Hot Takes on Malaysian Comics 2024

I was interviewed by Aisyah Anesee for her article on The Star (Malaysian newspaper) advocating for comics as a beneficial medium. An abridged version of the interview was printed as a sidebar in the printed edition. I did have some hot takes that weren’t all mentioned in the sidebar, so I am posting the original interview here on my blog, which is where all my hot takes live.

It’s very uplifting that you don’t shy away from sharing all the knowledge and advice that you have about creating comics to the readers on your blog and website. I’m sure this transparency is stemmed from having little to no resources yourself to depend on, especially those that were actually relevant to the Malaysian reality.

From the point of view of a visual-literary artist, what were the things that made you first realise that the Malaysian comic scene was not like the West? You mentioned that not many local publishers print comics due to several reasons. Would you say that is solely dependent on the readership, or it is a combination of something else?

I really don’t feel we can rest the issue solely on the audience. Malaysians do inherently have a desire for art – thanks to our multiculturalism, we read and watch so much media from various languages and countries, and when a local film/book/comic/whatever goes big, we really come together to support it. The problem is that we don’t have much in the way of resources to sustain and mobilise that potential from both ends of producer and consumer.

The lack of support is due to a combination of various factors:

  1. The poor cultivation, education and appreciation of the arts in our schools and society.
  2. The misconception that the arts is only for a special group of people who are rich, intelligent and possessing a certain elite quality, whether that’s talent or class, and that discourages people from embracing the arts either as an artist or an appreciator
  3. The other, contradicting misconception that the arts is inferior and deserves no respect – a useless skill that brings no benefit to the economy, unlike the more “prestigious” fields like STEM

All of this leads to the situation where in Malaysia, there is no (note: very very little) infrastructure or support for nurturing an arts culture, let alone for a misunderstood art form like comics – even though we have a strong community and talent pool, plus a unique multicultural artistic history. If there is poor foundation or support, then there will be little inspiration, knowledge or experience that is needed to set up and maintain initiatives that enrich our society with art. 

In the West, they really do make arts a core part of their identity as a nation, nurturing this appreciation from young and also implementing public policies and funding to build museums, galleries, studios, schools and all related businesses. Malaysia is very behind on this; we don’t have any cultural policy beyond what serves the goals of increasing tourism.

Additionally, the few resources we have are often controlled by people who have no understanding, respect or trust for the arts, with no strategy for the future other than serving oneself or their pockets.

From your decade(s) of working in this form of media, what can you say about the demand, target, or behaviour of comic readers in Malaysia? Is there a pattern or trend that Malaysians are attuned to? What kind of genre or style is more marketable?

As I said above, Malaysian readers actually have a diverse, mature palette – because of our multicultural upbringing and our ability to speak multiple languages, we are receptive to all types of media and genres from all sorts of places. For comics, I don’t believe there is any one particular genre or style that is marketable; if it seems that way for Malaysian comics, it’s more because locally we are afraid of risk and haven’t produced or supported enough different comics to explore that potential, rather than because the Malaysian market wants it. After all, an audience can’t have what doesn’t yet exist. 

Anyway, Malaysian comics readers are already satisfying their need elsewhere in Western graphic novels, Japanese manga, and Korean webtoons.

Are there any unique or distinctive characteristics of the local comic scene that sets it apart from others?

Besides our strong camaraderie between comics creators, what makes us stand apart is our unique rojakness: the ability to preserve our identities yet are able to come together to become something spectacular. We are able to mix, adapt, innovate and preserve so many cultures, faiths, artistic histories and languages. There’s a deep well of multiplicity we can draw from that is so present in our daily lives, which is not something many countries, even the West, can always claim to have.

“I want to expand the public’s conception of comics as a medium of storytelling and enrichment.”

What would you say the current public perspective towards comics is, and how has it developed from the past? What are the changes that you have seen and wish to see in the future? In what ways do you think you have contributed to the expansion?

In the past 5 years, comics in the English-speaking nations is breaking away from the historical taboo that it is a “inferior” “second-rate” material only suitable for children or people with immature minds, and it is catching up to where Europe and Japan are, where comics is recognised as one of many art forms and a valued contributor to national culture. 

As I am mostly based in the Anglosphere, I see my role in this work-in-progress as someone who encourages more people to read, appreciate and make comics, which means breaking down the knowledge barrier and administering resources. So far I am achieving that goal by writing various articles on my blog, documenting my artistic process, building the Comics Devices library and lending my administrative knowledge to various organisations. I really don’t know at present what the results of all this effort will be, but I do hope that eventually there will be a large enough comics culture with infrastructure that will make it easier for people to love, create and support comics.

Hello, hello

Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.

She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.

Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.

Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur

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