Asian Anthology: Visiting the Liquid City with Sonny Liew

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In 2008 writer/artist Sonny Liew was at the helm of a new anthology focused on the unique and daring work being done by some very talented creators from Southeast Asia. Liquid City was edited by Liew and published by Image Comics, and served to remind readers that artistic talent lives in every corner of the globe. September sees Liquid City Volume Two arrive with the same loose theme of cities as a springboard for a host of diverse short tales, covering sport, war, romance and more.

Liew was born in Malaysia and lives in Singapore, and with his impressive credits including Vertigo’s My Faith in Frankie and Re-gifters from DC’s short-lived Minx line, means he’s the perfect candidate to oversee this ambitious project. Liew was also the recipient of a Xeric Grant allowing him to publish Malinky Robot in 2003 and his work can also be seen in the Flight anthologies as well as Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology. Liew  was also nominated for an Eisner Award for his work on Wonderland, from Disney Press and Slave Labor Graphics.

BROKEN FRONTIER: After your recent Marvel work with Sense and Sensibility and Marvel Adventures, will you be doing any more work for them?

SONNY LIEW: There are things in the works, but next up will be a graphic novel written by Gene Yang (American Born Chinese) for First Second Books, as well as plans for a new project with Mike Carey.

BF: I know some of your previous work has been translated into the French language. Do you oversee that aspect of production at all?

SL: Hmm... yeah the publishers I've worked with there have tried to make sure all aspects of the translations work for both sides, in terms of any changes in designs, cover art, fonts used, and the way translations are handled, which can be tricky in terms of cultural references and humor especially  At the end of Malinky Robot Stinky Fish Blues for example a character says "I'm Batman!", but in the French and Italian versions it’s been translated as "I'm Goldarak!", a reference to a Japanese anime character popular in Europe, that the editors thought would have a more suitable resonance with readers there.

BF: There's quite a few European creators that have made it big recently, but what different sensibilities do Asian creators bring to comics?

SL: Well the Japanese influence has been enormous for starters, and I guess beyond that creators in other Asian countries, whilst influenced by comics from the US, Europe, Japan and other places, inevitably bring to the table their own personal and cultural idiosyncrasies. Asia covers such a large area though that it’s hard to generalize. In terms of main stream works, Southeast Asian artists like Leinil Yu and Tan Eng Huat have brought their unique art styles to various titles.

BF: Did the creators in the anthology have free rein to create whatever stories they wanted or did you give them strict parameters?

SL: It was pretty open. There was a loose theme of "cities", but creators were free to interpret that anyway they wanted; some like Dave Chua and Koh Hong Teng (Paper City) had stories closely tied to the idea of cities, whilst a story like Adrian Ngin's Chinky and the Yuan takes a much more lateral approach.


BF: Are there any artists whose work also appeared in the first volume, or is it all fresh, new talent for volume two?

SL: Its a mixture of old and new. The former group includes artists like Lat, Hong Teng, Charlene Chua, Troy Chin, Nguyen Thanh Phong and Shari Chankhamma and the latter  features Miel, Ivan Song, AKS, JC Wong and others.

BF: The first volume came out two years ago. Was there always a plan for a second volume?

SL: Well I guess when you put out something with "volume one" in the title it does usually mean there are some vague plans for further volumes (laughs). You're still hostage to fortune and sales figures though of course, but fortunately Volume One did well enough for Image to do a second volume.

BF: If there's a volume three, will that be another two years away?

SL: Yeah I think a one or two year interval is what we're looking at at the moment ; there's quite a bit of co-ordination required bringing a largish group of creators together so it does take some time.


BF: Did the creators ever communicate with each other directly or were they operating in their own world?

SL: For both volumes we set up forums for artists to post their story ideas and works in progress, so everyone could keep track of what everyone else was doing. We did try to streamline the story submission process a little for Volume Two, but it always turns out a little more messy and ad hoc in real life. Everyone has their own working styles and participation in the forums varied; but the flip side of that of course is the unique styles and sensibilities the different creators brought to the collection.

BF: How healthy is the comics industry in Southeast Asia compared to America?

SL: Hmm, again hard to generalize too much; I'd say comics as a medium is very popular here. The markets though tend to be dominated by foreign comics from the US, Japan etc, so if you're talking about the local industries themselves, those tend to be in a much more nascent stage.This can be in terms of how willing publishers are to release works by local creators, to the appetite for such works for readers. For local creators, issues might revolve round how much page rates or royalties they can expect from local publications compared with oversea ones.

The second volume of Liquid City actually does feature a new section with illustrated essays on the state of comics in Indonesia and Cambodia, as well as an account of the impact of the typhoons in the Philippines, so hopefully that will give readers more insight into comics from the region.

There are signs of growth everywhere though. Whenever I visit bookshops in Malaysia it’s always great to see the number of local titles on the shelves, from monthly anthologies to collected graphic novels.

You can see more pages online at www.liquidcitizen.net/liquidcity. Liquid City Volume Two is a full color, 312 page anthology available from Image Comics on September 29.

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