The Artist who Rewrote the History of Singapore Comics
“When it comes to made-in-Singapore comics, nobody comes close to Wee Tian Beng, a veteran artist who’s illustrated over 200 volumes of comic books and taken them across the world.”
(Quote from internet magazine Hivelife: https://hivelife.com/singapores-comic-book-pioneer/)
For the first edition of the rebranded PuraComixMag, we are honored to be able to interview Mr. Wee Tian Beng – the first Singapore veteran comic artist to have reached out to the international market and sold over millions of copies and the talented artist behind the successful long-running local original comic of 20 years – “The Celestial Zone”.
Behind every success are stories waiting to be unveiled and as Mr. Wee have had many “firsts” to his name, let’s find out the many “firsts” experienced by Mr. Wee on his professional comic artist journey in this exclusive interview!
1) When did you first start drawing comics?
I think I started off really young, like say, around 2 to 3 years old.
2) What was your first pay as a professional artist and how different was it then and now?
I remembered when I first became a professional artist (in 1992), that was more than 20 years ago. The rates during those times were like SGD2000 plus for a 32 page black and white A4 manuscript. It was considered quite a reasonable income then.
Now, my main income comes from publishing my own comics and freelance illustration work which I take on a leisure basis. I’m no longer accepting freelance illustration work or commissions based on how much their quotations are.
The projects I take in are mostly from friends and I do it mainly because I want to support my friends (I strictly don’t take up projects from anyone I don’t know personally). The quotations for these projects are based on their aim and objective. For instance, my corporate project rates are usually around the thousand to ten thousand plus range for a full-color A3 manuscript. The complexity of the project also has a part to play in the quotations as well.
3) Who was the first artist you referenced from? Why?
As I started off very young, I can’t really recall who I referenced from. The comic artists I often reference from though, are usually comic artists from Japan and Hong Kong.
4) Who did you consider as your first rival? Why?
Haha I never had a rival in mind! But if I’m to consider it strictly, I would say the rival is myself! I will always aim to be better on a more wholesome level than the me of yesterday!
5) What can you learn from current artist styles and what can our new-age artists learn from your style?
I don’t usually have time to browse through comics nowadays due to my busy schedule.
My style doesn’t really bear any semblance to any comic artists, be they from Japan or Hong Kong because I strive to create my own trademark style. A piece of advice I would have for current new-age artists is that copying a popular artist or trend style is always easy but the lack of any challenging factors will only restrict your style to be a shadow of another.
An accomplished artist should strive to create their own unique style so that your reader can tell that it’s done by you with a glance!
6) How was it like when the local original comic scene first started out? How did you overcome the challenges you faced then?
During the early days, the local original comic scene not only lacked maturity in style, techniques, and skills but was also severely under-geared for advertising outlets and platforms. Plus our market was really small, so survivability in the local original comic industry was really an uphill battle.
What I did to overcome the challenges then was to keep improving myself in my style, techniques, skills and equipping myself with relevant knowledge (story-telling, market trends, character development, polishing up on my knowledge in publishing and marketing). I also put in a lot of effort to open up the international market so that I could reach out to more readers beyond Singapore.
7) When did you first have the thought of becoming a professional artist and how different were you from the rest of your peers?
I think that was back when I was 5 – 6 years old, which was why in Primary 3 when I was writing an essay for “My Ambition”, I wrote, “I want to be a comic artist!” And that hadn’t changed till now.
As compared to my peers, I was armed with a lot more understanding on what it means to be a comic artist, where it was something that was not that simple and purely based on drawing skills and techniques. Which was why I kept enhancing my knowledge on comic development and its relevant aspects, which led to me always place emphasis on spreading my wings to reach out to the wider international market and not just restrict myself to our local market.
8) What was the first thing you did to push the culture of original comics and content?
The first thing I did to push the culture of original comics and content was to offer a platform for potential original comic artists, in order to educate and push them in the right direction, especially in terms of the importance of Intellectual Property.
9) Will you consider yourself to be the first professional original comic artist in Singapore?
Yes. As the first Singapore artist to enter the Taiwan market in 1999, that was what marked me as the first original comic artist to have gone professional.
I’m also very grateful to Sharp Point Press for offering me this valuable opportunity!
10) What is the first thought that comes to mind when you think of the Singapore original comic scene?
Currently, the Singapore comic scene lacks knowledge in both original comic creation and respect towards the importance of Intellectual Property.
Due to the influence of fanart in recent years, this was the main reason why there were not many who want to venture into the local original comic market. Creating original content is not only just based on pure drawing skills and techniques (as most fanart are based off), it also requires the creator to have basic knowledge in story-telling and creative expression. Unlike fanart where it usually picks up in sales and interest very quickly as they are based off popular commercial series which already have strong and existing branding.
As such, most will choose the route which can generate the fastest income and that as a result has created quite an unhealthy environment for the development of the local original comic scene.
Only original creation can bring you as far as you can in the international industry.
Proud to Be Original!
To know more about Mr Wee Tian Beng’s comics, visit tczstudio.com.
Reporter : Ziru Chang