DELAY: A Comics Anthology

Update (24 May): Round 1 results are out and shortlisted creators have been notified.

LOOMING MILESTONES, AND MISSED CONNECTIONS.
RESISTING MAINSTREAM EXPECTATIONS, AND DOING LIFE AT YOUR OWN PACE.
A BOOK OVERDUE, A POSTPONED RENDEZVOUS.
A SINGLE MOMENT, SUSPENDED AND SEPARATED.

WHAT DOES DELAY MEAN TO YOU?
SEND US YOUR STORIES NOW.

Difference Engine invites writers and illustrators to submit story pitches to our comics anthology, which will be published in 2025! DELAY: A Comics Anthology is an initiative to develop and showcase the talents of local and regional creators. Coming on board as guest editors are Charis Loke and Paolo Chikiamco, both veterans in the Southeast Asian comics industry.

We’re looking for comics that:

  • Are original fiction of any genre in the theme of “delay”.
  • Are inspired by Southeast Asia.
  • Can potentially be developed into a finished comic of 10–20 pages.
  • Are in black & white.
  • Are written in the English language. Where integral to the story, the use of non-English languages in dialogue or as sound effects is welcome.

Creators must be:

  • Living in Southeast Asia.
  • Of Asian descent.
  • Aged 18 and above upon submission.

There will be two rounds of selection: Round 1 (Call for Submissions) and Round 2 (Final Selection for Publication).

Stories selected for publication will receive a page rate of US$30.

Submission Guidelines: Round 1 (Call for Submissions)

Submissions must include:

  • A written story pitch (500-800 words) outlining the plot, including the ending, typed in Arial, font size 11, single-spaced.
  • One page of thumbnails or one page of concept sketches of characters/settings.
  • A portfolio sample of three illustrations. 
  • A short biography of each creator (50-100 words).
  • A completed and signed entry form.
  • All of the above needs to be compiled into a single PDF file no more than 10MB.
  • Label the PDF file with the title of the story.
  • Email the file to submissions@differenceengine.sg with the subject header “DELAY Submission: [title of the story]”.
  • All submissions must be in soft copy. Difference Engine will not accept any hard copy submissions.

The deadline for Round 1 (Call for Submissions) is 26 April 2024, 11.59pm GMT +8.

For more details, read our rules and regulations at the bottom of this webpage, or download the PDF (they’re the same!).


DOWNLOAD

Entry Form (PDF) / Entry Form (Word Doc)

Rules and Regulations (updated 29 Feb 2024)


OUR GUEST EDITORS

Photo: Goh Choon Ean

Charis Loke

Charis Loke has been found drawing book covers, fantasy maps, board games, street protests, in the jungle, on a boat, and by a glacier. As an editor and curator, she’s worked with close to a hundred Southeast Asian comic creators and artists, including co-editing SOUND: A Comics Anthology, published by Difference Engine. She’s illustrated for Netflix, Orbit, Macmillan, Subterranean Press, and Mekong Review, among others, and has an MA in Visual Sociology with an interest in mapping as arts research.

“I’m excited for stories that use relationships between text and visuals to craft specific sensations of time on the page. Make us feel! Make us wonder! Make us see the world differently, without being didactic about it.”

Paolo Chikiamco

Paolo Chikiamco, from the Philippines, is a writer of prose, comics, and interactive fiction. His prose has been published in anthologies such as The Sea is Ours and The Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction, and his interactive wrestling novel Slammed! was released by Choice of Games. As an editor, he put together Alternative Alamat, an anthology of stories that reimagine Philippine myth and folklore. As a comics writer, he has co-created titles such as Mythspace, Muros, and A Sparrow’s Roar, and has been a Category Judge for the Graphic Literature category of the Philippine National Book Awards.

“I’d like to see stories that are comics stories first and foremost, submissions that are created with an eye to the strengths and capabilities of comics as a medium, with modes of expression that simply wouldn’t work anywhere else.

On a similar note, I’d like to see Southeast Asian stories that revel in that identity, where creators don’t feel a need to over-contextualise or simplify for a hypothetical “global” audience. DE is proudly Southeast Asian, this anthology is proudly Southeast Asian, and we want your stories to be as well.”

OPEN CALL INFO SESSIONS

Interested in submitting but need more details first? Join the editors for a virtual info session! Facilitated by the DE team, the sessions will cover the following, and more:

  • Introductions to Difference Engine, the DE team, and the anthology’s editors.
  • What the theme DELAY means to us, and inspiration for potential stories.
  • Insight into the editorial process contributors can look forward to.
  • Tips on preparing a compelling and comprehensive submission.
  • Q&A.

Who knows, you might even find a potential collaborator amongst your fellow attendees!

Both sessions will cover similar content. However, the Q&A segment will vary based on the questions raised by attendees.

Session 1: Wed, 20 March 2024, 8pm to 9pm GMT + 8, via Zoom (Register here)
Session 2: Sat, 6 April 2024, 3pm to 4pm GMT + 8, via Zoom (Register here)

Please sign up for a session using the respective links above. The Zoom link will be sent to you closer to the session’s date.


RULES AND REGULATIONS FOR DELAY: A COMICS ANTHOLOGY

1. Theme

The theme of this comics anthology is “delay”. The stories must be inspired by and/or take place within Southeast Asia. The theme could be interpreted 

  • As an element of the plot and/or
  • As a comics technique.

2. Content Eligibility

Content must be:

  • Original fiction of any genre, and not currently under review or previously published by a publisher. We accept stories that have been self-published on personal blogs, personal social media accounts, personal websites, platforms like Webtoons and Tapas, e-newsletters like Substack, Patreon, or elsewhere. We will also accept excerpts from longer work if they can be understood as a standalone without the need for additional context.
  • 10–20 pages long.
  • Black & white.
  • Written in the English language. Where integral to the story, the use of non-English languages in dialogue or as sound effects is welcome.
  • Suitable for readers aged 13 and above, containing no explicit content, including but not limited to graphic language, depictions of violence, drugs, and sex.
  • Content that appears in the submission must not be output from any generative AI tools that draw from copyrighted material.

Creators/creative teams whose stories are selected will be working with the anthology editors to prepare it for publication. Selected creators/creative teams should expect – and look forward to! – a professional and highly collaborative editorial process intended to support the development of the story to its full potential.

3. Creator Eligibility

Creators must be:

  • Living in Southeast Asia, of Asian descent.
  • Aged 18 and above upon submission.
  • Creators can submit as an individual or as a team.
  • Multiple submissions are accepted, up to a maximum of 3 submissions per creator.
  • Creators/creative teams must own all copyrights to their submitted work.
  • Difference Engine reserves the right to request for verification of eligibility.

4. Submission Guidelines: Round 1 (Call for Submissions)

Submissions must include:

  • A written story pitch (500-800 words) outlining the plot, including the ending, typed in Arial, font size 11, single-spaced.
  • One page of thumbnails or one page of concept sketches of characters/settings.
  • A portfolio sample of three illustrations. 
  • A short biography of each creator (50-100 words).
  • A completed and signed entry form.
  • All of the above needs to be compiled into a single PDF file no more than 10MB.
  • Label the PDF file with the title of the story.
  • Email the file to submissions@differenceengine.sg with the subject header “DELAY Submission: [title of the story]”.
  • All submissions must be in soft copy. Difference Engine will not accept any hard copy submissions.

Timeline for this round:

Round 1 Call for Submissions closes on 26 April 2024, 11.59pm GMT +8.

Shortlisted creators will be informed by 24 May 2024 if their submission has been selected for Round 2 (Final Selection for Publication).

5. Submission Guidelines: Round 2 (Final Selection for Publication)

Creators/creative teams will be requested to submit:

  • A full script with page and dialogue instructions.
  • Five pages of thumbnails.
  • One page of finished comics.

Timeline for this round:

Round 2 submissions close on 16 August 2024, 11.59pm GMT +8.

Final creators/creative teams whose stories are selected for publication will be informed by 27 September 2024.

6. Publication Details

Creators/creative teams selected after Round 2 will be offered a contract in September 2024.

DELAY: A Comics Anthology will be published in print and digital formats.

Estimated Publication Date: September 2025

7. Payment

Stories selected for publication will receive a page rate of US$30 (or the creators’ local currency equivalent). Creative teams may determine the payment division between them.

Each creator will receive two complimentary copies (up to a maximum of six copies per submission).

8. Rights Requested

Exclusive first world anthology rights for one year from the date of publication in both print and digital formats.

Continuing non-exclusive rights to print and reprint as this anthology for 10 years from the date of publication in both print and digital formats.

Copyright to the published work will remain with the creator(s).

9. PDPA

Difference Engine will take all reasonable efforts to ensure that your personal data is securely handled according to the guidelines set out by the Personal Data Protection Act of Singapore.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q: Which countries are considered part of Southeast Asia?

A: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam.

Q: I am of Asian descent but not living in Southeast Asia. Am I eligible to submit to the anthology?

A: Unfortunately not. DELAY: A Comics Anthology was initiated to offer opportunities to creators who reside in Southeast Asia. Therefore, all members of the creative team must also reside in Southeast Asia.

Q: How do I show proof of residence in Southeast Asia?

We accept documents that have both your legal name and residential address printed on it, such as your recent utilities or telecommunications bill (not more than six months old). You will need to scan your documents and email them to us when requested.

Q: If I am not eligible to submit to this anthology, will there be other opportunities to pitch my work to DE?

Yes! If you have a story that you would like to see published, please head over to our general submissions page here.

Q: Do the portfolio samples need to be linked to the story I am pitching for DELAY?

A: They do not need to be linked.

Q: Do the portfolio samples need to be in black & white?

A: They do not need to be in black & white.

Q: Can I submit AI-generated content for the pitch?

A: No, you may not submit AI-generated content in your submission. Difference Engine reserves the right to request to view working files in cases where a submission is suspected to include AI-generated content.

Q: How many stories will be included in the anthology?

A: Similar to SOUND: A Comics Anthology, there will be 13 to 15 stories in DELAY.


DOWNLOAD

Entry Form (PDF) / Entry Form (Word Doc)

Rules and Regulations (updated 29 Feb 2024)


Updated 29 February 2024

Difference Engine reserves the right to amend these rules and regulations at any time without prior notice. We will take reasonable efforts to communicate key changes.

ROBOT PLAYGROUND MEDIA ADAPTING SINGAPORE’S 2023 BOOK OF THE YEAR, GRAPHIC NOVEL “WORK-LIFE BALANCE”, INTO GLOBAL TV SERIES

Singapore-based animation studio Robot Playground Media (RPM) has picked up rights to Work-Life Balance: Malevolent Managers and Folkloric Freelancers (WLB) by Wayne Rée and Benjamin Chee, published by Difference Engine (DE). The book, a genre-blending graphic novel that draws on Asian mythology while taking a wry look at corporate life, won Best Literary Work and the coveted Book of the Year at the 2023 Singapore Book Awards. It will now be developed into an animated comedy series for audiences across various platforms and territories.

RPM’s co-founder and showrunner Ervin Han will lead the development out of Singapore, together with the studio’s creative teams in Indonesia and Malaysia. He previously created the award-winning local adult animation Downstairs that ran for three seasons on Netflix and meWATCH, and is producing A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts, an adult horror animation that won Mediacorp’s Content Development Pitch in 2022. He is also currently in production directing The Violinist, a feature-length animation co-produced between Singapore and Spain with both countries providing funding support.

Rée and Chee’s book uses an intriguing juxtaposition of comics and prose to spin a fresh yet familiar tale about a multinational corporate run by demons called The Company whose mission is to end the world. With its new APAC office, folklore creatures like pontianaks, manananggals, raksasis, and ba jiao guis are assimilated into corporate life where they find new meaning in dead-end work and truly hellish bosses.

The team is aiming to put the series into production this year and will be looking to partner up with co-producers and platforms on what they see as a unique but universally appealing international project aimed at youths and working professionals that weaves a rich, colourful Asian cultural and mythological tapestry with a much-needed reflection on soul-draining work culture and bosses from hell.

“Wayne and Ben’s book is a little miracle. It combines our love of Asian mythologies and its folkloric ghouls with a satirical study of the soul-crushing pit that is corporate life,” said Han. “So many of our ideas gelled quickly when I sat down with both creators to discuss what we all envision for the show – a contemporary, genre-infused adult comedy about bosses from hell that also contemplates the things we give up in the name of making a living.”

“As fans of Downstairs and RPM’s animation, we’re thrilled to be working with them,” said Chee and Rée. “We already had faith that they would do the book justice – but after speaking with Ervin, we’re absolutely certain that they’ll elevate the world we’ve created. Work-Life Balance is a love letter to the stories we grew up with and the craft of storytelling. RPM gets that completely and are expanding on it in a way that plays to the strengths of animation.”

“We are very excited to work with Robot Playground Media to adapt Work-Life Balance into an animated TV series,” said Felicia Low-Jimenez, Publisher at Difference Engine. “We’ve long admired the work they’ve done, and we can’t wait to see Wayne and Ben’s dream of a world full of overlong meetings and pesky press releases being liberated by magic and mayhem on the small screen!”

For enquiries, contact:
Tracy Tam (General Manager, Robot Playground Media) at tracy@robotplaygroundmedia.com
Charlene Shepherdson (Business Development Manager, Difference Engine) at readcomics@differenceengine.sg

Robot Playground Media is an award-winning animation studio based in Singapore.  We produce original IP and provide a range of production services including 2D/3D animation, visual effects, and motion graphics. ‍ We have produced original and adapted IP-to-series for Disney, Warner Bros Discovery, Paramount, and Mediacorp, among others. Robot Playground Media was founded in 2013 and is a subsidiary of Singapore and London-based 108 Media.

Difference Engine is an independent comics publisher based in Singapore. We are inspired by stories from Asia, and we are committed to publishing diverse, well-written, and beautifully illustrated comics of all genres and ages. We collaborate closely with Southeast Asian creators, both new and experienced, with genuine and thought-provoking ideas to share. Difference Engine was founded in 2018 and is part of the Potato Productions group of companies.

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!

Magical Sweet Gula: Gula Gulali discovers that variety is not the spice of life at school where her magic makes for sour grapes

Wouldn’t it be magical if we could just wave a wand and fit in? Unfortunately, in Magical Sweet Gula, that reality seems to be pie in the sky for Gula Gulali. Born part-Magi, Gula sticks out whether she wants to or not, with her cotton candy pink-hair and pointed ears in her Terran-majority school. Which, in turn, makes her the low-hanging fruit target of her school’s insatiable bullies.

To add salt to her wound, even amongst the general school population, Gula finds herself in an uphill battle against the rampant sensationalised stereotypes that inundate the media her peers consume. Even when she walks on eggshells, all it takes is one untimely discharge of her magic, and she is dropped quicker than a hot potato by her schoolmates.

Gula’s constant calibration to find the perfect measurement of “normal” amidst her mixed Magi and Terran heritage is a quandary that is especially close to the heart of the title’s co-creator Johanes Park. “Even though this comic book is a work of fiction, the story is inspired by my own experience living in a multicultural Indonesian society as a mixed child,” he shares. Born to a Korean father, and a Chinese-Sundanese mother, Johanes recalls feeling lonely and outcasted. It was from this vantage point of trying to find harmony in cultures and perspectives that Magical Sweet Gula was first conceptualised.

Jessica Leman, the other pea in this husband-wife creator pod, elaborates, “Books or graphic novels with narratives about searches for identity usually portray people who live outside the country of the ethnicity they are descended from, and how they struggle to integrate after.” Noting a lack of multiracial characters in transmigrant stories, she continues, “In Magical Sweet Gula, we tried to share a story of the next level of identity searching – where the character is of mixed ancestry. Being multiracial, the character has a unique struggle where neither ethnic group will wholly accept her as a part of them.”

Both creators are well aware that the desire to fit in, to get along like peas and carrots with your peers in school despite being different, is a concept that many children are familiar with. Magical Sweet Gula offers its young audience food for thought on the ways in which multiracial children may experience prejudice. To make the subject more accessible to younger readers, the creators made Gula immediately visually distinct from her peers. “Since Manakarta is based on Jakarta, where people have naturally dark hair, we found the most eye- catching way to show contrast was through one’s appearance, especially using colour,” Jessica explains.

Besides using bright colours and a very generous sprinkle of magic as visual markers for Magi in Magical Sweet Gula, Johanes also highlights how spicing up the pages with Peranakan desserts extends the metaphor of fitting in. “I believe in “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” which means “even if we have many differences, in the end we can still have the same feeling”. I think this philosophy is also reflected in Peranakan culture, especially their foods.” The creators go on to explain how food recipes in Indonesia often draw their history from multiple heritages—the antithesis of “too many cooks spoil the broth”. When researching on jajanan pasar (market snacks), Jessica and Johanes found further inspiration for Gula’s growth and journey in how these snacks were often served together in a single tampah (flat woven bamboo basket), even when they come in multiple flavours.

Commenting on Difference Engine’s decision to publish Magical Sweet Gula, Publisher Felicia Low said, “A core tenet of Difference Engine is to support the amplification of stories and voices that may not have the same reach and platform as that of the majority. Magical Sweet Gula is earnest in its exploration of a multiracial character coming to terms with their identity, and holds both sweet and bitter halves of Gula’s experiences. While concepts like bullying and self-perception might seem intimidating to younger readers, Jessica and Johanes’ vibrant colour palette and humorous panels do wonders to ease readers into these topics.”

Magical Sweet Gula is now available in bookstores in Singapore and Malaysia. It is also available for purchase online with local and international shipping options. The book retails at SGD15.90 (w/o GST).

Purchase the print or ebook at bit.ly/magicalsweetgula.

For enquiries about the book, contact: readcomics@differenceengine.sg.

Magical Sweet Gula is the first of a two-volume series, with Book 2 scheduled for release in 2024.

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 et.al. (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.

Bearing Witness: A moving graphic novel memoir about a woman in her 40s who comes to terms with pregnancy loss

Difference Engine is honoured to have had the opportunity to work with writer Vinita Ramani to tell the story of her son Mithra and her experience with pregnancy loss. Their story is illustrated by Griselda Gabriele in Bearing Witness, and is published under our DE Shorts imprint.

Almost one quarter of all pregnancies are estimated to end in pregnancy loss, either a miscarriage or in stillbirth. Despite that, those who fall into this quartile rarely find themselves part of the conversation about pregnancy and childbirth.

Bearing Witness, with its unfiltered and sincere retelling of writer Vinita Ramani’s and her family’s experience with the loss of her second child, Mithra, offers parents affected by pregnancy loss a shared space to have their experiences recognised. More importantly, it creates a conduit through which families who have experienced such loss are able to share and amplify their voices and grief.

Shailey Hingorani, the Head of Advocacy, Research, and Communications at AWARE, the Association of Women for Action and Research, commented on the direction of Bearing Witness, “Through immensely affecting visuals and writing that is precise yet visceral, author Vinita Ramani and illustrator Griselda Gabriele have created a work that delves deep into a topic that many find too harrowing to even mention. They capture how overwhelming it can be to undergo the physical and mental toll of experiences like postpartum depression and pregnancy loss, without passing judgement on any choices made. There is a deep sadness here, but there are also moments of acceptance, support and even joy. This comic is vital for any number of readers — whether you relate to the author’s experience intimately or have little knowledge on pregnancy loss.”

By choosing to set the story in Vinita’s lived moments, Bearing Witness makes the heavy nature of pregnancy loss accessible to all through the proxies of her thoughts and emotions; family and faith. Moments of her loneliness are always surrounded by the presence of her family and friends, especially her husband Mahdev and daughter Sahana. Her family acts as guides not just to Vinita, but also for the readers – lifting from the weight of Vinita’s grief to the memory of familial comfort of the readers’ present.

Vinita explained why Bearing Witness is an important narrative to share not just with mothers, but to the wider audience, “This is a story about what it is to be a mother, to both the children we have and the ones we have lost. And it is not just a story for women: fathers will relate to the husband portrayed in this comic. A vital narrative that should be widely read, talked about, and made more visible.”

Departing from the traditional route of broaching the topic of pregnancy loss through the lens of medical facts and statistics, Bearing Witness is unapologetic in featuring the emotional nuances of Vinita’s pregnancy loss and artefacts of her spirituality against the backdrop of Southeast Asia, and invites the audience to experience every raw ebb and flow of Vinita’s emotional state.

Illustrator of Bearing Witness, Griselda Gabriele elaborated, “Vinita’s story and ways of coping with grief are very closely linked to spirituality in her daily life. In fact, this spirituality was also what allowed Vinita to see her miscarriage not only as a loss, but also a way for her to return Mithra to the universe. Most comics on miscarriage I’ve seen focus on the medical aspects and come from Western countries, which rarely depict this kind of spirituality (and positively, even more rarely). Meanwhile, it’s a norm in many parts of Asia!”

Jason Erik Lundberg, author of A Fickle and Restless Weapon, shared his experience after bearing witness to Mithra’s story, “The loss of one’s child is tragic under any circumstances, but especially so before it has had the chance to be born. Vinita Ramani’s devastating account of pregnancy loss, sensitively illustrated by Griselda Gabriele, is unflinchingly honest and allows us to bear witness ourselves to such a painful event without judgement. Your heart can’t help but break in sympathy, then find a measure of peace that comes with acceptance. An urgent and necessary work of sequential art.”

The story of Bearing Witness holds within itself the unique trauma Vinita experienced with the loss of her son Mithra. Yet that pain is simultaneously universal to all other parents who have gone through their own pregnancy loss or infant death. This graphic novel is not meant to be definitive; instead, Vinita and Griselda hope that it would be a safe space for families to share their own stories and experiences with pregnancy loss – be it the grief of losing a child, or the joy of having been able to momentarily be a home for one.

Natalie Tan, a pregnancy loss awareness advocate, expressed her appreciation for the book, “Raw, honest and poignant. Bearing Witness enables readers to live through the highs and lows of a surprise pregnancy, and feel the depths of Vinita’s heartbreak when it ends abruptly. Where there is loss, there is almost certainly grief and pain. Yet, there is also beauty, strength and hope that emerges through the darkness; through the never ending love of a parent.” As a mother of four including a set of angel triplets she had miscarried, she echoed the sentiment of finding support with others who had experienced the same loss, “This book opens our eyes to the experience of a miscarriage – a topic few have the courage to share so openly about. Bearing Witness is not simply about sharing the trauma of pregnancy loss, it is also a great reminder to all women who have miscarried that we are not alone.”

When asked why she wanted to publish Bearing Witness, Publisher Felicia Low said, “Difference Engine’s imprint, DE Shorts, is about opening up conversations about topics that are difficult to talk about, and in turn encouraging discussion and the fostering of community bonds for individuals who find themselves isolated. Pregnancy loss continues to be a topic that eludes polite dinner table conversation despite being more common than one might imagine. We hope that Vinita’s story can serve as a starting point to ignite more sharing and further discussion about pregnancy loss and infant death in Southeast Asia, away from stigma and shame.”

Bearing Witness is now available in bookstores in Singapore, or purchase the book online with local and international shipping options. The book retails at SGD17.00 (w/o GST).

Interested parties can purchase the book and the bundle at bit.ly/bearingwitnesscomic.

For enquiries about the book, contact: readcomics@differenceengine.sg

Work-life Balance: A seamless blend of comics and prose where even familiar Southeast Asian creatures are trapped in modern-day work culture’s cycle of duplicity

Difference Engine is proud to announce the launch of Work-Life Balance: Malevolent Managers and Folkloric Freelancers – and just in time for Halloween season!

In a world where even the supernatural are faced with the super natural quandaries of ceaseless corporate commotions, Work-Life Balance: Malevolent Managers and Folkloric Freelancers expresses the familiar, yet often suppressed, sentiment of unbalanced modern-day work culture – anchored against the distinct backdrop of Southeast Asia.

Paul Levitz, DC Comics President & Publisher from 2002–2009 said, “Think you’re stuck working with monsters in your office? Rée and Chee’s Work-Life Balance takes a whole new look at the possibility, using an interesting text/comics balance rarely seen.”

Work-Life Balance uses a harmonious merger of comics and prose to delineate the dichotomous parallels between past and present, work and leisure, and self and community beyond the constraints of a single medium.

Paolo Chikiamco, Editor of Alternative Alamat anthology and Co-Creator of Mythspace, echoed, “The power of juxtaposition is one of the strengths of graphic novels, and here comics are placed alongside prose to further provide a layered tale of identity, culture, and how we choose to define ourselves. Wayne Rée and Benjamin Chee have created a fine fantastical examination of the way communities reflect us, shape us, bring us together or tear us apart – something that isn’t very pleasant even for creatures that can segment their bodies into two.”

 

 

Creators Benjamin Chee and Wayne Rée examined how a confluence of their respective halves can help bring nuance, depth, and colour to the story. Wayne elaborated, “Work-Life Balance is a celebration of storytelling. It shows the unique strengths of prose and comics, but also how those mediums work towards the same goal: telling stories that resonate with an audience.”

Throughout the book, Wayne’s prose eases the audience into the recognisable cadence of Southeast Asian modern metropolises with all its unspoken tensions and expectations, while Benjamin’s art evokes equal parts wonderment and longing by drawing from the region’s history with his intricate settings and costume designs.

Meihan Boey, Author of The Formidable Miss Cassidy (Epigram Books Fiction Prize Co-Winner 2021), detailed her first impression of the book, “Wayne Ree’s gleeful, irreverent storytelling, matched with Benjamin Chee’s vibrant, exuberant, and undoubtedly eeee-so-cuuuute art style, come together in this funfair of a book. This is a tongue-in-cheek paean to the supernatural world of Asia and beyond, lovingly recreated in Chee’s breathtakingly intricate set pieces and character designs. The story is full of fun, fast-paced action; taking a breath now and then to ponder upon all the things we (not just momoks) have to sacrifice in pursuit of making a living.”

 

 

Elvin Ching, Creator of The Woodsman, voiced his appreciation for the book’s direction, “Work-Life Balance weaves a stunning tale blending familiar Southeast Asian folklore with office politics and drudgery to create a fresh new world that can’t help but elicit both chuckles and awe. Coupled with lush art that is at times supportive, complementary and argumentative to the story, this is a can’t-miss-it for fans of alternative fantasy!”

As much as the book is about the struggles of balancing our professional lives with other aspects of our existence, Work-Life Balance also takes much care to pay homage to the mythological influences of the region beyond the superficial.

Benjamin explained, “I hope this book is a warmer, more empathic approach to ‘ghost stories’, where the spirits and hantu featured feel more like people than a force of nature. And like people, I would like to imagine that they have preferences to the way they are being treated by others, and would certainly dislike being exploited.”

Reflecting on the conception of a book, Publisher at Difference Engine Felicia Low said, “Work-Life Balance, with its multilayered play on duality, adds to the wider conversation about the difficulties of navigating professional boundaries by providing an accessible regional perspective. By putting the spotlight on creatures that typically live in hushed whispers, Benjamin and Wayne lean into the dissonance of encouraging readers to find affinity with these beings to build a more nuanced appreciation for this aspect of our region’s culture and beliefs.”

Work-Life Balance: Malevolent Managers and Folkloric Freelancers is now available in bookstores in Singapore and Malaysia, or purchase the book online with local and international shipping options.

The book retails at SGD26.90 (w/o GST). The Work-Life Balance Starter Pack retails at SGD52.90 (w/o GST), with pre-orders open from 3 October to 21 October 2022.

Interested parties can purchase the book and the bundle at bit.ly/wlbcomic.

For enquiries about the book, contact: readcomics@differenceengine.sg

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

makers-club-starting-up

The Makers Club: Starting Up!

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

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.


 

afterlife

Afterlife

Readership: Young Adult
Category: Fantasy
Publication: August 2021
Synopsis:

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

Marvellous Mammals: Southeast Asian Animals in ABC

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

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

Work-Life Balance

Readership: Adult
Category: Fiction
Publication: 2022
Synopsis:

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-ahma

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

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

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: PulauHantu.sg, which aims to conserve Singapore’s coral reefs, and HimalayanMuttProject.org, 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!

 

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-liquid-city

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-Persepolis-Dancing-at-the-pity-party

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.

arrival-number-unocean

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+.