This first graphic novel from Singapore daily newspaper cartoonist Cheah Sinann is a short but emotionally compressed read, demonstrating the good cartoonist’s ability to fit maximum story into minimal panels.
Set during the 1942 Japanese invasion of Singapore, the story starts with the seemingly ridiculous situation of the invading expeditionary force turning up on bicycles. It soon becomes apparent, however, the soldiers on bikes are no less vicious and cruel than their tank-driving counterparts.
Despite this, a bond is formed between a newly orphaned boy and one of the Japanese soldiers. The boy wants to learn how to ride a bike, while the conscripted warrior finds solace in a paternal relationship that he seems unlikely to get a chance to realise through conventional methods.
Cheah Sinann’s art and story look simple but they’re layered with an emotional complexity that the reader is left to figure out. The characters don’t emote externally because they seem to understand the futility of their situation, but it becomes very clear that their lives have entwined. In war this can only lead to confrontation, and it’s brought to a head before they’ve had a chance to fully explore their relationship. This makes it a short but intense story, and one that drives home the cruelty and inhumanity of war, where few people get the luxury of finding lasting peace.