Charlie Chan and the Art of This and That

By Sonny Liew

It’s been a topsy turvy last couple of weeks. I’ve been very touched by all the support from readers for the book, by Kinokuniya, media folk, and all my friends and family.

To make it clear, the National Arts Council (NAC) has always been very supportive too – travel grants, subsidized arts housing at Goodman Arts Centre, and more. And they’ve expressed their continued support for other endeavours, just not this particular book.

My initial issue with the withdrawal was the impact on the publisher, given the sudden unexpected finanical shortfall in their plans, especially since we’d submitted a representative manuscript during the grant application and had no reason to think that there would be an issue with the final book.

But maybe that’s fallen away a little, thanks to what I’ve learnt is something called the Streisand Effect, and I think the publisher will be ok in the long run, if not already.

What remains are questions over the role of a national arts organization, the role of public money, who decides how and why they’re spent. Should the NAC be more focused on artistic considerations and be less bound by political constraints? What is the criteria for deciding if a work crosses unacceptable boundaries? Why shouldn’t good art be commerically self-sustainable anyway?

These are wider, longer term concerns, though perhaps there’s never a better time than the present to consider them, and I’d be glad if the Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye plays some small role in all of it.

But more than that, I hope that readers will be able to enjoy the book in and of itself, rather as part of some larger controversy. Maybe it’s already too late for that, but hey – hope is the thing with feathers.

Alright, Dr. Fate awaits, back to the drawing board.

This post was first published as a facebook status of Sonny Liew and is reproduced with permission.

Mr Sonny Liew is the artist of “The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye”. The graphic novel was in news recently for having its grant of $8000 from NAC revoked after the council claimed the book contained “sensitive content.”

The book is currently out of stock and in its second print.