SINGAPORE: Graphic novelist Sonny Liew has become the first Singaporean to win at the prestigious Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, more commonly known as the Eisner Awards.
And he has done so in impressive fashion: The 42-year-old Malaysia-born artist bagged three awards for his graphic novel The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye at the prestigious event, which was held in San Diego on Saturday morning (Jul 22) during the Comic-Con International.
Liew’s awards haul includes Best Writer/Artist, Best Publication Design, and Best US Edition of International Material – Asia.
The annual awards is named after pioneering artist and writer Will Eisner and is widely regarded as the "Oscars" of the comics industry.
The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, which chronicles the life of a fictional Singaporean from the 1950s to the present, had earlier received the most nominations this year - six.
He was also nominated for Best Lettering, Best Coloring, and Best Graphic Album – New.
"It was a mixture of elation and disbelief mostly," Liew told Channel NewsAsia. "(I'm) still processing the idea of winning awards at an event where some of my cartooning heroes like Sergio Aragones were presenting."
When asked about the significance of his historic Eisner-winning moment for Singapore's comics scene, he added: "I don't think it's possible to predict ... I'm just trying to enjoy the moment for what it is."
This year’s nominees number more than 120 titles from 50 publishers from all over the world, and the winners were chosen via online voting by industry professionals.
He had previously received Eisner Awards nominations for his efforts on the comics anthology Liquid City and the mini-series Wonderland. He has also done work for the likes of Marvel and DC Comics, including a recent stint for the latter's Doctor Fate title.
First published in Singapore by Epigram Books in 2015, the novel was subsequently released in the US by Pantheon Books.
“Sonny deserves this. We always believed in this book, and it should be read by all Singaporeans, including schoolchildren,” Epigram Books publisher Edmund Wee told Channel NewsAsia.
Since its release, it has continuously garnered awards, such as the Singapore Literature Prize and the Singapore Book Award’s Book of the Year. Last month, it won best international comic at Denmark’s Pingprisen Awards. It has also reached the bestsellers lists at Amazon and The New York Times.
Prior to its success, The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye became the centre of controversy after the National Arts Council (NAC) withdrew its S$8,000 grant after citing “sensitive content”.
The graphic novel features personalities such as Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, opposition politician Lim Chin Siong and events such as 1987’s Operation Spectrum and the Hock Lee bus riots.
On Monday, NAC congratulated Liew on winning three Eisner awards.
"We are pleased that a Singaporean has been accorded international recognition for artistic merit," said NAC in a Facebook post. "We look forward to seeing Sonny’s new works including his upcoming first venture on stage at the NAC-commissioned Singapore International Festival of Arts."
For the Singapore International Festival of Arts in August, Liew is working on a live performance piece titled Becoming Graphic.