UNNAMED Collective: Bringing the Southeast Asian comics scene to the world

UNNAMED Collective: Bringing the Southeast Asian comics scene to the world

As the global comics industry wakes up to its expanding diversity, collectives such as UNNAMED are doing their part in educating and showcasing SEA talents.

By Eeyan Chuah

Frustrated with the lack of openly available resources and information tailored for Southeast Asian creators, Sarah Joan Mokhtar and Remeina Yee headed a group of artists to establish UNNAMED in 2013. The platform was co-founded by Sarah and Yee, together with Max Loh and Amanda Nelson from Malaysia, and Stephani Soejono from Indonesia and Rob Cham from the Philippines. Yee says they wanted the collective to act as an information-sharing platform and to provide a centralised sense of community for the region’s comics and illustration industry.

Starting out as an online Facebook group with mostly Malaysian creators, UNNAMED’s members grew over the years to include artists and illustrators from Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand. Members are welcomed to tap into the group’s resources and are encouraged to share their own published or unpublished personal works. As Loh concluded, this is an ideal virtual platform for artists all across the region to meet and network with like-minded creatives.

According to Yee, UNNAMED also hopes to do everything they can to place not just more women, but also artists of sexual minorities, different cultures and other marginalized backgrounds onto their creative platform in hopes to help increase their exposure in the otherwise largely heterosexual and male-dominated industry.

With this goal in mind, UNNAMED has expanded in recent years out of its social media territory and into the physical space. The collective rents a table to promote the works of their members at selected comic and publishing festivals across the region which includes the annual Comic Fiesta in Kuala Lumpur and the Illustration Arts Festival in Singapore.

UNNAMED successfully ran their first workshop in Rimbun Dahan in May 2019. The workshop was a collaboration between Rimbun Dahan and the UNNAMED collective, initiated by one of the latter’s members, Penang-based illustrator Charis Loke, who was the artist in residence at Rimbun Dahan at the time.

A discussion and group shot of the participants at the UNNAMED comic workshop at Rimbun Dahan.

They were getting ready to run three additional workshops in Penang as part of Open Studios Penang 2020 but the plans have unfortunately been postponed due to the Movement Control Order in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic. The workshops included ones on editorial illustration, comic making and pitching and would have been a beneficial event for those seeking a career in comics and illustration.

For every event they organise, the co-founders try to secure funding and partnerships from various organisations. One of the things they work hard to get funding for is the scholarship program they started to benefit participants who are interested but lack the financial means to join their workshops. Aside from monetary aid, Loh stresses that UNNAMED is also there for those who need advice on their career paths, be it licensing, publishing, or job opportunities.

Highlighting the importance of having a community in the comics industry, Loke says, ‘Many comic artists and illustrators spend long hours working alone; being connected to a group of friends and peers helps not only with motivation but also mental health. It’s crucial for aspiring artists to have a community such as UNNAMED, whom they can go to for peer support, mentorship, and help. As an artist, you have to get used to putting your work out there for feedback or simply to share and it’s easier to start by doing it in a welcoming, safe space.’

The above somewhat resonates with what Soejono has to say. She mentions that without a platform such as UNNAMED, many artists in their own local communities would be like ‘katak di bawah tempurung’ (a popular Malay idiom describing someone with limited knowledge and experience, like a ‘frog under a coconut shell’). Alternatively, a resourceful platform could also help in generating visibility for Southeast Asian artists to clients in local and overseas markets thus increasing the exposure for local talents.

Seven years into its inception, UNNAMED remains a strictly non-for-profit platform that is currently being managed voluntarily by the six co-founders. Their efforts are commendable especially since each of the founders has at least one day job apart from their careers in comics and illustration.

The one thing that they share in common is their firm belief that they have a responsibility to support the aspiring artists in their beloved field; to expose that wide spectrum of potential on a regional, and eventually, global platform. Artists all over the region are drawing incredible stories that might not have been published if they didn’t find a supportive fanbase.

To learn more about UNNAMED or to connect with them,  find them on their website or Facebook group. Any artists and illustrators looking for resources are welcomed to join the group as long as they are from or have projects based in Southeast Asia.

Cover photo shows UNNAMED’s first Weekend Comics Workshop at Rimbun Dahan in 2019. All photos courtesy of Max Loh and Sarah Joan Mokhtar.

Eeyan Chuah is a freelance art writer and project manager based in Penang.