STARRED REVIEW
March 03, 2016

Blurring the lines between art, politics and history

Review by
In The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, author and illustrator Sonny Liew masterfully juxtaposes history and fiction—so much so that at first I couldn't tell the difference! This genre-bending graphic novel follows the story of fictional cartoonist Charlie, now in his 70s, and his art, beautifully rendered in contrasting styles to add to the realism, intertwined with the history of Singapore.
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In The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, author and illustrator Sonny Liew masterfully juxtaposes history and fiction—so much so that at first I couldn't tell the difference! This genre-bending graphic novel follows the story of fictional cartoonist Charlie, now in his 70s, and his art, beautifully rendered in contrasting styles to add to the realism, intertwined with the history of Singapore.

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is engaging and educational, not only in the history of comics, but also in an unfortunately little-known (to Westerners) place and era: Singapore in the 20th century. Liew’s graphic revealed many things to me: that from 1963 to 1965, Singapore was merged with Malaya, thus creating Malaysia; that the P.A.P (People's Action Party) even existed; that Singapore has a large Chinese population; and that there were over 100 years of British rule in Singapore. Liew’s visual storytelling is incredibly enlightening while also being a pleasure to read: his comics are versatile—filled with or devoid of color depending on the story’s context and mood—and beautifully simple. It is a joy to watch Charlie’s art evolve and change as a result of the events in his life and the cultural landscape of Singapore. Liew reaches back to a time of overwhelming cultural and political change in the small island nation, and in his transcendent graphic novel, Sonny Liew has revealed the ability of comics to blur the lines between fact and fiction, and to transport readers between eras and cultures.

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