In his new comic book, Captain Cambodia, artist and writer Patrick Samnang Mey gives life to the superhero he believes the Kingdom deserves – and the one it needs right now
The opening panels of the French-Cambodian artist and writer Patrick Samnang Mey’s new graphic novel Captain Cambodia show a man who has dedicated his life to saving the Kingdom’s forests being confronted by menacing red-eyed figures in a logged clearing in Koh Kong province in April 2012.
The time and location of the scene, the same time and location where forest activist Chut Wutty was killed while escorting two journalists near a protected forest, is no coincidence.
While the comic is fictional and can be read simply as a traditional superhero tale, Mey said he intended it to be a more serious commentary on illegal logging, land eviction, censorship, the media and political violence.
“I think anyone will be able to read it, but I think everybody will take something different from what they read,” he said.
“The children may not understand the second and third layers, but I think adults will grasp them, especially if they know well what happens in Cambodia. Maybe even some people will be inspired to want to know more.”
He said releasing the comic to coincide with the third anniversary of Wutty’s death was a reaction to what he says is a government trying to stifle opposition.
“When I say ‘opposition’, I’m not only talking about the CNRP, I’m talking about civil society, citizens, and I think the role of the opposition, journalists as well … is to not let them do this,” he said.
The overarching plot of the 62-page comic tells the story of a power struggle between Krisna, the protector of the Khmer Empire, and an evil spirit named “It”, spanning the 15th century to the present.
It is divided into three sections: the Khmer Empire, Civil War, and Peace, Stability and Development.
During each era, Krisna takes on a different “avatar” form, culminating in the final section as Captain Cambodia, during which he must battle It and an army of his “red eyes” for the “heart and soul of Cambodia”.
The book took about six months to write, but Mey – whose previous graphic novel Eugenie was a tale of heartbreak and hedonism set in France and Cambodia - said he had been developing the idea for about four years with news clippings and NGO reports.
“When I write something, when I do something, it’s just because I feel the need to do it,” he said.
For his next work, Mey said he wanted to tackle another completely different topic: the gap between traditional Cambodian values and Western values being adopted here.
Captain Cambodia is set to be released on April 26 as a digital download from Amazon.com and will be free for the first 24 hours.