5 minutes with Li Chen.by Gerry Marychurch on 16/07/2012
She’s got 21,000 Facebook fans, her website pulls 50,000 unique hits per month and people she’s never met have donated US$66,580 to publish two books. Gerry Marychurch from The Pond talks to rising webcomic phenomenon, Li Chen about her extra ordinary comic.
Exocomics looks like slice of life moments in four frames. Is that how you see it?
Kind of, yeah. The comic follows the daily adventures of a girl, her boyfriend and cat in a whimsical, cute sort of way.
Where did you get the idea for your webcomic?
My boyfriend and I have always had interesting conversations about life, much of it trivial. He was reading a few webcomics at the time and we just thought it would be a fun thing to do.
Many large brands would be happy with 50,000 unique hits per month to their website. How do you explain your popularity?
I think a lot of my readers like my comics because they’re simple and kind of childlike. I’m 26 now but it weirds me out when I do grown up things – I feel like a kid who is pretending to be an adult. And I think many people my age feel the same way. Plus the Internet loves cats!
There are over 200 episodes now – which one is your favourite?
I have a few but comic number 158 – the one with the squirrels – springs to mind. With the earlier ones the artwork is not so good…it makes me cringe a little.
As an illustrator where do you draw your inspiration?
I really like Studio Ghibli, a Japanese animation studio that produces these beautifully exquisite films about children who go on fantastic adventures. It’s very surreal…magical. I’m also heavily influenced by animations where the characters don’t speak much.
You mean where the story is told through the art?
Exactly. Wallace and Gromit is a good example. Gromit doesn’t speak, he just wiggles his eyebrows. Likewise Tom & Jerry. I love cartoons that transcend different languages. When I was five we (my family) arrived in New Zealand knowing very little English – so we watched a lot of Mr Bean for that reason.
Why did you run with black and white rather than full colour?
When I started the webcomic I was only ever trained in pencil drawing. I had dabbled in acrylics and watercolours but never really enjoyed it. So I stuck with what I knew.
How long does each strip take to create?
I publish a new strip every Wednesday so the panic usually sets in on Tuesday. The drawings themselves only take two hours – it’s coming up with the idea that takes ages!
You joined the crowdfunding website Kickstarter hoping to raise US$35,0000 and ended up with twice that amount. How do you plan to spend the extra cash?
We’ve already blown the original production budget sky high by sourcing better stock, adding foil to the cover and so on…whatever we can really to create something that extra bit special.
So no midwinter escape to Fiji?
Definitely not. There’s just enough left over to cover postage and packaging since most of our fans live overseas.
Do you feel extra pressure to produce great work because you are funded by fans, as opposed to a faceless multinational publishing house?
This is a thought I try to block. Because whenever I start to think about all the people who contributed it freaks me out! Their action is an investment of faith in my decisions. So if I like what I do, they hopefully will too.
Fair enough. So where to from now?
I’m going to keep making comics and hopefully do more freelance illustrating. That’s why I recently joined The Pond – to connect with more commercial opportunities. As long as I’m making art, I’m happy.
Thanks for your time today Li. One last thing, if fans wanted to send Shoelace a present, what would you suggest?
Well we don’t have a post office box so sending stuff would be pretty hard. But I will say Shoelace is on a special diet for a kidney stone problem, so he would probably most like some special treats.
Has this nutritional tough love soured your relationship?
(Laughing) No, no. I think he still loves me!
To see more of Li’s illustration work check out her portfolio.
About the author:
Gerry Marychurch is a writer represented by The Pond specialising in website content, e-newsletters, and writing for design. See his profile here.