Johor-born animator Erica Eng has recently become the fourth Malaysian ever to be nominated for an Eisner Award
On 2 June, Erica Eng, a 21-year-old animator from Batu Pahat was notified that her webcomic, Fried Rice, was nominated for an Eisner Award in the Best Webcomic category.
The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards are prizes given for creative achievement in comic books. It is essentially the comic industry's equivalent of the Oscars.
Nominations in each category are decided upon by a five- to six-member jury that consists of at least one comics retailer, one librarian, and one academic researcher.
They are then voted on by comic book professionals and presented at the annual San Diego Comic-Con.
Eng joins only three other Malaysians who were nominated for the award under various categories in the last two decades.
1. Tan Eng Huat aka Kutu - nominated for an Eisner Award in 2004 for his work with DC Comics
In 2004, Tan Eng Huat, who goes under the pseudonym Kutu, was nominated as Best Penciller and Inker for his work in DC Comics' Justice League of America.
Born in Teluk Intan, Tan first began working in the Malaysian comics industry in the early 1990s. During his early career, Tan produced cover art for the Malaysian monthly comic magazine, Gempak.
Speaking about his humble beginnings, Tan told Malay Mail, "I would copy cartoon characters from TV shows and movies. I still remember the first time my mother took me to watch the Superman movie… He's been my favourite superhero since."
By 2001, Tan was living his childhood dream as an illustrator for DC Comics after having met DC Comics editor Andrew Helfer at the Asian Manga Summit in Hong Kong. Helfer first offered Tan the opportunity to work on Doom Patrol, a comic series following a superhero team.
In the same interview with Malay Mail, Tan said, "I showed my stuff to him and he liked it. He liked manga and Asian art very much so maybe that's why he picked me to do the book since my style is a mix with both East and West."
Tan has since worked on over a 100 comic issues with both DC Comics and Marvel.
The illustrator was largely self-taught, drawing inspiration primarily from Japanese manga and Hong Kong action comics.
Tan's detailed, refined, and fluid art style has earned him the Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award in 2002 alongside the Eisner Award nomination in 2004.
Currently, Tan works as the Director of Left Pocket Studio, an animation studio based in Shanghai. There, he collaborates with other artists to create animated pieces for both Chinese and international markets, as described on their official website.
2. Sonny Liew - nine-time Eisner Award nominee and 2017 winner in three categories for his graphic novel, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye
Seremban-born, Singapore-based Sonny Liew has received nine Eisner Award nominations from 2007 to 2019 for three of his works.
To date, Liew is the only one out of the four Malaysia-born artists to have won an Eisner.
His graphic novel, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, won Best Writer/Artist, Best Publication Design, and Best US Edition of International Material (Asia) for the Eisner Awards in 2017. It sold over 15,000 copies in Singapore and made The New York Times' bestseller lists.
Through the eyes of fictional artist Charlie Chan, the novel deals with Singapore's political history during the 1950s and 1960s when the People's Action Party rose to power.
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye sparked controversy in 2015 when the National Arts Council in Singapore withdrew their initial grant of SGD8,000 (RM 24,527) to Liew after learning that the novel potentially undermines the government's legitimacy, according to The Straits Times.
In an interview with The Straits Times, Liew said, "I believe what I do is not anti-Singapore… Singapore should explore its history more, look at more different narratives about its past."
The book was inspired both by Singapore's 2011 General Election as well as the Wayne Wang movie Chan Is Missing.
Liew studied philosophy at Cambridge, and later attended Rhode Island School of Design for his formal art education.
He first began his career as an illustrator drawing a collection of comic strips titled, Frankie and Poo, for The New Paper in 2001.
Though his art style varies, from realistic to abstract, Liew has a strong interest in political satire that often comes into conflict with the interests of the publishers he works for. The New Paper, for instance, decided against publishing the Frankie and Poo strip below.
The comic artist has since worked with both Marvel and DC Comics, alongside publishing his own comic series, such as Eternity Girl.
He continues to be active today as he illustrates comics that reflect how different countries are confronting the pandemic.
3. Reimena Yee - first Malaysian creator-owned comic book to be nominated for an Eisner Award in 2018
Reimena Yee is a Malaysian illustrator, writer, and designer who is now based in Melbourne, Australia.
She was nominated for her digital comic turned graphic novel, The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya, under the category of Best Digital Comic in 2018. It was the first Malaysian creator-owned comic book to be nominated for an Eisner Award, according to Dailyseni.
The novel features a historical romance set in the Ottoman Empire. The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya was inspired by another of Yee's works, The World in Deeper Inspection, which she first created when she was just 15 years old.
Due to her background as a science student, research plays a heavy role in her artistic process.
The immersive fantasy world of The World in Deeper Inspection is actually grounded in academic research of the historical period it is set in. The comic even features supplementary text and a bibliography!
In an interview with The Beat, Yee says, "I think learning how to be analytical and meticulous helps me to analyse artistic or literary work and its meanings… For example, there is so much inspiration to be found in Biology and Astronomy."
She even puts a twist on actual historical events by introducing vampires into her work.
Sticking to the historical fiction genre, Yee's next project is a graphic novel that deals with the life and legends of Alexander the Great, as mentioned on her website.
Aside from graphic novels, Yee is also the co-founder of UNNAMED, a comics collective for professionals across Southeast Asia. In an interview with FEMALE magazine, Yee discusses her hopes for UNNAMED.
"It was created to provide support and opportunities for Southeast Asian comics and our main goal is to make ourselves known in the US, Europe, and Japan, all of which have very rich established culture for comics as literature."
4. Erica Eng - Eisner Award nominee 2020 for her ongoing webcomic series, Fried Rice
As mentioned, Malaysian animator Erica Eng was recently nominated for her webcomic, Fried Rice.
According to the official description on her website, Fried Rice, is a work of autobiographical fiction that tells the story a 17-year-old girl from Malaysia who aspires to be an artist.
In an email interview with The Star, Eng discussed the development of Fried Rice.
"Starting in 2016, I played around with themes of home, family, and country, but these stories were formulaic and cold. In 2018, I tried a different approach and made a series of paintings of my hometown from memory," she said.
Eng finally started writing Fried Rice in May 2019.
Currently pursuing a degree in 3D character animation at the Academy of Art University, Eng's dreamy, watercolour-like art style is informed by the cartoonists Tillie Walden, Jillian Tamaki, Cyril Pedrosa, and Lat.
As for Eng's personal form of storytelling, she takes inspiration from folk singer-songwriters.
In the same interview with The Star, Eng says, "I actually drew a lot of inspiration from folk singer-songwriters. These people sing about grey geese, their mothers, and hot sunny days; mundanity with a touch of divine grace. That's a tone I love and relate to deeply."
On her website, Eng says she expects her finished comic to be around 200 pages long. So far, Eng has published over 40 pages of the weekly webcomic.
Typically the Eisner Awards ceremony is held at the annual Comic Con International in San Diego, California. Due to the pandemic, the event has been cancelled.
The Eisners are expected to be given out in July, but they are yet to determine an exact date.
Malaysia boasts many talented artists. These other local creatives have gained international attention: