A fascinating look at a clever, uncompromising artist married to the times in which he lived.


In this graphic novel, Liew (Shadow Hero, 2014, etc.) presents the life and work of an obscure comic-book creator in tandem with the turbulent modern history of Singapore, the land both call home.

This celebration of the real if largely unknown artist Charlie Chan Hock Chye opens with his two-page comic juxtaposing a pair of prominent Singaporean leaders—Lee Kuan Yew, the long-standing prime minister who shrewdly if brutally oversaw the country’s rise as an economic power; and Lim Chin Siong, a charismatic, populist orator who was outmaneuvered by political rivals, jailed as a dissident, and exiled, ultimately dying in obscurity. The opening is telling for its political focus, juxtaposition of pragmatism versus idealism, and status of having been drawn in 1998 but unpublished until its inclusion here. Born the year Superman and British children’s comic Beano debuted, Chan—a lifelong if self-taught student of the craft—became a sampler of comic styles, beginning with the manga-inspired tales of a boy and his giant robot, moving on to Dan Dare–style alien-invasion science fiction, comics strips in the vein of Walt Kelly’s Pogo, gritty street-level superheroics, and homages to MAD magazine and Windsor McCay. Sociopolitical issues abounded, with the giant robot responding only to commands given in Chinese (underscoring a Singapore divided by its English and Chinese schools) or colonialism playing out with alien overlords standing in for British rule and real-life figures and events in prominent if thinly veiled roles. Chan also created autobiographical comics detailing the struggles of a career frustrated by the repressive regime under which he lived (exacerbated by Chan’s compulsion for political commentary). But, acting almost like a politically minded Henry Darger, the undeniably talented Chan never stopped digesting his world into art, even if much of that work never saw publication. Liew provides sharp commentary throughout, illustrating interviews as well as accompanying strips that decode Chan’s layers of allegory.

A fascinating look at a clever, uncompromising artist married to the times in which he lived.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87069-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.


Design veteran Chwast delivers another streamlined, graphic adaptation of classic literature, this time Mark Twain’s caustic, inventive satire of feudal England.

Chwast (Tall City, Wide Country, 2013, etc.) has made hay anachronistically adapting classic texts, whether adding motorcycles to The Canterbury Tales (2011) or rocket ships to The Odyssey (2012), so Twain’s tale of a modern-day (well, 19th-century) engineer dominating medieval times via technology—besting Merlin with blasting powder—is a fastball down the center. (The source material already had knights riding bicycles!) In Chwast’s rendering, bespectacled hero Hank Morgan looks irresistible, plated in armor everywhere except from his bow tie to the top of his bowler hat, sword cocked behind head and pipe clenched in square jaw. Inexplicably sent to sixth-century England by a crowbar to the head, Morgan quickly ascends nothing less than the court of Camelot, initially by drawing on an uncanny knowledge of historical eclipses to present himself as a powerful magician. Knowing the exact date of a celestial event from more than a millennium ago is a stretch, but the charm of Chwast’s minimalistic adaption is that there are soon much better things to dwell on, such as the going views on the church, politics and society, expressed as a chart of literal back-stabbing and including a note that while the upper class may murder without consequence, it’s kill and be killed for commoners and slaves. Morgan uses his new station as “The Boss” to better the primitive populous via telegraph lines, newspapers and steamboats, but it’s the deplorably savage civility of the status quo that he can’t overcome, even with land mines, Gatling guns and an electric fence. The subject of class manipulation—and the power of passion over reason—is achingly relevant, and Chwast’s simple, expressive illustrations resonate with a childlike earnestness, while his brief, pointed annotations add a sly acerbity. His playful mixing of perspectives within single panels gives the work an aesthetic somewhere between medieval tapestry and Colorforms.

Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60819-961-7

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.



This black-and-white historical narrative, written and illustrated by Lutes, collects eight volumes of his ongoing comic book set in Berlin during the late ’20s. It’s a multilayered tale of love and politics at the beginning of the Nazi era, as Lutes follows the stories of three characters: a 20ish art student from the provinces, a textile worker, and a young Jewish radical. Their lives intersect in only the subtlest way—Lutes depicts them crossing paths at some great public events, such as the Mayday march that closes this part of his book. And Lutes plays with perspective in a visual sense as well, jumping from point-of-view frames to overhead angles, including one from a dirigible flying above in honor of the Kaiser. At street level, Lutes integrates his historical research smoothly, and cleverly evokes the sounds and smells of a city alive with public debate and private turmoil. The competing political factions include communists, socialists, democrats, nationalists, and fascists, and all of Lutes’s characters get swept up by events. Marthe, the beautiful art student, settles in with Kurt, the cynical and detached journalist; Gudrun, the factory worker, loses her job, and her nasty husband (to the Nazi party), then joins a communist cooperative with her young daughters; Schwartz, a teenager enamored with the memory of Rosa Luxembourg, balances his incipient politics with his religion at home and his passion for Houdini. The lesser figures seem fully realized as well, from the despotic art instructor to the reluctant street policeman. Cosmopolitan Berlin on the brink of disaster: Lutes captures the time and place with a historian’s precision and a cinematographer’s skill. His shifts from close-ups to fades work perfectly in his thin-line style, a crossbreed of dense-scene European comics and more simple comics styles on this side of the Atlantic.

An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-896597-29-7

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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