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Friday June 7, 2013

Creating a comic community

The turnout
at the Let’s
Nerd Out
Weekend at
Borders The
Curve. The turnout at the Let’s Nerd Out Weekend at Borders The Curve.

Comics Are Cool! aims to show Malaysians that comics are, well, cool again.

WHY comics? “Why not?” shrugs Angelia Ong.

“Comics are amazing things – there are so many different genres and stories for readers of all ages,” she adds. “For adults and kids who are not so comfortable with reading books with a lot of words, comics are a great way to get into reading. (Game Of Thrones creator) George R.R. Martin said before that he got interested in reading through comics, as opposed to usual books.”

Ong is the driving force behind Comics are Cool! (CAC!, complete with exclamation mark), a series of events striving to build a stronger local community of comic fans, artists and writers, as well as the Malaysian Games and Comics Convention (MGCC) that was held May last year at Kolej Damansara Utama.

Comics Are Cool! and Borders Malaysia recently held the Let’s Nerd Out Weekend event at Borders The Curve on May 11 and 12, in conjunction with Free Comic Book Day & Star Wars Day. The event featured appearances and signings by top Malaysian comic book artists such as Tan Eng Huat, Michael Chuah, Sheldon Goh and Zid, and other comics and Star Wars-related activities.

Ong, who runs creative studio Banshee Creative, always had an interest in comics, but her interest grew greater after she married Goh (who currently draws for Zenescope). The idea for MGCC and CAC! came about after she visited the Singapore Toy, Games & Comic Convention in 2009, and came home wondering why there wasn’t something similar in Malaysia.

After all, Malaysia has produced its share of internationally-known comic artists who have drawn for comics superpowers like DC Comics, Marvel and Image, and there is also a growing community of independent comic creators and fans.

artist Sheldon
Goh doing a
sketch for a
comic fan
during the
event. Zenescope artist Sheldon Goh doing a sketch for a comic fan during the event.

“We do have a comics event here, but it tends to focus a lot on manga and anime. We wanted to organise something that was more than just that, and with a greater focus on Western comics,” says Ong, while emphasising that she doesn’t really draw any lines between Western or Asian comics. “The lines (between the two) are blurred anyway – you can have Western comics in a manga setting and vice versa. As long as there is a good story and people enjoy it, it doesn’t matter (which medium it is in).”

Before starting work on the Malaysian Games and Comics Convention, however, Ong wanted to see how well a comic-related event would be received, so she organised the first ever CAC! event at local comic book store Earth 638 in October 2011 to see what sort of response she would get.

“We had over 200 people in one afternoon, which was pretty decent for an event that small!” she recalls. “That’s when we started working on organising the convention itself, and eventually got more than 2,000 attendees.”

According to her, the CAC! events are sort of like a subset of the bigger MGCC, which she based on US comic conventions like the massive San Diego Comic-Con.

“The response (to MGCC) was really positive, and we plan to have one more next year,” she says, adding that the plan is to hold MGCC every two years. “In the meantime, we’ll be doing smaller CAC! events like the one in Borders recently, which was really nice.

“Events like that help to create awareness about comics, and let people know that you can get this geeky, nerdy type stuff here as well!”

She also reckons that the popularity of recent comic-based movies has helped to attract new fans and rekindled the comic-loving flame in many older fans.

“The recent event at Borders had participants of all ages, from really young kids to adults. It’s a good way for like-minded people to get together and have a good time, for the younger ones to be exposed to a different genre of comics, and if you’re an adult, to not feel judged that you are still reading comics or collecting stuff at that age!”

Ultimately, Ong hopes to build a bigger local community of comic book fans, creators and publishers through these events. “Many people don’t know that there is a small pool of artists who actually draw for major comic publishers,” she says. “We’ve also got a decent community of local indie artists with some great stuff, so we want to provide a place for them to show their work, sell their work, and reach out to new and existing fans.

“When you have a thriving community, your industry tends to grow along with it as well. I don’t have big plans (for CAC!) – we just want to try and grow the community. We just want to show Malaysians that comics are cool again, in our country at least.”

For updates about future Comics Are Cool! events, join their Facebook page at