It is not easy being a comic book artist/writer, more so in Malaysia. Just try counting with both hands just how many local comic-book artists have made it big abroad and chances are you will have some unused fingers. While the Internet has broken down geographical boundaries, there are still other challenges that linger.

Last month, I had the opportunity to chat with Alan Quah, who in my humble opinion is one of Malaysia’s best comic-book artists. Having followed his career progression for almost a decade, I have seen his style evolve, heard the challenges he faced, and most importantly, seen his vision for the future.

Two weeks back, his biggest mainstream project, Dark Souls (for Titan Comics), went into its second print, which is a testament to his patience and perseverance. While Quah’s journey now seems a lot smoother, there are others who haven’t even got on track.

Fortunately, there are more options available to aspiring comics creators today than, say, five or 10 years ago. Besides self-publishing, there are also dedicated local publishers such as Maple Comics and Garaj Komik.

In addition to carrying an A3-sized portfolio of artwork to conventions when you meet potential employers, having some published works under your belt also helps to pad that CV.

During the Geek Con event in March, the topics of self-publishing and the avenue of dedicated publishers were discussed. There are pros and cons, but both paths share a common objective – to help local artists and writers get their works published.

To gauge the progress and effectiveness, I sampled a few local offerings – one self-published, three by Maple, and one by Garaj Komik.

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G.K. #3 (RM10)

Writers: Stephanie Yong, Lim Yue Lynn, Tom Chu and Andrew Tan
Artists: Stephanie Yong, Lim Yue Lynn, Joshua Chung and Wallace Destiny
Publisher: Garaj Komik (www.facebook.com/GarajKomik)

This is like a “creative pot luck” where aspiring talents can contribute a one-, six-, or eight-page story to be jointly published as an anthology. Ideally, one should be able to write and draw, but if you only have one of the two skills, there’s always the option of collaboration. This self-funded initiative is co-founded by Lee Heng Kok, Joshua Chung and Elly Elias, and has gained enough momentum to warrant a third instalment.

This issue, which was launched in conjunction with Geek Con, offers six standalone tales by various talents. With a no-holds-barred format (stories range from fantasy to politics to medieval, among others), G.K. in some ways recaptures DC’s 1980s New Talent Showcase title, which offered a springboard for up-and-coming creators. Hopefully, G.K. will be able to do the same for our local talents.

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Streets Of Red (RM15)

Writer: Kenneth Chirayil
Artist: Zechariah Dewitt
Publisher: Chain Link Studios (www.facebook.com/ChainLinkStudios)

This mature readers tale should be your cup of tea IF you have had a very bad experience with biker gangs, as it is inspired by a newspaper report about a young lady being assaulted by a biker gang at a gas station – and no one turned up to help.

The main character of the comic is The Rider, a sort of Punisher on wheels, who goes on a mission to avenge the death of his lover who was brutally murdered by a biker gang called The Stingers.

The only self-published title among this week’s reviews, this is a positive start for the creative duo, though there is still more work needed in terms of the plot (and sub-plots as well) and in the art department. However, it is worth noting that a lot of effort (and expense) went into ensuring that high-quality paper was used for the book and its cover.

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Scenes Of The Father (RM20)

Writer: Amir Hafizi
Artist: Chee
Publisher: Maple Comics (www.maplecomics.com.my)

I found Amir’s bio page quite interesting, as it states his preference for dedicating his entire writing career to talking about … himself! Well, if you don’t know or have never spoken to him, you might probably find that statement overwhelming; on the contrary, I find Amir a visionary who wants to not only talk about himself, but also help others to share/publish their stories. This is what strikes me whenever Maple Comics is mentioned.

A year ago, I had the opportunity to review its two maiden offerings – Kuala Terengganu In 7 Days and Invasi – and was impressed with the overall product quality (content and packaging) as well as the infrastructure (shop tie-ins and online model) utilised to promote the products.

In this latest Maple Comics offering, Amir shares about his childhood, his father, his kampung’s history and a non-scientifically-proven nexus between cow dung and elephant ear wax! While such tales are usually shared at family reunions, the 90+ pages here made me feel like a distant relative of Amir’s.

Anyway, it’s NOT all about Amir as we have Chee (remember IDW’s Wake The Dead?) on artist duty. He’s an established mainstream artist who has had his works published in several countries. Chee’s noir-ish style suits Amir’s reflection of the past perfectly, as the duo churn out a very thought-provoking blast from Amir’s past.

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Jejon Di Jepun (RM20)

Writer/Artist: Jonsuraya
Publisher: Maple Comics

Meet Jejon, who decides to step out of her comfort zone by quitting her full-time lecturing job to further her studies in the Land of the Rising Sun. In case you are expecting Godzilla or Ultraman to dash her dreams, sorry to disappoint you, as the only “obstacles” she will face are her quest for halal food and … “jinshin” (or earthquake).

My initial perception was that this is an illustrated diary, a teen’s ramblings about her daily life. But as I read on, I must admit that Jonsuraya does have quite an eventful life (which most teenagers and their parents can relate to). I found this quite an enjoyable read and one to which those of us who strongly desire to step out of our “comfort zone” can relate.

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Pelempang Realiti (RM20)

Writer/artist: Arif Rafhan
Publisher: Maple Comics

Another travelogue-type book in which Arif Rafhan shares about his tour of South-East Asia with a group of ex-university mates. On the surface, the title has a cataclysmic feel to it, though the “slap” from the title comes from the shades of grey that they encounter, especially after going through childhoods that made them see the world in black and white.

Similar to Jejon Di Jepun, it will appeal to those with similar experiences to what is shared by the creator … or to his friends. It may backfire if you are keen on a bigger audience. Still, Arif does exhibit the prerequisite storytelling talent. One suggestion is that he should delve deeper into his creative wellspring and not just focus on travelogues.