Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Tale of a Rickshaw Puller

Biggest congrats to Choong Kwee Kim (better known in blogging circles as K.Kim!) who is featured in Starmag today. Her beautifully illustrated children's book features a rickshaw puller Ah Fu in late C19th Penang, and she apparently dug into the history books to dig out the story of a real rickshaw strike in 1901.
Choong began work on Ah Fu in April last year when, on a moonlit night, the story that had been simmering in her head became bright as day. Less than two months later, the writing was completed.

Next came the more arduous task of illustrating the story. Plugging away at her labour of love after work each day, she brought to life the adventures of Ah Fu, using pen and water-soluble colour pencils.

“I told myself, ‘A page a day will get your book published one day’,” says the art hobbyist who minored in art education when she studied the Teaching of English as a Second Language at Universiti Malaya in the early 1990s.

Her work was done by December and, in March this year, when MPH Publishing responded favourably to her manuscript, Choong was over the moon.
I'm going to buy this book for this illustrations ... even though I haven't got a kid in sight! (or maybe the kid is me??)

If you want to meet Kwee Kim, there's a hi-tea for local authors at MPH 1-Utama 2-5 p.m. next week to which you are all invited!

(Photo on right from author's blog.)


animah said...

I'll be there. I think its wonderful what she's done. And I'm curious to know how she did her research. As for her illustrations, on the internet, they are beautiful. But in print ... the colour printing completely let her down. I was disappointed when I saw the book set amongst other less beautiful but better quality printed books.
It's like setting a jewel in a tin cast.

bibliobibuli said...

next weekend is also readings so i can't make it

kwee kim will also be a guest at breakfast club in october

Sham said...

I am so inspired. For ages, I used to make lil kiddy stories for my cousins kids - since there were no Indian names, I used theirs - it's a nice effect.
Animah, I am just finishing off "Sara bakes a cake" for when I see her next. What a coincidence.
I have had a glorious time :)

K.Kim said...

Sharon - thanks for this mention in your post.

Animah - the idea for the rickshaw strike in my book came from reading this passage in the Travellers' Tales of Old Singapore:

"On the October of this year (1901) there occurred a rickshaw strike; in point of fact, the last one that was ever seriously to upset the even tenor of Singapore's transport problem.
The strike was well arranged and was complete. With the exception of a few private rickshaws, there were none out on the streets at all...
The day the strike occurred was windy, with patches of rain. The mail was in the morning, and the offices had to be reached somehow and there was nothing to be done but to "hoof" it. So away went the male portion of the population, carrying Chinese umbrellas and the inevitable tiffin basket, hoping against hope that someone would pass in a horse vehicle and give them a lift.
Imagine it, you who roll easily to office today in your saloon cars, imagine your predecessors trudging along Orchard and Grange Roads, their white boots covered with the red mud of wet laterite road - a mud which stained! and send a little prayer of thanks to the Mr Austin and Mr Morris and their friends who have delivered you for ever from such experiences as we had then! Happy was the man who owned a bicycle on that day of the strike..." - Edwin A. Brown (1934)

I suppose it is easier to share this interesting bit with children and help them imagine this scene with the help of a picture book.

And yes, I found that there is a bit of muddying of colours in the printing outcome. Could it be due to a colour separation problem or printer quality? Would the use of matted printing paper or digital colours for the illustrations not cause the muddying effect as compared to using water colour? I'm not sure. Anyhow, this is a good experiment and we can only hope to improve as we go along.

Madcap Machinist said...

Hi Kim,

Congrats on getting published!

The type of paper you choose can make a huge difference when reproducing watercolour artwork, because different kinds of paper reacts differently to ink that is being used. I personally like matte paper for printing anything, because I don't like the plasticky feel of glossy paper, and I certainly prefer illustrated books that are printed on matte, because they are closer to the real thing. Black tones reproduce better on glossy stock, because there is no graining, and also because of the way light reflects on the gloss surface; light diffuses on a matte surface, which generally makes dark colours appear lighter. These are some of the things you should consider when choosing the paper. Matte paper also has a range of textures and graininess, and watercolour prints should use the finest grains possible, but generally unless you're working with b&w artwork the choice of paper is largely down to taste and cost.

Of course, the ink and printer quality also matters, but this depends on the printer involved.

I read on your blog that you went through the pre-printing process yourself, so I'm not sure how well you did the colour-profiling when you scanned the illustrations. It is worth hiring a pro to do this to be on the safe side, if accuracy is an issue (once it gets really technical, even the paper the end-product is going to be in has its own colour-profiles). It seems that you weren't involved in the printing process--you should have personally seen and corrected the colour-proofs before going ahead--printers typically overcorrect colours to compensate for black and mid-tones suffer, which is why the pictures turn out muddy, and it's hard for the printer to compare for accuracy when the originals are not available to them.

Digitally colouring the pictures does take away some of the headaches, but really, why would anyone not want to get dirty with paints? :)

K.Kim said...

Hi Machinist,

Agree with you on how different kinds of paper respond differently to ink and colour.

But I've noticed that a book on contemporary Malaysian art by Zakaria Ali, printed by MPH, was nicely done on glossy paper. There’s no muddying of colours in those paintings reproduced in the book.

To the publisher, production cost is of course the most important factor in the choice of paper and type of binding, and the author really could do nothing about it but to, well, pray.

Anyway, I was happy that MPH chose a heavier grade of paper to give my 32-page kiddy book a thicker spine while keeping the book price low and affordable at RM15.90.

Above all, I was so glad that the book was not stapled!

Madcap Machinist said...

50 sen a page isn't bad at all!

Then again, after a quick and dirty survey of various full-colour illustrated books I have--including art, design & coffee table books--I've found that the the cost ranges from rm0.30-1.00 per page. This is a pound for pound comparison, across different formats. How much is the Zakaria Ali book selling for, and how many pages?

I don't know how this scales with the size of the print job, but all things being equal, since these kinds of books are typically produced in limited quantities, we should expect the same quality at the approximately the same cost per page.

I wonder if someone in the know can tell us more. Anybody with commercial printing experience here?

Anonymous said...

Actually if this was in any way realistic Ah Fu would be hooked on opium :)

bibliobibuli said...

"For poor Ah Fu,
only he knew better:
He worked hard for money
to send home for his mother.

He did not drink,
gamble, smoke or borrow.
He saved every cent,
his coinbox never hollow."

(Picture of an opium pipe next to these verses.)