The Little Red Dot, as the 692-square-kilometer island-state is affectionately known, has been busy courting authors and illustrators in recent months. But the process actually started back in 2003 with the establishment of the Media Development Authority (MDA), heralding a new page in Singapore's Media 21 vision of a global media city.

For this natural gateway between the East and the West that is armed with political and financial stability and infrastructural efficiency, no vision is too great. After all, its government has turned a place of zero natural resources into the world's largest oil refining center and seaport. Its people are its best resources—and MDA's focus. However, given the emphasis on academic and industry excellence in this rather straitlaced society, plenty needs to be—and has been—done to unleash its citizens' creativity and hidden talents.

The First-Time Writers & Illustrators Publishing Initiative (FTWIPI), kick-started in September 2005, is one of the many launching pads. A collaboration between MDA and the National Book Development Council of Singapore, its main objective is to help local creators publish their maiden works. The inaugural initiative saw 14 selected children's books showcased at the Singapore Pavilion in Frankfurt last year. This March, at the second initiative, a new batch of nine children's titles was shortlisted for publication. The addition of a new category—comics and graphic novels—has attracted 58 submissions from aspiring artists vying for a one-time publishing grant.

Seto Lok Yin, assistant CEO (Industry) at MDA, says, “The popularity of comics and graphics novels is undeniable: in the U.S. alone, 2006 sales of this category hit $640 million, a fourfold jump over 2001. Furthermore, its crossover potential—print, online, merchandise, game, movie—makes it a most attractive segment to publishers and creators.” That said, MDA has invited industry leaders to show aspiring artists and publishers the way: Tokyopop (America's most prolific manga publisher) and Diamond Books (biggest global distributor of English-language comic books) were among those gracing this June's Comics Publishing Forum. “We hope this forum will spark off our very own Singapore-made titles with international appeal,” adds Seto.

V-p of sales and marketing Kuo-yu Liang of Diamond Books comments, “It's exciting to see the interest in developing talents in Southeast Asia, in an industry that has traditionally been commercially successful in Japan and South Korea. We're definitely looking forward to continuing collaboration with the Singapore government in developing this area and, ultimately, reaching more readers.”

The 10 second-FTWIPI finalists have been featured in Mugen, the first of a six-issue anthology series by top local comics publisher Chuang Yi ( This company has been responsible for spreading the manga craze among Singaporeans, targeting specifically the English-speaking population. It jump-started with (what else) Dragonball and Slam Dunk. Following the success of Pokémon, it ventured abroad to Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, the Philippines and India. Two years ago, it launched its own publishing program with comic magazines Winx Club and Disney's Princess for the domestic and Malaysian markets. Now, with FTWIPI, Chuang Yi is set for more original content and a bigger market share.

Its counterpart Asiapac Books ( is also a prominent regional comics and graphic novels player, but it tackles the more serious topics of culture, history, philosophy and literature. Its mind-body-spirit publications (such as Basic Science of Feng Shui, Essential Chinese Medicine: Health Tonics and Inspiration from Confucius) are popular with European publishers. In fact, with more than 650 titles in its catalogue, it's not surprising that it has been busy licensing to more than 30 publishers in 20 countries. Asiapac sources illustrators mostly from Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, but has in recent years searched its backyard for talent: Inspiration from Confucius, for instance, is illustrated by local cartoonist Jeffrey Seow.

But Singapore's publishing industry isn't driven by children's books, comics and graphic novels only. The island-state plays host to most (if not all) multinational publishers and those plying their trade in the region. And among these players are, naturally, Singapore-born-and-bred publishers in various market segments. In the SSTM (scholarly, scientific, technical and medical) segment, for instance, there are three internationally recognized names: World Scientific Publishing Co. (WSPC), Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) and National University of Singapore (NUS) Press.

WSPC (, founded in 1981 with a tiny five-person office, is now a 200-strong company with its own building and overseas offices. This largest international scientific publisher in the region produces 400 titles and 100 journals a year, many adopted by Ivy League universities and reputable institutions the world over. Its authors (sporting a string of letters after their names) hail from all corners of the globe. WSPC's crowning achievement is the publication of the full series of Nobel lectures in English spanning 1901 to 2000.

ISEAS (, on the other hand, focuses on Southeast Asian social science issues, but recently expanded to include Northeast and South Asia. An active player, it publishes close to 60 new titles annually in both print and digital formats. It has digitized 30 years of articles and selected series of books, with recent publications available from both Amazon and GoogleBooks. Two ISEAS titles, Durga's Mosque and Voices of Islam, won the Outstanding Academic Title awards from Choice (U.S.A.). Head of publishing Triena Noeline Ong says, “We began promoting and distributing books from Netherlands-based KITLV in 2005. Since then, we have offered the same service to the East-West Center Washington, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies Press and, recently, Monash Asia Institute Press. For the East-West Center, our original deal has been broadened to include copublishing as well.”

In the design and architecture segment, no publisher is more prolific than Page One ( This brainchild of Mark Tan started as a small avant-garde bookshop (complete with slanting shelves) in 1983. Now his stores have sprung up around the region; the latest addition in Singapore's entertainment hub VivoCity is a 28,000-square-foot megastore offering more than 180,000 titles. Tan and his team began acquiring rights and developing local content in 1993. Thus far, Page One titles have been translated into 11 languages, while its distribution network has spread far and wide to the U.S., the Middle East and even Russia. Two new segments, arts and lifestyle, have boosted its portfolio, and these titles have been selling like hotcakes, locally and abroad. For Tan, his big picture is encapsulated in a very simple slogan: Every book begins with Page One.

Fiction is perhaps the hardest segment for local publishers to shine in, being dominated by American and British imports. But Monsoon Books ( seems to be on the right track with the right tales, so to speak. Established in 2003 by Philip Tatham (a transplanted Briton), it boasts bestselling authors Stephen Leather, Nigel Barley, Stu Lloyd, Andrew Grant and Moammar Emka, and a score of other international names, as well as some Singaporeans. A glance at its catalogue reveals an eclectic mix of the (half) serious, sexy and suspenseful, such as Escape (a true prison breakout story), Invisible Trade (an exposé of Singapore's escort industry) and Leather's Private Dancer (an action thriller). “We have 30 titles in print, 17 of which are 2007 releases. We have lined up 30 new titles for next year,” says Tatham, whose publications have been reviewed by Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal and the British press.

At the upcoming Frankfurt, visitors to the Singapore Pavilion will be able to preview FTWIPI-selected works in the form of animated short takes produced by local animation studio Peach Blossom Media. Some of the companies featured in this article will also be attending the fair. Make sure you pay them a visit!