talking anime: frankie sexton

words by iqmall • images by azizul ali
23.09.2019

Growing up in the tiny island of Singapore, most boys share the same hobbies. We’re cut out of the same cloth you could say. Maybe it was due to proximity, but we were exposed to Japanese media exports by the truckload. We chased for the latest manga volumes at comic stores in our heartland malls, played every iteration of Final Fantasy on Playstation and got into anime heavy when the internet became a mainstay of our lives. Frankie Sexton is one of those boys.

His ongoing affinity with the product of Japan started off from a slightly unconventional path. Papa Sexton was an avid collector of Hong Kong noir comics. A genre that sees gangsters roam the streets in tribal vengeance and politics runs the whole underground ecosystem. And like many kids that age, he would let anything distract him from doing what students should’ve spent their after-school hours doing; study. He would binge on comics, running through volumes like they were Lay’s potato chips, he just can’t have one. A sporty person at heart, he gravitated towards sports manga as he developed a taste for manga. First came Slam Dunk, a cult classic basketball themed series, and then it was Captain Tsubasa, a football manga that followed the development of privy youngsters as they aim to lift the World Cup. That connection he built stayed with him throughout and he rightly got into anime during his formative teenage years.

Fast forward to 2017 and in his search for a distinct style, he decided to combine his love for tattooing and manga together. Marrying the two was easy. Both artistic expressions in their own right, he found the intricacies and technicalities of drawing each manga genre fascinating. Each story needed characters portrayed in a certain way, to carry the narrative. Some were cute, most were cool but oddly enough, the viler was what resonated with him the most. The style, one that could only work with an extensive amount of detail. Junji Ito and Suehiro Maruo are his heroes. Infamous for using themes of cosmic horror, never finishing a story like you normally would and emphasizing on the fear of the unknown.

@yeule was his first muse, the skin that first embraced his new-found artistic direction. And from there, it boomed. Or in other words, people started to know of Frankie and his work. There was finally a guy who could ink that visceral feeling that only a manga could convey. But she was of a rare breed. The few in a small following of horror manga in Singapore and even fewer who would have that on their skin for the rest of their lives. It would take someone, a divergent, with a twisted taste to get that on their skin. Ironically and to his surprise, Frankie barely scratched the surface at that point of time.

You see, there’s been a misconception when it comes to his clientele. Mainly, their sex. One could easily assume that were of the male variant but alas, the ladies are the ones who are drawn into the horror manga aesthetic and have come to him just for that. A fact that still boggles Frankie’s mind. Maybe they just found a home when scouring through the plethora of manga genres, most of which catered to a male demographic. 

The Shounen genre is famous for playing into the male fantasy of action, adventure and a whole lot of fighting. Not forgetting the instances of fan-service meant to rile up the hormones. And the titles within this genre have run times that extend into decades, building an extremely loyal and opinionated fan base. By extension of their longevity, they are extremely popular.

“I EVEN GET PEOPLE COMING UP TO ME FOR SAILOR MOON TATTOOS AND I KINDA GREW UP WITH IT. AND IT’S KINDA PART OF THAT TIMELINE”

Social media could be a double-edged sword at times but for any artist, it’s an online portfolio of his work. Take a scroll through his Instagram (@frankiesexton) and you would find little to nothing about him. He’s already a resident of an underground scene that as the title suggests, does not get any light of day. Intentionally mysterious, he only posts his works, short captions that often reveal the inspiration behind the pieces. But what he gains from his understandably popular yet mystical online persona, he loses in visibility. He would often get mistaken for not being based in Singapore, a fact that he lamented as he recounts the missed opportunities that have sailed past. But that doesn’t matter to him,

“IN THIS COMMUNITY, YOU GIVE AND TAKE. IT’S CYCLICAL.”

Having fans and customers are a whole different thing. Frankie would often receive direct messages or emails that often end when the mention of a price pops up. It was his way of sifting out the genuine from the casual. And from that point onwards, everything becomes a breeze for the client who knows what they want and has already been convinced by Frankie’s abilities. It would never take more than 5-10 minutes. 

And with a growing clientele, means broader requests. His daily routine would compromise of one tattoo job a day (two if we’re stretching) and then more drawing in the night, in preparation for his next appointment. He would oftentimes find himself flipping through his trove of manga, refreshing his memory or just for reference, to be better connected with the subject. As with any tattoo artists, the relationship between them and the client is an intimate one. One that is built on trust. Trust that the artist knows their shit. Frankie wants to genuinely connect with his clients, getting on the same frequency. He wants to geek out, bounce recommendations off each other, revel in the nostalgia of old-school manga from the 90s; all in the name of anime. 

“IF YOU LIKE IT, YOU SHOULD WATCH IT”

Transplanting panels are his favourite work. For fans of manga, particular panels are so impactful that they stay with you for a long time. The emotion evoked from the protagonist’s words, a declaration of war, a love confession or an epic reveal that shook the very universe they reside in. Panels were the platform for all that. And another element of manga that he absolutely adores and will violently protest its inclusion are shouted words that accompany the panels. He thinks it’s an essential part of the piece, to give context and sets the mood of the panel. Frankie thinks it’s quite ingenious of Japanese artists to illustrate these sounds, bolded and stretch for dramatism. 

It hasn’t always been about manga or anime for Frankie. Like most tattoo artists, he plied his trade by doing everything at first. Oriental in the beginning and then geometric. Certain styles require different skillsets. He borrowed techniques from his experience and sought for a style that would set him apart. Tattoos don’t allow any room for error and in the case of his manga style, there can be no exceptions. To perfectly capture the feel of a manga panel would mean using the thinnest needle possible, to draw the finest of lines. And the patience that he built up helps. Working with fine margins, permanence and an element of time, total focus is a given. And the overarching thought of trial by public opinion ensures that he never concedes on perfection.

Only utilizing black within his work is a personal commitment. Black is simple yet complex and more than anything, it’s a challenge. Contrast is easily achievable with the myriad of colours available to us, but by only using a single colour, it’ll really bring out one’s skills. It’s a reflection of himself. Frankie went on to explain how his wardrobe consists of only 2 colours: black & white. And perhaps life does get a little easier when you see things in…black and white. 

The normalization of anime and Frankie’s journey share something in common: they’ve just started. When he’s not spending his free time angling, disappearing and reappearing overseas or going on an anime binge on Netflix, he’ll be inking everlasting memories on the skin of a fellow otaku at Singapore Electric.