Singapore and its street cats like you've never seen them in DC Comics artist and wife's new graphic novel
HONG KONG — With scenes of feline superheroes flying past the famous Marine Bay Sands resort and a character modelled on the country's symbolic mythical creature, the intergalactic comic-like graphic novel Starlight Cats presents Singapore in an altogether alternative universe. The brainchild of husband-and-wife duo Shane Davis and Yanzi Lin, the comic stars the city state's population of street cats — a common sight in the alleyways and backstreets of Singapore.
HONG KONG — With scenes of feline superheroes flying past the famous Marine Bay Sands resort and a character modelled on the country's symbolic mythical creature, the intergalactic comic-like graphic novel Starlight Cats presents Singapore in an altogether alternative universe.
The brainchild of husband-and-wife duo Shane Davis and Yanzi Lin, the comic stars the city state's population of street cats — a common sight in the alleyways and backstreets of Singapore.
Three years in the making, Starlight Cats features a team of feline superheroes who join forces with a young girl to battle evil rat-like aliens.
The first in the series, Starlight Cats: Merlion Rising, is set to hit the market next year after initial funds were raised on the Indiegogo crowdfunding website.
"We both felt that setting the story in Singapore is a great fit, as Singapore is a cosmopolitan, multicultural, modern city," Mr Davis says.
"A lot of people in the United States have heard of Singapore, but there are very few representations of Singapore in American pop culture." Superhero comics are usually set in metropolises like New York, he adds.
Ms Lin's own experience as a Singaporean brings authenticity to Starlight Cats. The main character is a strong-willed and spirited eight-year-old Singaporean named Rebecca Chow, who is thrust into an action-packed adventure alongside her pet cat, Barnaby.
Rebecca can fly wearing a supersuit, but she is also an ordinary little girl. On various pages of the novel, she is seen wearing the well-known Singapore pinafore school uniform and eating at a hawker centre with Barnaby.
"We want to highlight elements of the Singapore heartland to readers worldwide, such as hawker centres, Housing and Development Board flats and the street-cat population of Singapore, and how they are very different from street cats elsewhere in the world," Ms Lin says.
Singaporeans often think their street cats are healthier than the scrawny strays seen in other nations because although Singapore's feral felines do not belong to anyone, they are randomly cared for by locals, and become almost "community cats".
Ms Lin and Mr Davis' 48-page graphic novel features a quartet of colourful cosmic-powered felines: Barnaby, Princess L'Amour, Salty and Jellybean.
Each cat has a distinct personality and together they call themselves the Catz, working with Rebecca to save the world from the treacherous rat-like alien Verkins.
There's a reason why cats are the main focus of the intergalactic publication: the couple has four of their own.
Mr Davis has previously drawn his pet cat of 18 years, Dexter, in one of his works in the Red Lanterns comic series.
Fan-favourite Dex-Starr is known for his powers that emerged after his contact with a Red Lantern Power Ring. Mr Davis says he had "tons of fun" co-creating Dex-Starr and decided to continue the trend — so Starlight Cats was born.
"I had already drawn Dexter into a comic book, and it was only natural to want to draw Yanzi's pet cat into a comic book as well," he says.
"Barnaby is based on Yanzi's ginger cat in Singapore. In the comic, he is dependable and loyal, just like the real-world Barnaby."
Mr Davis has 20 years of experience in the comics industry, where he has worked on several world-renowned DC Comics creations including Superman: Earth One, Batman and the Red Lanterns series.
DC comic books have been published since the 1930s; even in the age of the internet they are still sold in their millions, and their reach is growing.
Comics and graphic novels have an enormous following worldwide, inspiring acclaimed television series and films.
According to a recent report by research firm 360 Research, this year the market was worth more than US$3.8 billion (S$5.07 billion), with the Asia-Pacific region accounting for the largest comic book market share with 41 per cent.
Despite his years of experience in the world of comic books, Mr Davis says there is always something new to learn. With Starlight Cats, working on Rebecca's storyline pushed him into uncharted territory.
"During my time working professionally in the US comic industry, I ended up learning a lot about world-building and how to capture an audience's attention as well, in the process of working on legacy characters," he says.
"I think this book has a much larger scope than what I am used to drawing. Having to envision the world through a little girl's eyes is something different. I am trying to visualise a story that is much larger in scale — on a universal scale, even."
Although the human superhero in the novel is a child, Mr Davis and Ms Lin believe readers of all ages will enjoy Starlight Cats, saying there's something in it for everyone.
Gore and violence are omitted, making it a perfect read for younger audiences. They add that themes of betrayal, espionage and thriving through adversity should captivate adult fans.
The couple hopes to send a signal about the importance of teamwork and optimism, and how characters can become stronger by facing trials and tribulations — a message reminiscent of Mr Davis and Ms Lin's own story.
The couple met 14 years ago on LiveJournal, an online social networking platform centred on blogging, communicating and reading stories posted by users worldwide.
After Ms Lin posted about an issue of Batman drawn by Mr Davis, they began video chatting.
After losing touch in 2010, Mr Davis and Ms Lin reconnected in 2016 when Ms Lin began studying how to teach the Montessori method of child education in Vancouver, Canada.
Two years later, they got married in the United States and they have been living in the state of North Carolina ever since.
Several years of being online friends and getting to know each other has been an asset for their creative collaboration, they say. Their complementary partnership has been transferred onto the pages of Starlight Cats and into their work patterns.
Although they are co-writing the publication, the rest of the project is divided. Mr Davis works on the layouts and pencilling drawings on the pages. Ms Lin then inks the pages and digitises them, before sending the images to Malaysian colourist Candice Han.
According to Mr Davis, the process is seamless because they make a good team and both have a knack for knowing what the other is thinking. "We enjoy bouncing ideas off each other, and the process for creating the story is more free-form than structured," Mr Davis says.
The first Starlight Cats graphic novel is projected to hit the market by August 2021. They are already planning for the sequel, saying at least two more Starlight Catsgraphic novels will be published in the future.
"We will be expanding on the world of the Catz and their mythology for sure, whether it is in the main book or in the supplemental stories that we will include in ashcans available during the campaigns," Ms Lin says, referring to promotional materials.
The Indiegogo campaign for the project was launched on Oct 4 and has already racked up more than S$98,000 with close to 900 backers. The current plan is to keep it going until August 2021.
Fans who back the campaign can buy limited-edition merchandise such as T-shirts, enamel pins, trading cards and stickers. There is also the chance to buy original inked covers and a limited-edition cover that features the Merlion.
Both artists say they are overwhelmed by the support and enthusiasm they have received. "We are especially grateful for fans and fellow creators who have helped in promoting Starlight Cats," Mr Davis says. "And we can't wait to bring this book to life." SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST