Pangolin: A Critically Endangered Mammal Like No Other

What marvellous mammal has armour that will make a knight envious, and can curl up into a near-perfect sphere?

It’s the pangolin!

If this is your first time hearing about a pangolin this World Pangolin Day or World Wildlife Day, it might seem like a render from a video game. A mammal – nope, not a reptile – covered in scales? It looks almost like a waddling pinecone or a less flamboyant dragonfruit!

Pangolins are unlike any other mammals. That’s not a hyperbole. They are currently the only mammal discovered that is fully covered in scales! That brings us to our first phenomenal pangolin fact:

1. Pangolins are covered in pinecone-like tough scales made of keratin.

While we may not see any similarities between our bodies and the impressive scale mail pangolins don, believe it or not, the sturdy coat of overlapping scales is actually made of keratin – the same thing our nails and hair are made out of.

Keratin renders the scales hard and durable. Each scale is made of tightly compressed hair finished in a sharp tip for that extra offensive edge. (Although your mileage may vary with a tub of hair gel and a tail comb.) These scales are arranged in a partially overlapping lattice to provide optimal protection without compromising on flexibility.

Equipped with a coat that will give Colossus a run for his money, how does the pangolin utilise it against its natural enemies?

2. Pangolins curl into balls when frightened.

Let’s just say they get all dressed up with nowhere to go. Deliberately.

You see, pangolins have one weakness: Their soft underside.

To protect their tender tummies, they cover their head, tuck themselves into a tight ball, and let their scales do the rest of the work. It’s nature’s way of giving the pangolin an instant “nope” button whenever they feel stressed or frightened. So recognisable is this ability that the World Wildlife Fund explains the name “pangolin” is derived from penggulung, the word for roller in Malay.

Pangolins can also weaponise the sharp scales on their tail if they perceive a Big Bad Evil Guy, but their poor vision does not do them many favours.

Against its natural predators like big cats or hyenas, this defensive bunker tactic works. Really well.

Ever seen photographs of lions pawing or chewing frustratedly at a balled-up pangolin? The scales make pangolins nearly impervious to bites and uncomfortably prickly to those who try to unroll it. It may look hilarious, but more importantly, it is a testament to how effective this evolutionary trait is.

Against a human hand however, that’s a different story. (We’ll get back to this later.)

If it’s not already obvious from their preferred type of engagement with predators, pangolins are quite shy. Part of it is due to this third phenomenal pangolin fact:

3. Pangolins have no teeth.

You read that right. Like boy bands of the early 2000s, pangolins devoted all of their spikes to their head and ‘fits, while hiding their true docile nature from hungry pap-, predators.

Another name that pangolins are commonly known by is the scaly anteater. (No prizes for guessing their favourite bites.)

A typical day of a pangolin sees it in its burrow or on trees with its nose set on the nearest ant colony or termite mound. Once settled into their selected buffet of the day, pangolins utilise their very long, very sticky, very thin, saliva-coated tongue to slurp up their meal – with adults vacuuming up to a suggested 70 million insects each year according to Singapore’s National Parks Board! (Try getting your exterminator to go up against this ant-agonist’s scoreboard.)

As a very nice bonus, the action of vacating insects from their tunnels lends to aerating the ground, thus improving soil health in the area. Given their current repertoire, they probably have greener thumbs than most of us city dwellers!

Wait, if pangolins can’t chew, how do they digest their food, hard exoskeletons and all?

The answer is rock ‘n’ roll. Literally.

Pangolins eat rocks. To make up for their lack of teeth and their penchant for ants over bean sprouts, pangolins intentionally ingest small rocks, called gastroliths, for storage in their gizzard. As the gizzard contracts, the rocks roll and churn, which in turn grinds down the food.

A simple and effective solution by nature. But sadly, this lack of teeth is a handicap against humans. (Starting to see a pattern?)

Artwork from Marvellous Mammals: A Wild A to Z of Southeast Asia

4. Pangolins are currently the most trafficked mammal in the world.

Unfortunately, this last fact about pangolins isn’t very fun at all.

There are eight pangolin species in the world. Three of the four Asian species, including the Sunda pangolin that calls Singapore its home, is Critically Endangered.

For most of their existence, pangolins have been a solid contender for predator-prey relationship manager of the year. (Considering how even their most enterprising enemies struggle to take a literal bite out of them, they were doing pretty well.)

Then everything changed when greedy humans attacked.

The spherical fortress that pangolins have evolved is excellent against most threats… Except traffickers, with their dexterous, grasping hands and voracity for greed, aren’t most threats. Spook the pangolin, wait for it to roll into a ball, and simply carry them away – like Gen Z in a macabre medicine ball fitness class.

That is precisely what many poachers boil these unique mammals down to: Very expensive and very high-value literal medicine balls.

In Asia, some traditional medicine practitioners fight tooth and nail to continue touting the supposed curative properties of pangolin scales and blood. Pangolins: Science, Society and Conservation announced that approximately 195,000 pangolins were trafficked for their scales alone.

Nevermind that it has been scientifically debunked that pangolin scales have no medical properties, and chewing fingernails has never proven effective in any quest to cure inflammation/lactation issues/cancer/what-have-you.

And those who don’t use pangolin scales for pseudo-medicine, use it to scale up their leather fashion products in the United States and Mexico.

That’s not all: Another big driver for pangolin trafficking is meat. (Notice how it is reported as meat, and not food.) Hunting pangolins for bushmeat is not new – pangolins have been a food source in Africa and China historically. But with the proliferation of food supply chains worldwide, pangolins are no longer necessary as a staple food source. So, why the demand for pangolin meat?

In this age of abundance and accessibility, having suckling pig or duck confit daily no longer signals wealth and exceptionalism. You need something more exclusive, something rare, to really get tongues wagging.

Introducing the delicacy du jour of parts of China and Vietnam: The pangolin.

If the thought of sampling a pangolin does not make you baulk, the price tag surely will. In a paper by Wang (2021), the price of a whole pangolin can fetch anywhere from 2,000 to 3,400 yuan (~290USD to 495USD) per kilogram.

Even though the population of wild pangolins in Asia has declined by over 50% in recent years according to the Center for Biological Diversity, the demand for their flesh and scales remains insatiable. Can’t find pangolins in Asia? Just take them from Africa and ship them over. This hunger for pangolins is so strong that from 2015 to 2021, almost half of all pangolin derivatives confiscated in Asia are found to have been brought over from Africa.

Since 2019, there has been a global consensus in banning pangolins from commercial trade internationally. While that has led to more seizures and discoveries of illegally trafficked pangolins, poachers still find ways to circumvent law enforcement. Money, it turns out, is a great motivator for… creativity.

This World Pangolin Day and World Wildlife Day, especially if your days are spent roaming in metropolises, the predicament of pangolins may feel removed from your lives. But wait: How can we get pangolins from the depths of our forests, to the nouveau riche trying to be the next photocopied version of the Kardashians in cities?

The answer is that it is inevitable for pangolin traffickers – and a lot of the illegal wildlife trade – to funnel a considerable amount of their operations through urban areas. In 2019, World Wildlife Fund Singapore reported that a staggering 35 tonnes of pangolin scales (around 40,000 pangolins) were seized by port authorities.

What can I do to help?

As individuals, all this may seem overwhelming. It is. And if you – understandably – do not intend to go up against international criminal organisations, can you really do anything of meaningful impact then?

The short answer is: Yes.

Although the pangolin is no Billie Eilish of the endangered animal world, they are charismatic enough for children and adults alike to pause and go, “hey, that’s one cool mammal!” That is a good, even great, first step.

For context, in ‘Generally ignored’ species face twice the extinction threat, warns study by The Guardian, it was shown that the extinction rate in insects is eight-fold more than birds, mammals, and reptiles, and receive nearly 500 times less funding for each species than vertebrates. In other words, the more you like something, the more funding it receives. (Usually.)

The next step is simple: Talk, share – shout, even! – about all you know about pangolins! Tell them to your friends and family, use your knowledge as a potential ice-breaker for conversations, or even showcase your knowledge at your next quiz night; chat about them to those who are willing to listen.

When your conversation ends, and everyone goes their separate ways, that’s when the ball really gets rolling. All these phenomenal pangolin facts no longer exist in isolation – they instead live in voices, echoed in the people we have met, and finding new homes in the places we have travelled through.

Two decades ago, you may not have heard of the pangolin. Now, it is a marvellous mammal that is starting to be recognised even outside of Asia and Africa.

The next time you, or someone you have spoken to, encounters a pangolin, this knowledge will guide their encounter. Spotted a lost pangolin in the city? Found medicine shops illegally selling pangolin scales? Spied someone in a bad Solid Snake cosplay setting traps in forested areas? Things that could have unintentionally slipped by one’s radar can now find anchor in one’s knowledge of pangolins.

(For those wondering what to do in the aforementioned scenarios in Singapore, the answer is to call the National Parks at 1800-471-7300.)

We will leave you with two adages at the end of our World Pangolin Day and World Wildlife Day piece: “Knowledge is power” and “sharing is caring”. While global lawmakers and conservationists are working to tighten regulations and protection for these marvellous mammals, we can help them on the ground by keeping a literal eye out for pangolins, especially those in plight.

The scales are not tipped in favour of the pangolins, but it is not too late for us to prevent the final nail in their potential coffin.

Graphic Medicine: Remembering the Individual Behind the Illness

During these pandemic times, you have probably encountered short comics or infographics on social media about COVID-19, such as illustrator Kow Wei Man’s viral infocomics on staying safe during the pandemic, or The COVID-19 Chronicles, an ongoing educational comic series by NUS Yoo Loo Lin School of Medicine.

These comics may differ in style and presentation, and they may be created by artists with different backgrounds, but they do have one thing in common: They inform and engage the audience on medical topics through a confluence of art and science.

You may wonder, in a field dominated by hard science and numbers, what role can art play?

Say hello to graphic medicine.



Graphic medicine covers a berth of medical conditions written from various perspectives. Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me talks about mental illnesses, Mom’s Cancer delves into a cancer narrative, and Epileptic discusses the stigma of epilepsy.


What is graphic medicine?

Graphic medicine draws its meaning from its two halves: It is the union between graphic novels, and medical education and patient care.

It is a great example of how art reconciles science with humanity, where you don’t merely treat the ailment; you treat the person behind the illness too.

This pandemic is not the first time comics has collaborated with medicine – comics have explored medicine-related topics since the early 1800s!

Despite that, the term “graphic medicine” was only created in 2007 by Dr. Ian Williams. Following this, multiple universities have started including graphic medicine in their curriculum.

Not restricted to factual and informational pieces, these graphic novels often draw upon lived experiences of all parties involved – patients, medical professionals, and caregivers – to offer audiences personal glimpses into perspectives and situations they might not otherwise have.



Graphic medicine can help reconnect medical science and illnesses with the people who have those conditions. Graphic Medicine Manifesto serves as a primer for anyone interested in graphic medicine.


Why graphic medicine?

Conventionally, medicine tends to endorse an isolated biomedical approach almost exclusively. Diagnose patients, pinpoint treatments, monitor recovery processes, and send patients on their merry way. Rinse and repeat. The replicability of this cut-and-dried approach makes it highly efficient.

However, today’s practitioners are increasingly aware of how this approach ignores the human and emotional aspects of medicine of patients’ recovery experiences. When you atomise and delineate patients into body systems, it is no surprise that they feel disconnected and less satisfied with the care received.

Pivoting to a human-centric medical approach, graphic medicine reconnects humans with science: medical professionals with patients; pathology with empathy; biology with biography.



Dementia is the cognitive decline of the brain outside the realm of normal ageing. (Panels from Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma)


What is dementia?

While almost any medical case can benefit from graphic medicine. Two characteristics in particular make a condition a good candidate for graphic medicine: stigmatisation or marginalisation, and a chronic or devastating nature.

Dementia meets both these criteria.

Dementia refers to the cognitive decline of the brain outside the realm of normal ageing. Persons with Dementia (PWD) gradually lose their ability to perform day-to-day activities. Dementia does not refer to a specific condition, and is instead an umbrella term covering specific types of decline, including Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular Dementia.

As the global ageing population increases, so does the incidence of dementia. In 2018, the WHO reported that there were 50 million people affected by dementia. That’s the equivalent of a person developing dementia every 3 seconds! This explains why there is growing interest in using the arts – including graphic medicine! – to help foster a positive living experience with dementia.



Graphic medicine can help fight against the stigmatisation of dementia by humanising the people behind the condition. (Panels from All That Remains; part of project Forget Us Not)


How does graphic medicine help PWD?

Despite its growing prevalence, and due to its irreversible nature and cumulatively debilitating impact, dementia remains a taboo subject in many places.

One of the biggest barriers PWD face is stigmatisation stemming from a lack of information and understanding of the condition. Dementia is more than just its biomedical dimension – it is indelibly linked to the person experiencing the condition: physically, mentally, and emotionally.

The impact of this stigma is multifold – PWD might be left feeling dehumanised not only by outsiders, but also by some medical professionals. When discrimination underpins social cultures of shame and embarrassment, it can create resistance for people to seek medical attention, even if they are already experiencing symptoms. Moreover, those who support PWD are affected by the stigma as well.

All these make graphic medicine especially pertinent in improving the welfare of PWD and those around them.



Because of the complex nature of dementia, graphic novels can blend the visual and textual to create layers of subtleties that go beyond the biomedical. (Panels from Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma)


Graphic medicine can address discrimination of PWD not only by providing information on the condition, but also by evoking a human-centred depiction of the medical experience. When readers engage with images of PWD, be it through factual or fictional means, they develop a multifaceted, holistic understanding of the condition beyond the biomedical.

Besides making topics more intellectually approachable, graphic novels offer another form of accessibility – emotional accessibility. By interweaving meaning and context to things typically invisible or difficult to describe in traditional text, emotional perspectives are added back into the equation.

This collective weaving of information – medical, social, cultural, and emotional – builds a living, breathing image of dementia rooted in our everyday lives. The knowledge this is a condition affecting people like us then becomes the foundation – not the exception – upon which new understandings are built.

Moments difficult to inscribe in the harshness of text – including the prejudice PWD face, difficulty in communication, or embarrassment felt when needing help for intimate daily activities – can be coded into the dance of words and images. The relational and temporal aspects of narratives can exist between the spatial and literal. During the reading process, graphic medicine engages the audience, and encourages reflection upon the realities of the characters.



Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma (Books 1 and 2)


We suggest you start your foray into graphic medicine with Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma – an accessible and heartwarming story about how Ash and her grandmother handle the challenges of ageing and dementia while leading an exciting double life as superheroes. Even as Ah Ma’s dementia progresses, she continues to take all her responsibilities seriously – taking care of her neighbourhood, and being a mentor figure to Ash.

The book explores how having a support structure of not merely the immediate family, but a wider social circle as well, can help alleviate some of the stresses of living with dementia. Through the support of her family and the community, Ah Ma is able to continue living comfortably in a familiar environment without hindrance to her well-being or independence. She is still Superhero Ah Ma – dementia is just one of many things she contends with in her day.



In recent years, graphic novels have become increasingly popular outlets for caregivers to navigate the psychosocial aspects of their responsibilities. Framed through a personal and emotional lens, works such as Bird in a Cage, Aliceheimer’s, Little Josephine: A Memory in Pieces, and Tangles: A Story about Alzheimer’s, My Mother and Me offer outsiders intimate glimpses into the realities of caring for PWD.


Caring for PWD can be a physically and emotionally challenging task: Beyond fatigue from helping with their everyday needs, caregivers need to deal with behavioural changes and the emotional impact of witnessing the deterioration of a loved one’s condition.

Some caregivers turn to writing as a form of catharsis. Dana Walrath’s journey in creating Aliceheimer’s is relatable to many caregivers: It is a healing process, and one that can hopefully be extended to changing wider societal stigma on the narrative of ageing and dementia.

Others lean in to graphic medicine’s ability to educate and inform. Little Josephine: A Memory in Pieces delves into the shared emotional connection between nurse-author Valérie Villieu and her elderly patient Josephine, and reminds fellow medical practitioners of the importance of compassion and empathy in their practice.

Regardless of the perspective, graphic medicine is an invaluable source of information, comfort, and empowerment for many individuals and communities.



More efforts have been made in recent years to amplify the voices of PWD in graphic medicine.


Efforts have also been made to fund projects covering dementia from the perspective of PWD. While stories by caregivers remain essential in creating public awareness and empathy, there is still a gap in understanding of how those who with the condition wish to be portrayed.

Working with a group of PWD, the Beth Johnson Foundation created There’s No Bus Map for Dementia, a graphic novel that focuses on the daily realities of living with dementia. More importantly, instead of relegating the voices of PWD to the background, this work amplifies the voices of those with the condition. The result is a tale of joy and hope; friendship and independence.

Over time, the project hopes more works of similar nature can be produced, and more stories of dementia can be told in the way PWD want: with respect, and as people with agency.


Graphic medicine resources

For a comprehensive list of other graphic novels and more information on graphic medicine, visit the Graphic Medicine International Collective. We have also handpicked some other reference sources for your foray into graphic medicine!

Immerse yourself in magic, mayhem & more in these new Southeast Asian comics in 2022 & 2023!

As we embrace what 2022 has to offer to us, the Difference Engine team is proud to announce three original graphic novels and two DE Shorts that will be published this year, along with new and exciting projects for 2023! 

As part of the Potato Productions family, our team believes in being creative, doing good, and last but not least, having fun! 

This is why one of our core values is to publish stories our readers can relate to and see themselves represented in. Our comics, for adults and children alike, are written and illustrated by Southeast Asian creators who offer unique and personal perspectives on a variety of topics that are close to their hearts. We hope you’ll find a story that speaks to you. 


Upcoming Project for Amazing Ash and Superhero Ah Ma


By Melanie Lee and Arif Rafhan 

Category: Children’s Fiction
Theme: Family, Superhero, Dementia
Publication: May 2022 


The adventures of Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma continue! As Team ASH grows in number, Ash juggles being a responsible superhero, a supportive grandchild and a kind friend. Meanwhile, is Ah Ma’s dementia getting worse? How will the team cope with a new nemesis and the strange developments happening in town? Join Ash, Ah Ma, and the rest of Team ASH as they try to save the neighbourhood and, at the same time, face the changes that come with growing up and growing old.

Watch out for the conclusion to the Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma trilogy in 2023!

Book #1 is available in print and ebook format here.

 Upcoming Project for Work Life Balance


By Wayne Rée and Benjamin Chee

Category: Adult Fiction
Theme: Supernatural, Work
Publication: Oct 2022



When a malevolent multinational arrives on our shores, familiar creatures like pontianaks, manananggals, rākṣasīs and ba jiao guis are forced out of their jobs. Some give in and sign up for mundane corporate life – but others would rather fight than join the broken-spirited hordes of the (desk)bound.  

Wayne Rée’s prose and Benjamin Chee’s comics intertwine in this collection to bring you familiar Asian mythology in an even more familiar setting: the realm of dead-end work, glass ceilings, and truly hellish bosses.


Along with the graphic novel, readers can also look forward to a short web browser game, Internal Damnation: Pick Your Hell.

In partnership with developers Lionfish Studios and audio studio Imba Interactive, creators Wayne Rée and Benjamin Chee bring you a hilarious and/or harrowing interactive text game where you play as an intern in the hellish corporation known only as The Company.

Impress your supervisors by fetching coffee, crafting SEO-friendly social media posts and slogging through your average internship tasks. Just try not to get killed! (Oh, and a little word of warning: never trust your colleagues – especially the demons.)

Drawing from the world of Work-Life Balance, Internal Damnation: Pick Your Hell features stunning isometric diorama illustrations and ambient music that bring this standalone story to life.


Upcoming project for Two Tails


By Kifurai a.k.a. Kiana Fedly

Category: Young Adult Fiction
Theme: Fantasy, Animals
Publication: 2023


Sophomore student Rara detests animals. And she absolutely hates cats. Until one fateful night when a fatal bike accident changes everything… 

A second chance at life beckons, but there’s a catch: She has to get her body back. The bigger catch? She’s now a cat. 

Armed with two tails and with a long lost friend by her side, Rara ventures on a whimsical journey to show us the very human nature of animals, and the immense space that we carry in our hearts for reconciliation. 


Upcoming Project for Magical Sweet Gula


By Johanes Park and Jessica Leman

Category: Children’s Fiction
Theme: Fantasy, School, Friendship
Publication: 2023


Gula Gulali is a young Magi who has the delightful power of turning the things around her into cakes and sweets! She lives in the city of Manakarta in the realm of Terra, where the non-magical people don’t think too highly of Magis. With her bright pink hair and pointed ears, Gula sticks out like a sore thumb in the regular school she attends.

When another young Magi joins Gula’s school, his obsession with Terran culture annoys her to no end. Not to mention, his weird behaviour is bringing far too much attention to the Magi who are already facing prejudice from Terrans. Now, Gula has to navigate friendships, slander, and a series of magical mishaps — all while the success of a school drama production is at stake!

Will she find acceptance and belonging, or will she have to give up her magic to fit in?

This graphic novel is the first book of a multi-part series.


Upcoming Project for Afterlife


By Gina Chew and Nadhir Nor 

Category: Young Adult Fiction
Theme: Fantasy, Romance
Publication: 2023


Kyra’s younger brother lays on his deathbed and she’s stricken with grief. Spirit Keeper Eric was just there to do his job and bring a Soul into the Afterlife. So why do they feel an inexplicable connection when they meet?

In this great expanse where what’s lost is found, fate, memories, and love intertwine as Kyra and Eric embark on a daring rescue mission to save a little boy from Death’s clutches. Afterlife is an epic Southeast Asian-inspired young adult fantasy graphic novel about one girl’s sacrifice as she fights to save what she loves, without losing herself in the midst of it all…


Upcoming Project for A Southeast Asian Food Journey


By Max Loh

Category: Adult Non-Fiction
Theme: Food, Culture
Publication: 2023


Some might say that food is the heart of Southeast Asia. 

The region’s multitude of cuisines is a colourful reflection of the many cultures that have made home in the land. In this flavourful graphic novel, cartoonist and foodie Max Loh delves into the importance of food in the region, its celebration of traditional dishes along with the evolution of others, and the stories of people whose lives are interwoven with our favourite foods. 

Dishing out factual observations on food, culture, and heritage, paired with personal experiences from Max Loh, this book serves up an accessible read of Southeast Asia’s complex relationship with food for the gastronomer or casual food lover alike.


DE Shorts  

Difference Engine is also adding two stories to our latest imprint, DE Shorts, which publishes self-contained stories on a wide range of social issues. With DE Shorts, we aim to publish stories of lived and shared experiences – we hope that it will be a starting point for openness and candid discussion. 


Upcoming Project for Worlds Apart


By Wayne Rée and Nurjannah Suhaimi 

Category: Adult Non-Fiction
Theme: Mental health, Self-help
Publication: Apr 2022 


It’s been a while since you caught up with Charissa. You finally – finally! – find the time to meet for coffee, but after the usual pleasantries, she opens up to you.

She’s been diagnosed with depression. A moment like this can feel like a fork in the road. Will it lead to an emotionally rewarding conversation or… cause a lot of confusion and awkwardness?

Many of us still largely choose not to talk about mental health – and that often breeds misconceptions and social stigma. Join Charissa as she guides you through these unfamiliar territories and terrains that can be difficult to navigate.

Let the conversation begin.


Upcoming Project for Bearing Witness


By Vinita Ramani and Griselda Gabriele 

Category: Adult Non-Fiction
Theme: Pregnancy, Family, Autobiography
Publication: Nov 2022


Suffering from postpartum depression after the birth of her first child, a 42-year-old musters up the courage to try for another baby. Two trimesters of nausea, exhaustion, and recurrent, intense dreams pass, only for her to discover that her baby has passed away in the womb. 

And so begins a surreal life on the other side of loss, where grief and ecstasy are often bedfellows, tears come from nowhere, other people’s babies become the objects of intense affection, and where the baby that never came to be, shows up in stars, stones, seeds and her toddler’s imagination.


Creator Bios 

Melanie Lee is the author of the picture book series The Adventures of Squirky the Alien, which picked up the Crystal Kite Award (Middle East/India/Asia division) in 2016. She is also an Associate Faculty at the Singapore University of Social Sciences developing and teaching media writing courses.

Arif Rafhan is a comic and pre-production artist. His work has been published in more than 10 books to date by MPH, Buku Fixi, Maple Comics, and Marshall Cavendish. He also works with various production companies creating pre-production visuals such as concept art, character designs, environment designs, and storyboards.

Wayne Rée is the co-creator of the upcoming prose/comics mash-up, Work-Life Balance, and the short comic about mental health, The Conversation, as well as the author of the short story collection, Tales From A Tiny Room. His work’s been included in several fiction publications, most notably Infinite Worlds Magazine and LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction. He is also the co-creator of the narrative podcast, Ghost Maps.

Benjamin Chee is a game artist by day, and a comic creator by night. He is the creator of Charsiew Space, a story about smugglers in spaceships cooking forbidden pork. He has also published 6 other titles, and has contributed to multiple anthologies including LONTAR Issue #5, Liquid City Vol. 3, Asian Monsters, and SOUND: A Comics Anthology

Kifurai a.k.a. Kiana Fedly is an illustrator and full-time animal lover. She comes from a family in the creative field and went on to study at Jakarta Institute of Arts (IKJ). With a background in illustration, she spent four years freelancing for creative agencies and various clients such as musicians, F&B businesses and startups, storyboarding, creating and illustrating cute characters for mascots and digital content.

Johanes Park and Jessica Leman are an artist-writer couple. They met while pursuing their bachelor degrees, and later received their BA in Digital Animation from Kyungsung University, South Korea. In 2021, Johanes received his Master of Art degree from Jakarta Institute of Art while Jessica received her Master of Management degree from Prasetiya Mulya University. They reside in Jakarta, Indonesia, where Johanes works full-time as a lecturer in a private university, and occasionally teaches basic drawing for children on the weekends.

Gina Chew is a Singaporean writer most acclaimed for her debut play Permanence. An English Literature graduate from the National University of Singapore, she brings her interest in theatre and its myriad of stories-come-to-life to other mediums including film, television and online media such as videos and animated stories.

Nadhir Nor is a Malaysian artist based in Selangor with an interest in all things otherworldly. He believes that the magic of finding the otherworldly in the mundane, and vice versa, makes for a story worth telling, and uses his works to explore the relationships between mythology and ancient cultures with modern society.

Max Loh is an as-and-when comic artist who’s still navigating the ideal middle ground between practicality and passion. When he isn’t drawing, he tries his best to slowly eat his way through the world, despite international travel and dining out being a rare treat nowadays.

Nurjannah Suhaimi is a designer based in Singapore. She is a visual communications graduate from Nanyang Technological University, the School of Art, Design, Media. As a self-motivated and proactive person, she takes pride in being able to adapt in stressful situations, and is always seeking new experiences to keep her on her toes! 

Vinita Ramani is a writer and editor. She has previously worked as a journalist for various local and regional publications, and as a publicist for film festivals both in Singapore and abroad. 

Griselda Gabriele is a Singapore-based Indonesian artist with experience in editorial illustration and visual development for games and animation. She’s passionate about storytelling, with a special interest in exploring the diverse history, (pop) culture, and faith of Indonesia and Southeast Asia.

**Titles and illustrations are not final.

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If you have a story you’d like to tell, head here to find out more details on submitting your pitch or manuscript to us. We’d love to hear from you!

7 Qualities That Make a Great Mentor

Mentors are a vital part of personal and educational development. A mentor could be anyone: a parent, a maths tutor, an art teacher, a librarian, or even a volunteer at school. They are not just enthusiasts or professionals in their field, but also enjoy sharing their expertise and know-how, and are passionate and truly care about their students’ growth.

Remember Miss Tilly Tay from The Makers Club graphic novel series? She’s a great mentor character in the books that offers support and guidance to the students in the Makers Club! A mentor can spark a sense of excitement and the joy of discovery in a student. They make learning a safe space – one that allows for mistakes and failure, and one that encourages creativity, exploring new ideas and concepts, and creates an even playing field.

Now, you may wonder, what actually goes into making a good mentor? Here are seven integral qualities that a great mentor – like Miss Tilly – encompasses!



Inspiring students through sharing experiences and expertise

While knowledge, experience, and expertise are assets any mentor may have, the willingness and desire to impart the information, and to pay it forward, takes mentorship to another level. Good mentors are willing to share not only the best parts of their experiences, but also their failures. Both sides of the coin provide valuable opportunities for learning and can help mentees on their own paths.

The best mentors are curious learners themselves! They have the willingness to learn and grow, which makes mentorship a two-way street. Miss Tilly from The Makers Club series is the Head Librarian at Pangolin Secondary school, but she is open to more than just her responsibilities at the library. She makes DIY knick knacks, encourages students to create, and also created a Maker’s Lab where students can explore different skills and try their hand at building things.



Providing empathic guidance

Mentors need to be able to commit to their mentees, but more importantly, they need to be available to them. Mentoring requires time and effort; emotions and space. Sometimes, this includes an investment in your mentees’ lives – school, and sometimes personal.

We can think of mentors as a compass that guides on uncertain paths, and a lighthouse that beckons a reprieve when the waves prove too challenging. Great mentors listen to their students or mentees actively, asking them open-ended questions, share their personal experiences, and providing them with valuable feedback and encouragement. The advice is meant to offer guidance, but not stifle self-discovery from their wards.

As mentors and mentees share personal stories, they build trust and empathy with each other. Such sharing humanises their interactions beyond the textbook and superficial. Oftentimes, this leads to a transparent mentor-mentee relationship, which allows both parties to grow in their respective journeys.



Open communication is key

Great mentors communicate effectively to suit the personality style of their mentee. While one student may prefer a more hands-off approach, another might benefit from a little guidance. A good mentor also provides mentees with relevant challenges that can aid in their development – creatively or academically – and foster the feeling of accomplishment in their respective fields.

Mentors also provide constructive feedback to their students, and are willing to debate and discuss in a tactful manner. Giving useful, honest guidance helps mentees take charge of their potential and make their own decisions, as well as have their thoughts, opinions and feedback heard. This helps not only students in building confidence, but also mentors in guiding their mentees better on the route they wish to take.

Alongside being honest, giving constructive criticism, and providing guidance, a big part of investing in a mentee includes giving encouragement. While this delicate balance can be a challenge to achieve, great mentors support their mentees, and let them know when they’re doing a great job.



Realising and uncovering potential

Mentors not only work hard to realise the potential of their mentees, but also try to understand why they look at things the way they do. Picture two students. One loves designing items, and they are pretty certain that they want to create a spectacular piece of clothing in the near future. The other student doesn’t know much about design creation, but they want to try their hand at it – without any strings attached.

A mentor would keep an open mind and provide both these students with the same opportunity for exploration, and trial and error – even if one or both of them might choose not to pursue the craft. Why is one student so passionate about designing? Why is the other curious about it? Helping a mentee understand their perspective can help them better understand themselves and their potential. This safe space allows students to experience skills that they are curious about, without the obligation to stick with something they might not enjoy in the long run.

While Miss Tilly knows that Aqi is more invested in crafting than Yong Qiang, she gives them both the opportunity to work with the different machines in the Maker’s Lab, and provides them with the necessary guidance along the way.

As such, mentors don’t only want students to be the best version of themselves, they also want them to explore greater heights and master the skills that they already have – keeping in mind that not every student will choose to stick to the same path as another.



Going the extra mile

Who would you consider the most impactful mentor figure in your life? Perhaps it was your form teacher who constantly checked in on you, or maybe it was your activity club’s teacher-in-charge with whom you had an innate rapport with. Regardless of whichever it may be, the mentor figures who leave the biggest impression on us tend to be those who take pride in their responsibilities as a mentor, and go the extra mile for their mentees.

Mentors are eager to invest in their mentees as a person, extending beyond their academic and creative pursuits, to include discussions about behaviour, values, and relationships. They get to know their mentees and take an interest in their personal lives, providing them with confidence beyond the curriculum.

Just like Miss Tilly from The Makers Club series, this group of mentors do not shy away from helping mentees outside their predetermined scopes. Although Miss Tilly is a librarian, instead of just pinpointing Nadia and Priya to suggested reading materials on game design and coding, she volunteers her own programming knowledge to help the pair with their science project.

Even though coaching and tutoring came out of her own hours, Miss Tilly continues to help because she is invested in not only the short-term goal of completing their science project – she is invested in Nadia and Priya’s long-term growth as makers.

Mentors don’t view lessons or coaching sessions as a chore – great mentors are positive and enthusiastic about their subject matter and they view the engagement of students as a privilege.



Creating external support structures

While learning and self-discovery are inward looking processes, they should not be done in isolation. Having a mentor by one’s side can give the mentee support and courage in new endeavours, but the mentor alone should not constitute the entirety of the mentee’s support structure.

As the mentee continues forth on their journey, a good mentor can start providing access to external groups or individuals from whom the mentee can learn from. Having others around on similar journeys or those who are subject matter experts can offer the mentee new perspectives.

In the case of Pangolin Secondary School, even though students may express interest in making and maker education but no formal channels for those exist. To bridge the knowledge gap, Miss Tilly founded the Makers Club along with Aqilah and Yong Qiang, and invited the rest of the school population to join. Thereafter, makers who wish to explore techniques and methods can consult not just Miss Tilly, but each other as well.

This creates a positive feedback loop of learning and refining that is centred upon the individual mentee – and one that can be brought to any environment with or without the mentor’s presence.



Finding their place in the classroom… and the world

Mentoring does not stop when the specific task your mentee requires help on is complete. What separates a good mentor from a great one is what happens after: How will you help your mentee redefine their goals and vision to ready them for the next step of their journey?

Traditional curriculum is set along a set of predefined railroad tracks. Marked by chapters, assignments, and exams, students are passengers on a course with little autonomy. When no longer bound by the perimeters of the traditional classroom, students may find themselves at a loss as to how they can map their academic goals to the wider world.

Mentors can therefore serve as an anchor to the wider world for their mentees, grounding their classroom activities into real world terms. Like how Miss Tilly encourages Aqilah to explore her interest in design and craft, by taking careful note of what each mentee exhibits interest and proficiency in, mentors can gradually provide opportunities for their wards to explore and discover adjacent skills and competencies. This does not mean that mentors need to have all the answers either – it is a journey of discovery for both parties.

Over time, each mentee will be able to leave their classrooms equipped not just with academic credentials, but also a road map to a greater adventure shaped by their own two hands.



To see how Miss Tilly mentors the Makers Club quartet, check out The Makers Club: Starting Up! here. Now available in print and ebook formats!

Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma: The Unforgettable Adventures

The past couple of months have been ash-citing for superheroes Amazing Ash and Superhero Ah Ma! After their adventure in the first instalment of Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma, the dynamic duo have officially taken up the mantle as their community’s friendly neighbourhood superheroes. However, to ensure that Ash and Ah Ma can continue doing good includes caring not just for their community, but also looking out for Ah Ma as her dementia worsens. Ash, Ah Ma, Grace, Zoe, and Buddy find themselves on a new series of unforgettable adventures around Singapore – this time to learn more about dementia and caring for elderly loved ones!


Follow the group on their unforgettable adventures by reading the bite-sized comics


All ten bite-sized comics can be viewed and downloaded for free on the microsite!


Similar to the original graphic novel, these unforgettable adventures interweave the heartfelt with the light-hearted, and the factual with the emotional. This collection of ten fully coloured bite-sized comics can be viewed and downloaded for free on the mini-series’ official microsite, where the group find themselves exploring the newest design features and developments that help people with dementia in Singapore.

Readers of all ages are invited to follow the characters alongside their journey, regardless of prior knowledge of dementia. These comics can serve as educational resources on the condition – the curious will be introduced to the basics of dementia, learn simple ways to make loved ones with dementia feel more comfortable and included, and discover places to visit with loved ones.


Each comic comes with additional information and discussion questions


These excerpts include clarification on concepts and terms used in the comic, and may include additional information and external resources that help young readers better understand key concepts and topics.


To further expand on the topics and concepts mentioned, each comic comes with its own informational excerpt, and a couple of discussion questions. Created for children to learn more about dementia, people with dementia, and their caregivers, these sections are meant to further inspire interest and conversation on each topic. By following Ash and Ah Ma during their more candid and vulnerable moments, younger visitors – who might not have much exposure to the concept of ageing and dementia – are given the opportunity to glimpse a perspective they may not otherwise be privy to.


Creators used reputable sources from dementia organisations and government-linked sources in their research


These are some of the image references used by Melanie and Arif to create the bite-sized comics. (Top-left: Mid-Rise Urban Living by Chris Johnson; bottom: GreatNewPlaces)


To prepare for Ash and Ah Ma’s unforgettable adventures, creators of Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma, Melanie Lee and Arif Rafhan, embarked on their own journey to better understand the condition, and what Singapore is currently doing to help build conducive spaces for people with dementia.

During their research, both creators read up on dementia to better familiarise themselves with the symptoms and experiences of those living with it. To create as immersive and accurate an experience as possible, Melanie and Arif used information vetted by local dementia and government organisations, and official reference photos for the locations mentioned.


Here are some photos Melanie took during her day trip to AWWA’s Yishun Dementia Day Care Centre.


Melanie even took a day trip – with Felicia and Sophia from the Difference Engine team – to AWWA’s Yishun Dementia Day Care Centre during her research for “Comic #9: Dementia Day Care”! Nicodemus from AWWA graciously gave everyone a tour of the location, and explained why certain activities and fixtures were included in the centre for the benefit of the clients. It was ah-ma-zing!


Put your knowledge to the test by helping Ah Ma build her cosy corner

But the journey doesn’t end after viewing all ten bite-sized comics! After learning about dementia, children can apply the knowledge they have gained from the comics into one of the multiple activities available.


What items will you choose to put in Ah Ma’s cosy corner?


Younger visitors can help design a cosy corner for Ah Ma either digitally on the microsite, or by downloading the activity sheet from the digital goodies pack below. Inspired by, the cosy corner is a modular and DIY set that creates an anchor space for commonly-used and comfort items that a person with dementia may need.

Children can infer Ah Ma’s needs from the ten bite-sized comics above, as well as her adventures in Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma, and build a cosy corner that is both useful and conducive for her. There is no correct answer – empathise, be creative, and have fun!

Psst, don’t forget to share your children’s or students’ iterations of their cosy corner on social media by using either the #superheroahma or #ahmacosycorner hashtags!


Continue on your learning journey by downloading the free digital goodies pack


Download and print these downloadables to continue on your learning journey!


Besides the interactive on-site elements, all visitors to the microsite get free access to a digital pack filled with a host of goodies. The pack includes all ten bite-sized comics for easy viewing whenever and wherever, a Draw Your Own Comic! template for the budding creative, a printable version of Ah Ma’s Cosy Corner among other Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma themed activities and freebies. The super-fun has only just begun!


Stay updated on Ash and Ah Ma’s adventures


The anticipated next instalment of Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma is set to be released in 2022. In the meantime, catch up on the adventure thus far here!


If you would like to know more about Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma or the microsite, or would like to request a workshop on writing, storytelling, or comic creation from the creators, you can reach us at

Creatives + Burnout = A Trying Equation

Five Ways “The Makers Club: Starting Up!” Teaches Students to Deal with Creative Burnout

Aqilah shows signs of burnout when she takes on too many creative projects.


No matter how confident you are at juggling school work and creative projects, at some point, even the most talented of writers, artists, and musicians face the dreaded “B” word. Creators – yes, you can be a creator while being a full-time student! – invest a huge chunk of their lives to bring their visions to fruition. Sometimes, however, the pressure to achieve perfection, self-doubt, stress, and the general feeling of being stuck can lead to creative burnout, which can affect an individual emotionally, physically, and mentally.


Burnout can feel mentally and physically exhausting! What once excited Aqilah now fills her with dread, and she finds herself doubting the work she once found pride and joy in. 


Creative burnout is not fun… we know. Oftentimes, exhaustion and dread seep in, and the thought of creating anything feels like an insurmountable hurdle, especially when responsibilities at school are added to the equation. Even things that once sparked joy no longer do. It is a complete 180, and a change that isn’t within your control. At this point, relaxing may feel like an effort, and even the most menial of tasks may seem daunting. If you are burnt out, or if you know of a young creative who is starting to struggle with their creative pursuits, there are ways to cope with creative burnout – here are some.


When Aqilah faces creative burnout, she finds herself unable to come up with new ideas for the first time in her creative journey.


Embrace burnout as part of the process

Juggling school work, your social life, and being a student creative can be difficult. But creativity is a process, and burnout is a part of it. Remember that while there may be times when you feel like you hit a wall, there are also times when you feel like you’re on a roll! If you’ve broken out of your funk before, you can do it again. The best way to deal with creative burnout is to take a step back and focus on how you feel, acknowledge it, and resist delving into the shame game.

It can also help to talk to people that you trust about your struggles. Share your feelings with family and friends, or teachers and mentors – they may or may not be able to relate, but even a short conversation can lift off some of the burden! Try talking to other student creatives – more often than not, they’d have gone through the same thing, and be able to give you some tips on how they overcame it. However, do keep in mind that everyone copes with creative burnout differently, and what works for someone else might not work for you. Still, shared experiences – or even a chat with a friend – can help you to find the best coping methods. Most importantly, trust yourself, and the process!


When Aqilah gets multiple requests for her creations, she gets excited, and takes on too many projects.


Set boundaries and communicate capacities

You might be tempted to answer a resounding “yes” to any project that comes your way. However, it is important to know when to say no and communicate what you feel capable of. Oftentimes, your creative work can serve as a reprieve from your commitments at school, but it should not be so demanding that it overshadows your academic performance.

Passing on an opportunity does not always mean it’s gone forever, or that you’re letting someone down. When Aqilah struggles to craft a creative request from her schoolmate, she feels as if she’s letting a friend down. However, explaining your situation may help – a good friend should understand your predicament. Alternatively, if you want to fulfil their request in the future, both of you can work something out then!  Learn how to say “no” to projects that you don’t currently have bandwidth for. If it’s an opportunity you cannot resist, be sure to communicate a realistic timeline for your deliverables, with some breathing room for yourself factored in.

If you are feeling burnt out while working on a project that clashes with responsibilities at school, highlight the most important and immediate tasks and complete them to the best of your ability. Most importantly, remember to be kind to yourself. While it’s healthy to be critical of your work, try to recognise the potential of your work, and why you took it up in the first place!


Aqilah gets overwhelmed as she finds herself juggling her creative work, social life, and school work.


Schedule breaks… and take them!

Creatives may sometimes feel irresponsible when they take time off from their craft. However, creativity isn’t a limitless fountain from which we can draw from, and breaks are necessary to avoid or overcome burnout. Working through burnout can make you feel worse, souring your experience and turning you away from what you love. Scheduled breaks, as such, should be considered an integral part of your creative routine. It can give you time to recuperate, thus actually making you look forward to your projects, which leads to higher productivity. Don’t worry, you don’t need a month-long vacation – even switching off for a day or two can help!

Take your breaks as seriously as you take your projects. When you schedule “off” days, resist ruminating on your creative project and give your mind time to breathe and discover new inspiration. Try doing something completely different to get your mind off your project, such as taking a walk with an unrelated podcast on, or having brunch with friends. Self-care is not selfish; it is essential to nurture the entity that works hard to produce great things – yourself!


Aqilah feels a world of difference after she talks to people who she trusts, such as her mother, and her good friend Yong Qiang. She even plays a little basketball with him to let off some steam!


Find an unrelated hobby that you enjoy

Having a hobby outside of school and your creative work can reduce stress, and provide an entertaining and necessary distraction. It helps not only with unwinding, but also with personal growth and to keep your mind open to new ideas. An unrelated hobby is also a great source of unexpected inspiration for work beyond the possibilities and ideas you’ve previously explored or considered!

So put down the pen and pick up a paintbrush. Set your easel aside and pick up a sewing kit. It could be anything you fancy at the time: engaging in a sport you enjoy, playing chess, or baking. Any activity that is done just for the sake of enjoyment can engage different parts of your brain, and counteract the effects of creative burnout. Try to dive into these new activities with no pressure – you just need to have fun!


Yong Qiang and Aqilah bond over their love of the Banyan High series!


Enjoy the creative work of other people

Remember the joy of reading when you were younger? A parent or guardian may have brought you to the library or bookstore, giving you a limit to how many books you could borrow or buy. You may have spent hours selecting the perfect book, then excitedly spent days devouring your latest acquisition. Recreate that feeling by revisiting a book from your childhood, or pick up something new and exciting like that graphic novel you’ve been eyeing.

Similarly, put on a film that reminds you of happy times, or one that makes you sob. Listen to music – the song with lyrics so relatable you feel like you could’ve written them, or the heavy metal track that can drown out your screams of frustration.

Spend a day enjoying the creative projects your friends are working on, the styles you love and the ones you’re unsure of. Think about why you love some of them, and why you’re unsure of the others. Or don’t think at all – allow yourself to be immersed in the world of art without judgement and expectations. Inspiration can recharge your creative batteries, even without you realising it!


Aqilah realises that there is space for her creative work despite her busy schedule and commitments – she just has to tweak it to suit her!


It is important to keep in mind that creativity ebbs and flows. It is normal to feel burnt out, and it is all a part of the creative process. However, managing creative burnout not only allows for creative growth, but also means that it doesn’t affect your responsibilities at school. Most importantly, don’t fall for the romanticised myth of the tortured artist – there is more space for creation when you can actually access the feelings you want to express, without the physical and emotional distress that burnout brings!



Find out how Aqilah, a creative and budding entrepreneur, deals with creative burnout in The Makers Club: Starting Up! This second installment in The Makers Club series invites kids to explore entrepreneurship, design thinking, and maker culture, with a diverse cast of characters who tackle real, honest issues in their friendships and personal growth.

Do-It-Yourself: Why Maker Education is Important

Youth is a time of many things: learning, growth, experimentation, and self-actualisation. It’s the period of our lives when our imaginations are most unrestrained. Remember that crazy idea you shelved away because it felt just a little too far fetched? Time to dust it off because maker culture is all about nurturing that spark, and creating something tangible from it!

If we had to describe maker culture in a sentence, it would probably be something like this: The world is what you create and make of it. Be it the arts or sciences, or whether the technology is digital or physical, as long as the process includes learning and creating, you’re a Maker!

Making is not a new concept. From our ancestors to modern-day scientists, tinkering and innovation has always been an inherent part of the human experience. However, the introduction of test-based systems has pivoted the typical student away from creative, self-driven explorations.

Education should not be at the cost of creativity and self-learning.


Now more than ever, teaching models need to match what students need to know and how they learn, keeping in mind how syllabuses are taught. This is where Maker education comes into play (literally).

Built on the foundation that learning is best done through doing, Maker education is especially useful for STEAM topics where ideas can be abstract. By having a physical item to ground these concepts, students are able to use the object as an anchor to further their understanding through physical interaction and experimentation.

Here are some benefits of how the project-based learning nature of Maker education can be useful when paired with traditional classroom learning!


Agentive learning encourages students to take an active approach to problem solving.


Creating active problem solvers from passive observers

In a typical classroom, the teacher actively imparts knowledge to students. Students then memorise the information, and proceed to apply said knowledge to framed problems. Because these questions are set within the scope of information being taught, there exists a gap in learning: Students have little incentive to investigate problems and learn beyond their comfort zones.

Conversely, the foundation of Maker education aims to promote a non-linear, iteration form of problem solving through creativity and critical thinking. Presented with problems that have less defined boundaries, students are given the freedom to explore, and to focus on solutions most important and meaningful to them.

Perhaps a child is curious about gravity after watching the SpaceX rocket launch. Or maybe a student wants to do a project on how fridges work after a class on thermodynamics. By giving students the choice to examine concepts and ideas with real-world applications that matter to them, we can encourage them to build on core concepts beyond their textbooks through creativity and critical thinking.


Creating projects that include agency, authenticity, and audience can promote higher levels of motivation and engagement from students.


Empowerment through self-directed learning

Agency – the ability for someone to make their own choices – is the foundation of Maker education. When students are able to define their learning objectives, they end up bringing unique experiences and different goals to the table. Therefore, even in standardised projects, no two learning experiences are identical – each student can grow at the pace and scope they are most comfortable with.

As students make these projects their own, it becomes easier for them to find genuine meaning in their work. Let us take for example a student-led invention of a child-friend prosthetic: During the process, students are able to attach real world meaning to textbook concepts, and when they finally see their prosthetic help those in need, develop an emotional connection with their invention as well.

When students start to consider how their inventions – no matter how trivial they seem – can interact with, affect, and impact the real world, they become more committed in securing the success of the project and seeing it through. Moreover, students no longer treat these projects as routine classroom exercises, and instead learn to empathise with the intended audience of their creations.


Making promotes interdisciplinary learning to create robust solutions to complex problems.


Promoting multidisciplinary thinking

In traditional education, subjects are treated independently, and taught separately. However, problems in reality rarely follow such distinct divisions. This is the gap that Maker education fills: It teaches students to view problems not just in isolation, but as parts of a larger, interconnected system.

This bridging of subject lines is why Maker education is especially effective for STEAM subjects. When students engage in making, in order to create a solution that is sound in both creation and application, they are encouraged to draw from a mixture of subjects and concepts during the iterative and refining process.

This interweaving of subjects and disciplines in Maker education also introduces students to different perspectives. In a complex world, possessing knowledge of one particular topic is insufficient. Maker education offers a natural, accessible way of introducing interdisciplinary studies to students, thereafter preparing them for the challenges of the wider world.


The freedom for students to set their own goals can help redefine “failure” as a positive aspect of the learning process instead of being something to fear.


Growth-oriented pursuits

The freedom of choice is the soul of making. One of the founding members of the global Maker Movement, Dale Dougherty, summarises the Maker Mindset as “a growth mindset that encourages students to believe they can do anything”.

Failure is inescapable, and making teaches students to remove the stigma associated with the dreaded F-word. When students embark on maker projects, they have the independence to set their own goal posts. Growth and success are no longer defined against others – they instead become measurements between their past and present selves.

The emphasis on the development of skills over existing abilities builds confidence, and from that confidence, a willingness to tolerate risk and failure. As long as a student walks away with a richer vault of knowledge, and a stronger understanding of concepts involved, they have grown, and have therefore succeeded.


Maker education can help foster collaborative learning efforts by supporting sharing of information and ideas.


Encouraging collaboration over competition

Another result of encouraging self-growth in Maker education is the removal of competition from the environment. Structured to mimic an informal learning community, learning no longer becomes an isolated process – youths are encouraged to work together, gather knowledge as a group, seek feedback, and share experiences.

This sense of community can also help students gain confidence and provide access to subjects they may typically not have access to. In making, students are taught that traditional boundaries of expertise should be fluid, not divisive – as long as they wish to learn, they should be allowed to look for subject experts to nurture that passion.

In addition, because of the nature of project-based learning, challenges are typically structured to stretch beyond any individual’s ability to solve on their own. Even a task as uncomplicated as building a website requires multiple skills: In its most basic form, you will need a coder, a designer, a copywriter – all of which are skills drawn from very different disciplines without major overlaps.


By bringing in context to students’ learning experiences, Maker education can help even out social inequalities present in traditional education.


Learning space of equity and inclusion

In an ideal world, education is an equitable social process. Unfortunately, due to existing barriers and discrimination, not every student is given the same opportunity to learn and excel. If every student is assessed on a fixed scale regardless of race, gender, family background, or location, it can further worsen existing inequalities.

Standardised testing ignores one crucial aspect of students’ lives: context. On the contrary, when learning is conducted through hands-on projects, context is preserved: Inexperienced students can build confidence and knowledge foundations without fear of holding their peers back, while those familiar with the concepts can advance without disadvantaging the rest of the group. The result is an inclusive environment that caters to students with different capacities and learning styles.

Studies have shown that a sense of belonging can motivate marginalised groups of students to consider further education and careers in STEAM fields. The sandbox nature of Maker education can create spaces where students are able to include their cultures, history, and communities in their learning process. In turn, this can reshape students’ associations with math and science – instead of feeling like outsiders, over time, students will hopefully see themselves as natural practitioners of these disciplines.


The world is what you make of it!


Learning can be fun: Maker education is about bringing that fun back into classrooms. Making reminds students education is not a static process – creativity and self-driven problem solving should feature just as prominently in their journey. After all, the world is what you want to make of it!


The Makers Club: Game On! (Book 1)


To see how Maker education can feature in a Southeast Asian classroom, The Makers Club: Game On! offers a glimpse into the journeys aspiring young makers can have when equipped with the necessary tools and environment to take ownership of their learning. The narrative thread is a hopeful one that sees characters Nadia and Priya foster a friendship as they build on their respective interests to explore larger concepts in STEAM disciplines, and later using that as a springboard to equalise any social inequalities beyond their control.

The Makers Club series aims to offer a world picture of possibilities where learning through making can be exciting and self-driven while still being relevant to traditional curriculum. In following the characters on their route to self-actualisation, perhaps we can inspire more youths to take control of their learning, and recapture the magic of play and knowledge discovery.

This blog post is a primer for our upcoming series of Do-It-Yourself activity sheets that aim to offer youths a simple, accessible way to experience making. Follow us on our socials to keep updated on when they are released!

Tales of young entrepreneurs, rarely-heard-of native animals, spirit worlds, and more exciting stories by SEA comic creators feature in Difference Engine’s 2021 publishing line-up

We are proud to announce three original graphic novels that will be published this year, together with brand new projects planned for 2022–2023.

Created by Southeast Asian writers and illustrators, DE’s upcoming line-up features our first picture book-comic, and young adult tale. With our titles covering a diverse range of topics, there will be a book for readers of every age!

Coming Up in 2021


The Makers Club: Starting Up!

Readership: 9-14 years old
Category: Middle Grade Fiction
Publication: June 2021

Childhood friends Aqilah and Yong Qiang have lost touch over the years. When they are unexpectedly reunited in Pangolin Secondary School, they discover that things are very different, and life seems a lot more uncertain than it once was. Together, will they be able to convince everyone and, more importantly, themselves that they’re ready for independence?

The Makers Club returns in June 2021 with Book #2 of the series. Co-written by Reimena Yee and Tintin Pantoja and illustrated by Tintin Pantoja, The Makers Club: Starting Up! is a comic about friendship, entrepreneurship, and design thinking. Writer Reimena Yee expressed: “I hope readers will enjoy meeting Yong Qiang and Aqilah, and be inspired to pursue their own dreams, whatever they may be.”

Illustrator Tintin Pantoja added: “Creativity takes a lot of work and bravery. This is the reason I love these kids – they very honestly reflect the struggles of people trying to do great things.”

Praise for The Makers Club: Game On! (Book #1)
“I loved it! With a diverse cast of teens with interesting backgrounds, The Makers Club
tackles real problems that young aspiring creators face at home and in school with relatable and believable characters.”
– Laila Shabir, Founder & CEO of Girls Make Games

Book #1 is available in print and ebook format here.




Readership: Young Adult
Category: Fantasy
Publication: August 2021

Kyra’s younger brother lays on his deathbed and she’s stricken with grief. Spirit Keeper Eric was just there to do his job and bring a Soul into the Afterlife. So why do they feel an inexplicable connection when they meet?

In this great expanse where what’s lost is found, fate, memories, and love intertwine as Kyra and Eric embark on a daring rescue mission to save a little boy from Death’s clutches. Afterlife is an epic Southeast Asian-inspired young adult fantasy graphic novel about one girl’s sacrifice as she fights to save what she loves, without losing herself in the midst of it all…

“I have always been fascinated by stories that compelled its characters to be pushed to the limits,” said first-time comics writer Gina Chew who sought to examine themes of love and sacrifice.

For illustrator Nadhir Nor, the story allowed him to explore his concept of death and the afterlife. “As scary as it can be to consider us having to face death, it’s way more devastating to think of the people we love facing it. The story lets readers ponder that, while having a little bit of fun going through the otherworldly adventures Gina has written.”

**Update 06 July 2021: Due to unforeseen delays, the book will be released in Mar 2022 instead. Stay tuned!



Marvellous Mammals: Southeast Asian Animals in ABC

Readership: 7-12 years old
Category: Picture Book-Comic
Publication: September 2021

Hello fellow naturalist!

We know that dogs bark, cats meow, and cows moo. But do you know dholes whistle “whee-whee”, wild boars grunt “grrt grrt”, and siamangs call out “ooh-wow-wow”?

In the humid nature reserves of Singapore city, high up the mountain trees of New Guinea, and in the tropical rivers of Ayeryarwady, a multitude of mammals live their unseen lives. They await a bold explorer to learn their secrets. Could that explorer be you?

In this beautiful illustrated comic book for children and adults alike, follow wildlife ecologist Debby Ng and illustrator Darel Seow as they guide you to discover the lesser-known creatures of Southeast Asia!

Writer Debby Ng explained why she’s writing this book: “Six years ago, I became an aunt to a young girl who would grow up with less forests than I had. I wanted her to know that our forests are special and full of incredible wildlife waiting to be discovered. This book is for her, and all the people who live in cities, on the edge of grand forests. May you find a familiar neighbour.”

Illustrator and nature-lover Darel Seow agreed: “I hope this book starts readers on an adventure of learning about and how to live alongside our unique Southeast-Asian wildlife!”

More to look forward to in 2022 & 2023!


Work-Life Balance

Readership: Adult
Category: Fiction
Publication: 2022

Dead-end jobs, hellish clients, glass ceilings – it seems like even in the underworld, creatures like the pontianak and the penanggalan aren’t spared from the drudgery of office life. How do the supernatural cope with the super mundane daily grind?

Prose and comics intertwine in this thought-provoking, (forked) tongue-in-cheek collection to bring you familiar Southeast Asian mythology in an even more familiar setting: the realm of the deskbound.

Presenting an entertaining take on corporate inanity and gainful employment, Work-Life Balance features prose written by Wayne Rée and comics illustrated by Benjamin Chee. “With this project, we wanted to explore what it feels like to work in the corporate world, how much the supernatural is a part of Southeast Asian culture, and just this sense of duality that I think we all struggle with on some level,” said Wayne Rée.

Added illustrator Benjamin Chee: “What it’ll have and what I’m excited to draw: What if your colleague is a literal monster? Boardroom drama…with demons? Terrible, terrible stuff!”



Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma (Books #2 and #3)

Readership: 7-12 years old
Category: Middle Grade Fiction
Publication: 2022 & 2023

The adventures of Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma continue! As Ash juggles school and being a superhero, and Ah Ma seems to get increasingly more forgetful, how will Team ASH cope with new nemeses and strange developments happening in town? Join Ash, Ah Ma, and the rest of Team ASH as they try to save the neighbourhood and at the same time, face the changes that come with growing up and growing old.

The creative team of writer Melanie Lee and illustrator Arif Rafhan have signed on for a second and third installation of Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma. “There are going to be even more thrills and spills with new challenges, along with plenty of heart in the relationships. We hope to balance the reality of Ah Ma’s dementia with the hopefulness of unconditional family love and community support in the next two books,” said the creators.

Praise for Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma (Book #1)
“The storyline is unique and captured my attention as a reader. I like that it portrays persons with dementia (PWD) in a positive light and seeing them as more than just PWD.”
– Tan Pei Qi, Adila Yusof and Nicodemus Ching, Social Workers of AWWA Health and Senior Care

Book #1 is available in print and ebook format here.


Creators’ Bios

Reimena Yee is an illustrator, writer, and designer hailing from the dusty metropolis of Kuala Lumpur. She is the author-illustrator of the gothic comic The World in Deeper Inspection, the Eisner and McDuffie-nominated The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya, and Séance Tea Party.

Tintin Pantoja is a Philippine-born artist who graduated with a BFA in Cartooning and Illustration from the School of Visual Arts in NYC. She has been illustrating comics since 2007. Among her works are adaptations of Hamlet, Pride and Prejudice, and the educational middle-grade Manga Math series.

Gina Chew is a Singaporean writer most acclaimed for her debut play Permanence. An English Literature graduate from the National University of Singapore, she brings her interest in theatre and its myriad of stories-come-to-life to other mediums including film, television and online media such as videos and animated stories.

Nadhir Nor is a Malaysian artist based in Selangor with an interest in all things otherworldly. Believing the magic of finding the otherworldly in the mundane, and vice versa, makes for a story worth telling, he uses his works to explore the relationships between mythology and ancient cultures with modern society.

Debby Ng is a wildlife disease ecologist, photojournalist, and National Geographic Explorer. She is also the founder of two volunteer organisations:, which aims to conserve Singapore’s coral reefs, and, which focuses on emerging infectious diseases capacity-building in Himalayan communities. She is currently pursuing her PhD at the NUS Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions.

Darel Seow is a visual storyteller who illustrates the tales of the natural world through his unique brand of wry wit and whimsy. An illustration graduate from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design (UK), he believes in the draw of storytelling as a means of engagement, creating experiences that simultaneously excite and educate. He has previously worked with the National Museum of Singapore, the Asian Civilisation Museum, and the British Museum.

Wayne Rée is the author of the short story collection, Tales From a Tiny Room. He’s contributed to publications such as Infinite Worlds Magazine, LONTAR, and Pulp Toast. He’s also the co-creator of the comic, Mr Memphis, and the narrative podcast, Ghost Maps.

Benjamin Chee is a game artist by day, and a comic creator by night. He is the creator of Charsiew Space, a story about smugglers in spaceships cooking forbidden pork. He has also published 6 other titles, and has contributed to multiple anthologies including LONTAR Issue #5, Liquid City Vol. 3, Asian Monsters, and SOUND: A Comics Anthology. 

Melanie Lee is the author of the picture book series The Adventures of Squirky the Alien, which picked up the Crystal Kite Award (Middle East/India/Asia division) in 2016. She is also an Associate Faculty at the Singapore University of Social Sciences developing and teaching media writing courses.

Arif Rafhan is a comic and pre-production artist. His work has been published in more than 10 books to date by MPH, Buku Fixi, Maple Comics, and Marshall Cavendish. He also works with various production companies creating pre-production visuals such as concept art, character designs, environment designs, and storyboards.


**Titles and illustrations are not final.

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If you have a story you’d like to tell, head here to find out more details on submitting your pitch or manuscript to us. We’d love to hear from you!


Launching a Virtual Event with Creatives 

Before 2019, the Difference Engine team had no inkling that virtual book launches would become so popular. Fast forward to 2020, with three successful online book launches and events later, we are here to spill the tea on how you can host your own successful virtual event too.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way many companies do their businesses, and the book industry is not spared. Singapore began its circuit breaker measures on 7 April 2020, which meant that our team had to rack our brains to launch the first title in our line up, The Makers Club: Game On! 

Written by Reimena Yee and illustrated by Tintin Pantoja, The Makers Club: Game On! is the first book in a new graphic novel series that aims to inspire kids to explore STEAM topics and maker culture. 

We decided to launch a series of free digital talks and workshops that ran from June till September 2020 – with the support of the Digital Presentation Grant from the National Arts Council – to generate interest not only in the book, but also maker culture and comics as a medium. The creators of the graphic novel, Reimena Yee and Tintin Pantoja, led the talks and workshops alongside other creators and experts.

It was the first time any of us had organised a virtual event and we were apprehensive at first. But after a few sessions, we started to get the hang of it. We’ve decided to share our experience with you and we hope you’ll be able to pick up some useful tips from our experience to create your own virtual book event! 



The digital launch of The Makers Club: Game On!


  1. Decide on and adapt to the tech you need

There are many different video conferencing platforms these days, but we decided to go with Zoom due to its increasing popularity and audience’s familiarity with the platform, along with Facebook Live. Since we were new to Zoom, the team spent a few sessions testing out the features, even holding fun internal presentations like “18th Century Beachwear” and inviting fellow colleagues from our sister company to sit in. 

Besides getting familiar with the tech, we also needed to create a smooth, welcoming experience for all participants. This included anticipating necessary house rules, as well as digital settings. Some questions we needed to answer included: 

  1. Should participants be muted when they first enter?
  2. Should we allow everyone to chat with each other privately?
  3. How do we ensure the event is secure and keep unwelcome “Zoom bombers” out? 
  4. How do we encourage people to turn on their videos so that the atmosphere is more welcoming? 


Darel Seow Debby Ng-large

The screen-sharing options on Zoom allowed Darel to share his drawing process in real time. 


  1. Promote the event 

Once that was done, we set up the Zoom invite and Facebook event page, promoted it on social media, and reached out to guests who would be interested. A reminder email was also scheduled to be sent one day before the event. Our creatives also participated in the promotions either by sharing the event on their social media or doing up collaterals! 


  1. Plan the talk and workshop content  

One of the most fun parts of planning the virtual events was working together with the creators and coming up with the talk content and activities to engage participants. This could be in the form of reading, activity, and Q&A session. In one of our events, “Let’s Frame it Another Way!”, illustrator Tintin Pantoja decided to show a live demo of how to translate a comics script into visuals! You can view the recording of the live event at this link

Other materials to prepare might include creating slideshows and any worksheets or additional materials, if any, which can be downloaded and printed before the event. For example, we created a few blank comics templates that participants can download and use to create their own stories here


Vann Law-large

Illustrator and animator Vann Law planned a fun activity for participants to create their own zines. 


  1. Set up the virtual space 

Before the event, we had a rehearsal session to ensure that speakers were familiar with the technology, such as sharing their slides, and playing media online. It’s important to iron out any kinks prior to the event to reduce hiccups that could make the audience drop out, to reinforce a professional image, and to encourage a pleasant experience so that participants will return to your next event! The DE team also split up tasks such as moderating, troubleshooting, timekeeping, and more, that were communicated through a separate WhatsApp group chat. 

Friendly tip: Remind anyone sharing their screens to quit any chat applications that might have notifications popping up that the audience will see! 

To ensure that instructions and live demonstrations are clear, one suggestion is to use two different devices (if possible!) to present – one can be used to stream the live drawing, while the other device can be used for presenting the slides or capturing the speaker. During “Comics for Climate Change”, ecologist Debby Ng and illustrator Darel Ng conducted their session by sharing slides and conducting a live demonstration with an external tablet. You can view the recording of the session here. 

It’s vital to set up the physical space beforehand too, so that the speakers are in a quiet environment and can be heard! Speakers should also be mindful of what is in the background in their screen – we like to suggest a clean background, or if you are so inclined, to show off your bookshelves! Another great option is using a virtual background. However, if creatives are demonstrating anything on screen, remember that you might need to turn off the virtual background, to prevent interference, or even worse, completely obscuring their demonstrations. Illustrator and animator Vann Law did just that as she taught participants how to create and fold a zine out of a sheet of paper at her zine-making workshop here


  1. Have fun and enjoy the session! 

Virtual events may be a whole different ball game from in-person events, but they offer the opportunity to interact with the audience in a different way. Free online tools such as Wheel of Names can provide some fun and the interactive tools on Zoom can provide the opportunity for more people to ask questions! 

You can also get creative with activities or games you want to introduce to your audience, such as co-drawing platforms, or cooperative sharing apps like a virtual whiteboard such as Miro

Wheel of Names-large

Websites like Wheel of Names can add a fun touch to your event. 

What are some ways you can think of that can excite audiences in a virtual event? We look forward to hearing your thoughts on our social media platforms! 

The Makers Club: Game On! features a group of fun and diverse characters who embark on creative journeys to experiment, code, and develop a maker mindset. 

The graphic novel is available in print and ebook formats. 


Why Adults Should Read Comic Books Too

While comics play a great role in getting younger students to develop reading habits – both by meeting individual reading needs and to help form a love for reading – we are finally moving past the misconception that the medium is just for kids. Comics are for all ages, whether you are new to the medium or have loved it for years. Here’s why.


Comics are fun to read

Maybe the best thing about comics is that almost any topic can be found in a comic book – nothing is too far-fetched as a subject matter! Aliens, man-eating slugs, vampires, ghosts, post-apocalyptic nightmare realms…the list goes on. Comics explore topics that stretch far and wide, and are a medium where imagination runs wild, and not just in terms of the story, but the art as well. 

Other times, certain subject matters need to be made riveting. Comics can be used as learning tools across a wide range of subjects, such as languages, science, and even mathematics. Oftentimes, when it’s in a comic, it is easier to digest.


Smashed: Junji Ito Story Collection entwines scary and strange in a collection of horror manga. The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA is a nonfiction science comics for adults, while The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer is inspired by the lives of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage.


Comics were first intended for adult readers

While young readers are naturally drawn to comics (think comics series like The Adventures of Tintin and Mr Kiasu), comics can be used to tell stories of any content, in any style, and for any audience. Japanese, European and American comics each evolved differently, but generally speaking, comics were used to depict cultural and historical events, satirical or otherwise. Even today, with many child-friendly comics targeted at very specific age groups and market segments, more than half of comic book readers are still adults. So it is entirely possible for the children and adults to be visiting a comics shop together, each absorbed by the variety of content on offer in separate corners of the same shop.


Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, When the Wind Blows and Watchmen

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, When the Wind Blows and Watchmen are satirical works that encapsulate feelings on war, politics, and life.


Comics provoke deep-thinking

Comics make readers engage on a plane that extends beyond words on a page. The process is active: Text and images come together, but the reader makes meaning out of the combination, filling in the gap between panels, gutters and speech bubbles. When we read comics, we’re not only looking at the text but also at the spatial cues, the colours, the visual cues between objects, and all the other elements in the panel. When all of these elements are combined, they can invoke the sense of passage of time, the space of the story, sounds, and action. As the reader’s inference skills and visual literacy improves, comics also pave the way for a deeper understanding of metaphors, symbolisms, and point-of-views.


Furthermore, creators can pack a lot of tiny details into one single panel or page just by how they portray their work. Even a character’s personality traits can be shown in a panel by highlighting an object. For example, a character’s love for a certain movie franchise can be shown entirely through background illustrations; maybe there are movie posters in the room, or memorabilia peeking through their bag. There are so many visual cues that artists use to convey plenty of information – all in just a few panels.



Trese, Ten Sticks and One Rice, and Liquid City are beautifully crafted graphic novels that encapsulate characters’ emotions and settings.


Comics are used to discuss heavy topics

Oftentimes, narratives in comics also mirror real-world events. X-Men, for example, reflected racial tensions, and Captain America was created during World War II to serve as motivation and inspiration for troops. Similarly, a lot of stories in comics, even now, mirror our ever-changing world and current social issues, offering intellectually stimulating, empowering stories. There are also comics that deal with topics like grief, growing up, and other hardships of life – and sometimes, these heavy topics can be expressed more poignantly in this widely-accessible medium.



SOUND: A Comics Anthology, Persepolis, and Dancing at the Pity Party are graphic novels that poignantly discuss topics that can be difficult to breach.


Comics transcend language and cultural barriers

Ever wondered how the instructions in an IKEA manual can guide anyone, anywhere? As visual learners, in contrast to prose, pictures can help a wide range of people with understanding, which can go on and on for pages…this is something that could just be displayed in a couple of panels!

Often in prose, a reader can also lose concentration when there are unknown words. Yet, comics don’t generally have this problem. The story can still be followed by its art and other elements. In fact, comics are a good resource to learn more vocabulary – this could especially help those learning a new language.

More than just expanding one’s vocabulary within the English language, the visual accompaniment inherent to comics allows readers to follow the story even if they aren’t speakers of the language the comic is printed in! Manga is a great example of this – known as a representation of Japanese culture and history, manga started gaining traction with a new generation of non-Japanese people around the world who were interested in learning the country’s culture and language. Today, manga has become synonymous with Japanese popular culture, and is enjoyed worldwide by readers of all ages.


The Arrival, The Number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8, and Un océan d’amour are examples of graphic novels that do not feature any dialogue, yet tell compelling stories through visuals and other elements.


Comics is a unique medium that encourages reader participation, and when immersed in a comic, you are in charge of your (reading) journey. What are you waiting for? Once you set foot in this vast, inviting realm, to quote the magical words of Dr Suess, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”


Psst! Remember to check out all the books mentioned in this post! DE recommends them to ages 18+.