I’ve been in this webcomics game for… close to 10 years now (if you don’t count the 3 years of prep). The second I graduated from secondary school, I jumped right in to launching my first webcomic. Things and mindsets and empires have come and gone since then, including my idea of what success and validation means.
When I originally began TWIDI, it was spurred by a cocktail of calling and the pre-emptive fear of future regret. The latter was a big theme in my teenagehood, having heard of too-many-stories of people in mid-life crisis or in their deathbeds regretting the things they never did. I didn’t want to suffer that same fate, so everything I did (and still do) was always in consideration of my future self.
Right now I am one of the future selves 18 Year Old Me thought for, but never imagined was possible. I am grateful for the foundation my past self built for the life I’m living today … though at this point, the architecture is getting old and in need of a reconstruction. It has been shakey for a while.
Launching a webcomic in 2021 is a very different event than launching it in 2013. Webcomics have gotten so big nowadays that telecom corporations feel safe building IP-to-Hollywood business model on top of it, and we’re undergoing the phenomenon of centralisation which had previously created and changed social media (everything and everybody all living in walled gardens). There’s also an element of glamourisation that wasn’t as strong back then, and accompanying it, a stronger element of struggle-hustle.
And of course, the potential for thousands of subscribers and hundreds thousands more of page views. Which may potentially lead to being picked up by a studio, publisher or film (or at the very least, decent ad payouts). But of course, of course, you can’t get all that if you don’t, erm, keep up with your successful peers who post a lot of pages per update, right? Oh yeah, don’t forget your subscribers too, who have gotten so used to that amount of creative output from other comics that a vocal few of them are unforgiveable in the mean-or-naive way if and when you decide to slow down.
That’s a lot of pressure!!
I don’t think it’s bad to aspire for fame, celebrity or an IP deal – as long as you are pragmatic about it. 99% of the time webcomics begin as solo unpaid endeavours (the majority of them continue to remain this way), done at your own pace and labour, so you have to be realistic with your workflow, keeping in mind your mental/creative/bodily limits. Plus it’s not worth sacrificing your longevity in favour of a small likelihood of visible, glitzy success. Work towards it, but don’t die for it.
A long time ago I had wanted this kind of success. This was 2012 – 2013, so things looked different back then, but I wanted the celebrity of getting my webcomic picked up for publication. I wanted reader comments by the bucketloads. I may have even dreamt of an animated adaptation. (Though considering the format weirdness of The World in Deeper Inspection, that’s extremely laughable.)
Secretly, I wanted the webcomic to launch me towards a fully-realised career, even when I was acting as if it wasn’t going to happen. Which was true at the time… the most I could imagine for myself was part-time author with a full-time corporate science/academic job. But that goal was a best case scenario, when all the stars aligned and Lady Fortune smiled upon me.
At a much deeper level, I wanted the webcomic to be evidence that I started and did something I loved. Even if it took me years to finish it… or if I never finished it at all. Even if it never gained a hundred readers (which it never did, and hopefully it stays that way!). Even if it never earned money. Even if I had to work on it once or twice a year in short bursts only to vanish (which is still the MO of TWIDI, lol). I just wanted something for myself. An outlet to humour my truest self, indulge in my interests, engage in art and narrative and experiments in ways that hardly ever touch the more square aspects of my life. And I had a lot of square aspects between the ages of 14 to 22.
On my deathbed, I am not going to regret that I never became famous. I am going to regret I never gave myself that touch of indulgence, of freedom, at all.
So the second webcomic is still operating this way, except I am more conscious about the comics/publishing industry and definitely more jaded on glamour (well, it is what it is…). There are tools and skills now that I didn’t have when TWIDI launched that I could liberally use on Alexander. And boy, did I use them.
Numbers feel like… numbers to me nowadays. Maybe it was the brutal consequence of the last 10 years of being so used to a lack of engagement. Maybe it was a life lesson learned from understanding that it’s not the numbers that matter but knowing which opportunities to throw one’s hat in (which is based on luck and self-esteem). Maybe it’s just me getting older and becoming more allergic to a viral fanbase. Numbers feel like a means to an end now… as they should be.
There’s no expectation for Alexander to become adaptable media – it’s not that kind of work, and I’d be distrustful of anybody who can condense that madness into a two hour film or into a limited series (unless it becomes a prestige, limited animated series… a hilarious pipe-dream). I’d love a wide distribution in print, but I don’t know if any publisher would take on the expensive task of dealing with 4 tomes of 300 pages each, outside of the fancy artist editions I’ll be making with Hiveworks. I’m actively avoiding a mass readership in favour of a niche community. Somebody somewhere said something about having 1000 true fans/friends, so I am only engaging with those. Maybe the number of true fans will be smaller than a 1000. Idk. I just hope there’s enough of you to produce the first artist edition.
Beyond the artist editions, my image of success for Alexander is small.
For the past two years I have been making stories for other people… which is wonderful, and something I dreamed of doing. I will always enjoy making books for people… what I mean is I have been making stories partly in respect to corporate and market expectations. This story is more profitable. Or. You gotta think about how XYZ gatekeeper would respond to this. Or. This is way too weird formally, can you tone it down or people will get confused? Before you get the wrong idea, my books in between The Carpet Merchant and Alexander are still books I truly wanted to do and had concepts I wanted to play with, and they were all done to their fullest potential… which luckily respected the external limits. (Yeah it’s possible to do work that you love that’s still honest within the capitalistic sphere.)
But there are other pitches in me that don’t respect those limits in the first place. Where do they go?
I’ve been saying this so often that it’s going to become a cliche, but: you can do anything you want in webcomics.
My ambition has grown cozier over the years.
Is it necessary to grieve the loss of potential greatness? A million-dollar book deal, a million-strong fanbase, a million retweets?
I am not young anymore, so those glories have lost their meaning to me. That’s certainly a scary thing, and part of why I feared growing up: one day, I’m going to rest on my laurels and give up and let go of the dreams which I know I’ll regret on my deathbed. If I am happy to give up working towards the stars, what else will be on the chopping board?
But when I was typing up my 10 Year Bucket List (from 2020 to 2030, very optimistic considering the climate change situation), I was pleasantly surprised to find goals that were more honest and interesting. The Bucket List includes things like “trying every weird ice cream flavour whenever I go to an ice cream parlour”, “obtain a European arts residency” and other goals that are meant to push me more towards a life well-travelled.
I haven’t lost my will to dream. They have just changed.
Sometimes the things you thought would make you complete when you’re young are red herrings of the things you actually need. This is not to say those things aren’t important at a certain point in your life. Just that they are important because when acquired (or realising the consequences of acquiring them), you may conclude that you don’t want it at all. And being able to make that choice is a sacred step towards maturity.
So even when I was swept up by the thrall of hustle workaholicism in order to achieve my dreams and run away from the Fear of Future Regret, it taught me a few lessons that are pushing me towards a happier, slower, craft-oriented life.
And that’s a valid goal, tbh.
June 13, 2013
What I’m most proud of, in the about-less-than 20 years of my life, is that I managed to actually begin working on my dream project. With my own hands, and 100% my own effort; no help from anybody – I even paid for two years of web hosting (ok, I had to use my mother’s credit card because [the bank] is still pre-Y2K regarding online credit/debit card services, but I did pay her back), and set up the entire website myself. For 3 years I’ve been working alone on this project, from creating the characters, then writing the story, and doing the research and shedding too many tears and ripping too much hair out over it (a must-do to scatter DNA evidence and all).
I suppose in my own way I can say I’m one of the very few people in this world, in this life to accomplish the elusive Personal Dream Project. Other people’s Personal Dream Projects (PDP) could be building an independent business, or starting a charity, or buying an old house and converting it to something awesome; mine is to work and publish and share my magnum opus.
I don’t view it as my magnum opus, but since there’s no other word to describe ‘A project that is surely gonna suck 10 years out of your life, and maybe even longer when you are 30 and doing weird adult things like wear a headband and watch exercise videos and read more of those health magazines’ it’s the closest term.
Like most middle-aged teenagers approaching the dreaded adulthood, I gave a lot of thought about whether it’s necessary to start my PDP now. I don’t even know if I should have THOUGHT about it, and should have just GONE with it. But the irony about being a young person is that people who are older than you point their fingers one way and say you’re lucky to be young because you’ve so much time and so little obligations and that you should use it to do things you won’t be able to do when you are an adult, and then 5 seconds later, they point their fingers the other way and say Oh My God, child, what are you doing? You should focus on your studies and school and not think about anything else because you need to become a BETTER ADULT than us.
It’s like, I’m not being accusatory, adults think school and studies are the only things dominating our lives. And that the pinnacle of our achievements as a teenager is gauged by whether or not we are in the green, yellow or red area of the ADULTHOOD bar when we begin it.
Anything out of that and they get confused and try to keep us on the straight and well-trodden path.
I received mixed messages throughout my teen years about this matter. I focused on my education first because I had SPM and I wanted to do awesomely in it, but now that I’m free from the shackles of secondary education, I actually have a CHANCE to do something I’ve been wanting to do. That’s what last year was all about. To get this moment. This lull in time before college.
I still receive it now. My mother is very lukewarm about this; she tells me it’s not about regret, but I’ve to disagree with her. For somebody like me, it’s about regret. I’ve heard many stories of people who miss the chance to work on their PDP – they had to study first, in order to receive an excellent education and good qualifications, then they had to go to work (most often these people work in office jobs), then they had a family, then they had to pay their debts, then they had to invest in a retirement plan, and 40 years later when everything is over and they are old and have so much time they actually don’t have the heart and the energy to work on their PDP anymore. It’s saddening, and very frightening, because I know how easy it is to get sucked up doing the usual things that most are doing, which is trying to work in something you don’t really like, which sucks your life away, trying to put your head above water, forgetting your dreams and aspirations completely.
I don’t want to end up old, or worst, 30 and still fresh, my chest tight with regrets and guilt and frustration over myself because I didn’t care about myself enough to be firm about what I want to achieve and what I want my life to become. I can imagine, if I never started my dream project now, in the next 20 years I never have the right time to start it, and I will be upset because at that stage in my life, I will promise myself to get back to this PDP soon, but I never do. In this alternate universe, I’ve cut myself off from the type of people who connect to me the best, and every day I’ll invent imaginary what-if situations and be angry at myself for missing the chance to give myself the small possibility of the situations happening. I’ll be angry that I never got to make a change, even if it’s as someone’s reading material. All because I listened to what other people thought was more important.
Even if things don’t work out at this point, at least I can come out saying I at least started it. Do you know how powerful that is? That means I can work on it anytime I want. I never have to start working on it. Starting something is harder than working on it, and I did the hard thing.
I can tell my children, and my grandchildren, and other strangers who I’ll encounter in my life, that if they have something they love and they want to do, start it, and my encouragement towards them will be genuine and of understanding because I know how it’s like. I’ve done it before. I survived.
Not many have STARTED it.
For all its worth, I’ve cemented my self-confidence already. I’m not afraid to start any new projects, and doing all the work by myself. I’m committed to keep my current PDP going until its very end. No insults will hurt me anymore, because I know, what I’m capable of doing.
I started something.
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
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PCAF, July 29 – 30
Australian Cartoonists Association, October