Vicky Chen Cartoons Underground Founder

Today, we take you through a retrospective of the last 9 years of the festival’s history as we hear from Vicky Chen in this Cartoons Underground Founder’s Letter.

In November of 2019 a large gathering of talented artists and animation fans gathered to celebrated what was the 8th instalment of Asia’s largest animation festival- Cartoons Underground. Groups from different backgrounds milling about while drinking and laughing over good food and good animation films was a treat for the senses. It was the best kind of Saturday night party Kult Kafe hosts. 

Behind that symposium of people is a tiny 5’1 girl with a big laugh and a bigger taste for all kinds of cartoons. She’s seen nursing an ale all the while spreading her passion for art and film to young eager minds. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Vicky Chen herself, the muse behind Cartoons Underground as it enters its 9th year in 2020.

Vicky presenting at Cartoons Underground 2014

The first instalment

The first instalment of Cartoons Underground happened on the 29th of November on what feels like eons ago. Patrick Smith (Co-founder) of Cartoons Underground and I decided to create this massive fun mix of films in Southeast Asia for some good friends, local artists and just general fans of animation. Patrick was a Film Director at NYU Tisch and he had a large network of people who knew the industry well. He has worked on huge projects such as MTV’s Daria, Beavis & Butthead and so many more. At that time animation wasn’t as huge as it is now. So literally 2 weeks before the festival we raised $800 through a Kickstarter and launched it in 2012!

Animation was something that had been hiding in the shadows in Singapore for ages- it just wasn’t accessible to the public.

The mainstream people were watching cartoons on TV but it was hard to pursue as a job or meet people in the industry for the regular animation fan. With my sister being part of the pioneer batch at ADM (Art Design & Media at NTU) and my work and friendships with those at NYU Tisch, I wanted to let everybody in on this “secret” that I had come to love so much. I wanted to create this, almost a museum of sorts, that the masses could experience and interact with. It was all about supporting young talent and bringing the awareness back home for me. 

Our first Cartoons Underground 2012 at HOME CLUB that is now CANVAS along Singapore’s river!

Why animation?

All kinds of cartoons have always been a huge part of my daily life. From watching cartoons on weekend mornings to Disney, it was only natural that as an adult I seek out the more adult variety as well! The Simpsons, Rick and Morty they take me on a journey that surpasses physical boundaries. The story-telling aspect is unique and different and the visual element is just stunning! When the animator makes the eyes bulge or someone’s head and explode that makes me laugh! Its this unique marriage of fascination and relatability that makes me love it so much and I just want to share that with everyone too. Its not easy to create an animation film either. There is so much patience and it requires a whole different calibre of talent. It takes 24 frames in one second so imagine how many drawings that takes! 

It’s all about the people and partners!

Cartoons Underground had since become much bigger than me! Its this huge community of people who help me through it every year.

I remember a pivotal moment for me some years ago. I’ve been doing this with my co-founder since I was 21. However, Cartoons Underground had since become much bigger than me! Its this huge community of people who help me through it every year. The realisation that this isn’t just a small thing that I dreamed up in my younger days gives me the drive to run it every year. My new partners and my team they inspire me to want to take it bigger and make it better with each festival. I’ve heard so many stories of creators who have been featured and have gone on to find connections and jobs through the festival. Being a paid artist should be the norm and I love that I can be a part of helping make it happen in some small way! 

21 year old Vicky at the first Cartoons Underground

In the bigger scheme of things its one night out of my life that might take months of work but for a lot of these students and budding creators, it can create a legacy for them. Personally, as a business woman I’ve seen myself do things I never thought I could do. Being able to work with people like Tom Shellsuit and Mischief Makers to create these amazing events that have been covered by the press is really cool and exciting. I love the atmosphere of creators coming together and making dreams come true. Its something I’m grateful to be a part of and something that has taught me to trust my gut above anything else.

Patrick Smith (Middle) with director from 2012

Cartoons Underground in the time of Covid-19

In 2020, we have new challenges to overcome. With the global pandemic a lot of filming has been disrupted but somehow I see the animation industry thriving. Places like Netflix or Hulu have to create content somehow. So its an interesting time for audiences at home to seek out content online. With video consumption on the rise I think Animation can step into the space in a way it hasn’t in the past and we’re excited to be a part of that. 

With video consumption on the rise I think Animation can step into the space in a way it hasn’t in the past and we’re excited to be a part of that. 

Every year we do this for our growing community and this year is no different! Just to tease everyone, we’re going to have mini events leading up to the final Cartoons Underground Festival this year. We want to take the role as a mediator for the animation conversations in the region and hopefully shed some light on the industry side of things in Singapore. We have some competitions for our community to participate in, panel discussions from a whole lot of people from young directors to seasoned industry professionals. Our aim this year is to build a stronger community of people. Doing things online can help us reach those we weren’t able to reach in the past from Isabella Chen in Budapest to Patrick Smith (co-founder) in New York. We expect it to be so much bigger and better! 

Watch this space!

We’re working hard to not disappoint our community!

If there is one thing I want to leave with all you is to follow us on social media and watch this space! We’re working hard to not disappoint our community. There’s going to be a lot more exciting content coming your way! We hope it reaches you in a more personal way and you welcome us into your homes and your laptops because

Cartoons rock!

Vicky Chen 
Founder of Cartoons Underground 

Leave a Comment