By FARAH DIANPUTRI
When was the last time you had an unpleasant encounter with a perennial cockroach living in your kitchen? What does a lac cricket have to do with your grandparents’ 40s record collection? Is an electric gecko keeping you up at night? How can a frangipani be haunted?
These are the flora and fauna that inhabit our lives and the pages of comicbook Creatures of Near Kingdoms. The mythmakers behind this modern take on a bestiary are Zedeck Siew and Sharon Chin. Both are no strangers to Malaysia’s creative scene. Siew is a writer who has a myriad of experiences as a journalist, essayist, editor and game designer. Chin is an artist that works across illustration, sculpture and performance, whose work, in her own words, “has been shown in museums and galleries, on sidewalks and in shopping malls, in Malaysia and around the world.”
A collaboration between the writer and illustrator, the text and illustration are in dialogue with one another. A few stories here are poised to easily drop the reader into a world similar to our own, but imbued with a timeless magic. The entries for each creature are a slice-of-life urban legends, filled with fantastical hybrid cultural-biological insights. In essence one thing unites all the creatures of near kingdoms. They serve as devices to talk about the relationships between the elements of our cultural heritage. From the oral tradition, tales of everyday life, to investigating the prominence of flora and fauna across far flung places and closer to home, the dynamic tensions between how we perceive the creatures with which we share our environment, and the uneasy relationship between religion and folklore. The book takes the most mundane fauna: a betta fish, a gecko, a myna, and transfigures them as embodiments of our human impulses.
Chin’s combination of art styles: the deep and heavy Lino animal prints and the crisp, pattern-work of vegetation, bring a unified yet varied approach to this tome. A delight to contemplate with each passage, there is a particular rawness to the animal prints that reflects in the medium of carved relief, remnants of the recesses strewn out of negative space. These ephemeral creatures are physically molded into existence.
This is what I mean about truly modern myth-making. The book resurrects these creatures that have a wealth of connotations behind them and weaves them into stories to explain our relationship with modern life and the natural world. Much like how humanity’s ancestors told stories to make sense of natural phenomenon and human frailty, Siew and Chin bring to life new and old stories we can tell. The creatures are part of the world we inhabit. They invite us to see their mundanities and oddities as an essential part of where we come from and who we are.
Creatures of Near Kingdoms is published by Maple Comics, and available at https://maplecomics.com.my/produk/creaturesofnearkingdoms
For more of these artists’ works go to zedecksiew.tumblr.com and www.sharonchin.com
Farah Dianputri is a writer under the CENDANA-ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-21