Hey gang, here’s another Reader of the Month story, all the way from sunny Singapore. This is one of the most powerful stories I’ve shared here, it’s of a young man who overcame a serious bout of depression and rediscovered his love for writing. ↓ 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, 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…
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 everyone, I know you’re sick of hearing from me all the time so here’s another great Reader of the Month entry, where I spotlight one of my fantastic readers. This month, it’s Laura, who has a beautiful story about finding a new home away from home.
My name is Laura, I’m 26 years old from São Paulo, Brazil, currently living in Canada. Growing up in Brazil, I always had the dream to live abroad since I was 14, and I had become fascinated with Canada after watching the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. I tried to go to Vancouver back then for a three month school program, but my father refused to let me go, and instead encouraged me to finish university first and then go overseas for a post-grad course.
By the time it was December 2011 I was graduating from pharmaceutical sciences and I had no idea what to do with that degree or what job positions to apply for. So I figured it was the time to try my little Canadian adventure and asked my father if his proposition was still on, to which he said ‘yes’. I’ve always been the person who tries to plan ahead as much as one can, and to have a Plan B. So, while I was waiting for my application to a Canadian College to be approved I was taking exams to work as a public servant in Brazil. Those exams take months, sometimes years to actually give a result so I figured that I go to Canada first, then when I return home, maybe I would have a job waiting for me.
Even though I was excited to go, I was bit sad to leave, and above all … I was scared. All my friends were focused on their careers in Brazil and getting jobs in their field of expertise. I even asked a friend of mine to come to Canada with me but she said she was too scared to leave and then come back home with no job and nothing to show for her time away. I was having second thoughts about going.
However it was when I saw your comic adaptation of The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost that I had peace of mind. That poem made me realize that I had to make a decision, accept it and adapt to whatever comes in my path. The reality is that there is no right answer, there is no right way.
So finally, I went to Canada.
I had enrolled for a International Business Management course for a year. I also decided to volunteer for the International Student Services at my college which I loved. I could help assist other international students that were in the same position as I was before.
While studying in Canada, I found out I was approved for that public service exam I took back home in 2012. Once again, I had to make a decision: either go back to Brazil and take the stable job or finish what I started and try my luck in Canada after I was done with my studies. I decided to stay here in Canada. That student services volunteer job ended up helping me get my current job, working for a software company as a system analyst for a year and a half and counting. For now I am having a detour in my path. My employer is helping me get my papers done for a permanent residency visa and I’ve decided to stay in Canada for as long as I can. While I have some stability, I am studying for the exams I have to take in order to become a pharmacist in Canada. This will take a few years but I won’t give up.
I’ve made amazing friends and met a wonderful boyfriend from India who has supported me all the way. My family suffers a bit with the distance, they always had the hope the cold winter would send me back to Brazil. Even so, they are proud of me, and thanks to Skype I can talk to them and to my old friends all the time. Brazil will always be my nation, where my family is, some part of me, but Canada is the place I’ve fallen in love with.
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.