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Comic book artist Jerry Hinds on the industry in Singapore

British comic artist Jerry Hinds is the creator of Singapore’s first “World of SupaHeroes Universe” – SupaCross. At the premises of the Association of Comic Artists (Singapore), or ACAS, in Goodman Arts Centre, he explains to Verne Maree what brought him to Singapore nearly two decades ago, what a superhero universe is and who populates his.

 

Where are you from?
Reading, England, though I lived in Marlow for a while before moving to Singapore 19 years ago.

What brought you here?
I had fallen in love with and married Ramona Perera, a Singaporean who was studying law as a foreign student at Reading University. After the birth of our first child, we came out here on holiday. It was nice and warm, there was lots of good food and it was easy for me to get a job in my field, advertising. So we decided to make the move.

What did you do?
Creative directing, art directing, copywriting and so on. Advertising is a combination of images and words. I started off as a visualiser – before computer design, everything had to be drawn by hand – and in time got involved in the words, too.

Here in Singapore, I worked for two Japanese agencies, handling accounts like Epson and Hitachi. What I most like about advertising is the humour and the irony, but here it’s very different; it’s less humorous, more straight.

Where does your interest in comics come from?
As far back as I can remember. One of my elder brothers had comics, and I loved them. I made my brothers teach me to read at the age of four, only because I wanted to understand the words that went with the pictures. We didn’t have kindergartens in those days, so when I started primary school I was the only child who could already read – our teacher Mrs Charles was amazed!

That’s ironic – my mother wouldn’t allow comics in our house because she was afraid they might make us lazy to read books without pictures.
I was surprised when I realised that comics and manga had a negative image, particularly in this part of the world. Unfortunately, comics are sometimes identified with rebellion and with not learning. There are a lot of negative associations.

In fact, though, very few comics have immoral messages. Some of the characters may be immoral, but they’re portrayed as undesirable and generally receive their comeuppance.

Which were your first favourite comics?
Though my immediate answer would be American comics, it’s probably truer to say that UK comics like The Beano and The Dandy came first. The first cartoon character I tried to copy or colour was from the Daily Express: Iris, who told the weather each day. I was about three at the time. Later came Iron Man; he was different in those days, a sort of superhero James Bond.

What do you think of the UK’s unfeasibly rude Viz comic?
It’s excellent! My ex-wife used to work for the printing group that first distributed Viz, and there’s probably still a copy of the first issues somewhere in her loft. My friends and I thought it was fantastic! And I understand that Richard Branson liked it so much that Virgin distributed it free of charge.

Sure, it’s rude, but the writing was and is always well informed and it never crosses the line of unreasonable bigotry. Roger Irrelevant, the Fat Slags, Billy the Fish and Rude Kid are unforgettable characters; and so is Mike Smith, the patronising git who is always picking up a minority cause but getting it completely wrong.

How did you become president of ACAS?
ACAS was formed in 2005 and I came on board in 2007. Our first president was a veteran cartoonist called Jeffrey Seow; I’m the second president.

What does ACAS do?
Its main goal is to publish the work of local comic artists. To raise money for that, we teach comic art, both at schools and on these premises. Here, we have both digital and traditional classrooms. We hold five sessions on a Saturday: two traditional, two digital, and one caricature session. And in response to demand, we’ve recently added a traditional session on Sundays.

Another main goal is to promote the cause of manga and comics and make them more acceptable to parents. Fortunately for us, Singapore is opening up, and comics are becoming more cool.

What do you personally do?
I still do a little advertising freelancing from time to time, but ACAS keeps me fairly busy nowadays. I make sure it all ticks over: developing the syllabus, setting up programmes for schools and overseeing corporate commissions, promoting our work and spreading the word. I’m also the resident chief editor who looks over members’ work before publication. And on Saturday mornings, I teach the digital modules.

 

Who did the work on the walls?
Our members and students.

Who are your students?
Both children and adults; the youngest is six years old, the eldest is 64 and we currently have a couple in their forties. Our syllabus covers four bands:

* Petit, for six- to nine-year-olds;
* Protégé, for nine- to 12-year-olds;
* Apprentice, for 13 and upwards; and
* Maestro, for 16 and older.

Protégés and Apprentices follow similar syllabuses; we tend to put adults who are new to drawing into the Apprentice band. Maestro is 16 and above, and is for people who already know how to draw, but need some guidance in drafting accurately from imagination.

Who supports ACAS?
The National Arts Council helps us with a subsidy on these spacious premises. Though we’re not a huge association, they agreed that we need this amount of space in order to be able to teach comic art and writing.

How do you spend your free time?
Trying to play football, most often at Tampines Safra and Hougang CC with my son; the fathers have a veteran team that has a regular game there, and I missed an open goal against Punggol last Saturday, which was quite embarrassing. I also play mid-week five-a-side at the Singapore Power Club at Woodleigh Park.

Tell us about your family.
My wife Ramona works in IT, in the area of compliance. Apollonia is 19 and studying at Temasek Poly. Jubilee (16) has just finished O Levels. The footballer is Remington (15), and Hamilton (6) just started primary school.

With your Afro-Caribbean good looks, you don’t exactly blend into the heartland of Hougang where you live. Do you feel at home in Singapore?
There are more black people here than when I arrived, but still not very many – especially in Hougang. I don’t really notice the strange looks I get, but my kids tend to.

Now that the children are getting older, NS is looming, and it feels as though the extended holiday may be coming to an end. Every place has its good and bad points, though. When I look at my kids and their friends, I sometimes think there’s a certain spontaneity that’s missing. On the other hand, I don’t think the UK places enough emphasis on education.

What are you excited about right now?

Turning 50 this year! To celebrate that I’m looking forward to the 4 April launch of SupaCross, my own superhero story.

This is not the kind of highbrow graphic novel that’s coming from many of the major Western adult comic artists now – broody, angsty and alternative. That’s not what everyone wants all the time.

Nevertheless, SupaCross is a very ambitious project, when you think that all the superheroes we know come from just two comic companies in the US – that’s DC Comics (Superman and Batman) and Marvel (Spiderman and Captain America).

Tell us a bit about your characters.          

My two local characters are D Temasek, an art student at LaSalle, and Singapore Sling. Singapore Sling is a somewhat “academically challenged” Secondary Three student at a convent school. She has an SS insignia that looks like the Gestapo, but she’s a kid and doesn’t know that; she’s ostracised for it, and that gets an interesting argument going.

Myst is an American street illusionist (her “illusions” are real, however), and she narrates most of the story. Clandestine is also American, a detective wannabe without any powers and with an unhealthy lack of fear of danger. Wang Wang is half-black-American, half-American-Korean, the son of an Afro-American marine biologist and a Korean American scientist; he is my universe’s teenage Batman – very dark, very conflicted.

What exactly is a superhero universe?

In comics, when you create a group of characters, they need to live in a world of some sort – this is their universe.

I haven’t tried to be clever with the character conceptualisation, because I don’t think creativity comes from thinking. It comes from feeling. You create a character, and the reasoning writes itself.

I should explain that this is a collaborative effort that I’m directing. I conceived the characters and wrote the plot, and I’m doing all the pencilling. Other people are doing the ink and colour, and the script has been written by three fellow members – each taking on two of the six comics.

What are you launching on 4 April?
The first of six 22-page, full colour SupaCross comics. It will be launched at Atom Comics, on Level 3 of Cathay (#03-02). You’ll be able to buy it at Atom Comics and other comic shops, and probably also at Kinokuniya. Please like us on Facebook at SupaCross Universe!

To make enquiries about classes, holiday camp activities or anything else, contact Nick or Jerry at 6440 0345 or 9789 5536.

 

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