Hey gang, welcome to another Reader of the Month, where I feature some inspiring members of the Zen Pencils community. This month, there are two great reader stories for you. First up is Sarah:
Hi, my name’s Sarah and I live in Cambridge, UK. I always find Zen Pencils inspirational, however The Gift Of Life comic got straight to the heart of my matter and summed me up so completely. And it’s not only because the quote was from Nerdist founder Chris Hardwick and I am a proud geek. Currently I work full-time as a non-traditional librarian (more to do with the internet, social media and ebooks) for the University of Cambridge. I love literature, films, TV and music. I read voraciously and follow lots of TV shows. My favourite genre is fantasy and my favourite film is The Princess Bride, closely followed by Leon. I also write creatively; stories, poems and prose, whatever takes my fancy. ↓ Read the rest of this entry…
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Hey gang, welcome to another Reader of the Month, where I feature some inspiring members of the Zen Pencils community. This month, there are two great reader stories for you. First up is Sarah:
Hi folks, I’ve got some good news: There will be another Zen Pencils book collection released this October! You can see the cover image here. It’s very exciting and I’ll have more details closer to the launch, but as I’m now working on putting that together, there might not be a new comic update for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, here is a very special edition of Reader of the Month.
The biggest surprise to come out of Zen Pencils was hearing from teachers that the comics were being used for educational purposes. I honestly never intended for that to happen, I was just making these comics for myself. Here’s a great example of how they’re being used at a school in the UK. This post was written by Jane Warren, a journalist and also the mother of Bea, who is featured in the story.
Bea and Phoebe, both aged 10, were introduced to Zen Pencils at Wisborough Green Primary School in West Sussex, UK. Senior teacher Johnny Loizides discovered the book and lent it to Bea. “When you come across a book like this you just have to share it,” he says. “I’m trying to tell my class of nine and 10 year olds how the world works and what they need to do to find happiness and fulfilment.”
Bea was captivated instantly by the book, which she read cover-to-cover the same evening, sharing her revelations with her family as she found truths and insights that felt instantly accessible, meaningful and exciting. “I like Zen Pencils because it’s a way of telling young children about important things but in a fun way, so they actually pay attention,” says Bea, who received her own copy as a 10th birthday present in March from her parents. It now travels to and from school in her book bag every day as an essential bit of her current life’s equipment. “It has made me look at the world differently,” she explains.
Phoebe has found the comics equally valuable. “I like Zen Pencils because they inspire you to do something differently,” she says. “But some of them just help you to be cheerful. I got out of the book that if you try, anything is possible. These cartoons also help people, and they tell you how to be happy.”
“My mummy has always copied quotes onto the walls inside our house and as we’ve got older we have started reading them and remembering them,” says Bea. The quotes include Maya Angelou’s rallying cry to individualism: ‘If you are always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be’, which is inked onto the stairwell so the children can see it whenever they ascend the staircase. “We loved reading them and we started creating our own after my six-year-old brother Willem asked if he could write a quote on the wall too,” says Bea. “Willem wrote ‘Live, it’s the whole point of life’ and another day he wrote ‘The world is big so travel it’. This morning before school I suddenly got inspiration and wrote ‘People may dislike you, people may hate you, however put all these things aside, you must like you.’”
Soon Bea, Phoebe and their friends at school were producing their own original philosophical cartoon strips inspired by Zen Pencils. As Phoebe says: “I think that the pictures express what the words are saying, they make them more visually clearer.” Click image to enlarge.
Johnny has been delighted by the way children in his class have responded to the comics. “I love comic books and I love the informal art form of comics,” he says. “The complex and the profound can be expressed elegantly and poetically, without dumbing down or simplifying the real message,” he says. “The children loved the Zen Pencils book and understood the narrative form. The artwork enhances and contextualises the sometimes complex and deep statements. It never simplifies or patronizes the truth of the statement, but the children understood the ideas because the artwork guides them.” He says it is a book with the power to make children inquisitive about everything and, in turn, question themselves and their own motivations and needs. “When I give them a book like this and students like Bea and Phoebe create their own original ideas I feel that I am doing something right,” he adds. “They looked at the words of the great and the good and said loudly and clearly that they too had something interesting to say.”
One comic in particular to which the children in his class responded was Ira Glass: Advice for Beginners.
“That’s where they are at the moment,” Johnny says.”They so want to express themselves in a variety of ways but they don’t quite know how to do it yet. They realise this as well. The Ira Glass strip tells them that this is how it is at the moment but it gives them hope that soon they will figure it out if they work hard, apply themselves and enjoy what they do.” It is clear that the children under his care are lucky to have such an emotionally aware teacher committed to education in its fullest sense. “I love my job, I love my school, and I love the fact I have the opportunity to share art and ideas with my class,” says Johnny, who has two teenage children of his own. “I’m really touched by the children’s work. But it’s not about my feelings about what they have done. The girls have made the journey and the girls have embarked on the learning.” And exposure to Zen Pencils has also inspired other forms of creativity, including a mosaic based on the front cover of the book that Bea made during the Easter holidays.
“I think Zen Pencils is a great idea,” Bea says. “And I’m happy that Mr Loizides let me borrow it otherwise I would never be making my own cartoons, doing the mosaic, or writing this. I personally think it’s been one of my favourite books yet.” And her final (philosophical) word? “Appreciate art, admire beauty, and be kind!”
Thanks so much to Mr Loizides, Jane, the students of Wisborough Green Primary and of course Bea and Phoebe for the fantastic work! I might have cried reading this, I’m man enough to admit that. Seeing the girls create their own art, inspired by what I’m doing is pretty amazing. I think the new book is better than the first, and I hope Bea and Phoebe enjoy it when it’s released later in the year. If you’re a teacher or someone who uses Zen Pencils comics in an educational way, please share in the comments, I would love to hear more examples. – Gav
Hey there, here’s another great story from the Zen Pencils community. I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I do. – Gav
My name is Jess, I’m 34 and from the UK. I knew from a very young age that I would not be one of those people who hated their job. I knew that there was more to life than careers and pensions. Life is for living and having fun, jobs are secondary … or thirdly or fourthly.
While my friends were puzzling over which universities to go to I was deciding which country to travel to first. In my mind I figured I’d travel for a few years and thought nothing more of it. Surfing and photography are my passions and I surfed and sailed myself around the world … for the next 16 years. I never stayed in one place for more than a few months, met wonderful people, experienced many different cultures from India to Antarctica, the Caribbean to Sweden and everything in between. 52 countries and 50 thousand ocean sailing miles later and I found myself back home in the UK listening to people say “When are you going to get a real job? When are you going to settle down? What are you running away from?”. After awhile these people started to get to me and the seeds of doubt began to grow. “Maybe they’re right”, I thought. “I should get a proper job. What on earth is a proper job anyway?”
So I started reading books looking for answers to my conflicting feelings. I dabbled in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, the Tao Te Ching, Christianity, psychology and psychotherapy. I read every self-help book under the sun from Tim Robbins, Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle and Ram Das. I even started meditating (which was one of my better discoveries and something I still practice today). Even though the books were filled with wisdom, they mostly filled my head with other peoples ideas which created more questions and just conflicted with my inner voice.
However, every now and then I stumble upon something very useful. Simple reminders that if we shut out all the noise we will be able to hear what our inner voice is telling us, and more importantly that our own inner voice is the only thing we need to listen to. One of those reminders was the Alan Watts comic What If Money Was No Object? that I found on Zen Pencils. After reading it, I decided to write down the things I loved most, without taking money into consideration: art, music, surfing, camping, playing in nature and living an outdoor life. Then I had a huge realisation. I ALREADY HAD IT! I had my head so deeply in too many self-help books that I had forgotten the very things my heart called out for. I couldn’t even see that I already had everything I want. It’s only us who knows what’s best for us. What might be best for one person is not best for another and it’s nobody’s job to tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing.
Currently I’m doing art and photography projects and deciding where to go next. I’m not employed at the moment but something will come up, it always does when I trust that it will. My plan for the future is to continue having no plan and to be open to the flow of life and the opportunities it brings. I have no idea where I’ll go or what I’ll do. Whatever it is I know it will be what I want in that moment.
You can follow Jess on Instagram.
UPDATE: Jess has added more info in the comments section below, explaining a bit about her upbringing and how she funded her 16 years of travel. – Gav
Hey gang, here’s the first Reader of the Month for the year. A fantastic story and one guaranteed to leave a smile on your face.
My name’s Ameya and I’m 25 years old from Mumbai, India. After graduating from college as what I’d call a ‘winner rat’, I worked in the oil and gas industry where my brain cells were dying by the minute due to the utterly mundane nature of my work. There was virtually no thinking involved, and I was in a constant torpor. A chimp with a sufficient sense of responsibility could have replaced me as lead engineer on the oil rig.
One day just two months in, I was asked to sign a very expensive bond tying me down for at least a year. It was a hard time. On one hand, the money was great, and I had absolutely no clue where I’d find another job that could sustain me. On the other, every bit of of me screamed and rattled against the cage of expectations that held me captive. I was a wreck, working over 12 hours a day and suffering from insomnia. The pragmatic choice was easy: Keep the job, pocket the money and just go with the flow. How hard could it be? After all, everyone else at work was in meek surrender and urging me to follow suit.
I believe there is a spark inside each of us, but life has a way of smothering it with a multitude of pressures. Thankfully, I got lucky. Just out of the blue, I received an email from a dear friend with a link to the Zen Pencils adaptation of Cavafy’s poem Ithaka. There was a simple note with it: Life should be spent in pursuit of something greater than oneself.
The poem came unsolicited and like a magic spell. Something in me just came back to life. It was my spark.
I quietly finished the project I was working on and quit my job the following week.
I cannot imagine that happening if I didn’t receive that email from my friend and saw the Ithaka comic. I learned that the journey IS the destination, and suddenly felt an inextinguishable thirst for travel, one that lives with me today.
I initially taught high school physics in order to save money for my own Ithaka journey. With the money saved, I backpacked across South-East Asia for two and a half months: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia. Quite simply, it was the best time of my life, and not just that, it gave me the direction in life I had always been looking for. Somewhere along the trip, I understood the full significance of the lines from the poem “May there be many a summer morning when, with what pleasure, what joy, you come into harbors seen for the first time.” During my trip it dawned on me that this was all I really wanted to do: Travel.
Today, I am running my own travel company in India with my best friend and fellow travel freak. We’re working really hard to help people travel better and are building a platform where our local tour operators can reach the global traveler community online. It’s only been a couple of months, and it’s scary running our own company, not to mention a whole lot of hard work. But we’re super-positive about the future and the message that resonates through most of the Zen Pencils comics helps us stay strong.
Oh, and guess what we named the company?
Woohoo, bravo Ameya! Best of luck with your business and I’m sure you will see many more new harbours in the years to come. I’m about to fly into Japan for the first time later this week. With my lifelong interest in Samurai, anime, manga … and eating, it’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit. You can follow me on Instagram to see photos.
Hey folks, you can get 20% off your order at the Zen Pencils store this weekend. If you’re in the need for a Valentine’s Day present, then what better way to show you care than to give your loved one a Zen Pencils gift 😛
I’ve also finally added a couple of new products to the store: Cushions and Tote Bags!
Part of the reason it’s taken me so long to add products is I want the quality to be high and I’ve been ordering multiple samples over the past few months to make sure they’re perfect. These cushions and totes certainly fit that description. They’re machine-washable, super durable and the cushions already come with the inserts included so you can cuddle them right away, just ask my dog Jimmy.
Use the promo code LOVE at checkout to get the 20% discount. The offer ends on Tuesday 27th January. For US customers, order by the 27th to get guaranteed delivery by Valentines Day. If you’re in Canada, the UK or Australia, you’ll most likely get them delivered in time, but we can’t 100% guarantee delivery by the 14th. Again, the guarantee only applies to US customers.
VISIT THE STORE to choose from more posters, cushions and totes.
Of course, the Zen Pencils book also makes a great gift and they’re back in stock in most places. You can order from all the major Amazon stores and more via my book page.
Attention Singaporean readers! I’ll be in town in February and will be having a book signing.
DATE: Wednesday 4th February
TIME: 7pm-8pm (There will be a Q&A starting at 7pm, followed by the book signing)
WHERE: Books Kinokuniya main store, Ngee Ann City
There will be Zen Pencils books on sale at the event and of course you’re welcome to bring your own book to get signed if you’ve already purchased one. There was a great turnout in Singapore at my meet up last year and I hope to see some familiar faces as well as a few new ones.
I’m just passing through for a couple of days before heading to Japan for a holiday. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking “Haven’t you just had a holiday?! Where are the new comics??”. I’ve actually been working on new stuff these past few weeks so that there will be regular updates while I’m away. There will be a new comic next week, the longest I’ve ever done.
Thanks for your patience.
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.
I’m honoured to share this awesome little video about Zen Pencils. It was filmed during two shoots, one way back in January in Singapore and later in August at my home in Melbourne. You get a good look at my home studio and a feel of my day to day life, which mainly involves drawing and dog-babysitting. You also get to see footage from my first reader meet-up in Singapore, which was a very special night for me.
Another Beautiful Story is a wonderful video series about creative people who have turned their passion into a career. The series was started by Singaporean Winfred Kwan and a friend as a passion project on top of their regular jobs. As you can see, Winfred is a super-talented videographer. If you’re in the Asia-Pacific region and would like to hire him to shoot your own business or make a sweet video for your website, you can contact him via email or the ABS Facebook page, where you watch the other videos in the series.
20% OFF POSTERS AND DELIVERY BY CHRISTMAS
You can currently get 20% off at THE ZEN PENCILS SHOP, where there are a couple of new designs. I’ve really taken to the little ballet boy from the Full Body Education comic and I couldn’t stop drawing him even after finishing the comic. So I decided to turn all my drawings into a poster.
There are over 30 more poster designs to choose from at the store. To get the discount, use the promo code THANKS during checkout. The promotion ends this Friday 5th December. If you’re in the US, order by the 5th to get guaranteed delivery before Christmas (again, this only applies to US customers).
ORIGINAL ART WINNER
Lucky reader Robin, all the way in Heerhugowaard in The Netherlands, was the winner of the pre-order original art contest. Thanks again for everyone who pre-ordered and entered the comp!
A Zen Pencils poster makes a great holiday gift and you now you can enjoy 20% off your poster order. To make sure you get the posters before Christmas, order by next Friday 5th December, which is also the date the promo ends. (This applies to US customers only, we can’t promise non-USA orders will be delivered by Christmas.)
To apply the discount, use the promo code THANKS at checkout.
VISIT THE STORE
Thanks again for supporting Zen Pencils!
Holy crap on a stick, the Zen Pencils book is officially a New York Times best-seller!! Yes, we did it folks – the book debuted this week at #7 on the Graphic Paperback list.
Gimme a sec … I’m still in shock as I write this.
Hold on … deep breaths … ok I think I’m good.
Thank you so much for supporting the book – it made the list solely thanks to the number of your pre-orders (which count as first week sales). In fact, the pre-orders were so strong, a lot of places ran out of stock within a few days. You can still get the books here:
More copies are being printed and Amazon and other online stores should have more stock within the week.
As if you already haven’t done enough, I’m going to be cheeky and ask for one more favour: If you bought the book from Amazon, I would be super-grateful if you wrote a quick review. Those Amazon reviews help persuade potential buyers who have never heard of Zen Pencils before click that all-important ‘Add to Cart’ button.
Whether you’ve been a fan since the early days of the site, or just discovered Zen Pencils in the past few weeks or months, it’s you that have made this possible. Your constant support of my work and the website really does make a difference to me personally, pushes me to keep improving as a cartoonist and reminds me not to take any of this success for granted. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.