Welcome to another Reader of the Month post, where I turn the spotlight onto some members of the awesome Zen Pencils community. This month, we have two very interesting stories. First up is Sylvie, an aspiring writer from France, currently living in Taiwan.
Archive for Reader of the month
Welcome to another Reader of the Month post, where I turn the spotlight onto some members of the awesome Zen Pencils community. This month, we have two very interesting stories. First up is Sylvie, an aspiring writer from France, currently living in Taiwan.
Hey faithful readers, it’s time for another edition of Reader of the Month! Meet Jenny, a young artist from Germany, who really epitomises what Neil Gaiman said: “When things get tough: MAKE. GOOD. ART.”
My name is Jenny, I’m a 22 year-old Illustrator from Germany. I just finished art college in Berlin, where I also did some freelance work as a video game artist. Since I was a child I was obsessed with drawing and painting. It sometimes felt like it was pretty much the only thing I could do properly.
However, four years ago, my art and my life took a turn for the worse when I got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
I had some pretty frightening attacks from the Illness, like blindness in my left eye and numbing of my hands and legs. When I couldn’t move my right hand and didn’t know if that terrible attack would ever stop, I had to start drawing with my left hand. I even got pretty good at using my left (as you can see from the photo – Gav). Eventually I got some treatment and was slowly able to move my right hand again.
During that time I struggled with depression. I pretty much raged against myself, my weakness and the sickness that was preventing me from working on my art. It was a long struggle and it felt like there was no way out of the abyss. I completely wanted to give up on art and saw no point in being creative anymore. At it’s worst, I felt like giving up on life.
But then, I think somewhere in the beginning of 2012, I found Zen Pencils. I stumbled on one of the comics on 9GAG. The comic was Find a Job You Love. It was like reading a comic about my own childhood. I remembered what I felt like when painting as a kid. I also realised art was not just some pastime for me, with art I could leave the hospital without even moving. With art, I could express all the fear, all the wrath and all the sadness inside me. Art was my happiness in this dark time of my life.
But it get’s even better, reading the No Regrets comic inspired me a lot and helped give me the courage to go to BTK art college in Berlin.
I’ve been a loyal Zen Pencils reader ever since. It’s given me so much inspiration, courage and self-esteem, and when the ugly depression tries to find its way back in my life, I at least can fight back by reading my favourite comics. And it always reminds me that my illness is not completely controlling my life yet, or my art. And even when my art is getting weaker, it remains MY art. My right hand is better for now and I am finally moving on with making art.
Since graduating, I’m doing some travelling. I’m currently in New Zealand, and being surrounded by so much beauty is doing wonders for my motivation and creativity. I feel like I’m finally on the right path to finding a good life for myself.
Thanks so much for sharing your story Jenny. I hope you stay on top of your illness and continue to live the life you dream of. You can visit Jenny’s website here. You know, I get a lot of emails from readers saying that Zen Pencils helps motivate and inspire them, but what’s even more amazing is that it works both ways. A lot of my readers, especially someone like Jenny, inspire ME. And connecting with people and hearing their incredible stories is one of the best things that’s happened to me since starting this website. Thank you – Gav
My name is Josh Richards. I’m a 29 year old Australian physicist & comedian, and an astronaut candidate to the Mars One project – aiming to be one of the first humans on Mars in 2025. I wanted to express my gratitude the huge role Zen Pencils has played so far in my journey toward living and working in space. Two years ago this month I was at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, performing my second solo festival show & my 4th year at the fringe. But I wasn’t happy. I loved making people laugh, and the reviews said I was good at it … but I never got the rush of performing other comics talked about.
Comedy was the latest in a line of marginally successful careers – studying physics and psychology at university, serving with the Aussie Army & the British Commandos, explosives engineering in the mining industry, and as a science advisor to the UK art industry – I packed it all in. But I never felt truly fulfilled by any of it. Just after the 2012 Edinburgh festival I decided to try blending science and stand-up with a comedy show about the ethics & science of sending people one-way to Mars. I’d been researching the show about five minutes before I found Mars One – an organisation planning to do exactly what I was joking about. So rather than joking about it, I applied to be one of the people to go when their astronaut applications opened in in April 2013. There’s just 705 of us worldwide still in the running now, and 24-40 will be picked in June next year to undergo 10 years of training before launching on the one-way mission in September 2024.
But I’m not sure I would have signed up to something so final (or committed as fully as I have) if a friend hadn’t introduced me to Zen Pencils, sending me Chris Hadfield’s “An Astronaut’s Advice”. Hadfield may have had a clear view of what he wanted to do when he was seven, but it took me till I was 27 to work out what I really wanted.
That’s the role your work has played over the last two years for me though. I had enough close calls in the military to instinctively know nature loves courage, but it took seeing your Terence McKenna quote to kick myself into gear when I had misgivings about performing at National Science Week here in Australia instead of playing it safe with comedy in Edinburgh. I knew I had to make the leap of faith to come home and talk about space & colonising other planets.
I had to leave the girl I was madly in love with in the UK because I can do more as a science ambassador here in Australia, and it took seeing your “If you love someone, set them free” comic to remind myself how much I still love her. Without Zen Pencils, I don’t know how many more years I would have continued lost in the woods, never sure I was doing the right thing. Now I have the opportunity to be part of something truly monumental, that will forever change the way we see ourselves as a species.
I keep the Hadfield comic, Neil Armstrong’s “Giant Among Men” and Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” all framed on my office wall as reminders to push through criticism in the service of something far bigger than myself.
Even if I’m not selected as one of Mars One crew, that’s okay too because for the last year I’ve been visiting schools all over Australia to talk to kids about space & training to be an astronaut. Seeing a classroom of eyes light up when I tell them they’re growing up in the next golden age of space exploration is a far more thrilling than making hundreds laugh at some naval-gazing joke ever was. I know if someone like Andy Thomas had visited my class when I was 11 it would have changed my whole life, so right now science communication is where I belong … I just needed to try all those other things out first.
So thank you for the crucial role you’ve played. I’m meeting Chris Hadfield in Canberra this month – I’ll be getting him to sign my poster when I do
Wow, what a story. Thanks Josh, good luck in becoming one of the first humans to colonise Mars! Josh is performing his one-man show Becoming Martian in Perth this month as part of National Science Week. Chris Hadfield is touring Australia and I’m looking forward to seeing him perform in Melbourne. – Gav
My name is Brian and I’m a comic artist from Atlanta, Georgia.
I’m 25 and my two main creative outlets are drawing (since I was a kid) and doing parkour (for the last six years). As funny as it might sound, drawing and parkour have a lot in common. They’re both creative activities that challenge you, and to improve, you must be willing to put in the time.
After high school, I decided to pursue drawing and attended a local state university and then I transferred to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. After six years of school I thought I’d be ready to do what I really wanted, but for some reason I found myself really REALLY burned out on art, and anything slightly challenging or creative. I became stagnant and since I needed to start paying off my loans I got an office job (proofing invitations and announcements).
At first, I thought it would be kind of nice having a steady income and free time, but as the months went on I realized that while I was saving money, I wasn’t doing ANYTHING. For the first time in my life I felt like I didn’t have any long-term goals, and as someone who usually knew where I wanted to go, this scared me a lot. It was becoming a monotonous cycle of just going to work and constantly trying to figure out what I wanted out of life before it passed me by.
One day I came across one of your comics and I read through your entire archive in 2 days. I must say, it was one of the most inspiring 2 days that I’ve had in a while.
I found so many of your comics inspiring, but the one in particular that resonated with me the most, was the one about The Man in the Arena by Theodore Roosevelt. When I read that comic, I saw two things: the man I wanted to be (the climber) and the man I was quickly turning into (the guy on the couch). It was almost overwhelming, but I’m so glad I saw that when I did. I used to be more ambitious and even if things were difficult, the drive to achieve outweighed the fear of failure. I had lost that somewhere along the way, but thanks to your web-comic, I can feel it coming back.
It took a while, but I finally started drawing again and even though I’m still working the office job, I feel like I’m on my way out, slowly but surely. I’m in the process of writing my first graphic novel (something that I wanted to do a while ago, but convinced myself it was too hard). I also started training again and started a parkour podcast just for the fun of it.
I even made a Zen Pencils-inspired comic about parkour and getting a “real job” adapted to a quote from the Outlaw Star anime (a few panels below).
Thanks Gavin, you were a big inspiration for my artistic comeback!
Awesome work Brian – Good luck with the art and crazy acrobatics! You can check out Brian’s art blog here.
My name is Adam, I’m 27 from Roanoke, Virginia, USA. A year ago I was in a fairly dark place in my life, because a couple of years before I had finally given up my passion and dreams of studying the law, convinced for a variety of reasons that I would never get to law school. Instead, I resigned myself to working dead-end jobs and contract work I hated. I did my best to shoulder this idea that I could never really live the life I wanted, and as I became more and more settled into this belief, I spiralled downward in outlook and attitude. I began to drink heavily and spent my days indoors away from people, always finding a plethora of excuses for not pursuing any of my passions, cutting myself off from potential friends and relationships because it was safer that way. Then in midsummer of 2013, my wife of six years (and she was my sweetheart since high school) came to me, told me I was not the man she married, and walked out. In the wake of this, I lost my job, and it seemed like my life was well and truly over.
It was about this time that I came across a Zen Pencils comic.
The poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost had always troubled me. I loved the passion expressed in the poem, yet feared its meaning: that I would pick the wrong road. It was a secret fear of mine, this choosing of the path. What if I picked a path I was not satisfied with? But then I saw your drawing, and another interpretation blossomed before me. The poem says that the passage on each path “had worn them really about the same”, and I realised “the road not taken” was not a call to a particular path, but instead a call to action. The path not taken was making a choice, any choice, rather than sit withering away in passivity, as so many of us do because it’s easier.
So I made a choice. I sent an application to a paralegal program and enrolled in school with the goal of preparing for law school like I had always dreamed of doing. But the story doesn’t end there.
I struggled for months to get a job and cope with the fact that my wife had left me. My depression was very deep at one point, and then I came across another Zen Pencils comic, Stephen Fry’s Ultimate self-help book. I, like the character in your comic, was an avid runner who used to be very good at it. And like the depressed man in the story you drew, I was in my prime in my school days past, and like him, my self-pity destroyed my marriage (to a beautiful redhead, no less). When I saw the poor, pathetic man in his bathrobe sitting in the dark, gazing at a picture, the parallels were staggering. His questions were the same as mine. His struggles were mine. And when I got to the end of the quote in the comic, I was appalled. But then he gets up, opens a window and puts on his shoes! I knew I had to do the same. It is “bloody hard” to stop feeling sorry for yourself, but it is also bloody well worth it.
Because I enrolled in school, I got a call for a job that I enjoy: working in a law office. School is going great. I’m making friends. I am getting into the best shape of my life. And I am applying to law school at the end of this year. I now keep the Shaolin monk’s climb up the mountain with his Emerson quotes pinned up at work as a constant reminder to challenge myself everyday, and when people ask about him, I tell them about the “road less traveled”. I tell them that, like Joseph Campbell suggested, I am “following my bliss.”
I have taken the road less traveled and now I truly believe it will make all the difference.
Thanks for sharing such a personal message Adam, and what an incredible story! I wish you the best of luck with your upcoming law career. Seriously, what can a guy say after receiving an email like this? I never in a million years thought this website would have such an effect on readers. Besides inflating my ego to ridiculously obnoxious proportions, reading all these wonderful stories really energises me to keep creating better comics for you all. As always, thanks for your support.
As an added bonus, here’s a lengthy interview I did with the wonderful Brené Brown! Yes, she contacted me after seeing the comic I adapted from her quote and asked me to be part of her Daring Interview series. What an honour! – Gav
My name is Emily and I’m 19. I found Zen Pencils through a friend posting it on Facebook. The first one I ever read was the fable of the Two Wolves, and from then on I was hooked. That was about a year ago. The powerful messages in each comic have always caused me to pause and take a closer look at this crazy world around us, but I’m writing about how your comics have recently inspired me to take action.
I was scrolling through the archives and I came across the Christopher McCandless quote. I’ve read Into the Wild before and not thought much of it, but your art brought it to life in a way that I had never thought of before. I’m a sophomore in college now, and despite that I have not had the chance to live under a “new or different sun.” I’ve lived in California for most of my life, traveled a bit when visiting family in China, but for the most part I like to stay in my comfort zone where I know the language and the people well. I’m currently in North Carolina for college which is the furthest I’ve been for any extended period of time.
That comic made me think about my situation long and hard, and guess what? Now I’m headed to Tanzania this summer and Costa Rica in the fall to continue my studies in education and global health. At our school we have a summer civic engagement program, and the one in Tanzania is 15 weeks long and focused on teaching children, improving their literacy and writing through photography and the visual arts, which the photographer in me is super excited about. The Costa Rica placement is a semester-long science and public health learning experience. I’ll be doing research, providing health care to villages and practicing real world applications of global health. Both programs have a heavy cultural immersion element to them and I’ll be doing home stays with local families.
I’m excited to learn Swahili and Spanish and thankfully my parents have been very supportive. Unfortunately, not many people in my immediate friend group are studying abroad so I will miss them and home. But there’s so much out there to see and I know they’ll be there for me when I come back. I hope to carry this spirit with me in doing more in the future, maybe even joining the Peace Corps. Part of me can’t believe I’m doing all this, and part of me just can’t wait to get started. I just wanted to say thanks and let you know that Zen Pencils played a big role in all of this.
What a fantastic story. Emily sure has more guts than I did when I was 19 – I wish her the best of luck and I’m sure she’ll have a life-changing experience.
Hey gang, I’m going to be a bit behind for the next couple of weeks due to some freelance work I’m doing. Part two of The Artist/Troll War should be out early next week. In the meantime, here’s a long overdue Reader of the Month to get acquainted with. Meet 23-year old Benjamin from San Diego, who says Zen Pencils has given him the kick in the butt he needed to start working on his passion for music:
I’ve been working boring jobs and playing video games my entire life. I’ve been toying around with the idea of being a musician since high school, but never had the confidence to step out of my comfort zone and actually try my hand at creating music professionally.
Then I ran into Zen Pencils. I was so in love with the worlds you created around the quotes and poems. It made each word stand out to me. Before, they were just letters strung together to make coherent thought, and I didn’t put much value in them, specifically because I thought those quotes didn’t apply to me. I always thought I wasn’t the person that the speaker or poet was talking to.
But after going back through all of your comics, something started to make sense to me: These people were passing down knowledge from their own experiences in life, and the reason the quotes are popular or famous, isn’t because they are witty, or because they rhyme, but because they speak from a place of truth that the old cliche’s can’t describe accurately enough. As I started to accept these quotes and poems as anecdotes and testimonials for success, I started to make changes in my own life.
I no longer play video games for five hours a night. I no longer sit at work staring at my Facebook wall, hoping someone posts something funny for me to like. I’m active now. I have been watching every single songwriting video on YouTube. I’ve learned how to compose and arrange songs, how to develop melodies, and how to turn simple ideas into song lyrics.
After reading the John Green Make Gifts For People comic, I realised that getting into the music industry was not about making a successful hit record and being a millionaire. Instead, it’s about creating a message for people who you wouldn’t normally get the chance to talk to. Creating the song is not about the money, but about the gift you can give to others. Money is just a side effect.
I’ve started taking classes online about music composition and theory and am now working on a concept album about motivation. The genre is hip-hop, and it’s heavily influenced by Jurassic 5, Childish Gambino, Watsky, and I would be lying if I didn’t say The Beatles. I’ve started networking and researching the next steps to take my production to the next level.
This whole experience has been eye opening, and I want to share my process with the people who are in the slump that I’ve been in for most of my life. And music will definitely give me a platform to do that.
In all honesty, I want someone to come to my work of art, like I did to Zen Pencils, and take something valuable away from it. I want to be an inspiration for others, and the only way to do that is to be inspiring.
So thank you for being awesome. Thank you for doing what you do. Thank you for showing others what it takes to be self-motivating and most of all, thank you for giving my life meaning.
Wow, that’s the kind of email that would leave anyone speechless. You’re very welcome Benjamin – thanks for sharing your story and best of luck with your music!
You can go check out all the previous Readers of the Month here if you need more happy sauce.
Gabrielle is a friend of mine from Perth, Australia who’s lifelong love of all things sweet didn’t really gel with her accounting career. I’ll hand it over to Gab:
Just imagine a cheeky little redhead toddler with big brown eyes and hair that stands up on end, running amok and demanding to help her mum make chocolate crackles or butterfly cakes. That’s me, when the only worry I had in the world was, “When would I be tall enough to reach the cookie jar?” Then, unfortunately, I grew up.
I studied hard, did my TEE (Tertiary Entrance Exams, the equivalent to end of high school exams or the SAT) and went to university. I left uni in 2010 as a qualified accountant. I had absolutely no experience. I didn’t know what it meant to be an accountant, but I had a piece of paper which said I was one. I got a job and began to come to terms with the career I had chosen when I left high school at 17 years of age. And surprise, surprise … it bored me to death. The way I got through each week was to set aside Sundays to potter around in the kitchen and bake until my heart was content. Only THEN could I handle another week of work.
Mondays were the day I’d bring in morning tea for everyone in the office – I was known more for my baking skills than my accounting ability. I constantly reminded myself that when I had enough money I would open up my own bakery cafe. At the ripe old age of 21, after working in auditing for 1 year, I hated my job. I started to realise how much I disliked the path my life was taking so I made the decision to move from sleepy old Perth to Melbourne. The idea was to spice up my life with a new city, new people and a new job. Melbourne, my favourite city in the world, surely it would solve all my problems!
I started my new accounting job shortly after moving and slipped back into my mundane lifestyle. The big move had been exciting but nothing had really changed. My big sister knows Gav and she directed me to his new website Zen Pencils, and I couldn’t get enough. In time I realised that comic after comic it was me in those pictures and I became defiant but struggled against changing my situation. I was bored out of my brains, I hated my job and for some unknown reason, I wasn’t doing anything about it. Why? I would have to take a pay cut. Because I had spent three years at university and my degree would go to waste if I changed career. The miserable job had become somehow … comfortable. Eventually though, I did what any normal 24 year-old would do. I called my mum:
“Mum, I’ve been thinking … I don’t want to pursue accounting any more.”
“Interesting … Ok, what else would you do?”
“I have been doing a bit of research and I’ve found a full time baking course. 12 months. Cakes, pastries and breads.”
“… Alright, when do you start?”
I was ecstatic! Mum had given me the go ahead! I quit the next day and was enrolled at the William Angliss Institute within the next month. Since then I have finished my course, moved back to Perth, and am now working full-time, baking artisan wood-fired bread in Fremantle, Western Australia. And, on top of that, I have started my own business, From Ginger With Love, supplying cakes to cafes and individuals. I am crazy busy, outrageously active and LOVE my life! I can’t wait to go to work every day and I am constantly thinking of new recipe ideas to rustle up for my customers.
I always remind myself of a quote and aptly-illustrated comic I found on Zen Pencils:
A note from Gav: Thanks to Gabrielle for sharing her wonderful story I just wanted to add my two cents here. As Zen Pencils has gotten more readers from all over the world, I’ve gotten some interesting feedback which I want to address. Yes, I understand that changing careers, following your dreams and attempting to do what you love is a luxury and not a viable option for people struggling to pay rent, stay employed and feed their family every week. Most of the world is pretty messed up economically and promoting the whole “do what you love” mantra borders on being irresponsible. Gabrielle and myself are lucky to live in Australia, a first-world country that wasn’t too badly affected by the global financial crisis. Please, I don’t want you to risk poverty or the well-being of your family because you keep getting told to quit your job by websites like mine. But if you’re one of those people who are lucky enough to be in a situation where the only thing holding you back is your own fear, then Gabrielle’s message totally applies to you. Yes, YOU!
Britta, 17, is from a small town in Minnesota, USA and now resides in Minneapolis. She’s currently studying architecture and political science at the University of Minnesota. I’ll hand it over to Britta:
I first saw your work through my favourite, aptly named website iwastesomuchtime.com. While I admired it (it was my favourite poem by Robert Frost), and thought it was cool to illustrate quotes, it really didn’t impact me all that much. I was happy where I was, coasting in the middle of life. Then, everything went to hell. My grandmother died, and although it wasn’t unexpected, it hit me much harder than I was anticipating. I found out my best friend’s mother’s cancer was back, and terminal. Teenage hormones made functioning difficult some days, and adding to that the emotional whirlwind of loss, I was spiralling downward fast. My parents and I had regular screaming matches, my ‘friends’ turned out to be backstabbing and mean, and on top of all of that, my grades started to drop as well. I had so many changes in my life, and no guidance. While I didn’t realise it then, I was depressed. I don’t think my family or friends realised, because I was so well trained to put on a happy mask and be a good little girl.
My depression peaked last winter. I wasn’t myself at all. I was lethargic, uninterested, and at times unresponsive. One day, while spending one of my many hours on iwastesomuchtime.com, I saw another one of your comics, the quote by Dr. Seuss Those who mind, don’t matter. This quote sparked a little something inside of me. It was a feeling. The illustrations weren’t relevant to my situation (I’m straight and never cared what people thought), but I like how I felt while reading your comic. So I decided to venture onto your site.
I can’t even begin to explain how much it’s helped me. I haven’t done anything drastic and amazing, like quit school and move to Africa to raise abandoned animals, but I found passion again. I love life, all of it. I have these amazing, ridiculous dreams, and I’m going to chase every single one of them.
Theodore Roosevelt’s The Man in the Arena inspired me to stop listening to critics and people telling me that I couldn’t do that or I’m terrible at this. So what if I look silly? At least I have the balls to go out and try it and have the potential of being a fool compared to wasting my life on the sidelines mocking those who try. The Alan Watts comic and then the Sophie Scholl quote served to light my fire even more. I wanted to make a difference. No, I needed to make a difference. It’s hard because I’m only 17, so I am somewhat limited in my options, but I can still try. I don’t want to make a difference, I WILL make one. It’s shoved down our throats that we have to get a good paying job, settle down, have a family, have nice things in your nice house in your nice neighbourhood. B.O.R.I.N.G. I’m going to visit every continent and leave my mark there. I am going to build houses for people in need and not worry about my salary. I am going to design materials and technology to ease poverty and help with illiteracy and hunger, and I won’t patent any of it. I will refuse to follow the mould of needing money to be happy. I will be happy because I spread happiness. I will not follow the 11 Ways to Be Average. I won’t put my brain in a jar; I won’t let anyone dictate my happiness but me. I will choose sides and find causes and be crazy and obnoxious in supporting them. I will ignore safety and security in lieu of living life to the fullest.
Caitlin Moran, Carl Sagan, Taylor Mali, so many amazing people with such amazing words! After every new comic, I end up going on a binge of exploration and inspiration. After every new comic, I learn something. I learn more about the quote and what it means. I learn more about myself and what I mean, and I learn more about life and what IT means.
Meet Mark Elliot, a 24 year-old from San Diego, California, who’s dream of being a comic book writer got a big boost at this year’s Comic-Con.
Zen Pencils came into my life at a time I needed it the most. Not that I was in a bad state in my life, thankfully that was all behind me. I was now in a confused, vulnerable state, thinking what would happen next. I was in the process of rebuilding myself to become a stronger person. I kept coming across these humble little comic strips online that carried the most profound messages and emotional impact. Eventually I found the source – Zen Pencils! The messages of the comics, in particular Ira Glass’s Advice for beginners, Neil Gaiman’s Make good art and Helen Keller’s When one door closes all helped me grow and inspire me to move forward into change. read more