Since a Xeric Foundation grant back in 2002 first allowed him to self-publish, comics creator Sonny Liew has created a series of stories starring Atari and Oliver, two street urchins who steal bicycles, watch giant robot movies and get into trouble in a futuristic city filled with robots. The stories have appeared in various comics and anthologies over the years, and this August Image Comics will collect them into one volume titled Malinky Robot.
Liew, whose body of work includes the Vertigo series My Faith in Frankie and Minx book Re-Gifters with writer Mike Carey, Marvel’s Sense and Sensibility adaptation with writer Nancy Butler, and SLG’s Wonderland with writer Tommy Kovac, shared some details on the new collection with me via the magic of email. Based in Singapore, Liew is also working on a few new projects, as he shares below.
JK: What stories are included in the new collection and where did they originally appear?
Sonny: The collection begins with “Stinky Fish Blues,” which was first conceived in David Mazzucchelli’s Graphic Storytelling class at the Rhode Island School of Design. Xeroxed copies of the story ended up in a couple of comic stores in the Boston area, before a Xeric grant allowed to me to try my hand at self-publishing. Later on a colored version appeared in Liquid City vol 1. “Bicycle” was originally released as a one-shot from SLG Comics, and the other stories, “Dead Soul’s Day Out,” “New Year’s Day” and “Karakuri” appeared in various editions of the Flight anthologies edited by Kazu Kibuishi.
JK: Tell me a little more about your time at the Rhode Island School of Design. What did you learn from David Mazzucchelli?
Sonny: RISD was the first time I went to school with a sense of belonging; it was almost odd that homework consisted of drawing and painting, things I’d associated with fun rather than school. Lots of great teachers and fellow students there, David aside I got to take classes with folks like Nick Jainschigg, Bob Selby and Tony Janello. Jon Foster dropped by once too, this was just before his career really took off.
David… well, I think he’s one of the few creators out there who forged a successful career both in mainstream and alternative comics, so he was an amazing source of inspiration and information. Growing up in Singapore, where the comics industry was (and still is) very nascent, I never had a clear idea how someone went about becoming a comics creator — so David’s advice on practical things like portfolios and going to conventions was really helpful. The class itself also opened my eyes to the uniqueness of comics as a storytelling language; everything from the rhythm of panels to the wider structural elements. He was working on Asterios Polyp at the time I think, so it was exciting when the book came out a bunch of years later, having heard intimations of what it would be about.
JK: The Flight anthologies always have a wonderful line-up of cartoonists and creators. How did you get involved with them, and what was it like working with Kazu Kibuishi?
Sonny: I think Kazu sent me an email after he saw a copy of the self-published Malinky Robot : Stinky Fish Blues. The experience with Flight has been great — watching all the incredible artists post their works in progress on the Flight Forums, meeting the folks at San Diego; it was also the inspiration behind Liquid City, though both Kazu and Ivan Brandon (who was editor for 24Seven) did warn me how much work would be involved in editing an anthology :p It’s been an honor to have been part of the series, I think it’ll be a bittersweet thing when it ends its run with volume 8.
JK: Tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind “New Year’s Day.”
Sonny: It’s a story inspired mainly by my trip to South Korea for the Bucheon Comics Festival last year. There’s something about walking around in an unfamiliar city, just exploring side streets and getting a little lost – you feel as though there are possibilities everywhere, just around the corner. I think I hoped to capture a little of that feeling, almost a kind of new adolescence. The great manga artist Jiro Taniguchi was also at the festival, and I also paid homage to his “Walking Man” series in the story. One panel in particular, but you’d have to spot it for yourself.
JK: You’ve got some great talent contributing pin-ups. How did you recruit the folks who are contributing?
Sonny: Well I’ve had the privilege of meeting a lot of incredibly talented creators along the way; at school, through projects, at conventions… and sometimes just via the internet. :p Roger Langridge I worked with on a Spider-Man story, Mike Allred I semi-stalked at SDCC a couple of years back; Skottie Young I know through the net and Aaron McConnell and I were in David Mazzucchelli’s class together at RISD… so it was just a matter of getting in touch with everyone and seeing if their schedules allowed for them to do a piece. Dustin Nguyen owes me big time! :p
JK: Congrats on Liquid City‘s Eisner Award nomination. Are you planning a third volume?
Sonny: Thanks! I’ll be talking to the Image folks at the upcoming SDCC to see what their thoughts are, but there are definitely plans for a volume 3 if all goes well.
JK: What else are you currently working on right now?
Sonny: On the comic side, I’m working on a story with Gene Yang, to be published by First Second books. Its superhero related with an Asian-American twist. There’s also a longer Malinky Robot graphic novel (sketches for which are found in the upcoming Image release), plus something in the works with Mike Carey. Outside of comics, working on a few paintings for some upcoming shows
JK: Speaking of shows, where can folks see you over the next few months? Will you be in San Diego for the Eisners?
Sonny: I’ll be at SDCC, but mostly as a fan–the book’s not out until August, so July’s just a bit too early. That aside… a little tricky to attend any of the other cons, given the sheer distance from Singapore to the States. Still, who knows what will turn up? There’s a convention here in Singapore in August though — the Singapore Toys Games and Comic Con (quite a mouthful even with the shortened STGCC) where I’ll be at — it’s organised by Reed, the same folks who run NYCC.