LIQUID CITY: Image Anthology Spotlights S.E. Asia

While still riding high on the success of its hugely acclaimed Tori Amos-based anthology "Comic Book Tattoo" (not to mention a new volume of the enjoyable anarchic "PopGun"), Image Comics released in 2008 another similarly imaginative and visually stunning collection of new work in the form of "Liquid City," the first volume of a new anthology series spotlighting the work of comics creators from Southeast Asia and, as the cover reads, "Beyond."

On sale now, "Liquid City" is edited by the venerable Sonny Liew, the Singapore-based illustrator behind such acclaimed works as Minx's "Re-Gifters" and Vertigo's "My Faith In Frankie" (both with Mike Carey and Marc Hempel), the Xeric-winning "Malinky Robot," Disney Press' "Wonderland," and memorable contributions to the "24Seven" and "Flight" anthologies.

With Southeast Asian creators like Billy Tan and Leinil Yu providing the artwork for best-selling superhero titles like "Uncanny X-Men" and "Secret Invasion," Liew's "Liquid City" anthology seeks to expose mainstream readers to other exceptional talents from the region, and also includes a new story by Mike Carey illustrated by Liew.

CBR News spoke with Sonny Liew about "Liquid City,"the impact of Southeast Asian creators on Western comics, and of course, vice-versa.

CBR: Lets discuss your inspiration for this project. How did "Liquid City" come about?

Sonny Liew: Well, I'd been part of a couple of anthologies myself - Kazu Kibuishi's "Flight" and Ivan Brandon's "24Seven," as well as the upcoming "Secret Identities." I thought a collection featuring Southeast Asian creators would be a good step to take; it would give everyone exposure to a bigger audience, plus maybe a project like this could help build a closer knit comics community here in Southeast Asia.

I'd always come away from [Comic-Con International in San Diego] with a sense of how supportive everyone in the North American comics scene was of each other, whereas here [in Southeast Asia], creators have tended to work in relative isolation, so hopefully "Liquid City" can be a small step in changing that.

Anyway, getting the book together meant scouring the internet for creators and sending out countless emails. The response was great, though, and we were able to put together a package to show to publishers early on, and Image came on board soon after seeing some of the comics.

Tell us about some of the stories and creators found in this first volume of "Liquid City."

Well, as with any anthology, there's a wide range of approaches. Art styles show influences from manga to European clear line; stories vary from more traditional structures to experimental ones. There are light-hearted stories such as Kaoru's "Food City" and dark and bizarre ones like Kenfoo's "Bird Bird" and "Bear Bear;" ones grounded in reality like Koh Hong Teng's "Pouch Puppeteer" and Lat's "The Trip," as well as science fictional settings such as Drewscape's "I Grew a Spaceship" and Gerry Alanguilan's "Love Hurts."

Does "Liquid City" have an overarching theme or motif like the robots in "24Seven," or is it total eclecticism, like a Southeast Asian "PopGun?"

We do have a "cities" theme, but I hope that's loose enough for all the creators to pursue their own agendas whilst giving them some grouding as well. More like "Flight" I suppose; personally I'd found the robots-in-cities theme of "24Seven" a little constrictive, though there were of course a lot of exciting stories that emerged from it.

Along those lines, how do you see "Liquid City" among Image's prestigious line of anthologies like "PopGun," "24Seven" and "Comic Book Tattoo?"

I think what sets it apart are the creators involved. I don't think many readers are aware of any comics coming out of Southeast Asia, though there've been amazing comics by guys like Lat and artists like Leinil Yu from the Philippines and Tan Eng Huat from Malaysia have been drawing for major mainstream titles for quite a while.

Japanese, American and European comics influences are of course pervasive and intertwined these days, but I think readers will find that many of the creators have their own unique voices, from Lat's wonderful drawings to newer creators like Troy Chin, who combine a manga-influenced art style with a western comics narrative approach.

When I was growing up in Singapore in the 1980s and 1990s, the dominating comic book influences were mainstream American comics and manga. What's the comic book landscape of Southeast Asia look like today?

I don't think that's changed a lot, though I think you'd have to throw European influences into the mix- everyone seems to grow up reading "Tin Tin" and "Asterix." The difference I think is the extent to which manga and American comics have come to influence each other. In the past, readers and creators here probably found themselves in one camp or the other, but these days most would have exposure to both approaches. Which I hope means that we're able to incorporate different influences, combining for example an American art style with a decompressed storytelling approach.

Throw in local influences as well (Lat, for example, has had a major effect on a generation of Malaysian artists), and what emerges is an opportunity for creators here to pick and choose their storytelling tools to tell their own unique narratives, some of which I hope is already evident in "Liquid City."

What's coming up next for Sonny Liew? Can you tell us about any in-progress or future projects?

Well, the wheels I think are starting to turn for the next volume of "Liquid City." That aside, I'm working on an original graphic novel for First Second Books written by Adam Rapp, plus looking forward to the release of the "Wonderland" hardcover trade from Disney Press as well as a French collection of "Malinky Robot" stories early next year.

"Liquid City" Volume One is on sale now from Image Comics. For more information and preview art, visit the official "Liquid City" website.

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