TWIDI will celebrate its 10th birthday in March. A few months after, it’ll be callupish’s 16th birthday. That’s how long these two passion projects have been with me. Currently, both of them are on the backburner.
There’s a thought loitering in my head for the past two years. The thought of how my relationship with art has changed since it became a career. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still able to find the love and joy that fuel my art-making. So far I’ve kept as true as possible to what speaks to me most, as a young adult and an artist. But going professional has made it clear to me how important it is to my soul to maintain that integrity, and to keep it from being swallowed by jadedness and cynicism. And there’s been a lot of those shadows lurking at the edges of the last two years (though I’d argue they existed some time before 2016).
Here’s something from my diary, from 2018:
Writing is so isolating and personal that sometimes I wonder if my work actually makes any sense outside of myself. I know my book to get what it’s trying to achieve, but will outsiders? That was the thing I struggled a lot when learning to make pitches. In webcomics it wasn’t important what or how you write because the good stuff will come up sooner or later, and you only have to trust the dedication of your readers to see it with you together. With publishing it’s like (squints eyes) as you hand over your manuscript. The challenge is then keeping the door open once you do.
So I guess my worry is that I don’t make work that is good enough to keep that door open forever? I don’t think I’ve imposter syndrome, but I think I’ve a fear of not doing the best I can in all facets. Or at the least, keep those facets consistent or balanced. Like what is the point of writing emotionally impactful work if you’re not making sales for your publisher? Or what use is making financially-bonkers work if your writing for it, honestly, is not something you love or is reflective of your ability? The nice place is in the middle. But how do you achieve the middle? That’s the question.
I suppose the concept of audience/publisher feedback is becoming more salient to me because writing these books is the first time I’ve to think about how someone outside my circle will respond to them. And there’s so much more at stake. With The Carpet Merchant I only had to worry about the books themselves; if they were any good, if they were achieving the emotional and thematic impact I wanted them to, if I was giving the books the nuance its intended audience deserves… Very little of whether the audience (big or small) will show up factored into it.
(I still think The Carpet Merchant is difficult to pitch because it’s probably got everything most publishers are scared of. It’s a genre novel for adults holyfish, you know how picky grown-ups are for things that aren’t macho-man detective dramas or romance, and why must it be a ‘comics’????)
For these new books, I’m writing for kids so maybe the bar is lower in terms of [How Everything Should Make Sense In All Ways], but they are a new audience to me. Granted, I’m still writing for myself, and I want to give these kids books the same care as I do for my older books (because kids are not stupid). It’s just…I worry that I am probably off-the-mark ever so slightly and what I thought was fine is actually not.
Who knows really? In the end I still have to get the books out. At the very least, I should write something that I as a creator will be proud of my entire career, and that would have inspired me when I was a little kid, going through the shelves of Kinokuniya.
It has been a year and a half since The Carpet Merchant ended, and TWIDI’s hiatus began.
A long time ago, when TWIDI was very young, I imagined that it’ll be the thing that will launch my career. And strangely, it did (well, a character’s backstory did), but not in a way I expected. I’m glad it unexpectedly turned out that way. That TCM was the one that got out there as an independent piece, with no obvious association to the parent webcomic. It meant the rest of TWIDI is now free from this long-ago dream of being the Career. Its existence and its creation no longer have power on my audience, my professional work, and my income (though it never really did, as much as I wished back then. TWIDI has never been popular.).
It now simply exists as a passion project.
That’s why I am okay with this long hiatus. I thought I’d feel worried and guilty over it. Amazingly, I’m not. But I don’t think I could worry about TWIDI anymore. It’s a story with characters I love and know I could come back to anytime. It’s a story that I believe in. And now that it’s free and completely dissociated from aspirations for views and money, it’s a story that has grown up to become more Me.
I’ve learnt to write for an Audience in the last two years. I’m pretty in tune to ideas like ‘markets’ and ‘budgets’ and all of the stuff that keeps the traditional/digital publishing engine running. What was once esoteric has now become mundane.
So I know how to present a comic for a publisher. I know how to write for someone who can’t see the images behind my carelessly-written text. My scripts are more structured than ever. In other words, my process has become more professional.
And suddenly I’m feeling the pull towards A Sense of No Obligation.
I do miss writing just for myself. And I don’t mean just the act of it, but all the attached ridiculousness: the unstructured no punctuation no nothing scripts on the Notepad app, jumping between stages if I get a creative block in one, sparse if any visual description, the freedom to do last minute changes, nothing is set in stone. It’s that chaos I miss.
Maybe it makes sense that after a few books I’d want to go back. Is it the Indie Webcomic spirit that’s haunting me? Maybe. Maybe. I do need the space now. To run into the creative woods and let my voice say whatever it wants with no care for the world.
I made a Twitter thread some time ago. It goes like this:
Been thinking about what “passion” means with re: creating art, and idk, do yall also feel that passion is less about pushing yourself and more about chilling out – cos you believe it’ll happen anyway? No matter how slowly and gently it proceeds?
I never once thought that passion should be an all-consuming feeling (the type that makes you rush, panic, burnout, disregard self-care/the rest of life, etc in service of a single project). IME, with my books, I’ve never prioritised them above myself and my health –
but you can’t accuse me of not feeling love and not putting in the work. I believe in my projects, and that’s why I’ve the confidence to chillax. I know they will eventually and inevitably happen, regardless of how busy I am with freelance and other life stuff.
Passion should be regenerative and healing, a mutual synergy between your work and yourself (you growing into the person your work wants you to be, and the work inspiring you towards that better self). It shouldn’t be destructive and anxiety-ridden.
I think we need to reexamine our cultural (and capitalist-poisoned) ideas of what passion is. What we have now is a sock-puppet telling people to sacrifice their health/life for what? Again, like love, passion for your art should be more constructive and integrative.
Most of the time you love what you do. You put a bit of your soul into every story you tell. You hope they resonate, to remind yourself you are not the only wandering lonely human in this world.
But some things are just different. They come to you, with barely a knock on your door, and they tell you, “I am here.” Meanwhile you stand there. You do not welcome them but you do not reject them either. You already know that they were always yours; it was just a matter of time before they announced their presence.
These things are different. They come unfinished, needing love and care that only you can provide. You however have no idea if you’re up for the job. But by god, you’re gonna try. You may be unsure but you believe that at some point, you’ll be capable of providing them the justice they deserve. Afterall, why have they come to you? And why do they feel so right? Like every moment in your life has led up, mysteriously, strangely, to this.
You know your soul will change. With these things it’s not about putting a bit of your soul in them, though they do require that. It’s about giving your soul completely, for change, for resurrection, for renewal. You know that by the end of the partnership there will be a before and after. Here you are at the before. You have no idea what the after looks like.
It’s scary, but exciting, but tremendous, and daunting, and amazing. These things intimidate you, yet
you know you’re meant for them.
And so you begin.
Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.
She creates the webcomics The World in Deeper Inspection, and The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya; the latter of which is the first Malaysian graphic novel to be Eisner-nominated.
Currently writing and drawing a whole bunch of stuff. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.
Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur
Nebula Con 2021
June 4, 9.30 – 10.30 AM PST
Panel: Actually Writing the Comic You Promised
Alexander Comic Launch @ Twitter