Since the reveal of the Singapore Government’s “Virus Vanguard”, the concept and the mascots received backlash from the public. All the negative comments on the Virus Vanguard had prompted the Government to take down the mascots from the internet.
On 20 April, Gov.sg acknowledged the negative feedback and they stated that they were “sorry if they offended anyone”.
“We have received quite a lot of feedback on the characters and we will be reviewing them. We are sorry if we offended anyone. As this is the first time we are exploring this content format, we appreciate your patience,” wrote Gov.sg.
While the Virus Vanguard is a collaboration project with the Band of Doodlers (BOD) where the intend was to create a comic series to “convey different aspects of the Circuit Breaker measures”. However, Gov.sg only decided to reveal and credit BOD after the online chaos, leading the illustrator to step forward to comment about the situation.
What’s more, many Liverpool Football Club (LFC) fans in Singapore complained about a character who endorses safe distancing, MAWA Man. They claimed “MAWA” stood for “Must Always Walk Alone”, in reference to LFC’s official anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.
MAWA Man also had a Liver bird designed on his chest, with a slash across the emblem. His belt buckle also featured a pitchfork that is similar to the one held by the devil in Manchester United’s emblem. It seemed like the character was designed to mock LFC.
LFC’s fans were unhappy at how this character came off as offensive towards LFC, and many signed a petition to withdraw MAWA Man from this campaign.
Mas Shafreen, the founder of BOD who created the characters, apologised that the characters were insensitive. He clarified that Gov.sg did not ask him to make the comment.
In regards to the controversy surrounding MAWA Man, Mr Mas admitted that he is a Manchester United fan and he acknowledged that Liverpool had been doing well. He explained that MAWA Man was intended to spread the message that safe distancing would require everyone’s effort, regardless of which team we support.
Mr Mas apologised once again for the troubles he had caused, while he still hoped that local artists can be supported with creative projects.
On the Facebook page of BOD, Mr Mas posted the same statement to apologise for offending the supporters of LFC.
Positive comments for Mas Shafreen
Despite the negative comments and feedback given about MAWA Man, many people showered Mr Mas with support and encouragement.
Desh Boparai commented that Mr Mas should not have apologised. He understood that the backstory of a comic would always differ to its ending. Mr Desh felt that it was unfortunate that Mr Mas had to reveal the storyline before the comic could unfold on its own.
Evelyn Ho thought it was not Mr Mas fault that his characters was criticised. She said that the people who hired him as the artist was responsible for approving the final work.
Jeannette Anneliese Lim thought it was unnecessary for Mr Mas to be sorry. She emphasised that this problem stemmed from the “naysayers” who would only condemn others’ hard work, implying that the people who were against the concept were being sensitive about this issue.
Shiwei Tan acknowledged that BOD created this comic as a fun project amid the difficult times. She thought it was unfair that the client decided to “throw him under the bus” without crediting BOD in the first place. She also applauded that Mr Mas was courageous enough to step forward to address this issue.
As an LFC supporter, Calvin Cheng commented that the concept of MAWA Man was pretty clever, and there was nothing to apologise for. Not forgetting to acknowledge Mr Mas’s talents and hard work, Mr Cheng encouraged the artist to keep up the good work.
Mas Shafreen steps down from his position
However, earlier today (22 April), BOD had announced that Mr Mas had stepped down from his position with immediate effect.
“Words alone cannot express our heartfelt gratitude to Mas for his years of contribution in not only creating a platform for both budding and veteran artists, but also extending the language of collaboration between the public and the local and international arts communities,” wrote BOD.
Mr Mas explained on his personal Facebook account, that he would take full responsibility for Virus Vanguard and that he hoped BOD would not be associated with it.
“As such, I hope that BOD will not be associated with it. BOD has been about inclusivity and collaboration and I am so very proud of how it has grown. I am forever grateful for the many artists that have contributed to the cause and hope BOD will continue to be supported, especially during these difficult times,” wrote Mr Mas.
BOD accused of plagiarism
Apparently, Mr Mas posted a series of superheroes with a similar concept that was named “virus-battling superteam” about two weeks ago.
According to Geek Culture, not only that the initial artwork and character designs were completely different from the final version revealed by Gov.sg, but some characters from Virus Vanguard looked extremely similar to artwork done by other artists.
One of the five characters, Circuit Breaker, was accused of tracing from a Peni Parker fanart by Korean artist Steel Scarlet. Noting that the hero was different from the fanart, the mecha pilot, however, looked eerily similar as though it was traced. Netizens pointed out that her facial expression and body outlines looked exactly the same.
As for the other character, Care-leh Dee, she was said to resemble X-Men’s Ororo Munroe. The image of Ororo Munroe originated from DeviantArt under the account name CrimsonArtz.
A netizen on Reddit pointed out that it was BOD’s fault for committing art theft and “passed it off as their own work”. Considering how Mr Mas had served as a civil servant, the netizen thought that the Government trusted him enough to do a good job, but it turned into a huge mess instead.
Looking at Mr Mas’s professional profile, it was stated that he was a former civil servant for seven years. He served at the Singaporean Prime Minister’s Office as a Manager of Corporate Communications and International Relations from 2001 to 2008.
Mr Mas then continued on as a Deputy Director of Content Development and Community Relations at the Public Utilities Board, Singapore’s National Water Agency.