Author hopes to change view of comics in M’sia

Yee: There is a misconception that the arts is inferior compared to science and maths.

Comic books have not always been perceived as a medium on par with other reading materials.

Malaysian author-illustrator Reimena Yee, 29, found that the local literary scene was not supportive of comic artists since only several local publishers offered to print comics.

“I don’t believe it is about readership or lack of demand.

“Thanks to our multiculturalism, we read and watch so much content in various languages and from different countries, so when a local film or book goes big, we really come together to support it.

“Part of the problem is derived from our poor cultivation, education and appreciation of the arts in our schools and society,” she said.

Yee said there was a misconception that the arts was inferior and a skill that brought no benefit to the economy, unlike fields such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“This leads to no infrastructure or support for nurturing an arts culture in Malaysia, let alone for a misunderstood art form like comic books, even though we have a strong community, talent pool and a unique multicultural artistic history,” she added.

Yee is the first Malaysian to receive an Oscars-equivalent recognition in the comic book world – an Eisner nomination for her original, creator-owned publication The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya.

Snippets of pages from Yee’s ‘The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya’ (top) and ‘Séance Tea Party’ (bottom).Snippets of pages from Yee’s ‘The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya’ (top) and ‘Séance Tea Party’ (bottom).

Her struggle in becoming a comic artist in Malaysia in the late 2000s has her dedicated to documenting her creative process and distributing accessible resources for local beginners to use as guidance.

“The other misconception is that arts is only for a special group of people who are rich, intelligent and possess a certain elite quality, whether that’s talent or class, so that discourages people from embracing it either as an artist or an appreciator.

“In the West, arts are a core part of their identity as a nation, nurturing this appreciation from young and implementing public policies and funding to build museums, galleries, studios, schools and related businesses.

“In English-speaking countries, comic books are breaking away from the historical taboo that it is an inferior, second- rate material only suitable for children or people with immature minds,” said Yee.

She said Europe and Japan recognised comic books as one of many art forms and were a valued contributor to national culture.

“Unfortunately, Malaysia is very behind on this because it does not have any cultural policy beyond what serves the goals of increasing tourism,” she added.

Yee believes that everyone deserves to experience how art, a critical component of the world, can transform folk into better people. — AISYAH ANESEE

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