• first year read book cover

    Welcome to the Arts & Creativity Learning Community! We have chosen Sonny Liew’s graphic novel, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (Pantheon, 2016) as our first year read for A&C’s community.

    Why Our Community Chose This Book

    Ann Barlow, Program Director: Sonny Liew’s graphic novel immediately pulled me into the fictionalized life of Chye.  I read this book at the start of our current stay at home order while moving from working on campus to working from home.  It continues to make me think about how we navigate space, political climate, difference, safety and being creative. I enjoyed this book with its depth of artwork, beautifully written story and old-style comic panels as the path to understanding the complex intricacies of Singapore’s post world War II history and the history of comics.  There is so much to this book and I am looking forward to discussing the complex relationships to difference and inclusion, politics, social change and being a creative person.

    Holly Painter, Faculty Associate: I was living in Singapore when The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye came out, and it blew me away. There was the artistry of it: layered storytelling, imaginative characters, sweeping historical scale, a dozen different drawing styles. But I was also stunned by Sonny Liew’s guts. Through its fictional protagonist, Charlie Chan, the book resists “the Singapore Story,” the tightly controlled narrative of the country’s founding. It pushed me to think about the artist’s role as citizen and activist, responding to and shaping a society’s understanding of itself.

    Steve Budington, Faculty Associate: This story within a story (within a story) deeply resonated with my own experience of living as an artist. What is art good for? How are you going to make a living with that? Are you an active part of society? Sonny Liew deftly explores these questions, and the history of a city and nation in a time of great political upheaval, through the life of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, a fictionalized graphic artist working in Singapore from the 1950s to the present day. I loved this book for it’s surprising connections. The graphic styles woven together across time provide a fresh history of comic art and politics. More importantly, the book demonstrates artistic work at its best; art is critical to the project of making sense of, and narrating alternatives to, a lived experience in challenging times. That’s the kind of work we need right now.

    Author Biography

    Sonny Liew is a comics artist, painter and illustrator whose work includes the New York Times bestseller The Shadow Hero with Gene Luen Yang (First Second Books), My Faith in Frankie with Mike Carey (DC Vertigo), the Jane Austen adaptation Sense & Sensibility (Marvel Comics), and a Doctor Fate series with Paul Levitz (DC Comics). He has received Eisner nominations for his art on Wonderland (Disney Press) and The Shadow Hero, as well as for spearheading Liquid City (Image Comics), a multi-volume comics anthology featuring creators from Southeast Asia. His Malinky Robot series is a 2004 Xeric grant recipient and winner of the Best Science Fiction Comic Album Award at the 2009 Utopiales SF Festival. Born in Malaysia, he lives in Singapore, where he sleeps with the fishes.

    Online Resources

Reflection Questions

  1. The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye resists the official narrative of Singapore’s origins. How do various forms of art shape the stories we tell and are told about our society? How can art challenge and complicate the monolithic narratives we may have inherited?
  2. What circumstances, challenges, and choices promote Charlie Chan’s growth as an artist over the course of the novel?
  3. The novel is set during a time of tumultuous politics and unprecedented social change as Singapore recovers from mass trauma. What roles can artists and creative communities play during such times?