Artist Chin Tong Koh brings the myth of Mazu to life

The Legend of Mazu graphic novel (2)

Artist Chin Tong Koh at work

Over the past two years, Singaporean artist Chin Tong Koh spent long hours at his neighbourhood coffeeshop — hard at work on his artistic practice. While most coffeeshop patrons were engaged in leisurely activities such as feasting, chatting, or watching videos on their mobile phones with the free Wi-Fi, Koh was immersed in his creative process — gathering online research and experimenting with ideas for his next masterpiece.

A modest individual with profound wisdom and insight when it comes to professional art practice and the local art scene, Koh is one of Singapore’s few artists with an established career in creating temple art. After decades of professional experience in the advertising and media industries, Koh returned to his true calling in illustrating mythological and folkloric imagery, a unique artistic practice which began in his early childhood. His first project in temple art was illustrating t-shirt designs when he was merely 10 years old. His love of drawing eventually led him to pursue a career in the media industry. He has since created comic works for different publishers over the years, though rarely credited by name.

Koh’s artwork (left) and The Legend of Mazu graphic novel (right)

After many years of keeping a low profile, he published his first ever book in July 2019 — The Legend of Mazu, an illustrated adaptation of the ancient Chinese folklore of Mazu, goddess and protector of the seas. In this oeuvre, he reconstructs a world of adventure and myth with sophisticated aesthetic and narrative styles.

The Legend of Mazu tells the story of Lin Mo, a mortal girl born in Meizhou Island in China, who displayed unrivalled intelligence and compassion from a young age. Gaining various extraordinary abilities and spiritual powers throughout her life, she protected her people from natural disasters and evil demons, leading to her ascent into immortality and earning her the name Mazu. Today, Mazu is widely recognised as a religious figure, worshipped as a deity in Buddhism and Taoism across the world.

For Koh, The Legend of Mazu is a personal milestone in his artistic career, one which he believes has been meaningful and value-adding to his lifework. He sees it as a consequence of fate, which allowed him to reconnect with his lifelong passion for drawing and illustration.

Today, he continues to work on comic and illustration projects that are mostly published on Facebook, notably Gangster Days, an ongoing webcomic containing vivid and visceral portrayals of urban youth in the neighbourhoods of 1980s Singapore.

The Legend of Mazu graphic novel is available for purchase and international shipping on the Asiapac Books webstore.

Established in 1983, Asiapac Books is Singapore’s leading independent publisher of comics and illustrated books designed to enhance lifelong learning.

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