OIC Interview with Foo Swee Chin a.k.a. FSc by Anngee
FSc is a Singaporean comic book artist and has created several alternative comic books, including A Lost Stock of Children, Zeet, Nightmares & Fairy Tales, MuZz, etc. She was one of my biggest inspirations when I was just starting out to draw and I’m really excited to present this interview with her!
As part of our “OIC share what you love” effort, we encourage illustrators / artists to share not just their own work but also conduct interviews, and introduce the work of other illustrators they admire or like!
My first introduction to your work was via the comics you drew for Slave Labor Graphics way back in 2003. Could you let us know how you got started in the illustration/graphic novel industry?
I started putting up my artworks online in 1997… I also submitted comics to a student’s papers… called “Friday Weekly” back then.
Around 2000… I think, my friend and I were invited to stay with a writer in Taiwan to work on coffee table books and a comic anthology. Also in around 1999 or 2000, Billy from Nekopress comics approached me to publish comics with Nekopress. It was also around the same time that I sent some artwork samples to SLG, my favourite indie comic publisher then. They got back a year later and hooked me up with writer Serena Valentino to work on Nightmares and Fairytales. I think the series came out around 2001 or 2002. In 2004 I started publishing in Japan, and also started a web comic.
Through the years from time to time, I would receive a few commissions or illustrative jobs from generous fans and friends. I have never in my life been approached directly by companies or design houses and such to do art before. So… I am not sure if people see me as an illustrator. I don’t have an art background. I didn’t study fine arts like painting or drawing. Instead, I studied Graphics Design.
Besides graphic novels, you’ve also illustrated book covers and have done some character designs for games, are you working on anything right now?
I’m working on manga right now. I’m also trying to find time to work on muZz(online comics).
Can you tell us more about the manga you’re working on currently? (I’m super excited!) Is it a self-initiated project and will it be published soon?
I’m hoping that I can finish muZz in time for this summer’s Tokyo comiket.
Your work has a very distinctive dark/macabre look yet is often very cute and whimsical at the same time; the themes of the comics that you do can also be quite dark as well. Do you think there is your style of illustration influences the type of stories you do or do the stories you’re drawn to create the style of your art?
Errrrm~ I suppose that it is my character? I can do cute stuff too. I can also write happy stories. But I’m often attracted to unhappy stories because they are more complex. They make me think… It is also because of that, that my work isn’t marketable at all. Because the stories are too confusing, my grammar sucks and my drawings are too dark. Many people think I am sick. Especially in Singapore.
I was reading your blog a couple days ago and had a little bit of a shock when I read your post about Illustration being a dying trade, I’d like to understand your situation a little bit more now if that’s okay?
Ahh that is just based on my personal experience as an artist. It doesn’t apply to everyone. ^^)>” Sorry.
In general I get about 1 or 2 local illustration job each year. I don’t even know how to start. I guess my art isn’t marketable, as my art is in general appalling. You can hardly use it on anything at all. Nobody is going to buy a product with my art on it. That makes my art very niche, and a kind of novelty.
So for example… if a company wants something cute, they wouldn’t call me. They would call an artist who’s style is genuinely cute. Even if I imitate I can’t do something exactly in another person’s style. My own style will spill into it. If someone wants something Japanese, they would hire a Japanese artist. If say… it is an American company, they would hire local artist. No one is going to hire a “nobody”.
Mmm how do I put it… I’m neither here, nor there.
My art is neither Japanese nor American. It isn’t Singaporean either. It doesn’t belong anywhere. Most would say that it is gothic or gorey. But in a way it isn’t gothic either. Neither does it have enough gore to be labelled as gorey. It isn’t science fiction, it isn’t exactly fantasy. It isn’t shonen enough, it sin’t shoujo enough either. I’m too rojak.
What makes it worse is that I don’t have skills. I have been working on comics for so long, I do not have vector or 3D or info graphics artwork in my portfolio. All I have are creepy doodles, and creepy comics that are too confusing to read.
It is the same for comics.
In America, my work is often described as “Japanese manga-ish” or “Tim Burton-ish”. But I’m not Japanese, and my work can’t be compared to Tim Burton and it isn’t as cute either. So nobody is going to pay for art that isn’t genuine nor as skilled as the real thing.
In Japan, my work is often described as “European” or “Tim Burton-ish”. It isn’t Japanese manga, and I have been told that I can’t draw, or that my work sucks by editors before.
I may not be as skilled as a Korean game character designer, or be able to draw Marvel DC superheros, or have the eye and instinct at panelings like Japanese manga artists… but I love to imagine and draw. I can’t stop. In a way it is a bit late for me to stop. I will turn into zombie if I have to quit drawing and making comics. XD
Even if nobody likes my work, or wants to pay for my work i will continue till my last breath.
I’m not sure if you do illustration full-time as you mentioned that you get 1 or 2 local illustration jobs a year, but are the commissions from your fans enough to support yourself or do you have full-time/part-time jobs to help feed your kitty?
I do comic full-time, while freelancing illustration and conceptual design. Once or twice I taught. I also did a bit of seminar talks aboard.
No it isn’t enough(laugh). If I could have a more stable income with the comics I did, It would have been enough. The problem is that I don’t make much from making comics. Often, I don’t profit from them at all.
The time and effort put in doesn’t tally with the money I get in return. So I can’t survive and have to take on freelances. But, even if I want to work more, even if I’d get freelance jobs, health-wise I won’t make it… I have pretty much ruined my health from working on comics for 20 years.
I usually get around 3 or 4 tattoo design commissions on the average each year.
I wasn’t thinking about that… I just thought that a picture is a waste being just a picture…. and a picture that nobody cares about makes me sad. So I think of things to make out of it. Things like pins and brooches, magnets, stationery sets etc.
I like conceptualising ^^)> it’s fun.Tiring but nevertheless fun. I try to make use of things that people would throw away… wallpaper and curtain catalogues. Reuse magnets and key-chain parts…etc. I clean them and polish them up. I make skincare products and give them away as gifts too.
In part I’m poor so I crack my brain to make the most out of things, in part I’m trying to be more environmentally conscientious.
You’ve travelled in Japan quite a bit and have had some experiences working there, could you tell us the difference between the creative/cultural workflow there vs. here in Singapore?
I’m based in Singapore but I travel to Japan quite often. It is stressful to work there, but still like it there. I like their work ethic. I also learned a lot from my experiences in Japan and met many kind people. It is also very difficult to compete with Japanese artists because they are all very talented and skilled.
But, I can’t compare because I’m not familiar with the arts scene and community in Singapore. I’m too much of a shut-in and keep to myself too much. I haven’t socialized enough to be able to comment intelligently on that subject.
Lastly, do you have anything you want to share with young and aspiring illustrators?
XD I’m not qualified to be able to do that, since I can barely survive myself.
So if I say “follow your heart!”… it’d sound laughable. It would be more comical to say “Don’t follow my footsteps my innocent lambs~ Don’t become a shut-in like me or you’d end up being 1) a bearded sociopath or 2) a live zoid zombie someday.”
Thank you so much!! It’s such a big honor for me to interview you!
It is an honor for me too~~~ thank you for taking time to come up with the interview~~