Left: Sean Lam with his latest manga, Many are Called, on his computer, as well as published mangas on St Paul and Judith. Below: His comic book on the pope.

A Singapore artist who worked on manga comics featuring Pope Benedict XVI, St Paul and Old Testament figure Judith, says he hopes people would be inspired by them.

“All these books come with good teachings … I hope I can encourage more people to read up on these kind of books besides those comics [which are] just based on violence or fantasy,” said fulltime manga artist Sean Lam.

Catholic youths will be able to see the 32-year-old artist’s work when his comic book on the pope is distributed during World Youth Day this August. The St Paul and Judith comic books are already on sale in the US.

Lam, a self-confessed “free thinker”, said the opportunity to work on these Christian characters came as he was scouring the Internet for projects. After some discussions with Jonathan Lin of Manga Heroes in the US, which publishes Catholic manga comics, Lam came onboard. Lin himself is a Catholic.

Working on the series strengthened his conviction that it was for a good cause. The characters are inspiring and the stories teach about qualities such as courage, faith and determination, he added.

Lam said he is glad to be able to help present the Pope Benedict manga to an international audience at World Youth Day in Madrid. Working on the comics also helped him rediscover “his origins” as he grew up in a Christian family, he added.

Lam, an ex-art director in the advertising industry, said he had always been passionate about drawing since his younger days, and fell in love with comics and manga during his secondary school years.

The key to fleshing out the characters and scenes is to plunge oneself into the script or story and develop a “feel” for the characters, he shared. A lot of research needs to be carried out as well as discussions with the publisher and writer on how they want the characters to be portrayed.

“Once you immerse yourself in the story, you can actually come up with the visuals quite easily,” he said.

In addition, Lam would also come up with his own ideas on how to “spice up” the look of characters and their clothing.

Manga, which originated in Japan, tends to emphasise “dramatic scenes” and smaller panels with close-ups. Due to the dramatic visuals, the characters can be exaggerated or “fantasy-like”, said Lam.

For the Christian manga series, Lam opted for a style that could attract children as young as eight. For example, the characters of St Paul and Judith are “toned down … slightly simplified in terms of line works … the eyes are much easier to understand”.

For the manga on Pope Benedict, Lam read news on the pontiff and, with help from the storyline, developed a better understanding of the pope’s character and life. One challenge was to portray the pope in manga style but ensuring the resemblance is there.

“He is an inspirational figure who actually commands a huge voice in the world,” said Lam, adding that he took about a month to illustrate the 32-page manga on the pontiff.

Lam said he has just finished a manga entitled Many Are Called, based on various parables. Following this is an extended manga on Pope Benedict.

The artist said he hopes to work on a manga on Blessed John Paul II as well as Jesus’ disciples, whom he described as “wonderful characters we should see in comics”.

By Darren Boon
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