This is an archive of a response to this: A Letter to a Young Cartoonist. Originally posted on Tumblr.
Thanks for taking the time to write this article, Mr. Thurber. I can see you’re well-intentioned and have the best interests of young cartoonists in your heart. And even more, I hope you’re happy that your letter has finally reached a young cartoonist, because guess what? Here I am.
I am 19; this makes me without doubt, a Young Cartoonist. Probably younger than everyone who has already posted in this thread. Probably closer to the age group Mr. Thurber aims this letter to. But probably not the young cartoonist that he expects.
This letter, ironically, is not for me. At all.
Maybe to some it’s a good idea to go back to print. There are standards, there are opportunities, there is money to be seen. Well, good for you! But guess what?
I don’t have that.
Because I don’t live in the US.
I am a 19 year old young cartoonist who lives in Malaysia. WHAT? MALAYSIA? If not for the two airplane incidents, I am quite sure the majority of the US population will not know where Malaysia is at all, let alone comic creators in Malaysia.
Which is interesting isn’t it? Here’s something to consider: would people like you, the comment reader, be able to notice Malaysian creators if not for the internet? Would people like you know who Hwei (lalage) is? Would people like you be able to know who I am (well, hello, I am here and I don’t mind work)? Let’s take this further: would people like you be able to read European comics, South American comics, Indian comics, Russian comics, Australian comics, Indonesian comics, African comics, even some AMERICAN comics, if not for the internet?
Would we even have this comic surge right now without the internet?
The reason why we even have a comic surge in the first place is because we’ve finally opened up doors for creators of different races, cultures, nationalities, identities, opinions, political parties, viewpoints, EVERYTHING to express themselves. And that’s good! Because this opens up the audience too!
To shift away from the internet is to reduce opportunities for young cartoonists like me. To reduce flavour in an increasingly globalised industry.
You can’t tell young cartoonists like me to go to print: as a Malaysian, I DON’T EVEN HAVE A LOCAL WELLPAYING RELIABLE PUBLISHER. Well yes, we do have publishers, but they pay less than USD100 per page (some less than USD30, some don’t even get paid! And this is PROFESSIONAL RATE), with no creator rights, no union, strict censorship (we can’t even draw a KISS), no artistic freedom, NOTHING, NOTHING. This is not the kind of environment you want to foster young cartoonists in, is it?
Oh there’s a simple solution: try the big names. Do people realise how difficult it is for a Southeast Asian to get published? Answer: IT IS NEAR IMPOSSIBLE. Let’s say we don’t have the internet: unless a big name publisher hotshot personally travels to a third world country and reads works by said country (and why should they? We’re more well-known for our cheap beautiful beaches), if they even know where to start, if they even know where to find it, there’s absolutely NO CHANCE, NO WAY for young cartoonists like me to be seen. And that puts us at a disadvantage created by simply having less opportunities and less access than our American counterparts.
Let’s face it: the market for art is in the US. Most of the jobs are there. Most of the opportunities are there. Most of the money is there. Most of the audience is there. If we can’t be seen by the US, then what’s the point? I am sad to say but that’s reality.
That’s why I am so glad the internet exists: it makes me self-reliant and not dependent on Western charity (by that I mean big name publishers). I don’t need to feed their opinions, I don’t need to give them money to publish me, I don’t need to police my work or pander my unique identity to make my culture ‘more relatable’. And this has made my work, proudly, Malaysian. The internet gives me a space where I can retain my identity and tell my unique stories and that should be viewed as a healthy development, because that makes our industry dimensional, complex and well-respected. And it’s not only me, but it’s all the comics you get to enjoy right now.
Without the internet I would not have known my friends from all corners of the world. Without the internet I would not even know there’s a comic surge right now. Without the internet, I would not be making money for my art at all. Without the internet, I wouldn’t even be given the opportunity to work for big companies like BOOM!. Without the internet, I wouldn’t even consider becoming an artist AT ALL, because why should I? I have the academic qualifications to become a highly-specialised doctor if I want (I am not because medicine is not my interest); why should I waste my time making comics for an offline venture that will not bring me any reimbursement or an audience, both locally and internationally?
Without the internet, I would not be as successful at 19 than I am right now. And I’ve done quite well for a third-world 19 year old with an almost non-existent local comics industry.
I am actually alright with pimping my work out to the Big Tech, because in exchange I get to contribute my own story in ways I never could in local print, and I also get to read other people’s stories as well, which will inform my influences and world view even more, making me a mature artist and therefore grooming me to become a more confident, more realised comic creator. This is artistic growth that is priceless and cannot be gotten anywhere else. Not even in art school (and I don’t go to art school). This is the kind of thing that both old and young cartoonists have that no one before the internet ever had, and we should make use of it.
So if y’all like print better, then go ahead! You’ll still have people like me who have money (earned from the internet) to continue buying printed comics from the bookstore regardless of how digitised everything has become. Personally I like the experience of buying and reading physical books. You can do whatever you like to become the artist you wanna be, internet or no internet; no issue with that.
But don’t forget
For some of us, the internet is all we have to succeed.
For some of us, the internet is our only platform to speak, to have a voice.
Because some of us don’t have your privileges, your culture, your opportunities, your conventions, your publishers.
As a 19 year old, self-taught Malaysian young cartoonist, I thank you for your time and your concern. I really love the first few paragraphs of this letter; it’s very sweet and I agree with it. Please understand I don’t view you any lower than I did before I read this article or knew who you are. My comment here is only to show everyone a different angle of things.
In the end though
As a 19 year old self-taught Malaysian young cartoonist
I have to say
I am sorry
But this advice in this article will not do me, or people like me, any good at all.
I hope this comment has at least enlightened you on the very different comics culture outside of the US.
Wishing you all well and yes, more comics please!!
#I actually don’t feel offended by the article I just think it forgets
#that the comics industry is not only the one in the US
#and without the internet I wouldn’t even be here!!!
Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.
She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.
Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.
Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur
French Book Tour, January 2024