Marrying food and art in a comic book
A new comic book Putu Piring by writer Myle Yan Tay and illustrator Lee Shuxian marries their love for food and the arts. (Image: Checkpoint Theatre)

Marrying food and art in a comic book

Creative collaborations are not always a piece of cake. Differences in views can result in a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. But for Singapore actor-playwright Myle Yan Tay, 26, and illustrator Lee Shuxian, 33, working together on their first comic book, Putu Piring, was a complete treat.

Their partnership, however, almost didn’t happen, were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic. The co-artistic director of Checkpoint Theatre, Huzir Sulaiman, had suggested that Tay, who is also the executive and associate artist at Checkpoint Theatre, write a comic during the Circuit Breaker period as the theatre has been supporting multidisciplinary works that feature Singapore-specific content across different platforms and media.

Tay and Huzir had been discussing the idea of writing a comic for some time, and this was the perfect opportunity as Huzir, who oversees the development of Checkpoint Theatre, thought that the idea for a comic about a man’s discovery of the comforting connection between food and memories would resonate with Singaporeans.

To find an illustrator for the book and bring the comic art to life, Checkpoint’s associate artistic director Faith Ng connected him to Lee. Ng thought that Lee would be a good match for Tay as she liked Lee’s art style and thought her distinct illustration style would bring Tay’s concept to fruition.

There was a catch, though. Lee was a Singaporean based in Belgium. While the story is set in Singapore and mentions places such as Haig Road Food Market and East Coast Park, Lee was unfamiliar with many of these locations and unsure about how much these places have changed over the years. As such, Tay went to the many locations featured in the comic, took photos of places such as Haig Road Food Market and East Coast Park, and provided her with reference pictures for her illustrations.

Tay said: “It was a unique collaborative process because of the geographical distance between us. It meant that Shuxian would send me her drawings at the end of her day, and I would wake up to them first thing in the morning. Because of the time difference, we weren’t able to speak directly very often, and Zoom and WhatsApp became our best friends.”

They both worked on the comic in their free time, and it took them about two months to complete. The book was launched last December, and it was sold out in four days.

Although the first batch of comics has already been sold out, they recently ran another print after realising the demand was much higher than expected. Their official comic book launch event Picture This will be happening at Goodman Arts Centre on 23 Mar, where Lee will be joining virtually from Belgium. Participants will get to hear about the artistic journey of tackling this exciting medium and revisit some of the early character sketches and draft scripts to learn more about the process of fine-tuning these comics.

Comic book lovers who weren’t able to get their hands on Putu Piring can look forward to other work from the creative duo. Fired up by their first collaboration and the public’s warm response to Putu Piring, they are working on a second comic, Through the Longkang. The second comic mixes a bit of horror and adventure into their story about a pair of paranormal adventurers trying to find a missing teenager last seen beside a longkang. It is slated for publication next month.  

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