The First Uprising: Jostein and the Invisible Paperclip


Today the spotlight rests on the visual art and blog of my friend Jostein, of Invisible Paperclip.

Violin Girl - an experiment on watercolor paper, combining inked lines and coffee as a coloring medium

Violin Girl – an experiment on watercolor paper, combining inked lines and coffee as a coloring medium

Introduction

My initial impression of Jostein’s style was that it was so simple and neat, and yet very elegant at the same time. I also like that, while Japanese animation clearly has had some influence, it is also not the full extent of his style. In fact, it’s difficult to pinpoint any singular influence — the mark of an artist who has come into his own. I think this is part of the reason why his subject matter can be so versatile.

Mustache - an autobio comic about growing a mustache

Mustache – an autobio comic about growing a mustache

But it’s not just the subject matter. Another thing I find interesting about Jostein’s art is that he doesn’t pigeon-hole himself in terms of medium. Invisible Paperclip includes everything from cartoons and caricatures to web banners, watercolors to pixel animations, sketches to published work. There are traditional works, computer-assisted works, and one-hundred percent digitally made works. Jostein shares cute slice-of-life comics, work/request art, and thoughtful reviews of other artists’ work. Lately, he does cartoons for newspapers and magazines in his homeland of Norway.

Pixelart friends - my girlfriend, some of my closest friends and myself as pixel characters

Pixelart friends – “my girlfriend, some of my closest friends and myself as pixel characters”

The Interview

How did you get into art?

I think it’s been an ongoing process since my childhood. I suppose some of the first things I did was to copy drawings from Donald Duck comics. As a teenager, I found inspiration to draw manga style characters by watching Japanese animation (Pokémon) and playing the Final Fantasy RPGs. Somewhere between junior high and high school, I discovered webcomics, and I’ve been an avid fan of the medium ever since.

In recent years, I’ve become more serious about learning to draw and how to utilize a variety of tools, both traditional and digital. I’m also trying to educate myself by reading books about comics and studying various drawing styles.

What artists have influenced you in the course of your career?

There are quite a few artists that I like and draw inspiration from. Two genres that I really love are journal comics and travelogue comics. Of the artists making awesome stuff in either one or both of these genres, I have to mention Lucy Knisley (French Milk, Relish), Yuko Ota (Johnny Wander) and Guy Delisle (Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City).

I’m also a big fan of Yotsuba&!, created by Kiyohiko Azuma. His high level art style and storytelling makes me wish that I could create something equally good. Not unrelated to manga, I also really like Mark Crilley’s work. He also does educational and entertaining how to draw-videos on YouTube, in addition to his own graphic novels.

What aspect of your work is the most fun, in your opinion? The most difficult?

Getting something right, like when drawing a pose or choosing a nice color palette for an image. Or simply getting the timing and flow right when drawing a comic. I also like getting “likes” and positive comments on my drawings on Facebook and Instagram. Not to mention positive feedback on my blog. That’s always a lot of fun and really rewarding.

To be brutally honest, I think the hardest thing is getting started. In a worst case scenario, I get stuck in a rut with low self esteem, judging my work in the worst possible way even though I haven’t even made a single pencil line. Luckily, I’m learning to snap out of it and just start creating. Otherwise, I wouldn’t get anything done.

Ultimately, do you see yourself making art your life, or would you consider an alternative career path?

At the time being, I make a decent living by doing freelance and part time work as a graphic designer. It’s a nice job where I get to be creative and use my experience in media production. But I would of course like to be able to work more on my own ideas and projects. I can also see myself doing more commissioned work, like illustrations and comics.

I’m very eager to learn new things and perhaps expand into other creative realms, like animation or photo- and videography. Sadly, time constraints forces me to focus on a limited number of “hobbies” at any given time. I guess time will show. In any case, I don’t plan to stop growing as an artist :)

Please share any work or snippet of a work you would like:

This is a guest comic I made for the webcomic Boumeries. I really like it because it tested my imagination and storytelling abilities. This particular strip also made it into print, in volume 3 of the Boumeries books. I’m pretty stoked about that, so I just wanted to use this chance to brag about it.

Guest comic for Boumeries (http://comics.boumerie.com/)

Guest comic for Boomers

Jostein is also responsible for this awesome image featuring the two main characters from my novel Ciphers. He really did capture them perfectly. >^_^< Thank you, Jostein, for the lovely illustration! And of course for being the first Upstart to join The Uprising!

Brid (long-boarding tomboy linguist) and Siph (fire-wielding half-alien grumpmeister)

Brid (long-boarding tomboy linguist) and Siph (fire-wielding half-alien grumpmeister)

The Grand Unveiling!


The Prologue

It has been a month and a half since my last post, mostly due to my grand adventures in  setting up my new apartment and getting used to my new job, which to be honest has taken a serious drain on my energy. I haven’t had to regularly wake up at 5am since high school, and to suddenly jump into that again 5 days a week hasn’t been the most fun part of my new life. Fortunately working morning hours adds a couple hundred yen to my lesson rates, and most days I can be home for a much-needed nap by 4:30. I also happen to enjoy my work and my environment. And let’s face it, being in Japan always makes life better. I still write mental love notes to this country almost every day.

Dear Japan, you are wonderful. Never let me have to leave you and stop eating nikuman.

Dear Japan, conbinis. ‘Nuff said.

The Plan

Anyway, now that I finally have a scrap of weekend, my plan today is to unveil a project that I’ve had on my mind for some time now. It’s intended to be a monthly installment celebrating not just writers, but up-and-coming artists of all mediums from all over the world. So painters, web comickers, photographers, children’s book writers/illustrators, and novelists are all in the line-up already, with others coming as I find them.

One of the most important things to an artist of any medium or genre, outside of their actual craft, is having a supportive network both in real life and online. And as I know quite a few artistic people with more than a modicum of skill, I figured why not brag about them? They get some press, my readers get the option of discovering fresh talent, and my blog gets more traffic than if I just ramble about myself all the time.

The basic idea is a showcase. Each participant receives their own post which includes a blurb from me, some excerpts of their work, and a brief interview. Enough to draw some outside attention, without giving everything away.

In the spirit of adventure (and by suggestion of some awesome Nanoers on Facebook), I’ve decided to title this new segment The Uprising.

The first installment will be along shortly, so stay tuned!

Hello from Osaka!


Well, here’s a boring but obligatory update:

After my end-of-the-schoolyear adventures with Naju friends and coworkers, I went to Daegu for three weeks and took one last stab at studying Korean. It was a lot of fun, and after a whole year of aversion to the language I was able to rediscover my passion for it. :)

On Wednesday, I got on a plane (as well as a taxi, a bus, and a couple trains) and came to Osaka, where I’ll spend the next year teaching at an eikaiwa. For now I’m staying at a guesthouse, but will move to my new apartment on Friday. In the meantime, I go into town almost every weekday in order to register the address, find a cellphone, open a bank account, and various other errands I need to have done by next Tuesday in order to begin working.

I can hardly describe how it feels to be back in Japan for the long haul; in some strange, embarrassing-to-admit way, I feel like I’m coming home. And even though I know my job is going to be neither prestigious nor easy, I’m so glad I have it because that means I’m here where I want to be.

It’s hard to say when I’ll next be able to post about writing (or that new special feature I hinted at before) but I’ll try to have something before long.

Hiking in Jindo


I’d hoped for the next post I wrote to introduce a new, semi-regular feature to my blog. Unfortunately, I climbed a mountain on Saturday.

“May,” you’re thinking, deadpan, “It’s your blog. No one is making you write about the bloody mountain.”

Actually, they are. When I initially got the “request,” I thought my hiking companions were just being fun; that maybe they wanted to see our shared adventure on my blog, so they could practice their English/feel special because this really awesome American woman wrote about them. So I in turn didn’t think much of it, indulged the group photographer who insisted on taking travel magazine-style photos of me at every opportunity, and then went home and forgot all about it.

Until about two hours ago, when I got this text: “Miss May, how are you today? Did you write an essay about mt. climbing? They want to get essay by today.”

At which point I stared at the phone in a mix of confusion and disbelief, realized they actually wanted something publishable, texted back something along the lines of “WTF?!&$X*#” and immediately went into panicked writer mode.

And here is the result.

*****

Jindo is South Korea’s third largest island, known mainly for two things: a special breed of dog that is native to there, and an annual event in which, for about one hour each year, the tides ebb enough to reveal a narrow land bridge. The latter attracts innumerable tourists who want to walk across from Jindo to Modo.

Other than these things, however, Jindo seems to be a quiet, rural place with a wealth of natural beauty. From my experience hiking in Korea, it is difficult to find a mountain not already inundated with casual hikers, where one can simply feel secluded in nature. The Jindo mountain trail allows for this. Though my group was fairly large, we ran into few others during the four-hour trek up, down, and around the mountain. At times I would find myself a little separated from the others; in those moments I heard nothing but wind-rustled leaves, the crash of waves down on the shore, and the occasional birdcall.

Visual charm, too, was not found lacking. Our trail took us first through a vibrant green wood dotted with orange flowers on long, free-standing stems. From almost every vantage point, be it a sunny peak or just a break in the trees, a bright blue ocean reached out toward the horizon. Later, the path took us right down to the water’s edge, allowing us to traverse the tide-carved rock and stare up from the base of the mountain’s impressive cliffs. A natural cave here allowed us to hide from the hot sun while we lunched.

As we delved back into the woods for the final leg of our journey, we found the difficulty level increasing. The dry dirt and rock that had stabilized our footsteps on the other side of the mountain were now wet leaves, mud, and slippery wooden steps. Going upward, I hoisted myself with the guide rope to take some weight off my weary feet. On downward courses I often found my momentum building out of control, and so grabbed hold of every tree small enough to fit in my hands for the sake of balance. Once I slid several feet across the slick detritus, right to the edge of a sheer drop. Fortunately I remained on my feet and was able to stop on time; but this became the most memorable point of the hike for me.

In the city, we can meet with injury in a million different ways: car accidents, bicycle accidents, falling down the stairs, burning ourselves on the stove. Doing any one of countless little tasks. Really, a mountain presents no more danger than we already face every day. And yet the risk, I feel, is more worthwhile for the good that hiking does to your soul.

I would hike in Jindo again. Despite the danger, which really was mild compared to what I experienced climbing Mount Fuji; and despite the sunburn, which I suffer, ironically, only in those places where I swathed on sunblock. In fact, I think that overall my experience was such that this hike, out of all my hikes in Korea, was my favorite.

A Cultural Ambassador Story


Today, students in two separate classes stole entire bags of potato chips from me. In another class, some Trolli gummy hamburgers that I’d bought specially (and for a pretty penny) in Itaewon also disappeared before I’d even opened the snack bag. I was so angry and disappointed, I almost cried.

After class, a quiet/shy first grade girl came to my desk. She comes by often, but until now had always been dragged by her more talkative and outgoing friend. This time she came alone. “Teacher,” she said, “I heard you have American snacks. Can I try?”

I gave her a Combo from a pack that I’d bought in Itaewon. The saltiness was such a shock that her face transfigured, and for a moment I thought she was going to spit it out. When we’d finished laughing, she asked for another one — to give to a friend and get a reaction from her, as well. I gave her the saltiest one in the bag.

It was a short exchange and easily could have been buried under a landslide of other experiences I’ve had in Korea. But it was so, so important, because it’s the perfect example of why I came to this country: to make kids actually want to speak English and try new things.

This story is quite possibly the best reminder of something I’ve been telling myself through all the trials and tribulations my students put me through:

It’s worth it. It’s worth it even on the bad days.

My New Perspective on Transience


The trouble with having a blog that focuses largely on one’s wild adventures abroad is that the novelty wears off. All those things that were strange and exciting when you first arrived become mundane. You find yourself taking for granted just how different things actually are from home. And because nothing seems worth writing about, you stop writing.

Even though you still feel like an outsider.

I have now been living in Korea for almost one full year, in which time I’ve tried to be a high school teacher, a writer, and a decent human being, at varying levels of success. I’ve traveled to big cities and rural islands, climbed mountains, gone spelunking, toured the DMZ, survived snow and half a year of winter. I’ve eaten octopus bits that were still moving, and taught my kids about Doctor Who, and been severely disappointed in Korean coffee. I’ve lost both parents. I’ve looked out my office window, seen sunlight on green mountains, and felt so lucky to be here. I’ve fought to hold on to someone I love, and wished desperately that I was with them instead.

In many ways, my life in Korea was always going to be a transient thing. One year ago, even before I arrived, I knew this was not going to be the country I settled down in. That knowledge led me to give up on learning Korean. It led me to brush off those little cultural tensions with my host mom. (I’m just a visitor here; she can’t expect me to know this little thing, and it’s okay if she doesn’t bother to explain it because I won’t be here long.)

It led me to feel, sometimes, that I wasn’t really living.

It’s only now that I feel I might have gotten the hang of this whole 우리나라 thing. Now I can tell host mom what time I’ll be home without mixing up the numbers. Now she knows not to feed me fish for any meal. Now I can intuit what clothes I can wear to school without giving my first graders “culture shock,” and when to pursue conversation with my kids versus when to stop at hello, and what flavor of candy they want from my reward box.

Now, when I’m only two weeks away from never seeing them again.

This is a reminder to myself, and a word of advice for anyone about to embark on an extended journey abroad; for anyone who’s already living a life in a foreign country, and who didn’t expect it to pan out quite how it is; for anyone, anywhere in the world, who feels like they’re just passing through, and that it doesn’t matter:

STOP. Look up from the screen. Look at the knick knacks you’ve collected on your desk, or on your shelves, and remember where they came from. Look at the people around you and remember their small gestures of kindness. Look out the nearest window and put yourself in the shoes of a random person on the street.

Everything is transient, but we shouldn’t go through life alienating ourselves, or letting ourselves feel alienated by our environments. The world is strange, and people are strange, and everyone is a stranger to someone else. Don’t let the little things discourage you from living your life where you’ve chosen, at least for a while, to live it. Don’t even let the big things discourage you.

This is your LIFE, that thing you only get one shot at. Stop thinking “it’s just one year, I can get through it” and start thinking “this is a whole year of my life, and I don’t have time for blah attitudes.”

Inspiration, Slice-of-Life Style


I have not posted in three months.

I began several posts, but the motivation for them just petered out each time. And I know why: life honestly sucked for a while. The odd thing is, people who knew my situation had preconceived notions of the suckiness, and of what sucked the most. They were full of feelings for me. And I, for a while, just felt nothing, or felt sad about other things. The way I was supposed to feel about my sucky life was nowhere near the reality.

And that’s something that’s still the case. Because of this fact, other people have taken me to be a strong person. I’m not entirely sure I agree, but it’s nice to entertain the thought.

***

I’ve always wanted to be strong. Not beautiful, not a genius, not even kind. Strength was always the most valuable thing to me, maybe because I felt that the people around me lacked it. I grew up with super heroes and not-super heroes and war stories and history books and movies and literature and manga and always there was one simple message: be strong, fight back, succeed.

Some people think I’m pretty. Test scores and a Master’s degree say that I’m smart. And apparently I’ve been kind enough to make an impact on others. But those things all seem so easy to assess. Strength? Who even knows what strength is, really? Who has a right to define it? Is it even something you can have and keep, or does it ebb and flow with the situation?

Can someone tell me that I’m strong, and actually be right? Or is that something I determine for myself?

***

You can spend your entire life hearing the words “be strong.” People say it like a magic spell. You make it your incantation, hoping the words themselves will make you unshakable. And you never really realize what you’re saying.

“Be strong.” Sometimes it’s actually quite a simple thing to do. It means don’t run away; just plant your feet and let the world come at you. Sometimes you don’t even have to move forward, you just have to not be pushed down.

Sometimes you have to fight gravity itself.

***

A few weeks ago I got fed up with having no motivation to write. I had a novel on submission, it’s sequel with a couple of chapters done, and an older project that I’d put on hold upon conceiving the former. I tried working on all three of these for months with no success. It wasn’t even that I hated the words I put down — it was that the words would not come out for anything. Like they didn’t even exist inside of me anymore.

And then I had a dream. I woke up with characters and a situation and a setting all right there on a silver platter, and wrote it all down as fast as I could.

But it wasn’t until later, when I started consciously developing the main character, that I realized the story was more than just a story. There was an idea behind it. One central, humanizing theme, what John Scalzi would call the Big Idea: strength. Strength lost, battered, bullied, trapped behind dark memories and fear. Strength and the girl who needs it. Strength and the boy who doubts it.

***

Through everything, I am a writer. And through being a writer, I become more of a human being. I live other lives, I see other perspectives. I learn by doing, even if I only ever act in a fictional world. It’s not an escape; it’s a translation.

Writing is a translation of life.

Stories are the lives in them.

Every main character in a story has a sucky life, or they’d have nothing to tell you; nothing to change their perspective and make them grow. And how else do they grow, except by being strong?

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