Same Difference

Cheah Sin Ann – also known as both “Cheah” and “Sinann” – was born in Malaysia and currently lives in Singapore. In 1986 he started drawing a strip called “The House of Lim” for the Straits Times, Singapore’s largest English language newspaper.

Sin Ann, you write that you created the first “Singapore-made English language daily cartoon strip”…

Yes, when I first joined the Straits Times, there weren’t any locally-made strips. Perhaps because those were still the early days. I pitched the idea of a series on a Chinese family and the editors bought it. There have been a number of works created in Singapore since.

If there were no local cartoons, what others were there?

If I’m not mistaken, most of the cartoon strips were from the American syndicates – stuff like Garfield, and the Peanuts.

How many different strips do you draw at the moment?

Currently, I maintain two working cartoon strips. The daily Billy & Saltie and the weekly Event Horizon. I also post that one on, well, weekly.

I have a  third which I’m keeping under wrap for the most part for now. It’s called Beijing Life and about a modern ‘Mad About You’ type couple in the Chinese capital.

Singapore sounds like a melting-pot of different cultures. Does this figure into your cartoons in any way?

Yes, Singapore has many cultures I think mainly because it was a major port for the trading routes in the old days and the various immigrants settled here.

I don’t know if they figure in my cartoons but I think humor is universal and culture only provides the platform. Case in point, my strip, Murphy’s In-Law dealt with Irish culture but the jokes were essentially still jokes you and I can identify with. [characters from this strip are on the right side of the title image]

How did you decide to do strips about Irish and Chinese families?  Is there any personal connection? Your own name sounds Malay to me…  I mighty be totally off on that last one, though.

My name’s actually Chinese – Cheah Sin Ann – but my last company contracted it to Sinann Cheah for their computer system. This would explain the Chinese family strip. [characters from "The House of Lim" are on the left side of the title image]

As for Murphy’s In-Law, my wife is from County Kerry,  Ireland. So I had plenty of info about Irish culture. And Guinness.

There are are four official languages in Singapore how does that affect your everyday life? Do you switch between languages?

Effectively, I speak English, Malay and a dialect of Chinese and yes, I use those languages in the restaurants at the markets, etc..

Have you ever drawn comics in another language?

No, although I would very much like to. And that’s  an interesting point you’ve raised: Would humor in English work just as well in German, French or Spanish? Would the irony or sarcasm be lost in translation?  Even American humor isn’t the same as British humor.

How does this work in a multicultural situation? Do you see any differences in humor between the ethnic groups of Singapore?

All the races speak Singlish besides their mother tongue and we have our own brand of humour that takes an outsider a while to get. It’s full of local slang and innuendos. The same as in other countries, I guess.

The universal point i was trying to make is that all cultures have their hangups with mother-in-laws, shopping, people who talk too much, bad drivers, etc. I like to show how a particular group deals with them, preferably with a nice twist.

You mentioned a new strip about life in Beijing. What kind of market are you aiming at with that?

I’m really not sure about Beijing Life, to be honest. Unless I get some help from the inside and the outside. It won’t be easy to introduce the cartoon and, more importantly, the humor, to China. From what I know,  there’s no such thing as irony there.

Thanks for your time!

Paul Hellmich (Twitter)

PS: Samples from “House of Lim” and Sinann’s other strips can be found on his website.


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