Review: LKY Political Cartoons by Morgan Chua

The urban legend goes that Morgan Chua’s first political cartoon of Lee Kuan Yew in the Singapore Herald led to the newspaper’s closure in 1971. Undeterred by this, Lee’s near mythic status became fodder for Morgan’s creative imagination and incisive pen as he continued his satirical sketches of the prime minister in the Far Eastern Economic Review.

For the first time, over 100 of Morgan’s LKY cartoons—along with new ones—have been collected, covering Lee’s pioneering years up to the present day. In LKY: Political Cartoons, the fearless Morgan meets the fearsome Harry.

About the Creator:
Morgan Chua is a Singapore-born cartoonist who started drawing for the Singapore Herald in 1970. When the paper was closed down by the government in 1971, Chua moved to Hong Kong and joined The Asian for nine months.

He then joined the prestigious Far Eastern Economic Review, where he started as an editorial artist and over 24 years rose to creative director. At the Review, he was known for his incisive single-panel political cartoons and for arresting and provocative magazine cover choices. He has also drawn cartoons for Hong Kong’s Next Magazine and Apple Daily. 

Chua has published Tiananmen (1989, 2014), My Singapore (2000, 2008), Divercity Singapore: A Cartoon History of Immigration (2010), In Memory of Madam Kwa Geok Choo 1920-2010 (2011) and illustrated former Singapore President S R Nathan’s 50 Stories from My Life (2013). Most recently, Chua released LKY: Political Cartoons (2014).

I purchased my signed copy of LKY: Political Cartoons at Epigram Books shop/office in early 2015 and actually bumped into its creator, Morgan Chua by pure coincidence thanks to timing.

There is no air of arrogance around him and he seemed very real. A true artist who is confident simply being himself, he wasn’t decked out in expensive fancy clothes and neither did he use a thick English accent to show how learned he was.

Chua in fact, spoke in fluent rapid fire Chinese dialect with Edmund Wee (publisher/ owner of Epigram Books) who wrote his book’s foreword and seemed incredibly shy when I tried to say hello and shake his hand. He had on seasoned flip-flops and left carrying an unglamorous pink plastic bag but the talented Singaporean was undeniably brilliant and highly intelligent. His book reflects it too.

I’m a big fan of Epigram Books because though they are a very small outfit, they are a rare breed of book publishers with a lot of genuine passion and pride. It is consistent; their books are extremely well designed, and nicely produced. Beautifully conceptualized and designed book covers with thick paper stock… and decently priced.

Chua was just 12-years-old when he first met the fiery Lee Kuan Yew during his famous “Merdeka!” speech at the historic Singapore Badminton Hall in Geylang on 1 September 1962. Our late founding father left a deep impression on Chua and his genuine respect for the great political leader shows in his book, with Chua dedicating LKY: Political Cartoons to “the children of Singapore”, a very lovely touch. 

I deeply enjoyed the humorous tones in Chua’s LKY: Political Cartoons, which basically showed the life story arc of Singapore’s greatest political leader, Lee Kuan Yew, who quite recently passed away on 23 March 2015 at the age of 91.

The book humanises LKY and I really liked Chua’s portrayal of Mr and Mrs Lee’s beautiful love story. A fellow MGS girl (our teachers always used Mrs Lee as the perfect example for us to aspire to), she was older than him, and he regarded her smarter than he was. They had boldly married in secret abroad before coming back to Singapore from their UK studies, and when in their twilight years she fell gravely ill, he was always by her side every night, reading to her like lifelong soulmates do.

The 152-page hardcover was a joy to read and I felt almost disappointed when I finally came to the last page. It reminds me a little of a political cartoon book my dad had many years ago when I was a child, called “Hello Chok Tong, Goodbye Kuan Yew”. Its creator, George Nonis, shared that our local politicians had once said that we should all learn to laugh at ourselves. Morgan Chua has updated this philosophy with his brilliant project and gifted us this delightful rendition of LKY’s struggles and achievements, which is very accessible to people of all ages.

A brilliant book, I truly think Morgan Chua’s LKY: Political Cartoons would absolutely make a great gift for a friend or collector who already owns the typically more serious political books or (auto)biographies in the LKY genre. It really is a breath of fresh air.

Published in Singapore by Epigram Books, available from all good bookstores. Highly recommended.

Read a free sample here.lky 1909 v2.indd

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Ning Cai is a Singapore Literature Prize nominated author, who was also long listed for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize in 2016. A bestselling writer, she is also recognised for her illusionist/ escapologist stage character Magic Babe Ning, and recognised by Channel News Asia as South East Asia's first professional female magician.

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