Malaysian illustrator Erica Eng named in Forbes' '30 Under 30 Asia' list

Malaysian illustrator/animator Erica Eng made the Forbes' '30 Under 30 Asia' 2024 list, which was announced recently. In 2020, her semi-autobiographical webcomic 'Fried Rice' won an Eisner Award in the United States. Photo: Phanuel Chew

It's turning out to be a banner year for illustrator/animator Erica Eng, who made it into Forbes’ newly-unveiled "30 Under 30 Asia 2024" list.

This achievement follows the March self-publication of her Eisner-winning webcomic Fried Rice as a physical comic.

Listed under the "Media, Marketing & Advertising" category of the Forbes list, the 25-year-old Eng was also featured in an editor's pick for leading creators and artists producing inspiring and educational content.

"The impression I got from the email they (Forbes) sent was that they were scouting for possible honourees. It was only after I did the in-person interview and they booked me for a photoshoot that I realised it must be happening, because they wouldn't go out of their way with all this if I'm not going to be in it," says Eng with a laugh as she recalled the selection process.

"I don't think it's normal for an illustrator or comic artist to make it on Forbes – usually people don't care about independent writers unless you've got some film or TV deals under your belt," she adds.

Among Asia's top 300 trailblazers and entrepreneurs, three other young Malaysians were acknowledged by Forbes: national squash player Sivasangari Subramaniam, The Hive Southeast Asia's principal Angel Low, and Eat and Cook co-owner Lee Zhe Xi.

A game changer

Now based in her hometown of Batu Pahat, Johor, and working as an animator, Eng began publishing her "semi-autobiographical" webcomic Fried Rice on Tumblr in 2019.

The cover of Eng's 'Fried Rice' graphic novel, which was released in March. Photo: HandoutThe cover of Eng's 'Fried Rice' graphic novel, which was released in March. Photo: Handout

In the book, Min, a 17-year-old Malaysian girl from Batu Pahat, visits her relatives in Kuala Lumpur and shares her dreams about becoming an artist and animator. The story is based on Eng’s own experience of seeing her application to further her studies in the United States rejected.

In the print edition of the comic, which is distributed by Gerakbudaya, Eng added 30 pages of new content and remastered pages.

“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,” she explains.

According to Eng, the print version of the comic has been getting a good reception so far, having shipped out more than 2,000 copies of the initial print of 3,000 copies.

Besides clinching the prestigious Eisner for Best Webcomic in 2020, Fried Rice also won the Ringo Award for Best Webcomic that same year and was nominated for the prestigious Harvey Award for Digital Book of the Year.

Eng admits that getting recognition for the comic at an international level “most definitely” had an impact on her.

“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,” shares Eng, who graduated last year with an online bachelor’s degree in Animation and VFX from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California.

She is currently developing a new webcomic called Beloved, which explores "growing up in the Christian faith and what it means to hold onto that faith as I grow older."

In July, one of her short stories will be coming out in the anthology that will be published for the Philippine International Comics Festival 2024.

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