One of my favourite cartoonists, Gavin Aung Than of Zen Pencils' fame, visited Malaysia for the first time on Feb 11 and had two book signing and meet-the-fans sessions at Kinokuniya KLCC and Borders Bookstore, The Curve.
Zen Pencils has been featured in various publications and was named one of the best 100 websites of 2013 by PC Mag. Both his hardcopy comic books are on the New York Times bestseller list.
I love his imaginative and artistic interpretations of famous quotes and speeches, and I use his comics to inspire and encourage the youngsters I mentor. There's just something really sincere, engaging, uplifting and heartwarming about each comic strip. Reading each comic strip is like a spa for the soul.
You can imagine my excitement when I was informed that he would be in Malaysia for a book tour. I managed to take the afternoon off work to meet him and get my copy of his book signed. I arrived early and fidgeted for 40 minutes until he arrived.
So the man sweeps in and immediately applogises for being 15 minutes late because the book signing queue at KLCC was much longer than either bookstore had anticipated. What a nice guy. It's not your fault the traffic and fans were what they were, Gavin. It wasn't within your control.
He talked about how he got into cartooning and what the cartooning process is like, and took questions from fans. It was thrilling to be able to go inside his brilliant mind a little.
He was requested to sketch some of his comic strip characters for us. My request was for Boy Inventor and Gavin obliged. Boy Inventor appeared in only two comic strips but is well-loved and widely recognised.
The talk and sketching session was followed by a Meet The Fans and autograph session. There was a queue of approximately 60-80 fans at this session.
I was one of the first to arrive at the event but somehow ended up at the back of the autograph queue. Finally, it was my turn to meet him. I told him about how I use Zen Pencils to introduce famous personalities and inspiring quotes to the children I mentor. I use the free posters to encourage reluctant readers to read and find out more about everyone from Gandhi to Goodall. I let him know he is making a bigger difference than he realises. I think he really appreciated hearing that. Any artist would.
And then I took the opportunity to show him some of my cartoons. I brought Boll Weevil Knievel and Mousey Dong with me.
Boll Weevil Knievel
I informed him that I had stopped cartooning for decades, but decided to resume it as a hobby after seeing his comic strip interpreting "Is That Not Worth Exploring" (by James Rhodes). I informed him that upon reading that particular comic strip, I realised that I didn't have to excel in cartooning or make a living out of it, I just had to continue doing it and making time for it if it brings me joy.
And so I did, on the backs of notebooks and meeting books and office diaries. I sketched my silly cartoons for myself, not to impress others with, and sometimes I posted them on Facebook to get a laugh out of my friends. It was thanks to Zen Pencils that I decided to resume doing something I had loved so much.
He didn't seem tired of hearing that from fans at all. He seemed sincerely delighted and said he thinks my cartoons are funny, and Mousey Dong is "really good" and encouraged me to keep on cartooning.
So we posed with his book and poster, and he decided to take my cartoons out of their folder and pose with them. So awesome. What a great guy! And THAT is how you create lifelong fans!
"Thank you for your kind words and keep on cartooning".
Yes, I will, and thank you for being as wonderful in real life as we had imagined you to be, Gavin!