JunMing is a cartoonist from Singapore. Over the years, his single panel comics have graced the pages of numerous local papers. JunMing was the creator of several weekly comic columns tackling various themes. His most ambitious concept was when he attempted the ‘done to death’ theme of ‘Deserted Island’ for one of his column. For that, JunMing managed to come up with more than 50 unique ideas over the course of a year during the running of the column. That explains why he was the best candidate to continue the story of a Mann in an island.
I first met JunMing 11 years ago in a local cartooning club. At that time, he was the most talented 15yr old cartoonist that I knew of. Over the years, while I have moved on to drawing graphic novels and sequential shorts, JunMing continued to hone his craft in his first love - single-panel cartoons. His inspirations include great artists like Gary Larson, Sempe, Quino and Will Eisner. JunMing’s 5 pages of contribution was only his 2nd attempt at drawing a short story. And I believed I’d done everyone a huge favor to get this rare glimpse of a beautifully crafted story from an exceptional artist.
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Josef: Tell us about your 5 pages. What made you choose this story direction? Were there many more possibilities that were thought of? If yes, why was this direction picked over the rest?
JunMing: First of all, I want to thank you for giving me the chance to be involved in this brilliant creative adventure. I am extremely honored to be invited to produce the second story. And for that, I hope I have not done too badly to jeopardize this wonderful project.
Secondly, congratulations for coming up with this fantastic concept, and more importantly, putting every piece together successfully. I am very impressed with how the whole project turns out, and I am definitely very confident of the direction it is heading.
Coming back to the story, I must admit that I almost gave up along the way. You set a very high standard for me to continue. Nevertheless, the ending for the first story ended with tons of possibilities for me to explore. There are practically a million ways to continue the story. Basically, it is very easy to just go along the lines of what the previous artist had done. That is human nature, we tend to follow and not break patterns. So sub-consciously, I have to constantly remind myself to explore the story in my own way.
The storyline that I adopted has a very simple plot. Mann gets left alone on the island, Mann tries to survive, St Elvis visits, Mann gains the upper hand on St. Elvis, and lastly, I twist it with a weird hanger. You have to agree this is a very simple plot. The intention is to focus the attention on Mann. Your character is best displayed when you are alone. In your story, Mann is a timid and helpless character left at the mercy of the situation he was in. In my story, I want him to take the form of a survivor. Quite similar to the agent played by Matt Damon in the ‘Bourne Identity’. In my case, Mann is not just someone that was stranded on an island with a weird situation. To him, it seems more like bad luck rather than bizarre. He is cool about it and he knows how to handle the situation. I wanted Mann to be more streetwise in this story.
Coming from a military background myself, I have also tried to incorporate a lot of real knowledge into the 5 pages. The shelter he built, the drainage systems, and even the unarmed combat moves, those are actual applications in real life as well. If you noticed on the third page I have included some business management tools such as the ‘to-do list’ and the ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy’. I have originally intended to include more of such business applications and tools into the story. Unfortunately it wasn’t very well managed. But nevertheless, I am still quite satisfied with the overall outcome.
Josef: Well I loved it! The cliffhanger is rad and I dig how the island concept was built on. It was also great that you had shifted the limelight back on Mann. I was afraid that I had put too much focus on St Elvis in Chapter 1. I’m afraid to ask this but, how will you wish to continue the story? Let’s just hope it is significantly different from what I had planned. If not, it’s back to the drawing board for me again.
JunMing: Good question. There is no right answer to this, and to me, that is the beauty of ‘The Life of Mann’. When I was drawing the story, I did ask myself this question, ‘What’s next?’ If the next artist is going to be me again, how will I continue from where I left it?
Conspiracy. Start the setting of the next 5 pages from a year before. Relate the events that had happened, and how it resulted in where he is now. Or even better, link it to the ‘hanger’ for the second story. If you ask me, I would tackle the element of ‘why’ in this next story. I believe that once you bring the setting back to the past, you are widening the scope of possibilities for future stories.
Josef: Wise words indeed. Well, I hope somewhere along the line, another guest artist/writer can explore that part of the story. But certainly not me. Mann was created as a guy without a past, so as to give complete freedom to future creatives. It will defray from my initial concept if I were to be the one to explain who Mann was and what happened to him, especially in such an early stage of the story. OK, back to the interview. I understand that your forte is in drawing single-panel cartoons, and these 5 pages are only your second attempt in drawing short stories. Did you encounter any difficulties and how did you translate your expertise in single-panel cartooning to the 5 pages you did?
JunMing: As you have rightly mentioned, my past works have been mainly in the realm of the single panel or gag cartoons. This is indeed my second serious attempt in exploring a short story. I wouldn’t say that there are many major difficulties; perhaps the most obvious difference would be managing the story flow. For single panels, the time freezes at one frame. However, for sequential short stories, you have to manage more elements from one frame to another. I must admit I am not very good at that. The training in single panel does give me some advantage in terms of picture configuration.
Josef: So what’s up for you next? Anything that your fans can look forward to this year?
JunMing: This is going to be an exciting year for me. I am planning on an exhibition somewhere in June in Singapore. The exhibition plans to showcase a selection of some of my most satisfied works in the recent years. I am definitely hoping to take this opportunity to meet up with more people who share the same passion for the cartooning art. For people who are interested to see more of my works, they can take a look at my blog – mingapore.blogspot.com.
The other initiative that I am working on would be the drawing portal – startdrawing.org. I am happy to be working with you on this one. This is an online drawing portal with a vision to encourage people to start drawing again. I see lots of good potential in this project.
Josef: I’m looking forward to that too. Speaking of which, we should really get down to it and launch startdrawing.org soon. And the exhibition idea sounds great too! Once again, thank you for contributing, and for taking the time to share with us your insight on the project.