Friday, November 15, 2013

Singaporean Comic Artist Creates Unique Brand of Comics


In Mandarin, the characters 兰樱之交 (the friendship between Orchids and Cherry Blossoms, national flowers of Singapore and Japan respectively) symbolise the sharing of Singapore and Japan’s culture and knowledge.

Evangeline Neo, who graduated from Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Interactive & Digital Media (SIDM) in Digital Media Design, is a local comic artist. She is the perfect example of the idiom above, bridging the cultural gap between the two countries with her viral web comics. Much of this was accomplished by spotting cultural differences while studying for her MBA (Masters in Business Administration) from Waseda University in Japan. Evangeline currently maintains her popular Facebook page, EVACOMICS.

It was a blessing to be able to meet up with her. Let’s find out more about Evangeline and her various adventures in Japan.

1. Describe yourself in three words, and tell us about a weakness that you are desperate to overcome.

I would describe myself as organised, determined and creative. A weakness I am desperate to overcome is procrastination.

2. What inspired you to focus on the cultural difference between countries?

I used to do drawings to depict my life in Japan, but those drawings didn’t get much attention. Feeling frustrated, I asked some of my friends on Facebook what kind of content they would like to see. Most of them were interested in something from Japan that is different from Singapore. I felt that it was a good idea since I really missed Singapore when I was in Japan and I frequently recalled how life was in Singapore. That’s when I started to do two-panel comparisons of the two countries.

After showcasing a couple of comic strips, I realised they were quite well received. In fact, they went viral, and my fans rose from 300 to thousands. I was surprised and glad that I finally found something that people liked. I tried to alternate my comics with other types of comics but it seems that the ‘comparison comics’ were more popular so I worked on them more.

I also started to become more observant of my environment and constantly make comparisons.

3. It takes a lot of discipline to create content regularly. How did you manage to find time to create comics while juggling your workload from your studies?

I used to do four-panel comic strips and update three times per week, but I noticed that my ideas need to be more refined. I decided to just stick to cultural comparison and update my Facebook page every Monday. I do these updates even if I’m sick or going on a holiday in order to commit myself to the practice.

4. How many hours do you set aside every week to create your web comics? How do you get inspired when you run out of ideas?

It is difficult to gauge because I refine my ideas as the days pass. I have lots of ideas and I would pick some to sketch out. I usually plan ahead of time, deciding what to update each week, depending on upcoming festivals and trends. I would then work on my comics, refine them, and perfect them until the time comes to post them.

I’m full of ideas so I don’t think I will run out of ideas anytime soon. I usually jot down my ideas, so when I do not have inspiration, I would read through those notes and work on them. So far, I have ideas that will last quite a long while.

5. I understand that you pursued your studies in United States and Japan after graduating from NYP in 2001. How has overseas education changed your perception of life over the past 12 years?

After spending 3.5 years in US and another 3.5 years in Japan, I learnt to be more appreciative of Singapore. I noticed things that we did better and how we can improve. The public services are more efficient, we make decisions faster and most people have a good command of English. You may be surprised but we make use of technology more than Japan. We can apply for most things online, like passports, and they can be approved within a week. Some things we can do better are:  to have more support for arts and design industries, be less money-oriented, and put in more effort to beautify our environment.

Over the past 12 years, I think I have grown to have more faith in myself, believing that I can achieve what I want. I also learnt that I don’t have to be overseas to reach out to markets there.

6. What made you decide to do your MBA in Japan? Did you have any trouble adapting to the Japanese culture and language? 

While I was working here I wanted to draw comics for a career. I have been publishing my comics online for a few years but there wasn’t any breakthrough. At that time, the government decided to reduce its arts funding, and no local publisher would publish local work; the last thing a publisher wants is an unsold inventory.

I decided to go to Japan as it has a very rich culture in Manga (Japanese-style comics) and pursue my Masters in Manga in Kyoto Seika University in order to learn more about comics. However, when I spoke to one of my seniors from Singapore, he suggested that I should go to Waseda University for the MBA program instead. He knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and generate income while creating my own comics.

Beside the language hurdle, I did face issues in adapting to Japanese culture since it is really different from Singapore. I believe that if you want to know a country’s culture better, it is  best to start with language. I learnt Japanese for about four years and attained the Japanese Language Proficient Test (JLPT) N2 standard before going to US. I picked it up again, spending one year in a Japanese Language School when I went to Japan because one of their requirements for being eligible for scholarship is to have attained JLPT N1.

7. There are many web comic artists in Taiwan . Is there anyone you look up to as a role model?
I looked up to *Wanwan(弯弯), a very famous artist and blogger. I liked how she started off and how she monetizes her work. She inspired me and she was also the reason why I chose wretch.cc, a Taiwanese social media website, as a place to start publishing my web comics.

I’m also interested in Western comics such as Dilbert and Peanuts.

8. What do you do during your free time in Japan? 

I enjoy shopping, eating, blogging and going on Facebook. I love to travel around but it is costly and things in Japan are very expensive, especially transportation. It is really fun to go out in Japan as everything is visually stimulating and I can get really inspired. Due to consumerism and intense competition between companies, there are advertisements everywhere and many attractive products and services. Everything in Japan is just so interesting, eye-catching and beautiful.

9. I noticed that you used to take US into consideration in your comics, but slowly shifted your focus to the comparison between Japan and Singapore only. Is there any reason for the change? 

It is difficult to compact all my ideas into three panels on the same page, and it is harder to visualize a story consisting of 3 perspectives. In addition, I was focusing more on studying during my stay in US, so I didn’t pay much attention to my surroundings.  So I have comparatively few US-related ideas.

10. Evacomics has been around for 3 years, but you have been producing web comics for 6 years. If you had not gone to Japan for your studies, what do you think the style and direction of your comics would be today?

If I have not gone to Japan, my comics would be about my life in Singapore only, which I don’t think many people will be interested in. If I didn’t go to Japan, I would probably continue to try different things for my comics. I may switch to English Language comics much earlier (my comics used to be in Mandarin), and I might also be a civil servant (lecturer/ teacher).

Evacomics wouldn’t have been created because it was created as a brand for my Japan-influenced artwork.

11. Now that you are back in Singapore, will you still be drawing comics on the cultural differences between Japan and Singapore? Or will you focus on events around you?

It will be a combination of both. I haven’t really thought about it but I do plan to go back to Japan occasionally, probably twice a year, to refresh my ideas. My comics will also be about Singapore, things around me, and things that will appeal to the western market.

12. There were times when you produced web comics in English, Chinese, and Japanese. I understand that you would like to focus on producing the web comics in English for now, but do you have plans to produce comics in Chinese or Japanese again?

I will still focus on creating English comics and hopefully get an English comic book published first. My comics will be Japanese-styled, in English, about Asia, and targeting the western market!
(It’s like Rojak isn’t it?)

I may also consider doing my comics in other languages in the future.

13. What is the biggest challenge you have faced as an artist and entrepreneur?

In the past, when I was just an artist, I just drew whatever I liked, but now I have to consider if my art can be marketed. I have to think about how to monetize my comics. I think the challenge for all artists is to generate income with their artwork; otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to support ourselves.

14. What plans do you have for Evacomics? Where do you see Evacomics five years from now?

I plan to publish an Evacomics book before May 2014. I would try to approach local publishers and establish their interest in my comics. My book is going to be about cultural differences, there will be new and previously published popular content (with improvements). I will also be explaining the background of each comic strip and answering some frequently asked questions. I would definitely also try e-book publishing, because that is the best way to reach a global audience.

Five years from now, I hope that fans of Japanese or Asian culture will be aware of Evacomics.

15. What are your personal goals? 

My personal goals are to be able to earn a living with profit from my artwork, and publish bestselling books that are also popular overseas. I would also like to impart my knowledge to the next generation.

For now, I intend to freelance and work on my comics. I am also looking to do part-time teaching.

16. How do you think Singapore can better groom local art students? And how do you think NYP can enhance the learning experience for art and design students?

I would recommend art and design students to gain more firsthand experience, and be more involved in sports, social work or travelling, in order to acquire more life experiences. Singaporeans generally enjoy reading and watching movies, but doing these things are not enough as they are gaining experiences based on other people’s interpretations.

It is important for art students to head out and see the world for themselves, and gain firsthand experiences, so that their work will have more originality because it is based on their own experiences. Thus, I would suggest more exchange programs and business modules for art students.

17. There are many students taking media and design related courses in NYP. Do you have any advice for students who intend to publish and promote their art work locally or further their education overseas?

Put in effort to build a good reputation and branding for your work during your studies. Be focused on a theme and don’t hop around topics. Having a large and supportive fan base is very important as well.

To me, fans are very important because creating artwork is a very lonely journey. You won’t know whether if you are doing well or not but your fans can give you feedback on how to improve your work, and whether they like it or not. They also allow you to understand the market’s demand, give you moral support, share their experiences with you, and inspire you with new ideas.

Evangeline’s comics and musings can be found at
https://www.facebook.com/evacomics
http://www.eva.sg/EN/index.html
http://evacomics.blogspot.jp

By Chua Sii Inn, Diploma in Business Enterprise IT, Year 2
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Sii Inn is a Year 2 Business Enterprise IT student who enjoys detective fiction and mystery novels. She enjoys picking up new skills,learning new things and feels that food is the most primitive form of comfort. She also loves to indulge in the best entertainment and appreciates idiosyncracies, theatre performances, martial arts and piano melodies. Her dream is to go on a backpacking journey around the world to meet people from all walks of life and unders

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