Malaysian life in comics: Webcomic by female Batu Pahat illustrator nominated for prestigious Eisner Award

Melanie Chalil
Erica Eng’s charmingly illustrated ‘Fried Rice Comic’ gives readers a glimpse into Malaysian daily life. — Picture from Tumblr/Erica Eng

PETALING JAYA, June 5 — Malaysian animator and illustrator Erica Eng has been nominated for a Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the comics industry’s Oscar equivalent.

Eng’s work titled Fried Rice received a nomination for the Best Webcomic category alongside five other nominees.

The plot of the charming webcomic centres around a young girl from Batu Pahat, Johor named Min who visits her cousin in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur while applying to an art school in New York.

Readers are given a glimpse into daily Malaysian life from sudden tropical downpours to familiar colloquialisms.

Eng told Malay Mail she was shocked when she found out and that she did not expect it.

“I mostly feel very grateful, affirmed and encouraged.

“I also feel like crawling under a rock, living there for a few days and letting the clouds pass overhead.

“There’s a lot going on in the world right now, which makes me feel small in comparison,” she said.

Eng had been trying to eke out a story that featured Malaysia as a backdrop since 2016 but only began to write it in May 2019.

“The comic is based on my experience after graduating high school and wanting to be an artist and animator.

“It’s a little naive and idealistic, because that was the way I was out of high school,” said Eng.

The Eisner Awards is the comics industry’s Oscar-equivalent that is presented annually at the San Diego Comic-Con in July. — Picture from Tumblr/Erica Eng

The 21-year-old who left secondary school in 2015 completed a Digital Animation diploma last year and is currently pursuing a 3D character animation degree with the Academy of Art University.

Eng cited Mat Som by Lat as a huge inspiration, having read the beloved cartoonist’s comic many times in primary school and still rereads it to this day.

“Part of why I made this is also because I wanted to see modern Malaysian life depicted in comics,” the proud Batu Pahat resident said.

“I love my town; we have the best food in the world and I’m going to draw that into my comic at some later point in the story.”

What’s interesting is that Fried Rice is a work in progress and Eng has only posted 47 pages so far out of an expected length of 150 to 200 pages.

“I update the comic every Sunday morning, and I’m still doing that,” the 21-year-old said.

“It takes a lot of discipline to keep cranking out pages week after week, but I love this story so I’m committed to finish it.”

The news of Eng’s nomination was also shared by Malaysian comic artist Reimena Ashel Yee who was nominated for an Eisner in 2018.

Yee, whose webcomic turned graphic novel The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya was nominated for the Best Digital Comic award, took the opportunity to highlight the misogyny female comic artists faced in Malaysia.

 

 

“Based on what I’ve seen, there are many women who work in illustration and comics with unique and fresh voices,” Eng said.

Asked about the challenges Eng faced, the Johorean said she finds it tough juggling her responsibilities as a student and her creative projects.

She named a Thai artist she befriended Namsai Khaobor and powerhouses like Tillie Walden and Sophie Yanow (last year’s Best Webcomic winner) as female artists whom she respects.

“I see a bright future for women creators in this area,” Eng said.

According to Yee, Eng is the second Malaysian female to receive an Eisner nomination.

 

 

The Eisner Awards is the comics industry’s Oscar-equivalent that is presented annually at the San Diego Comic-Con in July.

Besides Eng and Yee, previous Eisner nominees include Seremban-born, Singapore-based comics artist Sonny Liew received six nominations for his acclaimed graphic novel The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye in 2017.

More than a decade prior, Tan Eng Huat also known by his pseudonym Kutu, took home the Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award in 2002.

Known for his Marvel Comics and DC Comics works, Tan was also nominated in the Eisner category of Best Penciller and Inker in 2004 for his work on DC Comics’ Justice League of America.

Click here for the full list of nominees.

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