How to Draw Zombies and Influence People
Posted on February 19, 2013
Julian “Lefty” Kam, MALAYSIA
Co-Founder/Comic Artist at Gilamon Studio
For those in publishing: it is the best of times, it is the worst of times. With digital tools and social media platforms, it’s now easier to make something and generate buzz. But at the same time, many bookstores find it hard to meet their overheads, and traditional publishers are still coming to terms with digital publishing. So what can you do, if you love comics and you want to publish your own titles? Try following in the footsteps of Julian “Lefty” Kam, a comic book creator from Penang, Malaysia, and a respected member of the comics community there. He writes and creates the artwork for his own graphic stories, and distributes these in print and digital formats. His original titles include the Major Zombie and Jimi Germ comic series. Some tips: learn your craft, collaborate, prepare to multi-task like a boss. And never forget to feed your idea machine.
Self-taught, went to school, or picked it up on the job?
I studied graphic design in a college, but art-wise I’m mostly self-taught. I’ve been in this industry since the 90’s. I started out working in advertising while drawing comics part-time. From 2000 onwards, I worked as an Art Director for major comics publishers in Malaysia and also as an editor for a comics-to-movie IP development company in Singapore. After that I settled down back in my hometown Penang in 2010, as a comic book creator and a part-time lecturer at The One Academy. Now I teach character development, comic art, and storyboarding.
What are your main tools and resources?
I’m currently working in my own home office. I work with pen and paper. I’ve wanted to pick up the tablet for years now, but I guess I’m just too lazy to change my approach. Plus, I really love the feeling of drawing on paper! I do scan in my drawings to colour and enhance digitally.
For your own comics, what do you think makes a good product?
A good comic book needs a good story. This is then adapted into a sequential art format, which has to further enhance the reading experience through the graphics. The art should not disrupt the flow of the story.
What’s your biggest creative achievement today?
So far it’s Jimi Germ. I worked on it from the time it won a grant from the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC)’s Intellectual Property Creators Challenge in October 2011, until July 2012. I wrote, drew, and designed the graphic novel, plus directed the production of the motion comics and iPad app.
What sort of collaborations have you done?
I’m part of Gilamon Studio, which I co-founded with Tan Eng Huat, Chin Sau Lim and Michael Chuah. Tan Eng Huat worked on international titles like Batman and Justice League of America, Chin Sau Lim is the chief comics editor for the Art Square Group, and Michael Chuah created the Gengkey Fever comic book and vinyl figurines. I contributed to the Southeast Asia comics compilation, Liquid City Volumes 1 & 2, published by Image Comics, and also serve as the Malaysia Managing Editor for Liquid City Volume 3.
How useful is social media, for building and growing this community?
Social media and the Internet have brought readers and creators closer together. A lot more artists have come out during this era. They don’t need to go through a publisher to reach their audience.
In terms of combining digital and print publishing, what do you think would be an ideal scenario for an indie comic book artist?
To be able to work with an IT-savvy collaborator! We artists may have ideas about how our work should be presented in a digital/multimedia format, but many may not know how to actually do it. I believe there might be some technology developers out there who are looking to work on an artist’s intellectual property as well, people like my current technology partner, Benny Khoo. Perhaps there could be a creative platform where the two parties can connect.
What can print publishers do to create new digital opportunities for reaching readers?
Create a strong social network and keep the crowd interested.
Do you think comics creators in Malaysia share a common culture?
The comic book community in Malaysia is small and friendly. Many of us can’t afford to work full-time as comic book artists, as the page rate here is still rather low. However, compared to other Asian countries, such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, I think the market here is quite healthy. We have a huge readership in the children’s comics market.
What are some places in Malaysia where I can find Malaysian comics?
There are no comic book specialty shops where I live in Penang, not that I know of. If you know any, please do contact me! In Kuala Lumpur, Earth 638 (facebook.com/Earth638) is as good as it gets (Lot 31J-2, Kelana Mall, Jalan SS6/12, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. Tel: +603-7804 8380).
Where does your inspiration come from?
All over the place, actually. From my surroundings, what I watch or listen to, the people I meet, places that I visit, and so on. The key thing is, you shouldn’t switch off the idea machine. Whenever I experience something interesting, I would think of how it could fit into a story, be it my current creation or a brand new one. I get lots of inspiration from the songs I listen to as well. Many songwriters are great storytellers!
Could you recommend three songs or songwriters that inspired your storytelling?
The most complete one would be Sting’s “Love Is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven)” from the album “Ten Summoner’s Tales” (1993), which inspired me to create the story, “For Love” in Liquid City Volume One (2008). Other inspiring musical storytellers to me are Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits) and Tom Waits. Images float in my head when I listen to their songs. Sometimes it’s not necessarily the whole song, it could be a line, the title, or even part of the music that starts the magic.
What are some of the things you do on a daily basis which keep you happy?
I try to be close to God, to live by His grace.
What’s the first thing that gets you excited in the morning when you wake up?
Knowing that there are still ideas in my head screaming to get out, and knowing that there are various comic book projects waiting for me.
Who’s your greatest pillar of support in your life right now?
My wife! I’m just thankful that she still gives me her support even though I have chosen a less lucrative line of work.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar career?
I’m not an ambitious guy, I make comics because I love the medium and I enjoy drawing. So my advice to someone considering a similar path is to stay true to your vision. Unlike commercial illustration, comic book art has an emphasis on individual style. If you truly love the way you draw, stick to it. Don’t change just because another style is more popular now. Draw with your own style and always keep perfecting it.
Any special tips for fellow left-handers?
This is not exactly Jedi-level advice, but it’s very practical. When drawing in your sketchbook — and you should do that every day — start from the last page. Draw on the left side of the sketchbook so that the binder in the middle won’t bother you. I’ve enjoyed sketching a whole lot more since I started doing this.
What are you currently working on?
I’m developing a graphic novel based on a book for kids, and this will be out later this year.
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