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Hey folks! Wow, can you believe another year has already come and gone? I’m always frantically working on comics and trying to think of new ideas that I don’t really take time to reflect on what’s happened. So this post is an attempt to go over some of the highlights of the past 12 months and also to just let you know how things are going with me and the state of the website.

The most popular comics of 2015
I would have liked to get more comics out this year, but the new book launch and tour took up quite a bit of time and energy. Nevertheless, I am proud of the work I did put out and feel like I’m slowly improving as a cartoonist. Here are the most viewed comics of the year:

5. Frida Kahlo – Strange Like Me
One of the best things about this website is that you introduce me to cool people I wouldn’t normally seek out. Case in point: Frida Kahlo. I had heard her name before but knew nothing about her, and was so amazed by her life that I was compelled to watch a couple of documentaries on her, also the movie staring Salma Hayek and read her famous diary. This comic was just meant to be a quick, light-hearted strip and I was never expecting it to be so popular. Oh well, what the hell do i know? Lately, it’s come to my attention that this quote may not actually be by Frida Kahlo so I’m teaming up with the Quote Investigator to get to the bottom of it. Stay tuned.

4. Isaac Asimov – A Lifetime of Learning
Featuring one of my favourite new characters of the year, the globe-trotting Grandma artist, this comic was actually inspired by my own trip to Japan earlier this year. It was conceived, penciled and inked in the weeks leading up to the trip and was coloured and finished in various hotel rooms in Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. Unlike the woman in the comic, I failed miserably in communicating in Japanese. I would just point to my belly and say “RAMEN. WHERE. EAT. RAMEN!?” It was a magical holiday with my wife and whenever I think of this comic, my fun Japan vacation comes to mind.

3. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam – Life’s Pursuit
When Kalam died this year, I was flooded with requests from Indian readers to adapt one of his quotes. Being an ignorant Australian, I had never heard of the man. But, like learning about Frida Kahlo, I also got to learn about Kalam. I read his autobiography, where I discovered the impressive life of the Rocket Man of India, and I also found the quote used in the comic.

2. James Rhodes – Is that not worth exploring?
Again, another case of finding about someone new thanks to a reader suggestion. Reader Lara actually sent me this article and suggested I use the quote that Rhodes references: “Find what you love and let it kill you,” and although I am starting to relate to that quote, I thought Rhodes’ article was way more powerful so I just used that instead. Having the story figured out and knowing how much work it was going to be, I actually asked James on Twitter for his permission to adapt the quote before I started, something I don’t normally do. But Twitter is great like that, and thankfully James said ‘Yes’. I’ve had some wonderful feedback for this comic, like a reader taking up the piano again. Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat. Pray. Love. fame) even wrote a nice Facebook post about the comic.

1. My Spirit is a Roaring Sea
If you had told me five years ago that I would be writing my own poetry and posting it online for the whole world to see, I would have said you were absolutely insane. If you had told me three years ago that the most popular post on Zen Pencils in 2015 would be one of my own poems, again, I would have said you were absolutely insane. Oh well, what the hell do I know? I was seriously not expecting this and had a lot of doubts about posting the poem. The comic ended up making the front page of Reddit, which is how it made the #1 spot. Your positive feedback was so encouraging and has given me the confidence to write my own ‘quotes’ more often. And the Little Warrior is definitely my favourite new character of the year. Expect to see more of her.

My personal favourite comic
I did this year was All The World’s A Stage. I love telling stories purely visually and this one is one of my favourite examples, plus I had thought Shakespeare’s monologue was too difficult to do, so I put it on the shelf for a few months. It really is like a ‘Eureka’ moment when the idea finally comes.

My favourite panel I drew this year:

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Book two and touring aplenty!
The biggest focus of the year was the release of my new book. Again, thanks to your support with pre-orders the book made it onto the New York Times bestseller list and has recently gone back to the presses for a second printing. To promote the book, I travelled to the US for my first official book tour! What a wonderful experience it was to meet so many of you face to face and see some cities I never would have visited otherwise. Some highlights include attending New York Comic Con for the first time, getting interviewed live in Brooklyn by The Great Discontent in a boutique movie theatre, visiting the grave of my hero Bruce Lee in Seattle and life imitating art in Austin.

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I also had some great signings here in Australia, including speaking in the prettiest book store setting in Brisbane. It’s always great meeting the local Aussie readers. And last but not least, this past weekend I went on a whirlwind 3-day trip to Mumbai Comic-Con! (Contrary to the photos, I do own more than one t-shirt.)
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I knew Zen Pencils was popular in India, but wow, I was never expecting such a big turnout. I was signing books non-stop for two days and got to meet so many lovely readers. I even got to meet the first ever Zen Pencils cosplayer – here is The Inventor:
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Just something cool you have to see
Readers Alex and Kelly from Queensland, Australia celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary by getting matching tattoos of my balloon couple. Now that’s commitment to each other … and to Zen Pencils!
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Advertising
You may have noticed that I have placed some ads back on the website. I’m currently experimenting with them again to see if they’re worth having. The admin costs (website hosting, online store fees, email marketing) of running this website has increased over the years and I need to look at more ways to pay for them. It would be appreciated if you could turn off your adblocker when browsing the site. I have thought about setting up a Patreon page, but at this stage it’s something I don’t absolutely have to do, and I’d rather not if I can help it. And yes, I realise I am a hypocrite for running ads after drawing this comic. My wife and I are expecting our first child next year, so shit just got real. My principles are going out the window!

What’s in store for 2016
It’s hard to believe, but Zen Pencils will be four years old in February. I’m still having a blast working on this site full-time and sometimes I don’t take enough time to remind myself how fortunate I am. I do admit that Zen Pencils has become an all-consuming beast that occupies most of my time and brain capacity, sometimes to the detriment of my personal life. But this website has become my baby (well, until the actual baby comes along) and there’s nothing I would rather be putting all of my creative energy into. I still think I have the best job in the world and look forward to getting better in 2016. Next year, I hope to get less distracted by books, travel and speaking engagements and focus just on the work … oh wait, there’s a newborn baby coming … forget that, getting five comics out next year will be an accomplishment!

As always, THANK YOU for your continued support, feedback, encouragement and inspiration. You are the ones that give me the motivation to keep working and improving on this website and I can’t wait to make new comics for you next year.

I visited my publisher Andrews McMeel’s headquarters in Kansas City during my book tour, and more than one person there told me that Zen Pencils readers were the most supportive and engaged fans they had ever seen, and they have worked with a LOT of cartoonists. And you know what I said?

“DAMN STRAIGHT, THEY ARE!”

Happy holidays and best wishes for 2016.
– Gav