The rising trend of comic book publishing in South East Asia

Interested to know more about comics publishing? Felicia is here to tell you about it!

The rising trend of comic book publishing in South East Asia

As the author writing up this article about Felicia and Difference Engine, I looked back at how comic books had made an impact in my life.

Growing up, my childhood was all about reading comic books.

I remember in particular, I really enjoyed reading the Winx Club comic series. I recall always looking forward to buying a new Winx Club comic book every month, flipping through the pages and learning about the characters. As I grew up, I started to take more interest in comic books which were created with a local touch. Which is why comic books published by Difference Engine really appeal to me.

While there are many classic western comic series and manga collections being published, Difference Engine focuses on publishing Southeast Asian Stories by Southeast Asian creators which I find more relatable.

Additionally, their comics combine beautiful art, strong storytelling, and meaningful topics like dementia and wildlife conservation!

Read on as we dive in to find out more about Felicia Low, the publisher of Difference Engine!

1. Tell us a little about yourself!

Before starting Difference Engine, I spent most of my career in the book industry as a merchandiser where I selected titles for bookstores to sell. I also co-write a bestselling children’s book series titled Sherlock Sam with my husband Adan Jimenez. I like books, comics, anime, video games, and naps.

2. What do you enjoy most about writing and publishing stories?

As a fiction writer, I spend a lot of time in imaginary worlds and it can be a very solitary journey. It suits me because I’m quite introverted. However, I often have too many ideas and I can only focus on a handful at a time. Plus, there are some areas I’m not suitable or equipped to write about.

However, writing and publishing are quite different. As a publisher, I get to explore a huge and diverse range of topics and themes with our creators and I learn a lot from them along the way. It brings me out of my shell too. Oftentimes we approach creators with ideas and I’m surprised by the direction they’ll take—it’s not something that I would have thought to do, so that’s inspiring and exciting.

3. Amongst all of Difference Engine’s projects, which one are you most proud of?

I’m proud of all of them! I wish everyone could see how much work goes into publishing a comic. However, if I had to pick, it would probably be the first comic we published, The Makers Club: Game On! by Reimena Yee and Tintin Pantoja just because we launched it as Singapore went into lockdown (in 2020) and had to pivot sharply from all our in-person event plans to a series of online events.

The creators were amazing with how they supported us, and I’m incredibly proud of how resilient my team was during the entire process. We’ve learnt a lot since then.

4. Could you share with us the process of creating a comic book from start till end?

It depends on the creator/s or creative teams. Some projects have a creator who writes and draws. For other projects, we have an artist and an illustrator working together. Sometimes, a third person, a letterer, is involved as well. As a result, creating comics is time-consuming and requires a lot of coordination between various parties. For nonfiction, we need a strong premise or theme to start. For fiction, we need an idea that has to be fully fleshed out into a plot with a beginning, middle, and end. That plot then has to be turned into a script with art direction and dialogue.

For both fiction and nonfiction, we then proceed to thumbnails where the script is visualised for the first time on a page. Thereafter, the thumbnails are turned into more detailed pencils and this can be when lettering is done as well. Finally, the pages are inked and coloured!  

Throughout the process, our in-house editors work very closely with the creators on strengthening the story and art, and our in-house designers will focus on design and layout of the eventual publication. Check out some of our upcoming projects here.

5. Do you think that comics are generally well-received by all age groups? What do you think can be done to promote it further?

I definitely think more people across all age groups are reading comics. Generally, there’s been a boom in comics publishing with significantly more content being published across age groups and genres. We are also seeing more content from Southeast Asia by Southeast Asians. As a result, it’s much easier for a diverse audience to find stories and topics that resonate with them compared to even five years ago.

We should continue to create and publish beautiful and diverse content reflecting the lives and experiences of the growing readership and continue to challenge the notion that comics are not “real” literature. Plus, in a world where visual literacy is so important, I strongly believe comics are here to stay as an important literary medium.

6. And what advice would you give to individuals who wish to enter the illustration and publishing industry?

Read a lot. Never stop learning and practicing your craft. Keep up to date with trends and content beyond book and print publishing. Have a firm understanding of not just the creative aspects of the job but commercial and business considerations as well.

Respect your time and that of your creators and colleagues.

7. What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

To always be kind.:)

8. What is unique about Potato which differentiates itself from other companies out there?

I want to say Hans’ (Potato’s founder) puns.

Potato Production gives us so much room to experiment and allows us to be brave with our choices and the decisions we make. It encourages weirdness and originality. There’s an enormous amount of trust shown towards all employees as well.

9. (Just for fun!) If you could be a comic book character, what character would you be?

Yotsuba from Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma. She sees the world with so much wonder and joy.

To find out more about Difference Engine, do check out their website here!