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Tuesday January 21, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Tuesday January 21, 2014 MYT 6:07:05 AM
by michael cheang
Set in a fantastical world called the Architrave, the story revolves around Li-Hsu, a young boy who somehow gets turned into an imp.
Singaporean comics take centre stage this week, with a look at the country’s first-ever graphic novel and some new titles from Epigram Books.
Myth Of the Stone: 20th Anniversary Edition
Writer/Author: Gwee Li Sui
Publisher: Epigram Books
To celebrate the graphic novel’s 20th anniversary, Epigram Books has published a special edition which includes bonus features such as notes from the author, new short stories, as well as a much-needed touch-up and improvement of the artwork.
Set in a world called the Architrave, the story revolves around Li-Hsu, a young boy who opens a door to this strange new world and somehow gets turned into an imp. To change himself back, he has to go on a quest that will lead him on a journey fraught with danger and a war involving all manner of strange beasts, monsters and creatures.
At first, the story seems like a mishmash of The Chronicles Of Narnia, The Lord Of The Rings, and the legend of King Arthur; but there is definitely something a lot deeper to this book. To truly appreciate it, you need to put yourself in Gwee’s shoes when he first wrote it.
At the time, he was a mere 23-year-old, dreaming of being a comic artist and author, his head filled with influences from JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and other authors who dealt in the fantastical and amazing. As such, the context of the naivety and almost childlike innocence of the story becomes clear – this is not a rip-off of those more famous books, but a lovingly crafted tribute to these great authors and their works.
Yes, it is somewhat wordy (for a comic) and the story a little over-familiar, but you can tell that Gwee put his heart and soul into this book, which is why the story of how he first conceived of it to the point where it became his “oldest trauma” is every bit as interesting as Li-Hsu’s journey.
Back when the book was first published, the Singaporean comics and graphic novels scene was almost nonexistent. After months of hard work, he showed the book to the now-defunct East Asia Book Services, which offered him a contract and published Myth Of The Stone.
“I imagined publication to mean more of this: people discussing the story and its genre and raising pertinent questions …” he writes in the afterword to the new edition.
Alas, it was not to be. In that pre-Internet age, newspaper reviews were all-powerful, and Gwee’s book was refused a review time and again. Blow after blow came soon after that – the original publishers lost his manuscript and later folded, his book ended up in bookstore bargain bins, and finally, it disappeared and was forgotten by all except Gwee, who forced himself to move on.
Although he went on to become an acclaimed poet (publishing his first book Who Wants To Buy A Book Of Poems), literary critic, author, editor and academic, he never quite forgot his maiden graphic novel, and longed to one day address this blot in his history.
Enter Epigram Books, a publisher of Singaporean independent comics and graphic novels that has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years. The company approached Gwee with the idea of a 20th anniversary edition and Gwee told them, “Help me get over my trauma” – which they duly did.
This new edition of Myth Of The Stone also includes two new stories that Gwee declares to be part of the same canon – The Demon Within and Rendezvous – as well as a healthy section of extras that includes the aforementioned afterword, a glossary of the terms used in the story, as well as Gwee’s explanations about the art in the older and newer versions.
It is a testament of just how far the Singapore comics scene has come in the 20 years since Myth Of The Stone first came out. Sure, there is a big difference between the rough, unpolished nature of Gwee’s book and the newer books reviewed here, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Gwee’s masterpiece isn’t perfect, but it stands proud as a defining milestone in Singapore’s comic industry.
The Girl Under The Bed
Writer: Dave Chua
Artist: Xiao Yan
> All the Epigram Books titles reviewed here are available at the graphic novel section of Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC. Call 03-2164 8133 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.kinokuniya.com/my.
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Lifestyle, Viewpoints, Worlds of Wonder, Myth Of The Stone, Gwee Li Sui, Singapore, comics, graphic novels
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