Drawing Charlie Chan

Calvin Godfrey

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Photograph: Crispian Chan

The words “Secret Robot Spy Factory: defections, machinations & complications” mark the door to Sonny Liew’s studio on the edge of Singapore’s dull eastern suburbs.

From the fifth floor of a crescent-shaped tower at the Goodman Arts Centre, Singapore’s greatest graphic novelist enjoys a view of a perennially empty Italian restaurant and an outdoor theatre ringed by decaying sculptures. Covered walkways link studio spaces to classrooms beyond; a barbed wire fence rings the perimeter.

Six million souls now occupy the hyper-developed city-state beyond the fence and Liew feels lucky to have his studio, even as his relationship to the landlord has grown increasingly opaque.

Back in 2015, Singapore’s National Arts council yanked a US$5,600 grant for Liew’s 300-page masterpiece the day before it went to press. One NAC official later told reporters that The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye “potentially undermines the authority and legitimacy of the government and its public institutions”.

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