S'porean author launches graphic novel - with a pole dance
In June 1966, Singapore’s former Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock went missing for 10 days when he was serving as Malaysia's High Commissioner to Australia.
When he eventually turned up, he was incoherent about his whereabouts.
Much has been speculated about Lim’s disappearance in Canberra, including his suspected involvement with a 19-year-old stripper and his alleged debts.
While the case continues to be shrouded in mystery, Singaporean author Felix Cheong, 58, and Kuala Lumpur-based freelance artist Arif Rafhan, 46, have come up with a fictionalised account of what might have gone down during that mind-boggling period of time.
Their latest graphic novel, The Showgirl And The Minister, brings to life the enigmatic tale of Lim, who finds himself in "a tangled knot of sex and politics".
Its launch was held at Milan Pole Dance Studio on Jan 12, complete with a captivating pole dance performance.
Told in poetic form, the book weaves an engaging and imaginative narrative brimming with action, suspense and secrets and schemes. The rich manga-style illustrations further enhance the gripping and tantalising nature of the story.
Speaking about his inspiration for the book, Cheong told TNP: "This mysterious vanishing of a man who could have been Singapore’s first prime minister – if he hadn’t lost the 1959 General Elections to Lee Kuan Yew – was intriguing.
"Writers, like nature, abhor a vacuum and we fill it up with stories.
"Other than the fact that Lim had disappeared for 10 days, the whole story is really fiction inspired by fact. For legal reasons, we changed the names of the characters."
The creative process was not without its challenges, said Cheong, who highlighted the difficulty of merging historical events with the personal narrative of a high-profile figure and his connection to a much younger woman in the flesh trade.
He exclaimed: "Plus, the story is told in poetic form! I had surely given myself the biggest challenge of my writing career!"
While Cheong chose to craft the book "more like a movie", Rafhan was equally integral in painting an authentic picture of its setting.
"I wanted to combine noir and manga styles," said Rafhan, who drew inspiration from Japanese mangaka and Slam Dunk creator Takehiko Inoue.
"I did some research on the real case and Australia’s nightlife back in the 60s to set the tone, look, and feel of the world they live in."
This marks the fourth collaboration between the dynamic duo, who expressed mutual admiration of their "pretty chill" working relationship.
Cheong praised Rafhan’s ability to "draw so well and so fast," adding: "He gets where I’m coming from and renders my story so fittingly, so telepathically, that I sometimes wonder, 'How did he get inside my head?'"
Meanwhile, Rafhan said of his co-creator: "I admire Felix's unlimited creative juice flow. He's like a river of ideas! And he always respects my freedom to create my visuals. I really appreciate that.
"Both of us inspire and push each other for us to achieve our super Saiyan mode."
As for what they hope readers will take away from their latest work, Cheong expressed a desire for readers to be entertained and to realise that poetry need not be intimidating.
He shared: "People who have read the book told me the story had hooked them so much they didn’t even notice that it was written in poetic form."
Rafhan added: "I hope people will understand the magnitude of willpower and affection, as well as how they can impact your life and the people around you."
Asked about their future projects, Cheong revealed that the two are working on a zombie graphic novel.
He told TNP: “With each book, I always try to push myself out of my comfort zone and see if I shrivel or thrive. So any genre or topic is fair game, as long as I find something of myself in it."