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for its political focus, juxtaposition of pragmatism versus idealism, and status of having been drawn in 1998 but unpublished until its inclusion here.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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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.



Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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Rich, creamy art and playful paneling make for a fun read.


Cartoonist Collins’ debut graphic novel is a long, smooth fable of a man whose unkempt facial hair ravages the tidy city of Here.

Here sits on an island, surrounded by the sea, separated from the far-off land of There. And whereas Here is all row houses and trimmed trees and clean cheeks, There is a dark, disordered place that would mix your insides with your outsides, your befores with your nows with your nexts—unpleasant business brilliantly depicted in panels breaking across a single body as it succumbs to chaos. So the people of Here live quiet, fastidious lives, their backs to the sea, and neighbor Dave delights in doodling it all from his window as he listens to the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” on repeat. But an irregular report at his inscrutable office job triggers the single hair that has always curved from Dave’s upper lip to be suddenly joined by a burst of follicles. Try as Dave might, his unruly beard won’t stop pouring from his face in a tangled flood—and soon it threatens the very fabric of life in Here. Collins’ illustrations are lush, rounded affairs with voluptuous shading across oblong planes. Expressions pop, from the severe upturn where a sympathetic psychiatrist’s brows meet to the befuddlement of a schoolgirl as the beard’s hypnotic powers take hold. With its archetypical conflict and deliberate dissection of language, the story seems aimed at delivering a moral, but the tale ultimately throws its aesthetics into abstraction rather than didacticism. The result rings a little hollow but goes down smooth.

Rich, creamy art and playful paneling make for a fun read.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-05039-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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