Comic book “undermines the authority or legitimacy” of Gov’t: NAC

Chan Heng Chee, chairman, NAC
Chan Heng Chee, chairman, NAC

“The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye” potentially “undermines the authority or legitimacy” of the Government, and it had also breached funding guidelines, the National Arts Council (NAC) told the press yesterday.

The novel by artist-illustrator Sonny Liew has since sold out its entire first print, according to its publisher.

At the book’s launch over the weekend, long queues were seen at the event at Ngee Ann City.

The NAC, headed by Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee, had pulled funding for the book, after having provided it with $6,400 of a S$8,000 grant, just a day before its launch.

“We had to withdraw the grant when the book The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye came out because its sensitive content, depicted in visuals and text, did not meet our funding conditions,” said Khor Kok Wah, senior director of the literary arts sector of the NAC.

Although Mr Khor did not say what this “sensitive content” was, it is believed it has to do with the political content in the book.

Former and late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and his political rival Lim Chin Siong appear in the 340-page book in cartoon form.

So did the 1987 Operation Spectrum, when 16 people were detained over an unproved and alleged “Marxist conspiracy” to overthrow the Government.

In a further statement on the withdrawal of funds, Mr Khor told the press yesterday:

“The retelling of Singapore’s history in the work potentially undermines the authority or legitimacy of the government and its public institutions, and thus breaches our funding guidelines. The council’s funding guidelines are published online and well known among the arts community.”

The NAC’s action has drawn widespread criticism and disbelief.

However, the sale and support of the book itself has brought some cheer to the author/creator of the comic book.

“I knew the turnout would be a little bigger than the usual, given the attention we’d gotten after the news broke, but I think we were all taken aback by the level of support shown,” the TODAY newspaper reported him as having said.

cchc“We haven’t had a book sell out in practically one week and we’ve never reprinted a book within one week,” said Edmund Wee of the publisher, Epigram Books.

He added that the publisher is preparing a second print run of the book which should be out within the month.

In recent months, the authorities’ ban on content has led to greater publicity for supposedly offensive content.

When the Media Development Authority (MDA) banned “To Singapore, With Love” – a film on Singapore’s political exiles – the film garnered even wider publicity, leading to sold-out screenings all over the world, from India to the United Kingdom.

When blogger Amos Yee was ordered to remove his scathing video of Mr Lee, the video went viral and has since been viewed an astonishing 2 million times on Youtube.

And last week, the MDA banned a song by Tawinese singer Jolin Tsai for its homosexual theme.

The song went viral and was viewed by more people than perhaps it otherwise would have.