Zen and the art of creating comics

Zen Pencils' creator, Gavin Aung Than talks about his latest comic that was inspired by late President Abdul Kalams Wings of Fire

Gavin Aung Than, a cartoonist based in Melbourne, Australia, runs a cartoon blog which adapts inspirational quotes into comic stories. His blog, started in 2012, has been a runaway success with following worldwide.

Recently, the interest for his work increased among his Indian fans when he created a cartoon from lines of APJ Abdul Kalam's book, Wings of Fire. Excerpts:

Frames from cartoons inspired by Kalam’s Wings of Fire
Frames from cartoons inspired by Kalam's Wings of Fire

Q. How did you come to know of APJ Abdul Kalam and why did you pick these lines?
A. I have a large Indian readership and was flooded with requests to work on one of his quotes when he passed away. I was curious, as I had never heard of Kalam before, so I bought his book, Wings of Fire. I enjoyed the book and managed to find the right passage to turn into a comic. So, I have my Indian readers to thank!

Q. Tell us a little about the journey of Zen Pencils and yourself?
A. I was born and raised in Australia with Burmese immigrant parents. I worked in a corporate graphic design job for many years and produced two long-running comic strips without much success. I was miserable and wanted to do something different. At that time, I was reading a lot of biographies and saving some of my favourite inspirational quotes from historical figures and noticed that many people were sharing their favourite quotes on social media. It's when I got the idea to base an entire website around these quotes and combine them with comics to create Zen Pencils.

Q. Have you been to India?
A. No, unfortunately. I would love to, one day, so I can meet the Zen Pencils fans there.

Q. Are there any other lines from Indian writers and poets you have worked on?
A. I have worked on a few great Indians' quotes previously — Gandhi, Jiddu Krishnamurti and Rabindranath Tagore.

Q. Some of your early works like Invictus were the first popular ones. Could you share some responses?
A. The comics got a positive response from people all over the world. The great thing about comics is they are universal. If you remove the words, often the story can still be understood. For example, an Indian reader was deeply moved by my comic adaptation of the classic poem, Ithaka. He was so motivated by the poem's message of exploring the world that he quit his job in India to backpack around Asia.

Q. How important is social media now for an artist like you?
A. Incredibly important. The website wouldn't have had the global reach without social media. You most likely would never have seen my comic and I wouldn't be getting interviewed for your paper!

Q. Is the medium financially viable? Are you getting support?
A. Yes, I've been working on Zen Pencils full-time for three years now. I mainly get income from my poster store and book sales. Online art commerce is difficult and I thank my readers for their constant support.

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