Eisner award-winning artist Erica Eng ready to serve up 'Fried Rice'


A close-up detail of Eng’s 'Fried Rice' graphic novel, which tells the story of a teenage girl from smalltown Johor who aspires to be an artist and animator. Photo: Erica Eng

If you’re a fan of Erica Eng’s online comics series Fried Rice, which received one of the highest recognitions in the global comics industry back in 2020 – the Eisner award for Best Webcomic – then you may be glad to hear that you’ll soon get the chance to own a physical copy.

The print version of the comic, which is self-published and will be distributed by Gerakbudaya, includes 30 pages of new content and “remastered” pages.

“I actually spent a lot of time working on the extra content and I painted new illustrations,” says Eng, 25, who was the first Malaysian to win an Eisner, the equivalent of the Oscars for the comic world (though Malaysia-born Singaporean comics creator Sonny Liew had previously won three Eisners in 2017 for The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye).

“It’s supposed to feel like a scrapbook, like you’re reading someone’s journal or letters. The extra content is about the inspiration behind Fried Rice and my process. It’s mostly drawings and pictures, so I hope it’s fun to read,” she adds.

The cover of 'Fried Rice', an Eisner-winning webcomic by artist Erica Eng, which will be available in print and distributed by Gerakbudaya next month. Photo: Erica EngThe cover of 'Fried Rice', an Eisner-winning webcomic by artist Erica Eng, which will be available in print and distributed by Gerakbudaya next month. Photo: Erica Eng

Based in her hometown of Batu Pahat, Johor, Eng first began publishing the comic in 2019 on Tumblr, which is described as a work of semi-autobiographical fiction about Min, a 17-year-old Malaysian girl from Batu Pahat, who visits her relatives in Kuala Lumpur and aspires to be an artist and animator.

Besides the Eisner, Fried Rice won the Ringo Award for Best Webcomic that same year and was also nominated for the prestigious Harvey Award for Digital Book of the Year.

Finding the right time

According to Eng, receiving all the accolades “most definitely” had an impact on her life.

“I don’t know if I’d have published Fried Rice if not for the recognition. Before winning the award, I thought it would just be a fun art project and I wasn’t expecting anything to come of it. Without the award, I don’t think I would have gotten this far.

“It’s not that it would have been impossible, but I just don’t think I would’ve felt very motivated to do it, because a) I already had a career path in animation; and b) getting a book published is a lot harder than I expected,” says Eng, who graduated last year with a BFA in Animation and VFX from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California in the United States.

Eng's 'Fried Rice' is a work of autobiographical fiction, which will finally be available in print next month. Photo: Erica EngEng's 'Fried Rice' is a work of autobiographical fiction, which will finally be available in print next month. Photo: Erica Eng

Eng could have moved away after she finished her studies, but she chose to work from Batu Pahat.

"Writing about my hometown was a way for me to see it in a new light and appreciate it after wanting to escape it for so long. I have remained in Batu Pahat partly due to external circumstances and partly to my own decisions. In the meantime, I'm practising what Fried Rice began in me which is the act of slowing down and being grateful for what I have because there are still many times when I feel the desire for a change of scenery," she says.

There was a lot of trial and error involved in the process of getting the comic out in print, which was why it took nearly four years.

“After I won the Eisner in 2020, I wasn’t in a hurry to get Fried Rice printed because I wanted to weigh out all my options first. I started by seeking out an agent, but I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to represent the comic. After that, I tried reaching out directly to publishers,” says Eng.

‘I wanted to grow up and be Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake combined – I didn’t know illustrators and writers could be separate entities back then,’ says Eng, who won an Eisner award in 2020 for her webcomic 'Fried Rice'. Photo: Erica Eng ‘I wanted to grow up and be Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake combined – I didn’t know illustrators and writers could be separate entities back then,’ says Eng, who won an Eisner award in 2020 for her webcomic 'Fried Rice'. Photo: Erica Eng

“So it was a very long process – the rejection mostly came from other parties, but I turned down some people myself. Even after I signed my current contract, I had to wait a year before things started moving forward,” she adds, who is operating under a sole proprietorship.

As an avid comic book reader, Eng was drawn into the intricate narratives, iconic characters, and imaginative storytelling found within the pages of her favourite comics, and she has not merely found inspiration; she has forged a symbiotic relationship with the art form itself.

“I like This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki (mostly because of Jillian Tamaki’s drawings) and On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden. I’d say that these were the comics that inspired me to draw my own,” says Eng.

“I also read Himawari House by Harmony Becker in 2021 and have read it multiple times since. I really enjoy Harmony’s writing and drawing style and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her long-format work. She’s a big inspiration for me – I love how gracefully she navigates between heavy, emotional scenes and lighthearted ones.”

Obsessed with books

In the newly-added content for the print edition of Fried Rice, readers get to learn how Eng got into illustration and making her own comics.

“I’ve been writing my own stories since primary school because I was obsessed with books,” shares Eng.

“I wanted to grow up and be Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake combined – I didn’t know illustrators and writers could be separate entities back then. I decided to go into comics as opposed to writing novels because I feel more comfortable drawing a story rather than writing it.”

Eng says her comic book is supposed to feel like a scrapbook, like you’re reading someone’s journal or letters. Photo: Erica Eng Eng says her comic book is supposed to feel like a scrapbook, like you’re reading someone’s journal or letters. Photo: Erica Eng

Eng, who currently works as a junior animator at a gameplay and cinematic animation studio, says that her family has always been supportive of her choice of career.

“For my parents, I think they just wanted to know that I’m serious about what I’m doing and that I’m staying informed and putting in an effort.

“Initially, I wanted a job in either medicine or law, but after I found out that people could actually have careers in art, I pursued art wholeheartedly,” she adds.

Apart from Fried Rice, Eng has done other projects, including #UncoverLife – Atopic Dermatitis, More Than Skin Deep, a series of comics aimed at raising awareness about atopic dermatitis, a skin condition that she used to have. She has since healed and is no longer under any treatment.

Currently, Eng is working on a new webcomic called Beloved, where we see a family undergo changes and grapple with faith after moving to a small town.

“Like Fried Rice, it’s set in Malaysia and many scenes are inspired from my own experiences, but it’s no longer semi-autobiographical – I’d call it fictional,” says Eng.

On March 9, Eng will be at Eslite Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur for a sharing and book signing session. Following that, she will be at the opening reception for Echoes, an art installation she is participating in at Art+ Contemporary Gallery in Bangsar Village II, KL.

Fried Rice is available for pre-orders this month (with limited edition prints), and is due out in early March. More info here.

Follow us on our official WhatsApp channel for breaking news alerts and key updates!
   

Next In Culture

Faith Ringgold, pioneering Black quilt artist and author, dies at 93
Salman Rushdie's forthcoming memoir 'Knife' will detail his stabbing incident
Restoration of 122-year old Penang gurdwara to finish in two years
Five years after fire, Notre-Dame rises from ashes
'Dungeons & Dragons', now 50 years old, is enjoying a resurgence in popularity
Melaka government allocates funds for preserving historic Villa Sentosa
Writers are refusing PEN America award in protest of its position on Gaza
London's last remaining cabmen's shelter receives official heritage status
Weekend for the arts: shades of silence, Japan Anime Exhibition
Greece reopens historic mosque for Eid celebration

Others Also Read