Singapore artist claims STB's superhero Merlion copied from his 1993 version
The new superhero Merlion in Singapore Tourism Board's (STB) latest campaign video may have roared into the hearts of many, but one home-grown artist has not been won over.
In a Facebook post on April 13, Singaporean poet, graphic artist and literary critic Gwee Li Sui pointed out the similarities between STB's legged "Merliger" and the Merlions of his 1993 graphic novel, The Myth Of The Stone.
In the 6½-minute video released on April 12, the Merliger, with a red and white mane and red paws, rises from the waters of Marina Bay to join fictional Japanese superhero Ultraman in fighting off "kaiju", or monsters that attack local landmarks like Gardens by the Bay and Jewel Changi Airport.
Gwee, 51, compared this with his Merlions, which have lions' limbs that allow them to walk on land, as well as fish tails. They also unite to fight a kraken, a mythological sea monster.
He told The Straits Times: "Typically, a Merlion is depicted limbless, with a fish's body. The concept of a legged Merlion has a particular history in Singaporean art."
He added that he had designed his Merlions to break away from the "touristic, gimmicky form" of the original and pay "proper imaginative homage" to an iconic creature.
"I needed my Merlions to be amphibious, self-reliant and able to fight with limbs.
"Now, the same bodily form is taken up by STB for tourism."
The Myth Of The Stone tells the story of a young boy who opens a door into a magical fantasy world and journeys through an unfamiliar landscape. He fights alongside a host of strange creatures in order to find his way back home.
The tourism campaign video by STB was created with Japanese production house Tsuburaya, which owns the Ultraman copyright. The collaboration began last year to mark 55 years of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Japan, a milestone that coincided with Ultraman's 55th birthday.
The Merlion marks its 50th birthday in September this year.
When contacted, an STB spokesman said: "STB had worked with Tsuburaya Productions to produce original characters that would resonate well with the Japanese audience, and this new interpretation of the Merlion is in line with the distinctive style of their long-running Ultraman franchise."
The spokesman added that STB would contact Gwee to address his concerns. "We fully respect the intellectual property rights and contributions of Singapore's creative talents."
The video, which has been posted on Ultraman Official by Tsuburaya Production's YouTube channel, was met with positive reactions.
Several commenters hailed the collaboration with one of Japan's most notable superhero figures, deeming it "exciting" and a fitting way to promote Singapore tourism. A handful applauded the incorporation of Singapore's national colours of red and white into the design of the Merliger, which they described as "cool".
Objections aside, Gwee said he thinks a "Kaiju Merlion is a fun take". He added that he loves Ultraman.