The recent Comic Art Festival KL showed that the Malaysian comics scene is thriving and poised for greater growth.
CENTRAL Market in Kuala Lumpur has hosted many art-based events but it certainly hasn’t done very much for the comics world ... not until this month. June 7 and 8 saw the Comic Art Festival KL (CAFKL) held there, celebrating the creativity and diversity of the Malaysian comics and illustration scene and showcasing the works of 70-odd talents.
Unlike most comics-related events held in the country – where cosplayers tend to overshadow everything else – this meet was a gathering of creative minds (and hands) where the crème de la crème of local and regional talents displayed their creative best.
Thanks to the Sequential Arts Youth Society (SAYS), a non-profit organisation that aims to educate the public about the ever-expanding anime, comics and gaming (ACG) community in Malaysia, the two-day event comprehensively showcased mainstream and manga talents and also addressed key issues affecting the industry.
The ultimate goal of SAYS, which was established in 2009, is to create an avenue for creative talents to come together and push the Malaysian creative industry forward through innovative ideas. Going by the participants’ feedback, the event certainly met this goal.
CAFKL was hosted at the Annexe Gallery (the building behind Central Market, which aeons ago was a cineplex). My initial reaction upon entering the event was akin to diving into a swimming pool filled with distilled creativity.
The talent pool at CAFKL boasted a Who’s Who of Malaysia’s comics scene.
To name a few, there were artists who are doing mainstream work: Tan Eng Huat (X-Men: Legacy, Doom Patrol, Batman: Journey Into Knight, Punisher), Alan Quah (Vampire Diaries, Godzilla: Awakening, Anywhere) and Sheldon Goh (Grimm Fairy Tales, G.I. Joe Vs Cobra).
Also present were key figures instrumental in developing the local scene – Anuar Hassan aka Sireh (of Gila Gila, Humor, Gelihati, Ujang and Apo), Michael Chuah aka C2V and Lefty Julian (both from Gilamon Studio), Slaium (Gempak Starz), Mohd Azhar Abdullah (Urban Comics, Liga Pendekar and ex-president of Persatuan Pekomik Malaysia (Pekomik)), and Faizal Mokhtar (JOM, KLP Productions and current Pekomik president).
Giving the event an “international” feel, albeit an Oriental one, were renowned manga experts Yoshimi Kurata (Aji Ichi Monme), Keitaro Arima (Tsukuyomi: Moon Phase) and Koko Fukida.
Their presence spoke volumes of the support provided by the Asia Manga Association and the Japanese Embassy, raising hopes for future opportunities in Japan. The four manga panel sessions offered invaluable insights on the “path” to becoming a manga artist.
On the mainstream front, the forums addressed contemporary issues ranging from Breaking Into The Comics Industry to The Future Of Independent Comics. Complementing these discussions was a live art demonstration by Alan Quah, who has been rampaging thorugh the mainstream scene of late through his work on DC’s Vampire Diaries and Legendary’s Godzilla: Awakening.
Like all comic-related events, the euphoria generated from gatherings like this tends to be fleeting. What can best be described as a fantasy situation – the electrifying feeling of being crammed into a hall full of artists and their works – overwhelms the senses. Once the dust has settled and we drift back to reality, however, the inevitable question arises: was the event a success?
To Pekomik’s Faizal, it generated a host of opportunities in terms of exposure, sharing of experience and networking among local and international participants and visitors alike.
“It was great, awesome fun!” said Faizal, who hoped for an encore event soon.
Quah was encouraged by the turnout and the privilege to view amazing work from many young artists. Their enterprising nature was evident from the self-published comics and art collections on sale.
“Proud to say that the Malaysian art scene is very much alive and improving, ready to replace old dinosaurs like me,” he quipped.
Pekomik founder and first president Azhar said CAFKL offered a perfect platform for local acts and the doujinshi (amateur manga) scene.
His views are supported by another familiar face in the domestic comics scene, Angelia Ong, the driving force behind the Comics Are Cool! movement, who views CAFKL as a good beginning for creator-related events, as opposed to the usual pop culture-centric ones.
Sounds almost perfect, but were there any “imperfections”? It was evident from the participants and visitors’ responses that a larger space would be beneficial to both groups in future.
Spearheading a posse of artists, Ong and Goh, her hubby, felt that this year’s venue was not ideal, especially when there were many people walking around. It got rather cramped and very warm.
Faizal, too, favoured a larger space to accommodate more exhibitors and talents. A sweaty Tan and other artists hunched over their workspaces also showed that giving each one more than half a table would have been preferable.
Additionally, dedicated spaces (in the form of booths) for industry practitioners to review works by aspiring talents would have added some welcome privacy to the quest to uncover new talents.
Azhar added that the presence of more sponsors and international talents would also be a boost for future events.
Quah said the love for comics is still very strong in this country, based on the number of questions posed during his live art session: “It is a matter of reaching out to them. A lot of people are curious about the correct way to draw, tools, etc. It would be great to see more artists producing more comics to reach out to them. The (field) is very much alive.”
Azhar was also touched by the fact that non-Malay-speaking customers (from Singapore and Japan) bought his Pendekar Melayu Terakhir comic. Well, the end product does speak for itself!
Lastly, it’s heartening for this longtime industry observer to note that the local comics scene has taken a quantum leap since the 1980s, evident from the proliferation of locally published comics and the posse of homegrown talents stamping their mark on the international mainstream arena.
We can certainly progress with more events like CAFKL, so kudos to the organising team for a job well done.