American writer and comic book fan Adan Jimenez has discovered Singapore through the eyes of his books’ protagonist, a local child sleuth.
BY Cara Yap
PHOTOS Mindy Tan/Epigram Books
ILLUSTRATION Andrew Tan
t may seem like a hackneyed plotline from a romantic novel, but you could say it was love that gave children’s book author Adan Jimenez the impetus to settle down in Singapore in 2008. His creative journey here, though, is entirely original.
Although he had visited the country several times and liked what he saw, he had no plans to move here – at least not before he met his wife, Singaporean Felicia Low.
“Singapore has always been a welcoming place with friendly people and delicious food. I did, however, toy with the idea of living in Madrid after visiting it for a week. But I met Felicia the day after I returned from that trip, and decided I’d rather stay in Singapore a bit longer,” explains Jimenez.
But here’s where the romantic cliché of riding off into the sunset ends. While the couple bonded over their shared love of comic books and pop culture, Jimenez initially struggled to find a job in Singapore before his tourist visa expired. He had to resort to crashing at friends’ houses before he could afford to rent a room. Singapore’s cosmopolitan nature meant he did not have to struggle with cultural adjustments.
“I had lived in New York City and Hong Kong, so I was used to being in a place with diverse cultures. I learnt a long time ago that respecting other people goes a long way towards bridging most cultural differences,” the California native shares.
Having landed a job as a project manager at a concept bookstore, the peripatetic writer was able to freely pursue his creative interests – and he did.
BRIDGES THROUGH ART
In 2012, he got his big break. Singapore independent publisher Epigram Books called for local writers to pitch for a book series based on a Singaporean boy detective, aimed at eight- to 12-year-olds. Having both been voracious consumers of mystery stories, Jimenez and Low jumped at the opportunity to pen their own series set in Singapore.
“Sherlock Sam is actually modelled after the both of us: His love of science, comics and books mirror our own passions,” says the self-confessed geek.
“ I’ve never found Singapore to be sterile or predictable. There are a lot of great things to experience here, both the modern and historical aspects. ”
Adan Jimenez, co-author, Sherlock Sam series
Since then, the couple has co-authored 14 books under the title The Adventures of Sherlock Sam, which revolve around the hijinks of a schoolboy-cum-foodie, along with his sidekick, a cantankerous, low-tech robot. The series has sold tens of thousands of copies in Singapore, and has been picked up by the US-based major publisher, Andrew McMeel Publishing.
Perhaps part of the irreverent series’ appeal stems from its local flair, as readers follow its protagonist’s adventures around the island state.
Conducting research for the books has been a journey of discovery for Jimenez. “I’ve loved learning about the different neighbourhoods that we set the books in. For example, when we were researching a story based in Balestier, we found that Singapore’s last free water kiosk was located there, and that the Shaw Brothers studio in Singapore was located at 8 Jalan Ampas. These little bits of history are my favourite things to learn about as we write the series,” he shares.
“I’ve never found Singapore to be sterile or predictable. There are a lot of great things to experience here, both the modern and historical aspects. The amazing things we find in the various neighbourhoods lend themselves well to storytelling.”
But how do two people from different cultures collaborate to weave stories that are, in all respects, Singaporean? “I think our different cultures have actually been a boon, not a hindrance. Sometimes, writing with a partner who is a foreigner forces you to check your facts thoroughly. Then, you find out so many things you never knew about your country and culture! Most of our disagreements come from plot-related things, and not cultural aspects,” he shares.
On the Singaporean culture and psyche, though, Jimenez is careful not to generalise, as he sees people as individuals instead of a collective. “I’ve learnt that the ‘local psyche’ doesn’t exist in a monolithic form,” he asserts. “Singaporean artists, regardless of medium or discipline, are driven by different things. This makes for an amazingly varied arts scene. It is hard for me to say how Singaporean artists differ from those from another country.”
Jimenez does, however, admire local artist Andrew Tan, who is responsible for Sherlock Sam’s illustrations. “Drew has a unique yet versatile style. He is also incredibly meticulous, and wants to get every detail right before allowing his work to be seen by the masses. Once, he literally told us to stop the presses because he found a tiny error in one of the images that nobody else would have noticed. That’s how much he cares about his work.”
Rattling off the names of his favourite local artists, it is evident that the writer has a genuine appreciation for Singapore’s arts scene. “Poet Pooja Nansi writes with wonder, ferocity and conviction. She is not afraid to tell the truth. Watching her perform live is a thing of beauty. I have paid to see three different versions of You Are Here, her spoken-word show about her family, because it was so powerful,” he shares.
And what does he think of Sonny Liew being the first Singaporean to win an Eisner award, which recognises creative achievement in the comic industry? “The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is an amazing work of art, and Sonny totally deserves the award,” he says. “But awards are ultimately the subjective view of a group of judges. They’re always nice to get, but they aren’t the final arbiters of what is ‘good’. Local creatives should continue to make the art they want to make, and make it well.”
As for himself, Jimenez is working with Low to decide on the setting for their next book, in between trips to the local library and Books Kinokuniya at Ngee Ann City to load up on inspiration. “The city literally inspires pretty much everything about our stories,” he concludes.
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