Worlds Of Wonder: On this special day, we check out local comic creator Tan Eng Huat, as well as a couple of made-in-Malaysia graphic novels.
The next time you are in a comic store, or are browsing comic book titles on your mobile device, look up Marvel’s Deadly Hands Of Kung Fu, and check out the name of the book’s penciller.
Yes, the artist in charge of drawing the new adventures of Shang Chi, Marvel’s master of kung fu, is a Malaysian – Tan Eng Huat, to be exact.
Fans (and regular readers of this column) may recognise his name – after all, he was one of the first local comic artists to make it to the big leagues of mainstream Western comics in 2001 with DC’s Doom Patrol.
Shang-Chi in particular sees Tan treading somewhat familiar property, since he grew up reading manga and Hong Kong wuxia comics like Tin Ha and Long Fu Mun, and also worked for five years as an assistant to acclaimed Hong Kong artist Chow Seng on Water Margin, based on the literary work of the same name.
“I grew up reading a lot of Hong Kong comics, and it was interesting to see how I could translate that kind of knowledge into this book,” he said.
Tan tried to put in a few of the things he learnt from his time with Hong Kong wuxia comics, such as speed lines, which he learnt when working for Chow Seng.
Speaking during an interview at the launch of regional comic anthology Liquid City Volume Three in Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC recently, he mused that before he got assigned to Deadly Hands, he was pretty much oblivious to the fact that Marvel actually had a character like Shang-Chi.
“That was the first time I realised that Marvel Universe had an Asian character who did kung fu!” he said with a laugh, noting that although the character is Asian, his foundation is still very much American. “They try to put a lot of Asian elements like Chinatown, dragons etc, and other stuff that is related to Asian culture, but it’s still very American.”
Born in 1974 in Teluk Intan, Tan is relatively well known in the local comic scene, having been a regular with Gempak magazine since 1993, publishing books such as Genocide and Red Hunter under the pen name Kutu.
Tan earned his first big break in 2001 when he met then DC group editor Andy Helfer at the World Manga Summit in Hong Kong. In an editorial at the end of Doom Patrol #1 (Tan’s first issue), Helfer recalled how he made friends with a “really nice guy from Malaysia named Tan” and hung out with him during the summit without ever knowing he could draw. When he eventually saw Tan’s artwork, Helfer was blown away. “This guy was good ... with great waiting in the wings,” Helfer wrote, calling Tan “the most original voice (artist) to be heard (seen) in American comics” at the time.
So it was that Tan signed an exclusive contract with DC Comics to pencil the John Arcudi-scripted Doom Patrol, which eventually earned him the Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award at the 2002 Eisners (or Eisner Comic Industry Awards). After 22 issues of Doom Patrol, he went on to work on other DC books such as The Authority and Justice League Of America (for which he gained another Eisner nomination, for Best Penciller and Inker, in 2004).
After working exclusively for DC Comics for a few years, Tan started to draw for Marvel as well, starting with 2006’s Ghost Rider, followed by Silver Surfer: In Thy Name, and Punisher in 2009, among others. His most recent Marvel contributions were the criminally underrated X-Men: Legacy (which starred Legion, the son of Professor X), and the current ongoing Deadly Hands.
According to him, Deadly Hands is one of the hardest books he has ever worked on. “There is a lot of background, a lot of characters and a lot of fighting. The hardest part of doing a comic is the continuity, and ... I also have to keep the focus on the dialogue, who talks first.”
Tan is not the only Malaysian comic artist working for high-profile Western companies, of course. Among others, Billy Tan has been a staple in Marvel and DC in recent years, Sheldon Goh currently draws for Zenescope Entertainment, and Malaysian-born, Singapore-based graphic novelist Sonny Liew is well known for his quirky graphic novels and also for founding the Liquid City anthology.
Tan is also part of Gilamon, a platform for creator-owned projects that includes fellow Malaysian comic creators Lefty, Michael Chuah and Chin Sau Lim.