Starting The Year Right: Meeting with Zen Pencils

22 Jan

Hello everyone! We’re almost at the tail end of January so I figured it was about time to kickstart Indiedoodle for the new year!

 photo ZenPencils.jpgOmmmmmm….nomnom.

Earlier this month (actually, on the 2nd day of the New Year to be more specific) I had the honour of meeting the creator of the wildly popular Zen Pencils webcomic, Gavin Aung Than, when he stopped by Singapore for a short visit and hosted a Meet and Greet Session with fans. The session was held at a relatively new cafe named Wheeler’s Yard, which took me and my friends quite a while to get to.

 photo ZenPencils3.jpgWheeler’s Yard, a new cafe-cum-fixed-gear-bicycle-shop. Yes, I know, it’s a very hipsterish place.

In a nutshell, the Meet and Greet Session was awesome. I had the opportunity to pass Gavin some of my zines before he started his session and he is a really nice and down to earth person (I’ll elaborate on this later). I initially thought of doing an interview with him, but I decided that it wasn’t very wise to deprive the many fans there of his time. Also, lets face it, I’d be hard pressed to find a fresh perspective based on all the various interviews he’s done before.

 photo ZenPencils4.jpgGavin Aung Than, Man of the Hour, chatting with his audience.

Still, all is not lost even though I didn’t take notes or record anything, because here’s what I remember from that night off the top of my head:

– Gavin quit his job at a rather big Advertising Agency to kickstart Zen Pencils, a risk he was willing to take because he felt that the time was right. He had been gearing up for something like this for quite a while (drawing comics on the side), so it wasn’t a spontaneous decision.

– He had the support from his family and friends (Side note: surprise surprise, his wife is Singaporean!).

– His inspiration for making comics from quotes (and I’m paraphrasing here) stemmed from his initial annoyance with the tackiness of ‘Inspirational Powerpoint Presentations’ (you know, those with beautiful scenery and/or animals/people behaving intimately with quotes plastered all over them) and he thought ‘Hey, I can make something better and more tasteful out of those quotes!’. And he did.

– When asked why did he use some recurring characters in the quotes he has adapted thus far, he said that he doesn’t consciously make plans for story arcs for those characters as he’s drawing a certain strip. Instead, he summons those characters again when he stumbles upon new and fitting quotes that he considers suitable to continue telling that particular character’s story.

 photo ZenPencils5.jpgA view of the interior of Wheeler’s Yard from where I was sitting. The turnout was pretty solid as the place was packed by the time Gavin started!

Honestly, it’s hard to believe that Zen Pencils has only been around for slightly more than 2 years now, if the fanfare is anything to go by. I find it heartening to see people like Gavin working on comics which broach a different subject matter, as it draws a more diverse crowd to comics, and who knows where these readers might progress from here.

Remember that I said that Gavin is a really nice guy at the start? Here’s why: After the end of his talk and Q&A session, he stayed and signed anything and everything the fans at the venue wanted (from iPads to sketchbooks, including the free stickers and mini prints he brought and handed out generously), and even took the time to pose with each and every one of them for a photo. I’m not exaggerating, he really did. With every. Single. Person. In. Line. All this despite having already mingled with most of them even before the event started and still recovering from his travelling fatigue.

 photo ZenPencils2.jpgZen Pencils’s Buddha Quote poster for sale at 20 SGD a pop, and free postcards and stickers!

My first encounter with a Zen Pencils comic was on tumblr, and it was Alan Watts’s quote adaptation, ‘What If Money Was No Object?’. From there I was directed to the Zen Pencils website, and I’ve been a loyal follower ever since. I always find Zen Pencils’s comics a joy to read, especially on days when I am feeling down and need an encouraging word or two.

Naturally I chose to wait until the very end during the signing session to get a postcard and my patience was rewarded!

 photo ZenPencils6.jpgWise words indeed.


If, like myself, you crave a more tangible form of the Zen Pencils comics, fret not. There will be a Zen Pencils compilation published by Andrews McMeel, coming out sometime later in 2014, so keep your eyes peels for it at your local bookstores!

On a more Indiedoodle-related note, I intend to post an update at least once a month this year, so wish me luck.

Have a great year ahead, and an early Happy Chinese New Year to those of you who celebrate it!

P/S: Photos courtesy of the wonderful Joelyn Alexandra! Except, you know, the very last one.

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