Gavin Aung Than

Kitaab’s Interviews Editor Felicia Low-Jimenez in conversation with Gavin Aung Than, the creator of Zen Pencils

Australian cartoonist Gavin Aung Than was in Singapore in February 2014, where hundreds of his loyal fans attended an event held at Books Kinokuniya. It was a spectacular turnout for the creator of Zen Pencils, an online comic that has been featured in The Washington Post, Slate, Buzzfeed, and The A.V. Club. A freelance cartoonist based in Melbourne, Australia, Gavin has an “aw, shucks” demeanour that belies a determined, risk-taking nature that compelled him to give up his day job, sell his house, and embark on a career as a full-time creator of comics and cartoons. Zen Pencils is an interesting take on how a single idea can manifest itself in many different forms. However, on occasion, Gavin has run into copyright issues while using quotations or content that were attributed to other people. For example, he was asked by Charles Bukowski’s publisher, HarperCollins, to remove a cartoon he did based on Bukowski’s famous poem, Air and light and time and space.

Tell us how Zen Pencils came about.

I had finished working on two long-running comic strips without much success and was eager to think of an idea for a new webcomic. I wanted to do something quite different from what I had previously done, which were more traditional humour strips. At the time, I was reading a lot of biographies and saving some of my favourite inspirational quotes from historical figures. I had also noticed that a lot of people were sharing their favourite quotes on social media. That’s when I got the idea to base an entire website around these quotes and combine them with my cartooning to produce something new.