Today is the final day in our snapshot of comics in Singapore and we finish, rather fittingly, with a review of Drewscape’s (aka Andrew Tan) collection of stories and shorts for Epigram, Monsters, Miracles and Mayonnaise. Remember that reading order of the books I talked about? Well as the final installment of the works released thus far, MMM, is a perfect representation of the talent, potential and future of Singaporean comics. Tan is the kind of artist that even as you’re reading his work, you’re making a mental note to check out what else he’s done. Anyway, enough with the platitudes, here’s the man himself to introduce it:
“Why the name Monsters, Miracles and Mayonnaise? There be monsters in it! Like those disgusting cockroaches! There be miracles! Like in one story where I’m recounting the time when my water in my water bottle actually turned into Ribena, all of a sudden. And there be Mayonnaise! I had to put that in because I like really like mayonnaise.
This book is a collection of my best short stories compiled over the last 4 years. There are some stories that are pure fantasy while others are true stories from my own life. Actually, scrap that- the book is all autobiographical. Even the fantasy ones. So maybe it’s inaccurate to say they are pure fantasy as they are based loosely on my own feelings and experiences, just translated into another universe. The one thing they have in common is that the stories all contain some strangeness in them, just the way I like my stories. For example, there is a story where a man from an alternate reality hunts a fish that can…well I don’t want to give it away! Because of my love for art tools of all kinds, I couldn’t help but explore different drawing styles throughout this collection. But I felt it helped bring out the moods better in each story than if I had kept them all to the same style.” -Drewscape
Where the previous Epigram comic offerings provided us with a social, political history of the country and insights into how life was led and the ways in which the country has developed over the years. Monsters, Miracles and Mayonnaise is Singapore Now. Tan gives us life as it is in modern Singapore, as a child, growing up, fantasising, learning to drive: the everyday. These are what are probably considered more entertaining material, straight up joyful comics that experiment with length, drawing style and narration. Indeed the most impressive thing about this book is the breadth of genres and styles Tan covers- and covers successfully. He not only changes up the writing style and viewpoint, but displays an array of drawing styles and techniques, all of which are pulled off with aplomb. It’s a collection of older and newer work, but enviable nonetheless, particularly for a reader being newly exposed to his work.
It opens with the story of the amazing Kelim, a mysterious creature housed in a restaurant in which the narrator ends up lost and yet somehow drawn there- your typical horror story opening scenario. Here, the art is all shadow, inky pencil and dread atmosphere, but I defy you to guess where that story ends up. In The Giggly Floaty Fish we’re presented with a vividly realised sci-fi world, and a tale about a man’s endless quest for the latest ‘it’ thing: a fish that can bring laughter to the most hardened of hearts. This too, though, is grounded in reality- Tan came up with the idea after searching high and low for a particular fountain pen that he couldn’t find anywhere in Singapore. It’s the only setting in the book to which he returns for a second time in a follow up story and you can see why: every detail has been carefully thought out, separate aspects slot together to welcome you into a world in which you feel an instant affinity.
As we near the end, containing Tan’s most recent work, the progression and clear advancement is obvious. In both Nice Guy and Moving Forward, he takes the features shown earlier: humour, narrative, experience, art and interposes them more thoughtfully, giving them a heft and weight not previously apparent. For me, these were the stand out tales evoking more emotion and interaction from the reader. They are also, interestingly enough, the two stories which are more clearly autobiographical with a strong narrative voice, perhaps because they are more closely interpolated with Tan’s experiences. These comics were produced over a period of four years, but these two stories show, I think, the maturation of a singular talent.
If I could ask you to buy one book from the three Epigram have released, it would be this one. Simply excellent comics. If you still need further convincing, take a look at Tan’s blog, a veritable feast of illustration. Definitely keeping an eye on this one.