read all Louis Cha’s 14 books and more), TV shows, and movies, so that’s an aesthetic I really wanted to try my hand on. It dawned on me I could marry the two - if only to see what happens when you have wuxia characters speaking English that is not horribly-translated subtitles!
I felt that the Silk Road and the Wild West share something common - rugged gold rush adventurers and rich costumes, settings that one could use to inform their surrounding, intent, so combining elements from these two makes a nice juxtaposition but also not jarring. That might've been what worked.
Wayne: What made it work? Simple. It was Ben. When he approached me about adapting the short story, he told me that he wanted to keep the western dialogue, but place it in a wuxia setting and I immediately loved that idea. Everything from the characters' looks to the locations were designed by Ben. He's the one who found that perfect balance between the two genres.
Ben, most of your works have been done solo - how is it like creating something with another storyteller?
With MR MEMPHIS, in particular, it was pretty hands off, so I’m grateful for that. I had a lot of free rein and managed to work on the visual and story-telling adaptation the way I wanted to, so that felt good!
Wayne, on the other hand, you have worked with many other artists - how was this experience similar or different?
Up until now, almost all of the comics I've worked on have been developed from the ground-up with the artists. This was different because "Mr Memphis" is an existing story, so it was more of a surprise every time Ben would send me roughs or the fully inked pages. It's similar, however, in the sense that, as with all my past collaborations, I'm working with someone who's a storyteller and who understands their medium very well, so I do what any smart comic writer would do when working with someone like Ben – I get out of their way and let them do what they do best.
Has there been any feedback that surprised you the most / been the most memorable?
Ben: I enjoy feedback that tells me the adaptation was successful. Also, there was a person who browsed the book and on the first page exclaimed WOW WHAT AN UPLIFTING STORY and I still stand by my reply: “It gets...better”.
Wayne: The direction the story takes in the third act has surprised a few people, which pleases me to no end. This was my love letter to the Faustian bargain, but I didn't want it to be that straightforward. That, and the shock that people get from the first page, which was one of the scenes that Ben added to make the story work as a comic. I think my favourite comment from someone, upon flipping to that first page, was something like, "So... not a lighthearted book then?"
Without giving away too much - now that a certain character has been taken care of, what’s next?
Wayne: For the world of Mr Memphis, Amos and Lou Ann? Nothing planned. In my head, this was a done-in-one story. Also, this is the devil story that I'm proudest of writing, so I'd rather it be my last devil story – at least for the foreseeable future anyway. For work with Ben? Well, I absolutely love how "Mr Memphis" turned out as a comic. It's like that story of how Trent Reznor said that "Hurt" ceased to be his song when he heard Johnny Cash's cover. "Mr Memphis" is a Benjamin Chee comic that I'm so happy to be a part of. So, if the right story comes along, I'd jump at the chance to work with Ben again. Hell, even if he wants to go ahead and elevate any of my other prose pieces to a whole new level, he is always welcome to.
Mr. Memphis is one of your many self-published works. If there are any other works you’d like to promote, you have 20 words - go!
Ben: GUIDEBOOK TO NANYANG DIPLOMACY is like a punk version of 1915 Singapore history, out on Kinokuniya and BooksActually!
Wayne: You can get the two "Yellow Princess" comics I co-created for a special price at my website: https://waynereewrites.com/
Where can we get Mr. Memphis?
Wayne’s webstore! Or look out for Rolling Ronins at cons we’re heading to! At least for now.
Benjamin Chee adores food, stories, pixels, and historical novels. He makes comics set in a food-centric universe. 'Liquid City Vol. 3' and 'Asian Monsters' collected his short tales. Found online at charsiewspace.com
Wayne Rée is the author of 'Tales From a Tiny Room', co-author of 'Prompt', co-creator of 'Yellow Princess', and an editor and contributor to 'Pulp Toast'. More importantly though, he loves cold pizza. You can find him internetting at waynereewrites.com
Get your copy of Mr. Memphis here. Once again, I hope you've enjoyed this interview. Stay tuned for more features and indie works coming your way!
My adventures with in urban speculative fiction.