Bande Dessineé au Cambodge / Comics In Cambodia ‘Cheat Sheet’

French a little rusty? Still working on your Khmer? Don’t worry, use this handy ‘cheat sheet’ (also available on paper at Fantastic Planet 22D Street 278) to check out the French Cultural Centre’s comics exhibition.  


Two of the most popular genres in Cambodia are legend and romance comics.

Sovannasam (adapted by Em Satya) tells the story of two ascetics who are ordered by the gods to have a child. Beloved by the animals of the forest, he comes to their aid when they are blinded by a naga’s venom.

Torn Chey (adapted by Uth Roeun) is the classic tale of a boy who dares to match his wits with the king. This comic was originally printed in 1970, and this adaptation has captured the attention of many readers.

Em Satya always drew as a child, and as he grew older he studied at the University of Fine Arts during the Lon Nol government (1973-1974).  After the Khmer Rouge era Em Satya hoped to continue his study but found it difficult to find the opportunity, and learned many of his skills directly on the job. His first employer was the Ministry of Youth, Education and Sport, and was soon followed by numerous jobs for both public and private organizations. Beginning in 1987 he drew about 10 comics, distinguished by a simple ‘clear line’ sensibility and strong life drawing skills.

His adapatation of the legend Sop Set brought him much praise and further offers of work. (His comics are reprinted to this day, often with his signature erased.) In 1994 he began private work full-time, doing political cartoons for Rasmei Kampuchea, and illustration for a wide variety of NGOs and private parties. His political cartoons have also been printed in Cambodge Soir under the pen name ‘Nono’.  

Uth Roeun is famed for his skilful depiction of everyday Cambodian life, which he has applied to traditional Khmer stories.  He began publishing comics in the 1960s, taking inspiration from Khmer traditional art as well as diverse influences from film and print.

He has worked in many roles, as a painter, designer and illustrator. His talent saved his life during the Khmer Rouge time, where he was required to draw construction plans for ‘the organization’.  His diverse stories have consistently been reprinted in pre and post revolutionary Cambodia (often unauthorized). He retired from his work as Department Chief for Publishing at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport in 2001. He is currently the President of the Association of Cambodian Artist Friends, located at Wat Phnom.   


Romance comics were very popular in the 1980s and often discuss issues of class and arranged marriage. 

Kompong Thom, the Place of My Heart is based on the classic Sin Si Simuth song, written and drawn by Or Yuthea. Sothea is a soldier and wants to marry Neary Pal, but has a rival who schemes to steal her away.

Uth Roeun’s masterful adaptation of classic story Tum Teav brings to life the tale of two lovers who are caught in custom and tradition, leading to their deaths.

Or Yuthea began his career in comics in 1986.The artist’s comics quickly became popular due to professional drawing skills and innovative cover design. When possible Or Yuthea prefers to write and draw original stories, and he has lost count of the number of comics he has done.  This helped support his study at the University of Fine Arts, from 1986 – 1993.

                When comics began to lose their popularity he turned to other forms of illustration, in particular books of song lyrics, NGO comics and illustrations, paintings and children’s books. He currently works as an architect and designer for the Ministry of Land Management and Urban Planning. He has recently finished comics for both GTZed and Cambodian Women’s Crisis Centre.


Kolap Pailin is a novel by Them Nhok (1943).  The characters overcome barriers of custom and arranged marriage for a happy ending.

Im Sokha was born in Kompong Cham. A compulsive drawer, he did not stay in school for long. In the 1980s flyers from Indian films captured his imagination, and he began drawing comics in many different genres -  film adaptations, adventure stories, romance and horror.  During the 1980s he was known as one of the fastest comic artists, able to draw an entire book in a few days. He has recently retired from his work as an editorial cartoonist for Kampuchea Thmey.

Anyone who has walked inside a Khmer bookstore has seen Hul Sophon’s popular novel covers.  In addition to drawing novel covers, his adaptation of the novel Kolap Pailin was one of many comics he has done both before and after Khmer Rouge era.  

The artist took an active interest in drawing at age 13, and studied in Takeo at Lycee Suriyavong. He began his art career in 1963, doing comics and novel covers in Phnom Penh until the time of the revolution. During the 1980s he found work at the Ministry of Youth, Education and Sport, working on textbooks. He is now retired and working freelance. He is currently preparing to publish a children’s book, Tepasaa Chen.

Childrens’ NGO comics

Childrens’ organizations find comics a useful medium to share their message.  Many comics artists have found employment with the long-running children’s magazines Mom and Mab and Tam Tam.

Soeung Makara’s Tam Tam story was produced as a part of a nationwide anti-malaria campaign, in 2001.

Chao Bey Kdam, drawn by Heang Kanol tells the story of a child’s adventures with two nagas. 

 Some of the childrens’ non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that have employed the cartoonists exhibited here include Room to Read, SIPAR, Damrey Saa, Sovanna Phoum, and Room to Read, among many others.

Vit Tharin’s Life around the Tonle Sap Lake is from SIPAR’s ‘I want to Know’ series.  A young boy visits his uncle on vacation, and learns about the fun and difficulties of fishing in the Tonle Sap lake.   

Nhek Sophaleap’s “Daem Komnat Neareak Seng”  (Birth of the Lion Creature) tells the traditional story of a Yeak (Ogre) who cannot be killed in day, night or on earth, and the enemy that finally defeats him.

Soeung Makara began studies at the Royal University of Fine Arts in 1994, and quickly became interested in cartooning and animation. There he studied Graphic Design and did post-graduate study of Decoration and Architecture.  He began commercial work while in school, working for commercial clients and NGOs, including Damrey Saa (1998 to 2002) and Tam Tam magazine (1997 to 2000).

During 2002 Soueng Makara travelled around the country and returned to Phnom Penh to start his own graphic design business. He is currently doing storyboards and hopes to develop a Cambodian animation studio.

                Heang Kanol works in commercial art and illustration, and produced Chao Bey Kdam as a supplement to Mom and Mab.

                Vit Tharin is an illustrator and designer who generally works in the field of illustration.

He has not done newsstand comics. His painted color closely resembles the format of French ‘BD’.

Nhek Sophaleap  began study at the University of Fine Art in 1989, first studying painting, then Architecture, finishing in 1994. Students of French will recognize his illustrations in the 1997 Khmer-French textbook  Bonjour Nicolas!  Nhek Sokahleap’s comics have generally been educational in nature.   He has also worked to create editorial cartoons, illustrations for NGOs, and art for long running children’s magazine Mom and Mab. He is currently employed by the Ministry of Culture, Department of Handicrafts.

Adult NGO Comics

Non-Governmental Organizations create comics for adults as well, often concerning voter education, women’s issues, land rights, and especially health.  Once a printing is finished, these can be very hard to find. 

Whose Mistake was produced by Redd Barna and Ecoles Sans Frontieres in 1994, and drawn by Em Satya. Mr. Sambath engages in unsafe behavior and finds that he has put his family in danger of contracting HIV.

Sexual Exploitation was produced by Cambodian Women’s Crisis Centre. Written by Novelist Pal Vanniraks, it is illustrated by Sen Samandara and Or Yuthea. Sokha’s family needs money, so she is happy when she meets a foreigner who asks her to work at his house. But she starts to worry about his conduct, as he always has young girls come to visit.

Sen Samandara  was one of the first students when the University of Fine Arts reopened its doors in 1980. His drawing skills soon earned him attention, and won him an award and travel to study overseas. was

                After finishing his study he returned to Cambodia and did various illustration work for both public and private clients. In the year 2000 he joined the Center for Social Development as a staff illustrator.

Unpublished comics

                Due to a poorly enforced copyright law, many writers and artists in Cambodia are reluctant to publish their work.

Em Satya has developed a 90 page comic, originally begun in 1988, that he hopes to print one day. It is a romance story set in contemporary times.

                Hong Bora is working to develop an adapatation of the famous Nou Hach novel, The Wilted Flower. which has been adapted before both in film and comics.

Uth Roeun has completed several works that he hopes to print in the future.

The Remembering of True Love begins in 1985. In Battambang, Sak and his driver Soy meet Soy’s old friend Chuen and his daughter Bopha.  There they find themselves in danger from the Khmer Rouge.

The Diamond Sword that Destroys Criminals is an adventure story set in the past, as a group of adventurers sets out to stop a band of criminals.

Hong Bora has worked in cooperation with a studio of illustrators to produce comics. He also does freelance illustration, and studies part time at the Royal University of Fine Art.  He is one of the growing number of creators using computers to assist in creating grey shades and special effects.  Hong Bora is particularly interested in the process of comics storytelling, and studies films to use their techniques in the comics medium.  He hopes to adapt classic stories using modern techniques that will appeal to young people.

 ‘To Be Continued’

We include some autobiographical comics, and some art from comic artists who now make their living mostly as illustrators. We also have iincluded some art from students at Phare Ponleu Salapak Art School. There are many stories to be told in the future, we hope you will join us for the ‘Rencontre’ 10:00am Saturday the 23rd at Cinema CCF, and Lirê en Fete November 04, 05 and 06.

This is why we say ‘to be continued’!

In 1985 Y Lida began studying ancient and traditional Khmer art, cloth painting at first the University of Fine Arts. In 1999 he began teaching at the same school, now the Royal University of Fine Arts. He drew a small number of comics during the 1980s, and has focused mainly on painting and illustration. Much of his work has been done for nonprofit organizations, such as SIPAR, PSI, and Room to Read.

Chhea Chhean was born in Battambang, and is mainly self-taught, having been influenced by French comics in his youth. He both writes and draws, having produced poems, comics, children’s books, and many illustrations. He works at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, and is currently working on a novel.  His work has primarily been for educational purposes, as in the pages of Mom and Mab magazine.

Sin Yang Pirom became interested in drawing in 1972, and asked her father to let her attend drawing classes at the Royal University of Fine Arts. This part time study was stopped by the 1975 revolution. From 1980 to 1990 Ms. Pirom worked as a Deputy Chief in Chamkarmon Commune, and her skills were recognized in an art competition for International Women’s Day in 1986. In the 1980s Ms. Pirom began drawing comics and submitted them for approval at the Ministry of Culture. Once approved she printed and distributed her comics directly to book sellers, bypassing wholesalers.  

A shrinking audience and a growing family led Ms. Pirom to stop drawing comics in 1990.  Few copies of her comics or original art can be found.  


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