By Beverly Grafton
In the Year of the Virus is yet another beautiful collaboration borne out of the Circuit Breaker period. A soul-affecting work of art between veteran writer Felix Cheong and up and coming illustrator, Eko, a.k.a., Jia He Yi.
This collection of poetry sees Felix (pictured right), exposing his deepest vulnerabilities. Through his poetry, Felix bares our deepest innate human reactions to the world, as we used to know it, crumbling to pieces around us. If you're the kind of person that ends up laughing hysterically or bawling your eyes out from reading, I suggest you set some tissues by your side when reading this poetry comic book. You'll need it.
Dive into a cathartic exploration through the pandemic, the wounds it's caused and the scars it's leaving on people, our lives and the world in general. From the scathing reality of us being at the mercy of something microscopic in size to the trauma of loss, be it of time, love or life, this is another must-have for the shelf.
There is something very personal about the style of writing with In the Year of the Virus. Something earthy, organic, almost tangible. The emotions these poems stir up are at times raw and unforgiving, just like the last one, Let The Morning In.
This excerpt, from Let The Morning In (pictured right), set me on an emotional rollercoaster through guilt, resentment, heartbreak and grief. Just one page. I cannot begin to imagine the compendium of sorrow that Felix has hidden away when this is just the tip of the iceberg. And that's just only one emotion. He's probably got some gargantuan library of emotional compendiums hidden between his heart and soul.
And then there's Till Death Do Us Part (pictured left). This page alone doesn't just hit me in the feels. It's suckerpunches me so hard in my gut I feel like throwing up. Every single poem Felix wrote on Facebook (his personal profile, that is) for each of his parents, who passed away three weeks apart, is suddenly dredged up from my memory as I find them, in their entirety, compounded so elegantly with the simplest of words in this one poem.
In short, this man, I tell you, is gifted with his words.
But my dear friend and literary idol, Felix Cheong, is not alone in this endeavor, for the one who solidifies his words with superbly accurate illustrations, is the brilliantly talented and bubbly Eko. Every cell in the book has been brought to life with her pen. That, my dear readers, is what I call true artistry. Even the color schemes she chooses, serve to accentuate the mood of the poem, be it dusk, dawn or twilight and everything else in between.
I may not have met her yet but one can catch a glimpse of her effervescence through an interview conducted by Felix's students. However, there's more to her than just cute and wholesome. Her ability to capture this caricature of life with Covid-19 so accurately almost makes this book seem like an exposé. Like what, you ask?
(Eko, a.k.a. Jia He Yi, Illustrator of In the Year of the Virus)
Well, like the things we're being shielded from or things we're just not privy to, like contracting the virus, since we've been doing our best to avoid that sort of thing. We don't know what goes on in the minds of our frontliners. We don't know what's going on in the minds of our survivors. We don't know what's going on in the minds of our family members even. But with a poetry comic book like this, even if you're allergic to anything literary, you'll get a crystal clear perspective on what reality is outside of your safe little bubble.
I honestly believe there will never be enough pages for me to expound my love and adoration for Felix Cheong's work and innovative ideas. In fact, I hope his next project will involve compiling that collection of poems he wrote while grieving his beloved parents. Meanwhile, if you'd like to pick up a copy of In the Year of the Virus, as well as his other illustrated book of poetry, Oddballs, Screwballs and Other Eccentrics, they're both available on amazon.sg and goguru.com.sg and all major bookstores in Singapore.