Comic book girl

Posted on 22 December 2010

What do most people know about Singapore’s comic book scene, beyond manga and Mr. Kiasu? Joanne Chong, the Singaporean co-creator of graphic novel Thackarey, reflects on her journey as a comic book writer and why she chose to do it overseas.

Thackeray is an original online comic series with a different take on the traditional tale of the undead, and is jointly created by Kris Wozencroft and Singaporean Joanne Chong. Issues 1 to 3 of Thackeray are available to read for free at

Thackeray is an original online comic series with a different take on the traditional tale of the undead, and is jointly created by Kris Wozencroft and Singaporean Joanne Chong. Issues 1 to 3 of Thackeray are available to read for free at Picture from

This article first appeared on To read more about the alternative Malacca, beer brewing in Singapore and a bear with white furry knees, visit

WHEN I arrived in the United Kingdom to pursue a lifelong ambition of being a writer, I never for once dared dream that, four years later, I would be on my way to doing just that.

Sure, one had dreams of publishing novels, writing for a living – hey, even striking the lottery – but truly, how often do these dreams become reality? So when I started my degree in Linguistics and Literature, I assumed I would finish university, try and get funding for a PhD, and return home to look for a job in teaching.

Retrospectively, it’s hard to imagine myself going through with it.

My partner Kris and I started Thackeray a year ago, at the beginning of my Masters education. It was a ropey beginning, but what started off as a concept for a graphic novel slowly evolved into the script for a four-issue comic book series. And now, as we draw close to the end of our first big story arc, it feels like a year of investment was well worth it.

It might seem premature, but having just returned from our first exhibition at Thought Bubble Sequential Art Festival, a one-day comic convention in Leeds, it’s difficult to not feel full of hope.

It was a steep learning curve – the badges we had created for advertising purposes were gone by the end of the first hour, we had forgotten to print out any flyers, and most crucially, we hadn’t brought anything to sell. (Although the fact that people were looking to buy the comic in the first place was pretty encouraging!) Nonetheless, we got some great feedback and met some fantastic contacts, which at the very least is a good start.

It pains me to admit it, but if anyone asked me if I would have dared to start writing for comics back in Singapore, my answer would be a resounding “no.” Not that I would ever discredit the quality of my education, or the life I had back home – Singapore’s great, and a part of me will always wish I could have started my working life there.

But in my head, the words, “I want to be a comic book author!” always sounded more apt coming from someone in primary school than from a 23-year-old.

Coming from a family who always assumed that I would go into law or academia, I faced considerable opposition when I decided to try and become a writer, especially one of an art form that isn’t considered “serious literature”. So my decision to pursue comic book writing in the UK was made very simple when Kris and I revealed our intention to create a comic book series.

Here, we were met with unanimous support – from his family, our friends, and even from my linguistics professors. It was never about getting paid. It was about doing what we loved.

So I never gave bringing Thackeray home a second thought. And, to be perfectly honest, in a domestic market dominated by Wee Tian Beng and manga, finding an audience who didn’t immediately associate Spiderman with Tobey Maguire seemed unlikely. But this assumption, which admittedly was derived from complete comic book snobbery, turned out to be completely false.

The comic book industry in Singapore is well and alive – thriving, in fact. Just last year the movie production rights for Singaporean comic “Freedom Formula” was signed to Hollywood-based company New Regency, and this year, the Singapore Toy, Games and Comic Convention looks to be Marvel Comics’ first ever official convention appearance in East Asia.

Running from the 10th to the 12th of December, the convention boasts guests including Marvel legends Alex Maleev and Leinil Yu – incidentally, two of my favourite artists in the world.

Marvel senior vice-president of creator and content development C.B. Cebulski tweeted earlier this month, saying, “2010 has been about expanding Marvel’s talent recruiting efforts into new territories and Singapore is the next natural step for us.”

Do I regret not coming back to Singapore to start my career? Probably not – but it doesn’t stop me from hoping to someday bring my efforts back home, and from hoping that the industry continues to nurture homegrown talent in the way that it is at the moment.

So for everyone who’s ever dreamt of being part of a comic book production team, I say, “go for it.” It might be hard going, and probably sounds rich coming from someone just starting out herself, but if I had been told the same thing four years ago, who knows? Life for me may be very different right now.

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- who has written 268 posts on New Nation.

Joey is an intern at New Nation. He hopes to be as funny as Belmont one day and get laid at least twice a month.

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