Happy New Year folks!! I had initially planned to end 2011 with today's great interview but unfortunately (and fortunately in other ways) I was down with fever over 38.5 degree. So here I am, at 2012's beginning and I give you, TROY CHIN!!! This legendary man (in my opinion he is legendary) is a Singaporean who went to the States, working in the music industry for close to a decade. One fine day he suddenly came home (to Singapore) and devoted himself to comics. Yes, purely self taught. (if you still have no idea about his work, go read my post back HERE)
**In this interview, Troy has been very very very honest. Before you proceed to read this long interview, I want to state that DESPITE whatever he has said ,(as you are about to read) Troy is an exceptional individual, friendly and one of the most helpful man on Earth I know. (Even though he disagrees and doesn't see it that way) Also, much that has been discussed here is in Singapore's context.
Click HERE for more of Troy's work.
Rabbits: We all know that you don't have an education in art or comics. You came back to Singapore and jump right into it full time. You pretty much pick yourself up from ground zero. Looking at the independant industry, can you talk about the things that have changed in terms of the ease of doing self publishing and doing comics in general right now?
Troy: How exactly do you define the independent comics industry here in Singapore? As opposed to the commercial one? Is there even such a thing? All I know is based off of what I've experienced and inferred over the years. Self-publishing isn't any different from what it was a decade ago. You basically pony up the funds to get your stuff printed. Then you try to sell it. It's as simple as that. Nothing's really changed.
The costs of printing have gone up, but computers make assembling a whole book (of a somewhat passable standard) in your own studio possible and there's that thing called the Internet. Break it all down and you're really looking at the cost of printing as the only money burnt. Whether you can sell them is another story altogether and again, I don't think much has changed over time.
Now, anybody can defraud some government department or get a relative to sponsor a print run (it's not that much money anyway). But just coz you have a great book doesn't mean you'll sell. Conversely, you could be a bestseller even if you drew the book in an hour. It really isn't that different from any consumer driven model of sales. Some things are just unexplainable and out of your control. Some people spend a lot of time on the factors that are in your control, like marketing. I'm not somehow who really gives a shit about marketing, hence why I don't even bother doing many book signings when I finish a book. I guess that's why I don't sell many books. Besides, I've more important things to do like going cycling.
Rabbits: In The Resident Tourist, the story spans from when you were young, portraying the wonders of the 80s till current recent years. How did you go about deciding what has to go into the book and what not?
Troy: For TRT (The Resident Tourist), the core process is all dependent on this memory of mine. There's no real formula or secret way to do a Tourist book. Each book is different and really depends on what I want to talk about at that moment in my life. This could be triggered simply by going out and seeing something, reading some silly ah lian blog, overhearing people arguing, playing arcade games, anything. When something gets my attention, it just activates a whole string of other thoughts, which in turn triggers other branching thoughts. In a sense, I have been building an ever growing library of scenes or story ideas since young. I obviously didn't know back then that I would be making comics today, but I really have my memory to thank for most of my work. Even if I merely catch a glimpse of something, it is automatically stored inside and can be triggered later.
I'm sure you can pick out some general themes for each part of TRT. That's usually how it starts. I have a theme. Then I think of the timeline I want to capture and recall anything that has any relevance to those themes. These scenes or items or people can span anywhere since I was a kid until the timeline cap of the book. When I have enough material on this timeline in my head, that's when I know I can do a TRT book and the actual writing and inking of those scenes begin.
I don't do thumbnails or plot out the whole manuscript like most writers do. I just start with the first scene and revisit that timeline after each scene ends and see whether what I originally had in mind would work or not. If not, I'll figure out what would work and the timeline can change. It's very dynamic like that but note that every previous scene is already inked in. As a fellow comic artist, I'm sure you know how tedious it is to commit a scene to ink. This method I use may seem inefficient. What happens if I ink something that doesn't fit in the end? Well, this is one of the challenges I impose on myself that forces me to be more diligent in the writing. Coz if I screwed up and drew something that didn't work, I just wasted anywhere from 16-48 hours and the feeling sucks. Over time, I get better in making decisions about story plots etc. I used to have about 30 pages I would throw out after every book is done. The last book, I only threw away 4. So I think I'm getting better.
I seem meticulous only because I spend a lot of time on insignificant details that most people don't even bother with. Again, this is not by choice but is just the way my mind works. If I don't fill in those details, the timeline in my head cannot solidify and move on to the next part. My philosophy for TRT is if I can fill out as much info as I can now, there will be less decisions to be made later when the plot is like 100 pages in. It prevents anachronism and plot holes. I find that plot holes happen because writers go for the big picture and slowly build the script with details. When you write like that, you are bound to miss out on some areas. I start with full details (or as much as I can possibly handle) and work outwards. It's like working on a jigsaw. If you go for the complicated pieces first, it will be hard and take time, but once you find a matching complicated piece, there is no doubt it is the correct match. If you went for a more vague one, just coz it fits doesn't mean it's the right one.
Besides drawing The Resident Tourist, Troy Chin
started a daily 4 panel comic strip call Loti since 2008.
Rabbits: You haven't been reading much comics when you started doing one yourself. Have that changed? If yes, what comics/mangas are you reading? If not, are you doing any readings in terms of fiction/non-fiction.
Troy: No. I actually don't have any time to read comics. I wish I had, but I just don't. The manga series that I like have all ended long ago and the new ones so far do not interest me as much even if it's by the same authors. The comics from the West, well, they're just so expensive to buy and read. And I would rather save that money for like Battlefield 3 or Modern Warfare 3, which I know will give me WAY more hours for my buck. This I can definitely attest to.
I do read from time to time. But I only read stuff that I am doing research on these days. There's only so many hours in a day and most of it I spend drawing. I'm not that kind of learned guy who knows like shit loads of stuff and has read books from Tolstoy to Murakami to some obscure uber cool underground author. I don't do well at cocktail parties where people are name dropping the books they've read. I always tell people, "sorry, I'm a philistine." If anything, I like reading poetry and prose from the 1950s-70s, like those by Jack Kerouac and Anne Sexton. But you can also catch me in libraries reading True Singapore Ghost Stories. Yeah, there is absolutely no pattern or sophistication to my reading habits.
Rabbits: Do you necessary feel that drawing comics itself has much to do with reading comics or they are both separate entities?
Troy: I think you need to read SOME comics to know the fundamentals of panelling and conventions. It is obvious what my influences are just by looking at the style of my earlier works. And those are exactly the titles I've read. But after a while, I don't think you really need to keep reading other comics to make comics. Let me rephrase that. You probably need to read a lot of comics if you are trying to a) come up with something totally never done before or b) trying to best something that has already been done. If you belong to the "I don't give a f*** about any of that" category like me and just want to use comics as a medium to deliver your story, then a basic understanding is enough. Besides, I'm not doing this to win awards or to get rich, so why bother with unnecessary headaches like that. I just want to get shit done.
Rabbits: You have been putting mix tapes online and still getting involve in music. Did part of your music career cross over to your comics?
Troy: Well, making comics is sort of like composing music for me. It's like writing songs and assembling them into a well sequenced album, something that in today's day and age, a lot of people don't seem to understand or appreciate. Music has a certain element of fluidity that I like and I always apply the principles to making comics. This is also coz it's the only medium I knew of prior to doing comics.
As far as work ethics are concerned, it's more a me thing than a music thing. For example, I am pretty crazy when it comes to getting something exactly right. I don't like settling for anything less than what I want. When I used to make music with my old band, I would drive everyone insane coz I just would not move forward until I got a certain sound from a guitar or a snare drum or whatever. I can tweak a reverb or a delay for 3 days until it was exactly the way I heard it in my head. I guess this translated to the comic making process. It also explains why I cannot work with people because I would get annoyed at why they don't care enough to do what I do.
You can still listen to Troy's Mixtape HERE.
Rabbits: Your philosphy and way of life is amazing! Considering that you're an independant artist, you manage to have a great work life balance. You do runs frequently, you play video games and yet is still able to maintain a high level quality in your work not forgetting, putting a book out each year and doing a separate daily comic strip online. How did you keep this up? Is this a natural, if so, could you give some advice to artists out there on how to achieve and maintain a great schedule.
Troy: What the f*** does work/life balance mean anyway? I think it's a bullshit marketing term created by job coaches and ex-HR folks to con the working world into believing such a state exists so that if life seems hard, it's coz they haven't achieved that balance. And companies dangle that as some sort of carrot or worse, offer more pay so these workers can make up the life part with goods and services. More often than not, when I pry deeper into what people say they want, most of them really mean to say that they want a no work/all life balance, which by definition is not a balance. Yes, I'm talking about all the folks who want to be millionaires by 25 and retire by 30.
I think there should be no separation between work and life. And because no job on earth can ever give me that, I made one for myself. With TRT and comics, every single thing I do, be it cycling or playing PS3 or taking a dump, becomes part of my work and living allows me to continue this "work". It's probably the only place I can be now going forward because when you've done this, how the f*** do you go back to the status quo? Now bear in mind, doing what I do is by no means comfortable according to the common needs of industrialized man. Most people who try to do this, will probably not last for long coz human beings still need stupid shit like an iPhone subscription and eating at a nice restaurant once in a while (to reward themselves, of course) and going for a show etc. I live in a different world with a different set of rules that most people cannot abide by.
Rabbits: You're so busy everyday, for the past five years you've been working on Resident Tourist and also the online strip Loti. Yet you still give so much more back to the industry by giving talks in panels, coaching others through programs hosted by the National Library Board. With all your work, why did you still volunteers for events like these? What made you give so much back to others?
Troy: Look, I don't see these events as giving back to society or whatever. It's real simple. When something comes up, I ask myself three questions. Am I interested (for whatever ludicrous reason I have)? Do I have the time? Is the activity relatively free of hidden agendas? If it's yes to all three, I'll do it. If anything, just to see what the hell happens. I agreed to the NLB thing coz I wanted to see what kinds of ideas YOU all had. I was as clueless as all of you guys to be honest. On the flip side, I can just as easily reject requests for no logical reason whatsoever. That's why I don't want people to get the wrong idea.
Rabbits: Since we're talking about giving back to the industry and sharing, what is your take on education in
comics? (In terms of teaching oneself and also how do one find inspirations to create stories and produce a
create out of that. Also on how you keep yourself constantly educated with the changes in the industry and
things like that)
Troy: Well, you need some form of education to learn some basics. I don't like school or a school environment because I don't like people telling me what to do or how to think, so you already know my stance on that. But I still had to learn how to draw and all. That comes from 5 years of constant experimenting, initially reading some "how-to" books, copying what I saw in other comics, watching Beavis & Butthead, there's no proper plan. Everyone should just do whatever works for them to get better. If you keep your eyes open and respond to the challenges on a daily basis, eventually it becomes part of your instincts. I don't even bother with some mission plan to improve a certain aspect. I just go do whatever seems new and interesting and somehow I'll learn something regardless of the outcome. This is not limited to just comics technique. I actually learn more about improving my comics via non-comics things.
Rabbits: You've just won the Singapore Young artist award 2011! You also just finished book 5 of Resident Tourist which is extremely devastating and awesome. Are you taking a small break right now? Any upcoming plans as most of us fans are waiting eagerly for book 6, if there is one.
Troy: Yeah, I haven't been working as much lately. Mostly due to sheer exhaustion and the fact that I'm still not in the best place right now. 2010 was a really shitty year and I'm still recovering from it. The award was a welcome surprise, but it certainly has not changed my position on a lot of things in life. I'm not that forgiving and myopic. I was actually absolutely repulsed by comics for the most part of this year, even while I was making part 5. I guess that's why it reads in a certain way.
If there is ever going to be a part 6, it will be a long time from now before it comes out coz I am not in the right frame of mind to write it. Besides, after reviewing all that I've done so far, I'm pretty dissatisfied with my body of work. I feel the art still leaves a lot to be desired and the writing still feels somewhat average. The more I look at them, the more I feel I will have to overhaul a lot of things before I can even attempt another book in the series. This is assuming I can get over that feeling.
With this great interview, we'll be taking a break and heading back to school.