Meet the Creators: Magical Sweet Gula

Hailing from Jakarta, Indonesia, Jessica Leman and Johanes Park are the creator duo behind Magical Sweet Gula. Difference Engine chats with the husband-and-wife team about their experience working together, how their identities have informed the story and its themes, and what readers can look forward to as the series progresses!

DE: Congratulations, Jessica and Johanes, on the release of your comic!

J&J: Thank you!

DE: What is it like working in a husband-wife team? Which parts of the process would you consider “sweet” (good), and which parts would you consider “spicy” (challenging)?

J&J: The “spicy” parts were when we sometimes needed to sacrifice our after-work hours on weekdays to work on Gula. We consider this challenging because we each have our own problems and exhaustion from our workplaces. We didn’t have the luxury of time to relax and talk about our day at the office.

The “sweet” part is that we never run out of discussion topics and can research ideas, concepts, and references everyday. We play games, go to bookstores, watch movies together, and discuss them together.

DE: Besides being comic creators, both of you juggle full-time work – Jessica as a digital marketer, and Johanes as a university lecturer. How do you balance your time between your day jobs and your creative pursuits?

J&J: We’ve set a rule that we will develop our comic project for at least one hour per day. We’ve made it a habit. So we still have time to do pending things from work, or other tasks needed, and prevent things from piling up too much near the deadline.

DE: Magical Sweet Gula was originally conceptualised and self-published online in a webcomic format. What were some challenges both of you faced when trying to adapt the comic to a print format?

How does the change in publication format affect the storytelling aspect of Magical Sweet Gula, if at all?

J&J: We are glad Gula has finally been adapted into a print format. With webcomics, people usually encounter many distractions as they read them from a computer or smartphone. We tried not to bring up more serious topics in the webcomic format as it was intended for “short attention span content” — something funny and light. So to be honest, making Gula in a webcomic format was more challenging for us.

The other reason is because we are more familiar with printed formats. We have been used to reading manga since we were young.

DE: What would you say is the biggest difference between the Gula webcomic and the print comic book Magical Sweet Gula?

J&J: In the previous webcomic format, we were advised to feature cakes that are more “general”, for the readers’ benefit. We are glad to be able to realise our idea of using Indonesian sweets and snacks in this printed version of Gula.

The development of Gula and Yoga’s friendship is explained in more detail in the print comic book, which makes Gula’s character more “natural”. Gula is not a perfect girl who always has good behaviour and attitude. She can sometimes be angry at and disappointed in people.

DE: Magical Sweet Gula touches on some heavier themes like bullying and trying to fit in. Why was it important to you to ground Gula’s experiences in real-world issues and make it the heart of the comic?

Johanes: Magical Sweet Gula is actually my way of pouring out my feelings of alienation in my birth country and my parent’s country. Self-discovery is difficult for mixed-race and/or transnational children. It’s important because these kinds of people need to “create” (not to find) their own meaning, existence. We are disconnected from our ancestors, what we consider good or bad can be reversed in both countries, and it can be confusing even for adults. 

The role of adults is also important (that’s why Miss Sacha is an influential character in this story) to understand and be able to guide these mixed race and/or transnational children on their journey to create their own meaning. That “journey” is the big theme of Magical Sweet Gula and it will be continue in the next volume.

DE: Who is your favourite character in Magical Sweet Gula, and why?

Johanes: Sally, who also suffers because of her identity. The way she vents to other people is really relatable to me. I also like Yoga because I aspire to be more like him — not afraid of new things.

Jessica: Gula! I really feel for her when she needs to be considerate with other people. Also, I want full, fluffy, pink hair like her, haha.

DE: The original Gula webcomic was published in Bahasa Indonesia, with many of the quips and snack recipes strongly influenced by Indonesian sweets and street food. The print version of the comic has been adapted to English to suit a more general audience.

Were there any concerns about how well the writing and snacks would translate to readers who may not be familiar with Indonesia?

J&J: We are currently growing up in a more global society and have sufficient technology literacy. Nowadays, when kids find something like an unfamiliar word their curiosity will immediately lead them to do a search in a search engine like Google — or so we hope. So we honestly do not really have any such concerns.

Secondly, we are proud of these Indonesian snacks and want to adopt the mentality of “This is good, you should know about this!”. If people are familiar with kimbap and onigiri because of K-dramas and manga, then people could become familiar with lemper and they can start learning about it from our comics. If people from other countries can be that confident about their food, why can’t Indonesians?

DE: Which of you is the bigger snack fiend, and what is their favourite snack?

Jessica: Jo is. He can’t live without his (minimum) two cups of coffee a day, with sweet accompaniments such as roti gambang, his favourite. He also likes banana chips.

DE: What is one snack/street food each of you really wanted to include in Magical Sweet Gula? Did it manage to make an appearance? (If not, will it be included in Volume 2?)

J&J: There are so many! Yes, we will try to include them in the next volume — clorot, lemper, rengginang, martabak, and so on.

DE: If you were to describe your individual creative process as a street food snack, what would it be, and why?

Johanes: Lemper, which is a very common snack that appears at every occasion. Lemper can be considered a snack that could replace rice. You can eat it everyday. My creative process is just becoming a habit for me: I divide my projects into bite-sized parts and tackle them daily.

Jessica: Kue lapis. There are so many types of kue lapis: lapis legit, lapis surabaya, lapis bogor, and many more. You can’t eat them every day but when you eat them you probably will eat more than one slice. I am not as diligent as Jo; I slack off more often but when I start I tend to jump from one creative project to another in one go and sometimes back and forth.

DE: What other forms of media do you enjoy? If you could adapt Magical Sweet Gula to one other creative medium, what would it be and how would you want it to look?

J&J: We enjoy animation. We were big fans of Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network series, like Hey Arnold! or The Wild Thornberrys. Or for more recent references, it would be nice if an animated adaptation of Gula looks like Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, the new animated series on Netflix.

DE: If you could give Magical Sweet Gula to anyone in the world, who would it be, and why?

Johanes: Bryan Lee O’Malley, Gene Luen Yang, Henry Jenkins, Fukuchi Tsubasa (The Law of Ueki), all of whom inspired me to make the Magical Sweet Gula graphic novel.

I also wish I could give it to my late teacher Prof. Sapardi Djoko Damono who taught me and expanded my knowledge during my graduate study, my late father Park Byung Sup, and my biggest inspiration Osamu Tezuka.

And all the children of mixed parentage all over the world, of course!

DE: Finally, would you rather be born a Terran or Magi in the world of Magical Sweet Gula? Why? (If you answered Magi, what magical abilities would you want to have?)

Johanes: It doesn’t really matter, but I love the way we are now. I prefer to be like Gula — half Terran, and half Magi.

DE: Are there any tidbits or sneak peeks you can share with your readers for the next volume of Magical Sweet Gula?

J&J: After the development of Gula and Yoga’s relationship, there will be a development between Gula and Sally. While in the first book they seem to be on different sides, they actually have the most in common — more than Gula does with any other character in the story, even Yoga.

Also, you can look forward to Gula showing off her growth and new magical powers!

Get your copy of Magical Sweet Gula via our webstore or via our retail partners listed here!


Gina Chew may be young, but she’s had a decade of practice in writing. The NUS English Literature graduate has her debut play “Permanence” staged in 2017 as part of a theatre festival for emerging playwrights. We’re delighted to share our conversation about how her creative process translates from stage plays to films and, most recently, her first attempt at comics. Gina has teamed up with illustrator Foo Swee Chin and the duo will be embarking on a lighthearted comics about life beyond death titled Afterlife

Why did you choose playwriting as your primary medium of expression?

Gina: It all started out as a class assignment when I was about 15. I suppose before that I’ve always tried to tell stories, and being introduced to playwriting suddenly opened up a new way of exploring relationships and people and the choices they make. I ran with it and wrote my first story about a girl and a guy falling in love on a train to nowhere and 10 odd years later, here we are! So, you know—do your homework, guys!

Your play “Permanence” has been praised for having witty lines that sound great when spoken. How do you hone your ear for dialogue?

Gina: Honestly, this is still something I’m working on. I don’t really have a fixed process, but sometimes I overhear a conversation in public that makes me laugh, or I realise something bizarre that is part of our lives but never occurred to me before. Sometimes I draw it from people I know, sometimes it just all made up. 

When I do get down to writing, I make sure to read it out in character the best I can (I’m really not an actor but I’ll try) and make sure the lines flow properly and realistically. I believe plays are fundamentally about people, so sometimes we just need to listen.

We are really impressed that you have been writing plays for a decade. Did you find that you can transfer some of what you learn to film and comics writing too?

Gina: Yes, definitely. Playwriting and studying English literature has made me try to be curious about things around me, and constantly question if it can be understood from a different perspective. I try to live by something Robert Bresson said: “Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.” A lofty statement for sure, but I try my best to keep it in mind. This is wildly important to any form of creative writing, I think. 

I am, however, coming to see differences in films, comics, and plays in my writing process, and I appreciate them all differently for their various potential. While all three mediums allow for any world to spring forth, I would say I’m really enjoying how comics can visually translate the world you have built with virtually no boundaries. It’s pretty exciting.  

Theatre can often be an avenue for discussing difficult issues that people don’t really want to talk about and your plays do that for the audience. Would you be doing that for your comics too?

Gina: I hope so! This is one of the main reasons why I want to write stories. I do understand that there are many intricacies with tackling issues that are difficult, and it certainly requires a lot of sensitivity and patience on the writer’s part because it’s an important job to do. The foundation of every work is always asking yourself what story you want to tell, and spring off from there. Sometimes it gets messy along the way, but I try to let this guide me. 

How does your background/culture/experiences influence your writing?

Gina: I draw a lot from the people around me, in my life or in passing, the content I immerse myself in, and even my own life experiences. I’m at a stage where I write best about what I’ve experienced and so all these really come together in a messy, honest, (sometimes) ugly entity that I attempt to shape into a story that I can tell best.  

What is your research process like and how do you turn that into good stories?

Gina: Sometimes I look at larger themes and work inwards to draw the story out from there. Other times I start out with an exact scene in my head and see how it fits into a bigger narrative. I don’t think I have an exact research process per se, it’s really just about finding out things when you’re unsure, bouncing ideas off people, or exploring certain visuals you want in your scene and seeing what emotions and words it invokes in you and then running with it. It’s not a neat process!

Thanks for talking to us about your creative process, Gina!


Budjette Tan is a Filipino comics writer, best known for a horror/crime comics series TRESE which he co-created with illustrator Kajo Baldisimo. We were all recently very excited to hear that TRESE is now being developed into a Netflix animated series! Here, Budjette generously shares about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating the comics since 2005.

How did you arrive at comics writing and why do you like it?

Reading comics is a childhood love, so I started to write my own, even as a kid. I read some books about how to write screenplays, at that time that was the closest thing that resembled comic book scripts. I was lucky enough to have a group of friends in school and college who also share the same love. When I was graduating, I convinced my friend to make comic books with me and asked my parents to let me go to attend the San Diego Comic-Con in 1994. I thought, “I’m going to bring a comic to pitch. This is going to be my big break.” We printed 1000 copies, brought them to San Diego, gave them away to editors. Yeah, none of them called back, haha. But there is something about the mix of art and copy – visuals and words – that makes it more appealing to me than making a movie or writing prose. It’s a different kind of magic to be able to tell a story through the comic book medium.

Which comics writers do you admire the most and why?

The biggest influence has been from Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison. I like the format that Warren Ellis created for Planetary and Global Frequency, a series of standalones that builds up to a bigger storyline. I love Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, in which he posed the questions, “Where did all the old gods go? What happened when people stop worshipping them?” I took the same questions and overlaid them in the Philippine context when the cities started to rise. What happens when tikbala, the demon horses, don’t hang out in the rural provinces anymore and have to challenge people on highways to do drag race. What happens to the manananggal who normally attack pregnant women who live in huts, but these days pregnant women live in condos so how do they hunt for food now? I keep those in mind as I write each new TRESE story.

Which came first for TRESE: the character ideas or the desire to write horror comics?

The desire to write horror comics, heavily influenced by what Neil Gaiman did with Sandman. My aunt gave me the comic Hellblazer: Hold Me by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean about a vampire-like creature who had a very sad ending. I liked that depiction of monster or supernatural entity that it isn’t purely evil and just turns out to be just a tragic creature. I like Stephen King’s short stories, where ordinary people get dragged into supernatural circumstance and I’ve tried to write stories like that as well. And I really like the TV show CSI, especially its one-shot episodic format; its main selling point is using science to frame the whodunit into a howdunit.

When in 2005, Kajo Baldisimo – my co-creator and artist in TRESE – challenged me to write a monthly comic book series, I went back to the stories I never got to finish. I needed a character to investigate these supernatural situations and instead of using science, I thought our detective would use magic. The character Trese herself started out as a man named Anton Trese. Here I was heavily influenced by my love for Batman, John Constantine, Gill Grisham, Fox Mulder, Carl Kolchak from the little known TV show The Night Stalker. I created this tough guy fighting supernatural elements in the city. Yet, I thought, it just feels like it’s been done so many times. What have we not seen? We haven’t seen a strong female character do all of these tough guy stuff. Looking back I was also influenced by Warren Ellis’ stories where there was always a tough female lead, like Jenny Sparks in Authority, Miranda Zero in Global Frequency, and Jakita Wagner in Planetary. So I flipped the situation around and I told Kajo about it and he loved the idea even more. So we have Alexandra Trese as the main character and we have all those stories tossed into the mix to create her world.


What sort of research did you need to do to write the story?

The first two books containing eight cases of TRESE was the culmination of 20-30 years of just living in Metro Manila; since I was a young boy I have been reading about urban legends and Filipino folklore, and heard stories from family and friends. The book that heavily influenced TRESE is The Soul Book by Gilda Cordero-Fernando in which she compiles the stories of other anthropologists’ research on folk beliefs, categorised based on environment that the creatures that live in: the sky, the earth, and underneath the earth (or the afterlife). As a kid when I was bored, because there was no cable TV and internet, I hung out in the little library we had at home and I read this book over and over again. It stayed at the back of my mind and came bursting out, wanting to be told in this new format.

Of course, eventually, I came to a point when I needed new materials. For example, in one of my stories I knew I needed a fire elemental, a creature that somehow manipulated fire. I wrote the script without knowing what it was, only later did I look through books for a creature in Philippine mythology that fits. It turned out there is one called oriol, a snake demon who lives in water but actually breathes fire, and I thought “Perfect!” So it is both relying on back knowledge and doing research on the go to fit into the story.

How did you begin collaborating with Kajo Baldisimo and what is the work process like between you two?

I met Kajo back in 1995 or 1996. He was working on a graphic and web design company, and I was a freelance writer. Every now and again when I get assignments that needed a comic book done, Kajo and I would collaborate. In 2005, we were working at two sister ad agencies, the work hours were 9 to 5, meaning you come in at 9 in the morning, you leave at 5 in the morning the next day. It’s that kind of crazy demanding work. One day, Kajo said, “I want to make a monthly comic book.” I said, “That’s impossible, we don’t have work-life balance.” And he said, “No no no, I promise you. You give me a 20-page script and I will get it out in 20 days.” I didn’t think he could finish it, but he did. Then he said, “Give me the next script,” and true enough he finished that one too, and that kept happening for the next few months. In 2007, we pitched eight stories to the publisher Visprint, they liked it, they got us and we have been with Visprint ever since, working together on TRESE for the past 13 years.

What is the process like? I write the script and he draws it. That’s generally how it is. When I get the pages from him, I would rewrite stuff based on the artwork. I would take out words if the art already says a lot, or add on words. Occasionally Kajo would make a suggestion, like in the first issue when the Kambal (Trese’s twin sidekicks) come in with guns blazing, firing at the monsters, I had captions describing their origin story in one whole page. My thought back then was that I wanted readers to have all the information they need in one comic. As the great Warren Ellis once said, we have to make comics a cultural grenade, an explosion of a great story that quickly immerses the reader in that world, a self-contained tale that would make sense even if you never get to read the other issues. But Kajo thought that the Kambal’s origin story is so cool that we needed to do a whole issue on it. We eventually got to tell that tale in TRESE Book 3. At first I tried to tell it in a 20-page format, but the story just wanted more pages and it kept going until it became a hundred pages long and ended up being one of the readers’ favourite stories. So that little editing by Kajo paid off later on. That’s how we collaborate. Sometimes he would say, “Wouldn’t it be great if this happens,” and I would take note of that and put it in the next story.

What were some of the conversations that you and Kajo had about the art? Say about making it black and white, or about character design?

The decision to make it black and white is more for economics than anything, colour was really not an option for self-published comics. We have done other comics before and rarely broke even, so we did this just for fun and made it really, really cheap. We just photocopied 30-50 copies at the local office supply store – ashcan-sized, folded in half and stapled – then dropped it at Comic Quest, a friend’s comic store. Funnily enough a week later, it was sold out! So we photocopied another round and kept resupplying stock at the store on a regular basis.

On character design, it was Kajo’s idea to give Trese that hairline, similar to his own. He calls it devil’s hairline because it looks like horns. I don’t think I ever had a full description of Trese, only this is what she wore and this is how she talks, everything else is Kajo and it came out great. The collar of Trese’s coat is based on the coat of Jose Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero, who wore it  in a famous portrait. I also mentioned that she wears a Chinese-inspired dress and Kajo put four buttons on her coat. He always brings in his advertising training; when designing a logo, product or character, it needs to have a memorable silhouette. Just like the bat symbol or an S on the chest, the moment you see a girl with four buttons on her coat, people already know it is Trese.

Can you tell us anything about the upcoming TRESE animation with Netflix Originals?

We can’t talk about any details right now but we’d like to say thanks to the great people at Base Entertainment, producers Tanya Yuson and Shanty Harmayn. Since 2012 and 2013, they have literally travelled around the world to pitch Trese as adaptations into a live action movie or TV show. There were interested parties but the right ingredients were not in place. When Netflix Animation started asking for pitches, we brushed the dust off the TRESE pitch and sent it to them. I’m excited that Jay Oliva, the great superhero film director will be working on this! Of course, Kajo and I will be in dialogue with the team through-out the creation of the animation series.

Are there any stereotypes surrounding comics from the Philippines that you wish to dispel?

People are very surprised there are comics from the Philippines, even within the Philippines itself. Thankfully with Netflix announcement, there are now new people into this. Comics have made a comeback from the golden age of Filipino comics of the 1950s to 70s. In the 1990s, when the two biggest comics publishers shut down, people said it was the death of Philippine comics. More applause to self-publishers who kept pushing, to comic book stores which continued to give shelf space, and for Komikon, AsiaPOP Con, Manila Con that kept the scene going. Now there are more comics available for Filipinos – of course, it’s best when it makes the leap overseas.

Thank you for talking to us, Budjette. If you’d like to read a sample of two TRESE stories, click here. You can also order the comics from Visprint here.


Foo Swee Chin, known to friends as FSc, is a Singaporean comic book artist and illustrator. She is the creator of several alternative comic books, including A Lost Stock of Children and Mince, published by Neko Press, as well as Chimney 25 and Zeet, published by Slave Labor Graphics. This week, she shares some of her illustration journey with the Difference Engine team. Read on to find out more! 


Flush, a comic about social inequality and environmental issues

How did you start doing illustrations and comics?

FSc: I’ve always enjoyed reading and wanted to tell my own stories, but I’m not linguistically inclined. Pictures is a more comfortable modality of conveying thoughts and ideas for me, so I have always been drawing and spent a lot of time doing that. I didn’t have friends when I was young, I didn’t communicate much with people and was hardly out of the house. I would also read a lot reimagine new scenarios and draw them out. Books, imagination and drawing are kind of like my friends.

How would you describe your style? Tell us about the kinds of comics you have done.

FSc: I’m not sure, I don’t usually think about it. Maybe “quirky”? Some people found it cute, many have found it creepy. It depends on who you ask.

I have illustrated some comics published for the alternative market in the United States, one of which is Nightmares & Fairytales, a gothic comics series created by American writer Serena Valentino. Many of my stories have themes that deal with the emotional state of mind, life and existence. Some of them are rather dark and experimental. I also have some light comics. One of these is a blog manga that chronicles my experiences in Japan, on a Japanese blog platform.


Cover art of Nightmares and Fairytales 

What are the tools that you use most often in your illustration work?

FSc: I started off as a digital artist, but my PC can’t cope with the software and file size anymore so I’ve been using more physical mediums. Copic markers are my favourite but they are crazy expensive, so I often use watercolour and colour pencils.

What subject(s) do you like drawing the most, and why is that?

FSc: I like conceptual art and enjoy creating new characters and landscapes because it is fun and helps me to de-stress. I like to draw emotions too, usually in the form of flowy humanoid figures. It is like dancing to a piece of music but on paper.


Illustration on the theme of music and emotions

How does your background/culture/experiences influence your writing and art?

FSc: My favourite author is Diana Wynne Jones. I am interested in occult and witchy stuff such as the use of herbs, Runes, Sacred Geometry (and crop circles), Yokai etc. I like Southeast Asian culture because it is so richly mixed, it is beautiful. I also find Bon Tibetan Buddhism, Shintoism and Animism fascinating. They make reality so colourful.

I love trees and animals. I feel that more often than not, humans treat them as objects rather than living breathing lifeforms. We are so detached from nature that we no longer respect those who do not speak the human language. To think that they have given us so much… it makes my heart break whenever I read articles on animal or environmental abuses and mistreatment. The sentiment probably stemmed from my unhappy childhood, which taught me to be kind to others, especially those who are misunderstood.

Being on a different frequency from the majority made my stories kind of strange and dark at times, lol. I wish I’m more talented at writing and making art so that more people will read my works, and maybe they will appreciate the lesser known and better understand the misunderstood or the stigmatised.


Excerpt from Zeet: A Little Book of Alphabetical Dispositions 

What sort of research do you do when you create comics?

FSc: Usually visual, historical references and facts.

What sort of stories/comics would you like to see more of in Singapore or Southeast Asia?

FSc: Something more personal to the creator.

What are some of the challenges that you faced as a Southeast Asian creator?

FSc: Personally, I’ve found it difficult to get clients to accept works that do not conform, but that can’t be helped. I’m really bad at marketing my own works, which doesn’t help. Haha!

Art and artist come in a package. Art alone is difficult to sell unless the creator can present something that resonates and appeals to the majority of the public. It is 70% hard work and 30% being at the right frequency, at the right spacetime.

Thank you for sharing, FSc. To see more of her work, click here.


Illustrator and comic artist James Tan likes to observe and draw people in coffee shops. He has two graphic novels published recently: the Final Resting Place with COSH Studios and All That Remains which is part of a dementia awareness campaign run by the Lien Foundation, Alzheimer’s Disease Association and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. His work has been included in anthologies such as Urban Sketchers and Liquid City by Image Comics. Here, James kindly shares some of his thoughts on comics.

Could you tell us how you started on drawing comics?

James: Probably in my primary school when there was an endless supply of paper in the form of my textbooks. I remember the teachers scolding me for all the doodles I did in them.

What are your favourite drawing tools and subject matter?

James: My favourite drawing tools are my trusty ballpoint pen and MUJI fountain pen. Subject matter-wise, I like to draw from my personal experiences and observations – more of a slice of life comics.

Which step of the comics-making process do you enjoy the most? And which step do you find the hardest?

James: The initial process of creating the world and plotting out the story is always the most enjoyable, but it’s also the hardest as I try to make the story interesting.

What sort of stories would you like to see coming from Singapore or Southeast Asia?

James: Nothing in particular because stories should be universally interesting and not geographically-based. Having said that, it’s always great to have stories coming from the region as we tap into our own culture and experiences.

You have published two graphic novels recently: “Final Resting Place” about Bukit Brown Cemetery and “All That Remains” on dementia. How was the experience of creating a comics about heritage different from one about a medical condition?

James: I think what I learnt from experience is that you need to do quite a fair bit of research before creating the comics. “Final Resting Place” is fictional, even though I tried to weave in certain factual elements. But “All That Remains” is more based on my personal experiences with people I know, and at the same time, I also need to see how I can make the stories interesting for the readers.


Are there any issues that you feel strongly about, that comics are well-placed to communicate?

James: Comics essentially act as a bridge between people’s visual and the non-visual experience. There have been some great comics in recent years that touches anything from the environment to refugee issues, etc. Two comics I would recommend are Land of the Sons by Gipi and How the World Was by Emmanuel Guibert. They are not strictly on the two themes I mentioned although they touch on some aspects of it.

What is the one thing about being a comics writer/illustrator that you’d like more people to know?

James: I think one of the stereotypes about comics is that people think it’s “easy” to do, but once you actually do it, it’s very difficult; from creating a convincing story to coming out with the art style, as well as getting the comics rhythm and pacing just right.

If you could meet a writer or artist, who would it be and what would you ask them?

James: I would love to meet Gipi or Christophe Blain and ask them about their comics process and art tools. They are true artists in each of their personal approach, from the way they create unique art styles, to crafting good stories. The readers never feel that they are flipping pages of a book, but are instead always immersed in the narrative.

Thanks a lot, James! All That Remains is available to read for free online here if you want to check that out.



Comics artist Tintin Pantoja is based in Manila, Philippines. She illustrated the graphic novel Who is AC? written by Hope Larson and is working on several others including Unplugged and Unpopular with Mat Heagerty. Here she will be discussing tools, tales and the Southeast Asian publishing scene.

Can you name us some of your best loved comics/books?

Tintin: Hello! I’m glad you asked! There are almost too many comics to mention that I love! I grew up reading X-Men by Chris Claremont, Archie comics, and the Tintin comics by Hergé, of course! That, plus shojo manga by Yuho Ashibe (author of Bride of Deimos and Crystal Dragon) and Riyoko Ikeda (Rose of Versailles). They are my absolute favourite books – all tales of adventure, fantasy, and comedy.

What are your favourite drawing tools?

Tintin: I usually work on a computer with a Huion drawing screen tablet, but I love working with fountain pens, brush pens, and Bristol paper. I used to work with Raphael brushes and India ink, but it became too messy and unwieldy. Oh, I could go on and on about supplies and stationery!


Tintin’s redraw of the characters from Who is AC, in her current style.

Do you have a favourite colour you like to use, or a favourite subject you like to draw?

Tintin: I love to doodle using pink and red colours. I use fountain pens, so my go-to inks are J. Herbin Rouge Hematite, a very bright intense red, and Iroshizuku Tsutsuji, a bright pink. I find that these colours help stimulate my brain. I love drawing people in cool clothes and costumes. And I like drawing actions – my style is exaggerated and cartoony, and action is an important part of it.

 Fan art of characters from Valiant High (by Valiant Comics).

Do you have any drawing habits that you’d like to share with us?

Tintin: Well, I like to sit down in a café with just myself, my headphones, and my notebooks for three hours with a good cup of coffee to brainstorm. It usually takes me one hour of mindless doodling before I start to come up with interesting ideas. It’s a sort of ritual: the coffee, the doodling, the music, and finally, the creative breakthrough! It doesn’t always work out, but I always end up having fun and relaxing.

Which step of the comic-making process do you do you find the hardest?

Tintin: Each step of making comics has its own challenges. I find that it’s hard to start plotting the pages – doing thumbnails, that is – when you design the overall look of the pages and how each panel flows into the next. That’s when you really have to think and concentrate and do everything over, lots of times.

Do you find that your cultural background and experiences influence your art?

Tintin: Since I grew up in Indonesia and the Philippines, I do find that I have been influenced by their comics and cultures. It’s very subtle, however. I think both countries are still trying to find their own comic styles, still experimenting and being influenced by foreign styles. In that sense, my artistic influences are also a hodgepodge – a bit of manga, a dash of Archie by Dan DeCarlo, and little bit of this and that.

I also try to create stories and characters that are set in some version of Southeast Asia. I think it’s important to create stories about people from cultures you are familiar with, especially if you come from a culture that hasn’t been represented in comics too often.

Characters from Unicorn Sword, a graphic novel that Tintin is working on.

As a Filipino/Southeast Asian comic creator, what kind of stories would you like to see from your region?

Tintin: I would like to see more stories that break through pre-existing commercial formulas, such as superheroes or shonen/shojo templates, and try to explore unique and personal elements. Whether it’s fantasy or speculative or realistic or non-fiction, I want to see a surprising view of the world. It doesn’t have to be all local mythology either! It just has to surprise.

What are some challenges that Southeast Asian creators face? Is there a common misconception you’d like to dispel?

Tintin: There are several challenges facing Southeast Asian creators. The major one is the fact that we all have much smaller comic markets than countries like the US, Japan, or even Korea, Taiwan, and China. The audience is smaller too. Creators are faced with the challenge of supporting themselves with their work. The internet has helped somewhat, and now more Southeast Asian creators have access to other audiences…but the internet also facilitates comics piracy. When you can read a comic online, for free, it’s harder to motivate people to buy them and support creators.

Another related problem is language. Since Southeast Asian countries each have their own languages, it’s harder to publish across countries – unless you translate them for local readers, which would make them cost more. I think this is changing with the increased use of English in the region, but we still have some ways to go.

Yet another problem is the prevailing view that comics are just for kids. This limits the types of comics that can be published and the lack of mature works would reinforce the stereotype.

Characters from an old personal story.

What would you say to those who say “comics are just for kids”, or the opposite, “comics are not good for kids”?

Tintin: Comics teach visual literacy, communication, storytelling, and artistic principles. I think they’re just as good for kids as any other artistic medium, such as painting, music, or even video games (however I don’t think they’re as addictive as the latter, unless you become a comic creator, ha-ha!). They’re a fantastic way to disseminate information.

I do think we’ve evolved beyond the “comics are just for kids” argument with works for mature audiences in Japan, France, Italy, the US, etc, but it’s the prevailing view in the region here…amongst non-comics readers. Most comic readers know that there’s a wider variety of material out there. I would tell someone who expressed this idea to have a look at what’s being published right now. The Philippines, for one, is gearing toward mature works.

If you could meet a writer or artist, who would it be and what would you ask them?

Tintin: Is it strange to say that I like to keep my comic heroes at bay because I put them on a pedestal? That being said, I met one of my favourite comic artists, Carla Speed McNeil, at a convention once. She was incredibly clever, witty, and articulate. That was amazing! I would love to have a detailed conversation with her about how to craft compelling stories.

I would also love to talk to Japanese mangaka and editors about their manner of storytelling. I have a huge respect for their fascinating ability to keep a narrative going over hundreds of pages and dozens of volumes.

Who is your favourite character in the entire multiverse?

If I had to choose one, I love reading about Gintoki Sakata from the manga Gintama. He’s lazy, has a messy perm, and he can be a jerk, but in the end he always does the right thing by his friends. I love characters who aren’t perfect – it’s the flaws that make them fun!

That’s true. Thanks for your time and we look forward to seeing more of your work! Check out Tintin’s website here.

Event : 27 Dec Workshop

Ever wondered what goes into the process of making comics? 

We’re hosting a workshop for aspiring comics creators! Through hands-on drawing and writing exercises, participants will learn how to use comics elements such as characters, dialogue, art, and speech bubbles to create their own comics.

This workshop is for those who wish to start drawing comics. No prior illustration experience is needed – all you need is an interest in comics! The minimum age to attend is 9 years old.

Date: 27 Dec 2018, Thursday 
Time: 10am – 1pm 
Venue: Closetful Of Books, 
Oxley BizHub 1, 71 Ubi Road 1, #07-43
Cost: $50 per person 

Drawing materials will be provided, but feel free to bring your own.

Sign up details:
Registration has closed. Please subscribe to our mailing list or follow our Facebook for more details on future workshops.

Participants will learn: 

Elements of Comics

  • Elements that go into sequential art
  • The process of comics creation – from script to print
  • How composition and perspective are used in panels
  • How to effectively employ framing and timing to create suspense

Character Creation

  • How to draw basic character features and bodies
  • How to draw different types of facial expressions
  • How to create believable characters with unique personalities and motivations

Story Craft 

  • How dialogue and art work together to create a compelling story
  • How to plan comics with basic script and thumbnails

Registration Details: 

  • This workshop is capped at 25 participants. Registration closes 13 December 2018, 11.59pm, or when the workshop reaches full capacity.
  • Workshop registration is only confirmed when full payment has been received from a participant.

Workshop Cancellation Policy: 

  • If a registered participant cannot attend the workshop, he/she may request to invite another person to substitute his/her place in the workshop at any time, with no charge.
  • Alternatively, if a participant chooses to cancel his/her confirmed registration, $5 will be charged for administrative purposes. The rest of the workshop fee will be refunded.

If you have any questions, please contact us at


Joy Ho is an illustrator and cartoonist based in Singapore who works on freelance projects internationally. She recently graduated with a BFA in Art History and Book Arts degree from Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and has busied herself with drawing, designing, and doing online editorial work.

We are glad for the chance to discuss how she has grown as a creator, from a kid using pencil and MS Paint, to a professional working with a team to adapt her art to 3D space.

Photo credit: Raquel Zaldivar

What got you started illustrating or drawing comics seriously?

Joy: I never really stopped drawing since I picked up a pencil. But perhaps I only started to really pay attention to the craft when I realised how intertwined comics is with the core parts of me.

Illustration and comics to me are sources of information and empathy, and it is a resource that can be communicated to others. When I could combine my personal reasons for drawing and the professional ability to execute my visions, that’s when it really started getting exciting.

Merchandise for Singapore’s first Queer Zinefest.

What are your favourite drawing tools?

Joy: I work both in ink and digital drawing, so I always have my nibs and tablet near me. I’m drawn to the ink medium, particularly for my personal work. The lines I used then were more expressive than technically clean. That tactility is what I feel gives my personal work the most strength.

As for my digital work, I was drawing in MS Paint with a mouse for the longest time! I received a tablet from my brothers for a 14th birthday gift and they prodded me to use Photoshop instead – clearly that has gone a long way.

Joy Ho Playgrounds

Illustrations for the interactive exhibit: The More We Get Together: Singapore Playgrounds 1930–2030. 

Many artists prefer to go for a more realistic style, why do you choose to work with a cartoony style? We think you managed to create a very adorable and distinctive look. Can you tell us a bit about how you arrived at that? 

Joy: People ask about my style a lot, as most people think I’ve had this forever – but I did go  through so many minor style crises and shifts in art school. That was when I really had to practice and hand in assignments daily, trying out different skills, approaches, shapes, and noting current trends or design.

I was stylistically impressionable, and deadlines forced me to make quick decisions. Often I was influenced by contemporary illustrators or peers in critique who I admired, rather than exploring who I needed to be as an illustrator on my own terms.

My teachers saw that and pushed me to find myself in the sketches they saw me do when I wasn’t trying to make my drawings look like anything – and that’s when it started to click.

I’d say the style of my work is often “cutesy” but scrawly, which allows me to explore the serious parts of what I hope to convey, yet in a form that is digestible. I think this is subconscious now, and I would adjust the levels of “cute” depending on the subject matter I am working on, in a manner that is tonally appropriate or deliberately ironic.

Joy Ho Six Figure Crowdfunding

Illustrations for Six Figure Crowdfunding. 

How did you find the experience of working with clients? What was it like to have your work expanded to a spatial installation or exhibition? 

Joy: I enjoy that process tremendously – I think most creatives enjoy seeing parts of their creative identity projected to an environment. So far I’ve been very lucky to have opportunities to pull such things off, either by myself or with clients.

I really like collaboration, especially when someone provides me with a unique brief, a new medium, narratives I can play off on, or even a whole new skill set. I was paired with two brilliant coders who helped to bring the Singapore Playgrounds exhibit at the National Museum to fruition.

We had a constant flow of conversation with them about the parameters of the user interface and it shaped the composition of the piece itself.

Can you tell us a bit about Dogswurld?

Joy: Dogswurld is a world full of dogs that has the occasional cat. It is a concept developed from a three-page comic that I drew indiscriminately. The Dog Box comic book is an exploration of the human condition through canine eyes, investigating idealism, monotony, loneliness, and creativity.

I’ve had iterations of Dogswurld in the form of screen prints, letterpress prints or spot illustrations, and it’s been a thematically related universe I’ve gotten to play with since it came into being. I also really enjoyed turning it into a site-specific installation at the entryway space at MICA for my senior thesis show.

I wound up painting dog visitors entering the gallery alongside the display of the comic. So far the works that have come out from it have been quite experimental, and I’m hoping to develop it further.

Joy Ho Dogswurld Comics Illustration

Dog Box, a comic book that investigates idealism, monotony, loneliness, and creativity through the eyes of canines.

Have fun experimenting, Joy! Explore Joy’s whimsical world of illustration and comics here.


Gabbi Wenyi Ayane is a writer, visual artist, spoken-word poet, feminist, and zine-maker – what an all-rounder. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor in Creative Arts and reads lots of graphic novels in her free time. Gabbi has kindly let us pick her brains and even illustrated her answers! Check these out.

Profile image by Melissa Wong-Virk.

Name us some of your best-loved comics or books. Or you may also tell us about illustrators and artists that have a strong influence on you.

Gabbi’s favourite comics: Spinning by Tillie Walden, SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki, Motor Crush by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr, Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley.

What were some of the first thing you ever drew? If you still have them, can we get photographs? 😀

Gabbi’s illustrations of hands when she first started drawing.

What are your favourite drawing tools? Do you have any drawing habits or rituals that you’d like to share with us?

Tools Gabbi enjoys using include: Daler Rowney acrylic ink, calligraphy pens, micron markers, watercolours & 200 gsm heat pressed watercolour paper, and Bristol board.

What subject do you like drawing the most?

Gabbi’s illustrations of girls and her surroundings.

Do you find that your cultural background and experiences influence your art?

Gabbi: Definitely! I create art that is focused on the experience of gender, race and sexuality, and tend to ground them on my personal experiences – which are definitely heavily influenced by who and where I am! I made a zine called A Super-Quick, Kinda Polite Guide to Chinese Privilege (in Singapore lah!).

What sort of stories would you like to see coming from Singapore or Southeast Asia?

Gabbi: I don’t think I’m looking for or expecting any stories in particular – I like to not interfere and just see what kinds of work comes up. If I don’t see work I resonate with, I try to create it myself. But I’m always excited to discover what people are creating!

What are some of the challenges that Southeast Asian creators face? Is there a common misconception you’d like to dispel?

Gabbi: I think there’s always the issue of language – a lot of Southeast Asian comics creators don’t write in English, which is great, but means it’s difficult to reach a wider audience/readership. Which is not to say that you have to be successful in the Western world to be successful (you definitely don’t!) but there is a big, big market in the West. And when you do appeal to a Western audience, you worry your work is being exoticised, your experiences viewed as the experience of an ethnic “Other”.

Gabbi’s illustrations on perceptions of Southeast Asian creators.

Are there any issues that you feel strongly about, and do you think that comics are well-placed to bring those issues to the fore?

Gabbi: Yes! Racial privilege, sexuality and sensuality come up in my work quite a lot – I’ve tried different mediums and I think poetry and comics are the most comfortable and digestible ways to discuss these concerns. I mean, you can look at Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, or Craig Thompson’s Blankets – they all discuss very important issues, but they’re also so delicious to read. I think the allure of comics helps a great deal with broaching difficult subjects.

Comic books can make difficult topics more approachable.

What would you say to someone who says “comics are just for kids”, or the opposite, “comics are not good for kids”?

Gabbi: You wouldn’t give Hack/Slash to a child! There’s stuff for every age – plus, even “kiddy” comics display such skilled art, storytelling and a keen understanding of colour.

Comics gave me imaginary friends when I had none in the real world! They help me get back into reading when I’ve gone a while without ever picking up a book.

Who is your favourite character in the entire multiverse?

Gabbi’s illustrations of Harley Quinn.

Hey, thanks for the answers and doodles, Gabbi!
See more of Gabbie’s work here or follow Gabbi on Instagram @gabbiwenyiayane. 


Stephani Soejono is an Indonesian comics creator with a background in animation. She has worked on Tale of the Bidadari and Here Be Dragons, two fantasy comics set in Indonesia. Here she talks about putting cheap stationery to good use, improving comics with in-depth research, and letting stories brew in her mind for a long time before writing it down. 

Tell us what kinds of comics, books or media have a strong influence on you. 

Stephani: I read a lot of manga when I was younger, as do other artists in this region, but I was also heavily influenced by animation because that’s my university major. I was mad about Doraemon, Time Limit! Nina and Kenji. I read a lot of Terry Pratchett and Ray Bradbury in college. I love the unabashed optimism they convey, with a spoonful of playful cynicism on Pratchett’s part. The standouts from them are Going Postal, Small Gods and Fahrenheit 451.

I do like Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s work, and not just his Buru Quartet, but also his writings on gender politics. I especially like Gadis Pantai and Calon Arang which show how traditional Javanese society treats women. I’m currently reading Diana Wynne Jones’s Reflections: On the Magic of Writing and have been reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s short stories on and off. She has a way with frankness. Recently I am hooked on Dungeon Meshi, a manga covering two super niche genres which are RPG and Cooking, and surprisingly, it works. I like that it started a bit generic but eventually developed its own voice. Ryoko Kui must cook some killer diners.

What got you started on drawing comics seriously? 

Stephani: Two reasons, the first was to appreciate my day-to-day life in 2009 (which became my self-published comic Banana in Canada) and the second was to help me deal with the frustrations I experienced as a storyboard artist in an animation studio. I am very invested in my work, but at the end of the day, the cartoon belongs to the studio. I want something of my own.

Do you have any favourite drawing tools and habits that you’d like to share with us? 

Stephani: To be honest, since I do the “finished” work on my computer, I don’t know if I have a “tool” I love best? I do love the virtual inking brush I made myself. I started drawing with cheap ballpoint pens and I still love them for brainstorming ideas because you don’t feel as much pressure to make it “super nice”. One expensive equipment I love is the Col-Erase Animation Pencils which I use to do rough sketches for manually drawn and inked comics. Interestingly I ink with the cheapest tool I can find, a Snowman Black Ink Marker. At 30 cents a piece, it’s surprisingly easy to control and easy to draw with. A lot of Indonesian artists start inking with this, though maybe not the new generation who have iPads and tablets since they were a baby. Habits, eh? I draw 5 days a week. If possible, I like to draw during my commute, but if the bus is too shaky, I don’t.

Which step of the comic-making process do you enjoy the most? And which step do you find the hardest? 

Stephani: I rather relate to Jeff Smith’s dilemma, which is, when you’re writing or storyboarding your comic you want the best, most bombastic thing imaginable. But when you’re drawing it, you’re yelling at yourself, “why couldn’t I have made things easieeerrr?” That said, I enjoy drawing the architecture and exterior shots of my current comic, not so much the crowd of people that go along with it. (“Why did I set this story in a cityyy?”)

A draft page of Here Be Dragons

I actually do enjoy every step of doing comics. My biggest struggle is balancing comics and my day job. As it is, I’m not Akira Toriyama making Dragon Ball Z money so I have a day job to pay my bills.

What has been your most satisfying project to date? 

Stephani: Actually all of them! No, really, this is the perk of doing an original indie comic. I think the most satisfying page I’ve drawn that’s been published is the rainstorm in Tale of the Bidadari because I’ve never drawn a torrential downpour and it came out so nice. In Here Be Dragons, there is a page where the sun goes down and the day slowly turns to night. No main characters are featured but it is a satisfying page. I can show you guys down here because there is no spoiler in it.

The rainstorm page from Tale of Bidarari

The sunset scene from Here Be Dragons

Do you find that your background and cultural experience influence your work? 

Stephani: Very much so! Generally speaking, because I used to work in animation I have a thing for a clearly spelled out schedules and deadline. As of late, my comics are set in Indonesia but have fantasy settings because I read a lot of fantasy literature in my college days. Usually, a lot of Indonesian books are either love stories or high brow literature, like Eka Kurniawan’s Man Tiger and Beauty is a Wound. But both my comics Bidadari and Dragons are quite different from that. Dragons in some ways is easier to write because it’s based on where my parents came from.

What is your research process like and how do you turn that into good stories and illustrations? 

Stephani: I usually write big story outlines first, then do research and make revisions. I use Google, the Web Archives of Leiden University for Indonesian research, several encyclopedia of Indonesian flora and fauna (bought at a library sale for $1 each or gifted to me by my parents), and conversations with academic friends. I look up the settings, the costumes, and the sociological construct of a particular society. For Dragons, I also looked up various myths and legends to incorporate fantasy creatures into the story.

The biggest change I have made so far thanks to research was the way I scripted a scene in Dragons. I previously had menace implied through looming architecture, but it turns out town planning in precolonial East Java was very open-concept. So I had to rejig that and rely more on character expressions than buildings.

An excerpt from Here Be Dragons showing Javanese precolonial architecture and fantasy creatures

What are some misconceptions about being a comics creator that you’d like to dispel? 

Stephani: Well, a few. First, comic artists get to draw all the time, which is not true. I still have to do research, deal with clients, and invoice people. We don’t just sit around collecting royalty like J.K. Rowling. Most of us either have a day job or work multiple projects at the same time, not just idling around waiting for “inspiration”.

Second, that making comics is easy or people only do it when inspiration strikes. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy doing comics, but by and large, works are not easy. I usually don’t really start writing or conceptualising anything long form until the idea has pestered me for more than a year. In my experience, if the idea only pestered me for a week tops, it will usually float away soon or be difficult to expand on. Maybe it’s different for manga artists or for-hire comic artists, but since I have a day job I have some amount of freedom to conceptualise longer.

What kinds of stories would you like to see coming from Indonesia or Southeast Asia? 

Stephani: I’d like to see more stories from artists with marginalised background and not from Java Island. I also want comics from certain genres to expand, like Komik Silat (martial arts comics) which has a lot of potential but most artists just take a template and run with it. I think these genres can be examined deeper or be looked at from a different angle.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Stephani. To see more of her work, click here