Braiding Stories in the Graphic Novels of Sonny Liew and Koh Hong Teng

12 September 2018 (Wed), 12-1:15 PM
At Elm Common Lounge

This talk examines how some Singaporean graphic novels offer alternative perspectives on the country’s past and present through their aesthetic representations of historical figures, places, and events. While the most obvious example of this is Sonny Liew’s Eisner-award-winning The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, such reconsiderations are also present in other non-politically engaged graphic novels: for example, Liew’s Warm Nights Deathless Days (about the life of painter Georgette Chen) and Koh Hong Teng’s Last Train From Tanjong Pagar (about Dr. Lai Chee Kien’s heritage tours and the railway linking Malaysia and Singapore).

While recent scholarship on Singaporean comics focuses on issues of readership and marketability or socio-cultural critique, I approach Liew’s and Koh’s graphic novels using the work of comics scholar Thierry Groensteen, in particular Groensteen’s concept of braiding. Braiding refers to a comic’s internal repetition of visual motifs and formal structures that creates a network of meaning enriching the basic storyline or plot. I extend this concept of braiding to discuss how Singaporean graphic novels also braid or fold historical and geographical elements into their formal composition. Such braiding invites readers to become active interpreters of the past and present, enriching straightforward readability with critical resonance.

Weihsin Gui is Associate Professor of English at the University of California-Riverside. He is the author of National Consciousness and Literary Cosmopolitics (2013) and the editor of Common Lines and City Spaces (2014), an essay anthology on Singaporean poet Arthur Yap. He also co-edited a 2016 special issue of the journal Interventions about Singapore. His work has appeared in journals such as Postcolonial Text and The Global South, and he contributed an essay about “Contemporary Literature From Singapore” to the online Oxford Research Encyclopedia for Literature that was published in 2017.