Crumbs of School Life
Troy Chin’s Loti is the textbook we wished teachers would force us to memorise back in the day. In a word, it endears us to remember everything that was fun about going to school, without the perennial dread of exams and homework. The premise is simple: Loti revolves around Huang Shuwen and his adventures with his friends both in and out of school. The title of the novel gets its name from a dog that Shuwen later encounters and befriends.
Throughout the story, we as readers are slowly taught to look at the world through the eyes of a young boy; and that world is a strangely familiar one.
It is not only that Shuwen asks questions we ourselves have once always wondered but perhaps never got answered, (like, would the ceiling fans ever come off their hinges?) it is that the questions he asks are very much the questions we might have asked. The people that populate the school and home of loti, likewise add plenty of personality to creating an authentic prepubescent growing up phase. It is a phase that many of us look back on fondly, whilst at the same time recognising that it can be both an exciting and dangerous time for any child growing up.
It is not only Shuwen that is growing up here, however.
There is without a doubt a charm in the world that Chin creates, a charm that resonates with the inner child inside all of us. His thoughts on the way life works and how it should work might have once been our thoughts. Loti reminds us of how we ourselves once viewed our surroundings and the people around us with such child-like naiveté.
Not childish, mind you, for not everything in Shuwen’s world is seen through rose-tinted glasses. Loti tackles some deep issues in a light-hearted way; things such as the perception of Mother Tongue, global warming and even having a foreign student in class. These are issues that constantly surface in Loti and are often relatable to students; for let us be honest with ourselves, who has not gone through our local education without once experiencing the berating of parents’ with regards to grades, or the dull drone of a teacher’s voice?
Chin’s art direction for Loti removes any doubt that this is a world yet untouched by the constant cynicism present in ‘adult’ realities. Reminiscent of Japanese Manga styles, Loti emphasises innocence, so do not expect hyper realistic characters, flashy styles or detailed rendered environments. Instead, the drawing is cartoon-like, peppered with the familiar use of Manga tropes; and this actually works in its favour. We are, after all, invited into the mind of a boy at the cusp of Primary 2. The end result is a lovely hearkening to the flavour of yesteryear’s comics like Archie or Peanuts.