As the year comes to an end (it’s Christmas already? how did this year pass so bloody quickly??) I thought I’d share what the five most popular comics of 2014 were and also just tell you some of my highs and lows of the year. Sound good? Ok, let’s do it. These rankings are based solely on traffic numbers.
5. Maya Angelou – Phenomenal Woman
I’m so glad readers enjoyed this comic because it was incredibly challenging to adapt. It took me days to figure out the story and I wasn’t even sure if it was right of me, as a guy, to adapt a poem that meant so much to women around the world. Thankfully, I think I managed to do the poem justice. Plus the comic made me research Angelou’s life and I got to find out about what an incredible woman she was. One of the biggest joys of this website is that I learn about new people and things I might not normally seek out. For those interested, I wrote a behind-the-scenes post about my cartooning process using this comic as an example.
4. Sir Ken Robinson – Full-body Education
Education and art comics always seem to be popular here so a quote that combines both is bound to do well. Having a quote from the most-watched TED of all time did most of the heavy-lifting for me, but I like to think I added something to it with the story of the ballet prodigy encouraged to pursue his passion. A story that a reader pointed out was exactly the same as the movie Billy Elliot, a total coincidence I can assure you. Sir Ken saw the comic and shared it with his Twitter followers which is always a thrill. The chunky ballet boy is easily the favourite character I’ve created this year. I just love drawing him for some reason, so expect to see him again.
3. Banksy – Taking the Piss
I remember this being a nightmare to do – it basically has everything that I hate drawing: buildings, vehicles, lots of perspective stuff … ugh. This was a pretty serious topic, hence I drew it in a more serious and realistic style. You’ll notice the comic I did after this, If You Love Someone Set Them Free, is very cartoony and has no backgrounds because I didn’t want to draw anymore buildings for awhile
2. Amy Poehler – Great People do Things Before They’re Ready
I thought of this comic during my trip to America. I heard the quote in a speech given at a conference I was attending in Portland, and the World Cup was on at the time, hence the soccer theme. I figured out the story during the rest of trip and was eager to draw it when I got home. The team at Amy Poehler’s website Smart Girls loved the comic and generously allowed me to sell it as a poster. I love the character and am planning on using her again soon … hint hint.
1. Kevin Smith – It Costs Nothing to Encourage an Artist
This comic was so much fun to draw. I had a blast creating the fake Dinomites characters and drawing them in a very Disney/Looney Tunes style, and it made me laugh reading people’s comments saying they wish they could watch a real Dinomites movie. I had many responses from readers saying that this comic hit close to home with them – either that it reminded them of their parents who never encouraged them and forced them to study all the time, or from parents who told me that they would try to encourage their children more after reading the comic. I’m glad so many of you could relate to it, even if it did bring back some bad memories. This comic also made me read Kevin Smith’s memoir Tough Sh*t, which was great. At last count, this has been reblogged on Tumblr over 440,000 times!
RELATED: The 10 most popular comics of 2013.
LOOKING BACK ON 2014
When I started this site I used to do a post every few months just kind of sharing what was going on with me. I don’t really do that anymore, but I think it would be good to reflect on the past year and let you know some of the highlights, as well as some things I didn’t get to do.
Obviously the biggest thing to happen in 2014 was the release of the book. I couldn’t have asked for a better launch and I still can’t believe it made the New York Times bestseller list. That was of course mainly thanks to a lot of you pre-ordering the book. Plus I got the chance to meet lots of Aussie fans at the book signings in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
It was a bit annoying that there wasn’t enough stock to go around and that a lot of you who pre-ordered still had to wait to get your books. The second printing is now slowly getting distributed and is available again in the US and Canada. Europe, India and Australia should be getting more stock very soon. But all in all, I shouldn’t get too upset – selling OUT of books is better than selling NO books. It just sucks that some of you still can’t get your hands on a copy.
I got to do a bit of travelling this year, which I am always grateful for. I was in Singapore and Myanmar in January and visited the USA in July. I had fan meet-ups in pretty much every city I visited (Singapore, Yangon, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego) which was initially extremely daunting but turned out to be one of the best things I did this year. It’s incredible meeting readers from all over the world (who knew there were Zen Pencils fans in Yangon?).
Speaking at World Domination Summit in Portland was by far the scariest thing I did this year:
It was also the most exciting and a challenge I’m glad I took on. Even Sir Ken Robinson himself thought it was alright.
Another highlight was visiting San Diego Comic Con for the first time. It was as insane, intimidating and exhausting as I knew it would be – an absolute dream come true. Here’s the full wrap-up of my US trip.
So those were the highlights of a wonderful year. There were a few things however, that could be improved around here.
I guess this particular thing can’t be improved on but it is something I think about. I haven’t counted, but I’m guessing there were overall less new comics this year than the previous two years. Updates tend to average one new comic every fortnight now, which I’m not too thrilled about. Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done about it. Comics just take me longer to do these days – the stories are longer and are more involved to draw and colour. Trust me, I’m not working any less, if anything it seems like I’m working more than when I first started. I hope you subscribe to the ‘quality over quantity’ theory, because unless someone builds me some sort of contraption like Dr. Octopus’ mechanical arms, the comics will continue at the same pace in the new year.
I STILL haven’t gotten around to adding any more merchandise in the store. I really wanted to make t-shirts available this year, but it didn’t happen. I will try my best to add some new merch soon … really, I will.
Another thing I’m disappointed with is I didn’t get to add any new translated comics to the website. I get emails every week from awesome readers volunteering to translate comics in many different languanges (I’m sorry I haven’t replied to any of you!!). But like this recent comic from The Oatmeal says, My Email is a Monster, constantly threatening to swallow me in a never ending vortex of correspondence and distraction. I would really love to continue the translation project but am unable to do it myself. If any of you would like to volunteer to be the official Zen Pencils Director of Translations then please email me. It would involve a lot of work – corresponding with volunteers, sorting and uploading the translated comics. And yes, I realise that complaining about email and then asking for more email is not very smart.
Looking ahead to 2015 … um … I guess I’ll be doing more of the same. I do have some travel planned early in the year. I’ll be visiting Singapore and Japan in February, which I’m very excited about. I can confirm I will be having a Singapore book signing and meet-up on the night of Wednesday 4th February and possibly one in Tokyo. I’ll keep you updated with details. (Just out of interest, any readers from Japan here?)
There will be a new comic update next week before Christmas. After that, Zen Pencils will be on hiatus for a few weeks until mid-January. I’ll still be working on new comics, but trying to get ahead for once. I want to get a few comics done in advance before heading to Japan. I’ve learnt from past experience that I don’t get much work done while travelling
A lot of people ask me ‘What’s next?’ ‘Where do you see Zen Pencils in 5 years?’ and the answer is ‘I have no idea’. I’ll just keep doing what’s gotten me this far: focusing on making these comics and trying to improve as a cartoonist. That’s enough, isn’t it?
As always, thanks to all of you for your overwhelming support and encouragement during the year.
I hope you all have a safe and happy holidays.