An afternoon browse at the library turned out to be rather serendipitous. I found The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye and quickly added it to my check-out pile of poem collections and political theory books.
By late afternoon, I had ravenously devoured all of it up.
There is a certain brilliance that shines through each page. It is informed by both a perceptive historical and socio-political leanings as well as an impeccable cultural taste. You taste his gnawing obsession with issues of language politics, Asian values and civil liberties on every page and every shade of colour. It’s a refined mix of foreign and locally influenced views on the Singaporean narrative.
The meta-persona of the comic takes the form of a luckless comic artist who bears witness to the nation’s economic development and cultural deterioration, and through it all, remains both an outsider and a victim of it, and at the same time, at heart a closet dissident always.
Sonny Liew’s artistic voice is clear and powerful through it all – the loud, boyish and innocent idealism that gradually evolves into a subtle and muted bitterness. More than an ode of love to one’s nationhood, it is instead one artist’s attempt to make sense of the inanities, tragedies and miracles of his nation’s story from pre-independence to the contemporary. And thus, Liew builds a bildungsroman in every sense and on multiple layers – that of the persona and that of the nation and its spirit.
He (and his persona) is a dissident through and through – the overt sympathy for the likes of Lim Chin Siong, JB Jeya, the Chinese Middle School students and their lost mother tongues; and his markedly less impassioned depictions of Lee Kuan Yew and his Machiavellian and talented authoritarian tendencies. (I can’t emphasise enough how much I enjoyed the subtlety and satire in some of the more provocative insets.)
He is also at the same time a great lover of the nostalgic. You may just mistake his work sometimes as sponsored by the Singapore Memory Project.