By Faith Khong
Known for being the creator of the Billy & Saltie series, cartoonist Cheah Sinann has become a household name. As seen in his comic strips, Cheah’s style of writing fuses wit, humour and thoughtfulness, with a stroke of simplicity.
The Bicycle, Cheah’s latest graphic novel, is set in Singapore during the World War II era and is inspired by his father’s anecdotes of wartime. The novel, clad in black-and-white illustrations, is a blend of fact and fiction that is easy to digest and comprehend.
Not a huge fan of graphic novels, I was hesitant to read this book at first. Nonetheless, the book proves to be a page turner; I had difficulty putting it down. In fact, I enjoyed the author’s unique portrayal of the war.
While the topic of war tends to form negative impressions and gruesome images in people’s minds, this book sheds a different light on our nation’s dark history. Indeed, The Bicycle does not dismiss the cruelty of war, depicting the scenes of the Kempeitai atrocities: inhumane killings, massacres and shootings. However, it also humanises the Japanese soldiers during that period, challenging the notion that they are just killing machines devoid of feelings.
The parable tells a heartwarming story of the bond formed between a Japanese soldier, Toshiro Iwakura, and a young merchant boy, Ah Cheng. As the story unfolds, it seems as if the characters are as different as day and night. However, they do have one similarity – an interest in cycling, which forms the basis of their relationship. Their relationship goes as far as Iwakura defying his own comrades to protect Ah Cheng.
Wheeling on a universal appeal, The Bicycle pedals on love, hope and faith amidst the brutal warring track – displaying the unyielding spirit of humanity – making this gem an insightful read.