Dan Wong needs no introduction – at some point, you’d probably have seen his viral illustrations on Facebook. Perhaps, the name “A Good Citizen” rings a bell. Playing on the title of the Civics and Moral Education textbook that many of us are familiar with, A Good Citizen’s illustrations often bring to light local political affairs in a cynical, yet comical sense.
“Right now, I am a commercial illustrator by day, and an artist by night,” says Dan. These two spheres are slightly different from each other – being a commercial illustrator means he’s a mercenary – illustrating according to his clients’ requests. At night, he does his own art.
He adds, “this is what I’m more notorious online for. This involves a lot of political satire, making fun of Singapore, Singaporeans, and figures in authority regardless of their affiliation – this is the calling of a satirist I believe.”
Dan’s fine art work can be split into two categories – one consists of the big, more time-consuming paintings, and the other consists of his reactionary pieces.
“These quick comics were partly influenced by my time at Mothership which taught me what the social media window is truly like: 3-to-5 hour reactionary time is important.”
Defiance And Rebellion
The origin of A Good Citizen stems from Dan’s problem with authority, which started since he was in school.
“I absolutely hated being under somebody’s power, but I still had to be a responsible citizen and student; not disappoint my parents. I think the repressed feelings came out in the form of rebellion, defiance, and vandalising things.”
Later on, Dan would become a “very shameful keyboard warrior” after army, driven by the thought of his two and a half years of that was taken away from him with nothing much to gain, other than having a more cynical view of humans.
In retrospect, he admits that it was a time of negative energy. “At that time I thought I was the shizz, very clever, and that I type convincing arguments on the keyboard. However those arguments were not very convincing at all.”
At the same time, he was also practicing commercial illustration on the side. It took him some time before he realized that he could combine both aspects of his life.
Interest? No, It’s Frustration
To me, producing reactionary illustrations within a short time frame would require an immense amount of vested interest in our local affairs, but Dan rejects the idea, saying that his art is borne out of frustration.
“It’s hard to articulate – vibrating in your body that tells you that something is not right, FIX IT.” He then gives an analogy of having the urge to clean up a messy desktop.
“I’m not saying of course that I’ll make a good civil servant or I can solve problems easily; maybe it stems from being an entitled Singaporean – I don’t care I want you to fix it for me – a childish sentiment.”
He gives me an example of what he means. In one of his paintings titled Emmohee, he parodies the then Minister of Education Mr Heng Swee Keat.
“Right in the corner of my paintings – it’s hard for people to spot – I had him crucified right side up. Underneath is a doorway, and the students entering will have their head anointed by the blood dripping from his feet.”
This was made in reference to our top-down culture of whatever the top dictates, or blesses, we are coloured by it whether we like it or not.
In fact, Dan admits that he is no exception. “I’m confirm a product of the Singaporean system as much as I dislike it.”
Being Politically Moderate
Even so, Dan does not have any particular political party that he supports, saying that politically he’s a moderate. “If someone does something stupid, then I’ll make fun of it. A lot of my audience think that I’m very anti-incumbent, but I’m not lor.”
“I’m very moderate. I think the older I get, I shift from left to middle. I’m super middle now – the middle path is the way to walk,” he reaffirms.
Given the nature of his illustrations, it’s unsurprising that his loved ones have expressed concern for him. Even so, Dan has a different take on the situation.
“This might sound very arrogant, but as a Singaporean, I have a very deep-rooted belief that just because I’m a Singaporean it is my entitlement to say whatever I want.” He adds that the OB markers have actually been laid down clearly, before clarifying that accusations or allegations are a different thing entirely.
“Also I feel that anything that I draw – because I’m so deeply Singaporean – I will self-censor. Deep down inside there is also a facet of me that is made out of fear, of grudging respect towards authority that will always hold me back.”
Dan The Court Jester
Given his increasing fanbase, what does Dan hope to achieve with A Good Citizen?
The answer: to entertain – he hopes to make anybody who looks at the art work or reads the comic laugh, snigger, tell their friends about it, or have a discussion about the issue.
“You can think of A Good Citizen as a court jester! I think in the old king courts only the jester is allowed to make fun of the king but in a satirical way, because we all know that he’s a fool. So a fool can say whatever he wants, because he’s a fool.”
This means that he takes criticism in his stride too. With a laugh, he adds: “Come on man, are you really going to go online and take the court jester seriously? I’m called A Good Citizen, it’s obviously making fun of people. The court jester just makes a joke.”
He proceeds to share a story about a controversial piece.
Dan was in a crowded train one morning, and the lack of personal space meant that he could feel the body heat of the person next to him. In his words, “it’s almost as if you’re not wearing clothes.”
Needless to say, having the Muslim lady in her underwear and headscarf resulted in a wave of angry Muslims. Yet, there were also those who stood up for his work and how it reflects the multi-ethnic Singapore.
When this piece was displayed as part of an exhibition at the National Museum, he was asked to remove the painting. While Dan says that his fellow illustrator friends would never accede to such a request, Dan thought differently.
“Because I’m a satirist I wrote down on a piece of paper “This piece is censored because of questionable content” and I pasted the piece of paper on the artwork.”
Dan recalls another memorable episode, where he felt “a twinge of pride” when the then second Minister of Defence Mr Ng Eng Hen shared a cartoon that he drew during the 2015 elections.
“He was making a speech, and a lot of people from the opposition were jeering at him, and he was like “even if you jeer against us, we will improve your lives!” It’s like your Asian parent – I don’t care whether or not you like it, what I’m doing is the best for you.”
In The Future
Next year, Dan’s looking to take a hiatus to do a comic about Singapore. Having done commercial comics before, he’s familiar with the processes and aware of how time-consuming it can be.
“I’m also trying to find ways and means to get my grubby fingers into a relationship with a publisher so that we can work something out when the comic gets released.”
Almost instantaneously, he follows with: “Now that I’ve said it I’ve got to do it!”
*All images are provided by Dan