It took me a long time to get around to reading Sonny Liew’s The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. I knew that I wanted to read it, the moment that I found out that the funding was withdrawn from it. Streissand effect, ya’ll. But I wasn’t in a rush to grab it, I think largely because I didn’t really quite know what the context of the book was going to be about. If somebody had told me “it’s quite a bit like Understanding Comics”, and “it’s a story about a storyteller told through the stories he’s told”, I would have bought it immediately. Even without the Eisner awards and the NAC’s tsundere funding withdrawal.
Anyway, it’s easily one of the best things I’ve ever read. Not “one of the best Singaporean books”, but one of the best things I’ve ever read, period. Charlie Chan (the weathered old comic artist who’s the subject being examined by this graphic novel) could have been from a fictional country rather than Singapore, and it still would have been utterly fascinating to read. But lucky for us, he is from Singapore, which allows us to look at our own country and its history over the lifetime of an interesting artist.
I highly, highly recommend this to everybody – not just Singaporeans. If you’re even vaguely interested in comics, in storytelling, in Singapore, any of that – Charlie Chan is for you. I love how it doesn’t make a huge deal out of any of the things that it’s doing – it isn’t heavy-handed. There’s a quiet nuance to it, and you really do feel like you’re in the presence of a master.
Charlie’s personal story is quite a touching, inspiring one – even if you never got a chance to look at his actual art. But you do, and so you feel even more strongly for him.
You also feel for the characters in Charlie’s stories, which are great little stories.
I’m so proud that this exists. I recommend it to everybody. I’m already looking forward to my second read.