If you’re in your late 20s to 30s today, Mr Kiasu might ring a bell in your head and bring back those good old memories. How well do you know Mr Johnny Lau – author of the wildly successful Mr Kiasu? Here are 7 things you would want to know about Johnny.
#1 | Mr Kiasu series stopped not because it wasn’t popular, in fact, it was quite the opposite!
In 2000, after the 8th book on Mr Kiasu was released at the peak of its fame, Johnny made the decision to end the comic book series. Johnny tried hard to shake off being solely associated with Mr Kiasu – he didn’t want it to be the only thing he is known for. After putting Mr Kiasu down, Johnny went on to pursue other creative projects including other comics, and getting involved with teaching and mentoring in these projects.
To have a sense of Mr Kiasu’s popularity, after its creation in 1990, McDonald’s sold Kiasu Burgers in 1993. More than a million Kiasu Burgers were sold within just two months of their launch, with the four collectible figurines rapidly becoming some of McDonald’s best-selling items. There were also spin-offs based on Mr Kiasu, an English sitcom Channel 8 artiste Chew Chor Meng acted in, a radio show and a stage musical. Merchandise based on the character proliferated around Singapore at that time, and Mr Kiasu even had an outlet at Takashimaya department store. Altogether, Mr Kaisu comic book sales (including cross-overs) crossed 400,000!
How many comic book series could actually command such popularity back then? Or even now.
#2 | Johnny had to self-fund his first Mr Kiasu comic book because every single publisher he approached rejected the idea.
Johnny’s comic book series had a rocky start when no publisher had confidence in his creations. Using industry benchmarks back then, book publishers insinuated that Johnny would be lucky if he could even sell 500 copies at the book fair. But the publishers were proven dead wrong when Mr Kiasu comic books sold 3,000 copies at the book fair and went on to reach 60,000 +++ copies today!
#3 | Mr Kiasu = Johnny Lau?
As much as many readers would assume that novel characters are based on the personality and behaviour of its creator, Johnny confesses that he is the complete opposite of “kiasu”. Being “kiasu” would entail being risk averse – that wasn’t Johnny’s nature when he decided to go ahead to publish his works. He knew clearly that if Mr Kiasu didn’t take off, he would potentially end up in debt.
#4 | Johnny’s cartoon sketching skills were self-taught!
You might think that Johnny enrolled himself in art school or professionally learnt drawing, but you’d be surprised. In his early schooling days, Johnny actually picked up sketching all by himself. At school, he would draw funny and distorted representations of his teachers (which often got him into trouble!). His classmates loved his artwork and he continued drawing and drawing…
#5 | Johnny did not start out wanting to be a comic artist
After graduating from Maris Stella High School, Johnny went on to the University of Southern California, enrolling into architecture. This decision was influenced by his parents as they wanted him to have a successful and respectable career in the future, while tapping on his talent for art at the same time. Johnny excelled in his course, making it on the dean’s list – all while getting into extra-curricular arts courses such as glass blowing to ceramics, which caught his interest.
When Mr Kiasu burst into the limelight in Singapore, Johnny made the leap to comic drawing, abandoning architecture, leaving his father in shock and disapproval. But as his father witnessed the continued success of Mr Kiasu, he gradually accepted and turned to support Johnny’s career.
When talent and hard work come together, it’s unstoppable.
#6 | A teacher once berated Johnny for a good 15 minutes during a book signing event!
Johnny recalled that a female teacher once stood in the queue at his book signing event to scold Johnny for influencing her students with Singlish, and for projecting the ugly image of Singaporeans abroad. Influencing solely based on Singlish would be an overstatement, as Johnny clarifies. Apart from the occasional “lah” and shortened versions of standard English, for example, “where is it?” to “where?”, the rest of Johnny’s popular comic book series were actually based on standard English!
So… who’s really causing the students’ “bad” English? Probably not Johnny lah.
#7 | Johnny is back, after a long hiatus!
Johnny’s ninth Mr Kiasu Book, “Everything Also Like Real”, was released in September 2017, and the tenth book in the series, “Everything Also First Class”, was released in September 2018.
Through the years, many publishers (including those he pitched his first book to) had offered to help Johnny produce new books or reprint old ones, but most were rejected by him. Psst, fans of Mr Johnny Lau, word has it that he is working on a special webtoon “Please Watch-over Me” with the U Care Centre set up by NTUC to support lower-wage workers in Singapore. Advocating for the welfare of lower-wage workers must be a topic close to his heart!
Check out their special webtoon by Mr Johnny Lau, author of the Mr Kiasu comic series, to follow the lives of these essential service workers!
Those are 7 things you might not know about Johnny! Mr Kiasu books have definitely left its mark on a generation of Singaporeans, forming part of their Singaporean identity. Now, what’s your favourite memory of Mr Kiasu?