During our interview, Cheah had presented Lester and I with a copy of Billy & Saltie: Cool Croc each, to our surprise and delight!
He told us that Billy & Saltie was a big departure from his House of Lim days, as he needed a concept that would make sense not just in a Singaporean, but a South-east Asian context. His Billy & Saltie comic strips feature Billy, an Aboriginal boy and his good pal, Saltie, a huge saltwater crocodile. Their encounters take place in a tropical environment – mangrove swamps and rainforests – and his comic strips often contain a sharp critique of environmental pollution.
Cheah also brought Lester and I for a walk around Harris planerds at 313@Somerset, where his book was on the shelf alongside other works by local cartoonists. He praised alot of other works by local cartoonists, and also told us about other Chinese-manga projects in Singapore.
At the end, we all shook hands and wished him good luck. He ran back to HMV to join his kids and family, and Lester and I walked away with a mixed bag of feelings: frustration at the kinds of obstacles local artists face, frustration at the dominant player in the Singaporean media industry, but excitement at the prospect of reading Cheah’s new book.
Cheah’s online site offers a few sample strips of Billy & Saltie, but the full collection contains many more gems than this small online sample. Billy & Saltie: Cool Croc boasts many genuinely witty and funny strips – Cheah has a predilection for word puns which are unexpected, humorous and endearing.
His critique of environmental pollution is a thread running through the series, a critique made more poignant and potent in my opinion by the seeming innocence of Billy the Aboriginal boy and Saltie the saltwater crocodile, who greet every assault on nature and their natural habitat with resigned humour.
If I had a scanner I would scan a few more of my favourites and upload them onto this article but since I do not, I entreat any interested reader to pick up a copy for him or herself!
Billy & Saltie: Cool Croc is now available at Harris planerds, Select Bookstore, Booksactually, and from his website (www.houseofcheah.com). It will soon be available at major bookstores, following his engagement with a local distributor – so look out for it at Borders, Kinokuniya and Popular bookstores!
(House of Lim; a sample strip from Cheah’s older series)
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