Gen Y Speaks: I used to think my art wasn’t good enough, until I learnt what it meant to people

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I was out shopping a few weeks ago when a mother of two approached me to tell me how she admired my courage for talking about dating. 

She had recognised me from the launch of my first graphic novel How to Date a Dozen Men at Kinokuniya.

As she looked at me with hopeful eyes, I wondered if I should tell her my hidden truth – that I’m actually not brave at all, and that I still get cold feet when I think about reading new reviews about my book.

Instead, I replied jokingly about how if someone like me could write a book about dating, anyone could do it too.

GROWING UP WITH COMICS

I knew art was my thing as I grew up, even before I knew how to make friends at the playground. If I wasn’t watching cartoons like Teen Titans or Winx Club as a kid, I was making things out of papier mache and glue like that guy on the children’s TV series Art Attack. 

I was also inspired by one of my best friends in primary school, who would draw comics about her original characters on cheap printer paper and staple them together to create issues. She would then give them to me.

Encouraged by her efforts, I tried making my own comics too. Yet, I couldn’t help comparing my rough scribblings with the smooth curves that my best friend drew.

This might be when the imposter syndrome began creeping into my life. 

I remember being so fixated on “fixing” my artwork that I never managed to complete a whole issue.

Eventually, I stopped drawing as I got busier in secondary school, but I was still attracted to the world of comics. 

There was something empowering about how the heroines in DC Comics always knew and did what was right, and so I started collecting comic books and little figurines of them.

INSPIRED ONCE AGAIN

At the time, I also heard about the Singapore Comic Con, which is one of the leading events here for comic lovers like me.

I knew this was something I absolutely had to attend. I remember my heart pounding in my chest when I met so many talented and passionate artists and cosplayers. It felt like the most magical place on Earth – even better than Disneyland.

That motivated me to get my creative juices going again. 

Because my best friend had a drawing tablet, I immediately begged her to teach me how to use it over the school holidays. I got hooked the moment I made my first brush stroke in years.

Eventually, I bought my own drawing tablet and I would draw almost every day. 

To sharpen my skills, I’d borrow books from the library and watch art tutorials on YouTube.

Despite this, I was allergic to any praise that came my way.

When some of my friends said that I was talented, I’d immediately brush aside their compliments and insist that anyone could do it with sheer discipline, determination, and lots of free time. 

I didn’t feel like I deserved compliments for something I felt I didn’t have or earn.

THE TURNING POINT

While completing my communications degree, I did everything I could to essentially learn about comics without actually majoring in it. 

I took classes about graphic novels, did an independent study on feminism in comic books, and even wrote a final year thesis about superhero comics.

During a semester abroad, I jumped at the chance to visit Wondercon in the US, excited to experience an American version of the Singapore Comic Con. There, I met so many writers and artists, and by some stroke of luck, I was invited to the DC Comics headquarters in Burbank California. 

I was surrounded by my heroes – people who made my childhood and youth full of colour and life. I thought they were like celebrities who were far out of my reach, but meeting them made me realise that they were just regular people who somehow had shared the same passion with me.

For the first time, it felt like it was possible to actually be a comic book artist.

Eventually, I began drawing and selling my own designs. I started with stickers, charms, prints, and even an annual calendar of my favourite DC Comics characters. Finally, in 2018, I gathered enough courage to set up my own booth at the Singapore Comic Con.

Even then, I still felt insecure if my art was good enough to make a career out of it. I needed a platform to showcase my work to the world, and prove my insecurities wrong. 

The turning point came when I heard about the Work in Progress programme at the convention. This was an initiative to help aspiring artists get published, which felt like the perfect opportunity for aspiring artists like me to meet publishers and get feedback for my work. 

I first entered the contest in 2020. I survived on caffeine and Salonpas for three weeks while I slogged on my entry, only to miss the chance to meet the publishers because I was too busy preparing for my Comic Con booth.

When the contest came back in 2021, I was busy working on my own projects and didn’t have time to work on a full submission. 

It was at this time that I hatched the idea to come up with an illustrated book about all the guys I’d met through the matchmaking service I’d signed up for. 

Truth be told, I picked this theme because it was the easiest thing I could think of, and I didn’t think that I would be successfully shortlisted for the Comic Con initiative.  

Somehow, my book became a finalist and the publisher Epigram decided to pick it up! After 18 months of struggling with the book and working through multiple identity crises as I dissected my own psyche, it was finally published.

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