The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye – Sonny Liew
The book tells the story of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, a fictional cartoonist, from his early life in colonial life until today and also depicts extracts of comics from that author that are an allegory for political situations during that time. The comic features a mixture of black and white sketches depicting Singapore early history contrasted with colour comics depicting the present with several comics within the novel telling their own story.
The novel initially starts with an introduction by the titled character Charlie Chan Hock Chye as an old man talking to an interviewer before transitioning to his childhood, where he is working in his family’s shop in post-war Singapore. It then shows Charlie Chan’s first comic “Ah Huat’s Giant Robot” which features a robot that can only understand Chinese. The book then cuts between the life of Charlie and excerpts from his comics, explaining that he was educated in an English school through the generosity of one of his family’s shops’ customers. This pattern of cuts between comics and his life continues throughout the rest of the novel as the comic steadily changes from one about a Giant Robot to an allegory for Singapore’s quest for independence from British Colonial rule, featuring animals and sci-fi epics allegorizing Singapore as a city under the rule of aliens with Lee Kuan Yew as a lawyer who speaks the language of the aliens. Charlie begins a partnership with a fellow young comic artist that eventually breaks up due to financial stress after 8 years and numerous comics, including a superhero tale tale talking about a night soil man bitten by a cockroach and becoming Roachman.
In the end, a comic depicting the actions the Singapore government undertook to take control of the press is depicted via a comic depicting Singapore as Singapor Inks, a company with Lee Kuan Yew as a ruthless company boss with the press as a company newsletter. Finally a what-if section depicts Singapore if the Barisan Sosialis had won ending with Singapore with similar economic development as that of the present.