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Singapore Book Awards: The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye wins Book of the Year

Other titles that took home accolades include Dr Lai Chee Kien's Through the Lens of Lee Kip Lin: Photographs of Singapore 1965-1995, as well as Lee Kow Fong’s The Search. 

SINGAPORE: Comic artist Sonny Liew's graphic novel The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye took home the Book of the Year accolade at the Singapore Book Awards on Wednesday night (May 11).  

The graphic novel, about the story of comic-book artist Charlie Chan during the formative years of Singapore’s modern history, features personalities such as Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, opposition politician Lim Chin Siong and events such as 1987’s Operation Spectrum and the Hock Lee bus riots.

Published by Epigram, the book was thrust in the spotlight in mid-2015 after the National Arts Council (NAC) decided to withdraw its S$8,000 publishing grant for the novel a day before its launch.

NAC later explained that the book’s content potentially “undermines the authority or legitimacy” of the Government and breached funding guidelines.

Epigram Books had to return the S$6,400 that had been already disbursed as well as print stickers to cover the NAC logo in the book.

Liew, who was recently on a tour of the US to promote the US launch of Charlie Chan, said that "the award does provide encouragement for staying on this sometimes uncertain road of a freelance career in comics".

The US launch of the title also made both the bestseller lists on The New York Times, as well as Amazon.com.

The writer-artist also thanked some of the people that were behind the book's win, especially for the special cover edition that was released by Epigram after the book's original release, which cover designer Yong Wen Yeu did based on a rough layout provided by Liew.

"I think the SBPAs are also about publishers and folks behind the scene though - Epigram, editor Joyce Sim and Wen Yeu who helped flesh out the design for the special edition cover," said Liew.

WINNER OF NON-FICTION CATEGORY SHOWCASES LESSER-KNOWN SIDE OF SINGAPORE

This year's winner for the non-fiction category was Dr Lai Chee Kien's Through the Lens of Lee Kip Lin: Photographs of Singapore 1965-1995 published by the National Library Board and Editions Didier Millet. The book is a curation of some of the late architectural historian Lee Kip Lin's 14,500 photographs.

Mr Lee had made it his mission to photograph streets and spaces in Singapore. In 2009, his family donated his collection to the National Library Board.

As an urban and architectural historian, Dr Lai Chee Kien was chosen to write the book.

“There was a lot of detective work that needed to be done. And this is mainly so because the landscape in Singapore has changed so much since the 1980's. So the challenge was really to look through this big group and photographs and to see what is important to present to a larger reading public,” said Dr Lai.

The book presents 500 photographs and lesser-known facts about Singapore, such as the different types of shophouses, some of which are not around anymore.

“Singapore was a much more walkable city. So if you take the Central Business District – around the Raffles Place area – you could walk almost sheltered by the five-foot walkways all the way to say Middle Road. I think the loss of this capability or possibility to walk through the city is something that I hope we can also bring back,” Dr Lai added.

Meanwhile, Lee Kow Fong’s The Search won the Best Children’s Title award. The book, published by Lingzi Media, tells the story of its main character who is looking for the opposite of loneliness.

“I'm still very childlike in my thinking, in a way. I like to portray the world in a very beautiful manner – very peaceful, very quiet, very dreamy. I think this is something young readers would be able to appreciate, because to them, the world is full of hope, full of dreams,” said Mr Lee.

The book’s brightly-coloured pages deal with what is traditionally an adult theme. Despite believing the story may have been too advanced for early readers, Mr Lee was surprised by a child's understanding of it.

“I have a friend from Hong Kong, she read it to a six-year-old Hong Kong boy, and after reading the whole book, that young kid actually told her in Cantonese: ‘It's talking about me.’ I hope after reading the book or listening to the book, that particular boy can find some comfort,” said Mr Lee.

The very first edition of the Singapore Book Awards in 2012 received more than 60 entries, while this year's received 147 submissions – the highest in the history of the awards, which are a platform to showcase works coming out of Singapore.

Said Mr Peter Schoppert, president of the Singapore Book Publisher’s Association: “Just because something is local doesn't mean it's great – I mean this is Singapore, we're so open to the world, we have great choice, so we just got to keep pushing the standards. And the awards are a small way to do that.”