Local author Sean Lam resurrects 'jiangshi' folklore and love for Singaporean comics

What do you do when you are bursting with so much to say?

For Singaporean author Sean Lam, he channeled his creative energies into writing, illustrating and publishing an entire graphic novel series.

Titled Geungsi, the four-book horror opus draws inspiration from the '90s phenomenon of Asian vampire films, featuring those iconic reanimated corpses hopping across the screen.

Lam's ambition goes beyond mere storytelling – he also hopes to resurrect the Chinese folklore of 'jiangshi' (stiff corpse) through Geungsi.

The first two volumes, published in 2021 and 2022, unfold against the backdrop of Singapore. They are a profound reflection of humanity, society and our most intimate thoughts beyond the front that we present on a daily basis.

The self-published author recently launched two new additions in his beloved series: Geungsi Gangsta and Geungsi Kawaii. These spin-offs, while connected to the original duology, stand alone as captivating narratives in their own right.

A graduate of Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Lam made his start in the industry as a mangaka in Japan before being headhunted by an American publisher in the early 2000s.

Eventually returning to his roots, he couldn't help but notice the absence of Singaporean representation in graphic novels, despite the global dominance of DC and Marvel comics.

Speaking to a full house at his book launch and signing at the National Library Building, Lam shared: “I wanted a Singapore story, I wanted to create a Singapore graphic novel. I wanted something meaningful. I didn’t want to create something boring or just for fun.

“The jiangshi trend seems to have died down in place of Western pop culture phenomena like Twilight. I hope to bring back the things we were once familiar with.”

Fans turned up in droves for Singaporean author Sean Lam's book signing on Nov 23.

Despite an impressive bibliography, Lam told Stomp that his journey has not been without challenges. These include criticism about his earlier works “which can be really harsh”, difficulties in reaching out to people, and a general lack of support.

He said: “Geungsi is my first local creation and graphic novel after settling back down in Singapore. I wanted to produce more local works for my own country. I was hopeful and until today, I think I’m still hopeful, but I realised that it’s not as easy as I thought.”

Lam admitted that the creative process can also be a demanding one, even though he gets to “learn a lot about people”.

The film buff said he gets ideas from “all kinds of movies”, but has to plan and draw his work simultaneously.

“It’s like watching my own movie. But the thing about this is that it’s a pretty tedious process actually. After I’m done with my manga, I feel like I have already watched an entire movie marathon,” he quipped, eliciting chuckles among the audience.

So how does he continue to push on and what advice does he have for aspiring creators?

Lam said: “First of all, you need to create something. Then determination, perseverance, don’t give up. Because it’s a long process and it’s not easy. Halfway through, sometimes you’ll feel that it’s really tough, so tough that you just wanna get out of it, you wanna be back in your comfort zone.”

Noting that it’s human nature to shun hardship, he added: “It’s about your mental power and the endurance to try and push yourself. I want to create this, I want to get it out even if it’s going to take up my time or so much of my life.

“Of course, at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself if this is ultimately something you enjoy. Whatever you do, it has to be something you enjoy, so that naturally we will push ourselves without anyone pushing us.”

Despite his struggles, Lam boasts a devoted following. His book launch attracted attendees from all walks of life, from aspiring writers and artists to long-time supporters and old friends. There were even those who were just passing by and decided to drop in.

One parent confessed to treasuring his private collection of Lam’s signed books so much that even his kids do not get access. Instead, he lets them read copies from the library.;

For Lam, the event – part of the Singapore Writers Festival– was a good opportunity to hear from readers what they think about his stories.

He said: “Graphic novels are also literature. It’s not only for self-expression. It’s not just about me. It’s about us together. I want that conversation between me and readers. I want that engagement to get up close and personal with each other.”

He also told Stomp: “I would love to continue to produce a diverse array of works that I can share with a global audience, fostering cultural exchange and bringing readers from every corner of the world together.”

Geungsi Gangsta and Geungsi Kawaii will be available at Singapore Comic Con 2023 (booth L1-AA12) on Dec 9 and Dec 10, as well as in Kinokuniya and G&B Comics stores.