The Manga Labourer
By Arthur B
The first time I met Eva, she was gregarious, busy signing her comics, and snapping pictures for the shinnenkai event organised by Jugas.
Nice! I finally met the girl behind Evacomics. I rushed at her, yelped like a doe-eyed puppy, “We must meet up!” and grabbed a name card from her.
The second time I met Eva, her face was long and she was completely pissed. Jo, who operates New Rasa Singapura where I discovered Eva seated dejectedly at the bar counter, had beckoned me over. “Somebody waited for you for a long time!” Oh f**k. I had forgotten completely about our appointment. She, on the other hand, like any conscientious Japanese (she got an MBA from Waseda Univeristy), arrived on time, and having seen no sign of me, then fired a volley of emails (all politely, of course) questioning my integrity for time, and was just about to leave in disgust. Luckily the chicken wings dinner she bought took a long time to get ready (it was a busy night for Jo’s joint). I made Eva wait 45 minutes — a sacrilegious Tsumi. Several rounds of umei sake finally won her forgiveness.
The interview was rescheduled and finally we met third time at Nex Mall. 不打不相识. So she talked and talked. Evangeline Neo. Straight-A student. Ditched NJC and went instead to NYP to pursue her passion for comic. Blogged to promote herself, but was taken aback by many of her peers whom, she thought, produced better comics. Spent two years in San Francisco to hone her craft in 3D and animation. “Everybody was driven. All of us were just doing our drawing all the time, even on weekends.” What about the sexy Angmo boys around her? “Ya lor,” she sighed and laughed at the same time, so I concluded that she was not interested in white guys. She then lectured for a while, but stayed determined to do comics professionally. “My Japanese friend helped with the translation and my work was sent to publishers in Japan. Nothing happened.” Armed with good academic results, she tried several times getting a scholarship to study in Japan, and succeeded eventually. Her purpose: to see how the publishing industry worked in Japan.
“ I decided not to work in Japan. You have to sell them your soul and you cannot do anything else.” True. Salarymen commute two to three hours daily back and forth from office, and are expected not to leave home early even when there is nothing to do. For a woman and gaijin, it could be far worse.
“So I returned to Singapore in 2013.” And became a full time comic artist. She chased publishers — local, foreign, pitched her ideas and characters to corporates, blogged, tweeted, posted instagram and facebook pictures.
“10 years! 私の青春 My youth!”
To be credible, you must get your stuff published. I mentioned print-on-demand self-publishing . She dismissed it immediately. Nah. That’s for hobbyists.
“To get work published is very difficult. The market is already so small, and there is little support. Big companies are not willing to spend on comics and characters. SMEs have little budget. On top of that, some publishers are messy and they own you money!”
Yet she stayed determined. Her fan base grew. The break finally came through a friend of a fan of a friend (or something along some combination of that sort). Cash plus a loan were offered. She found a printer/publisher for her first comic book.
“I sold 3,000 copies. MPH agreed to publish my second comic. Imagine a Singaporean artist turning to a Malaysian publisher,” she shrugged. Was that a glint of moisture in her eyes? “They tell you your book is on the weekly best seller list. But look at the size of their sale. And you get 10% royalty fee (Developing markets are worse — 3~4%). Anyway, took me 3 years to clear the debt for the first book.”
I refused to do the maths, so we talked about Kopi and Matcha, her characters.
“I once had a room full of my cats!” she allowed herself a rueful laugh. “It was quite a challenge,” she locked her fist against the back of her arm (a very Japanese exercise), relaxed them, and sighed, “It really took me a long time to sell all of them.”
Eva is now applying to work as a part time lecturer.
“It gives me the flexibility to continue my comic. I am thinking of another one book, or two. After that, maybe that’s it.” She became pensive, and I could tell that she had not really made up her mind. “Commission work is very unstable, unlike teaching. I do need money to get my own place, you know.” Eva is sharing her flat with her sister.
“No, I have no regret,” she answered quite quickly when I posed that question. “I am trying to work with a US publisher now. Hopefully.”
She brightened, “I have many things to do. There’s Yoga, and other interest groups to join. I want to know more people, not just the 烂桃花 (jerks) I met at speed dating lunches.”
She let me in on some of the details. They were hilarious, but not publishable.
We exchanged more information, discussed a bit about how we could work together on some projects, and then it was approaching noon. I wanted to give her some encouragement, but could not find the words. I am not in her shoe, and her journey is hard. I did not dare telling her not to give up, because I have quit or walked away from many things in my life.
Eva has the passion, and she has put in every bit of herself to realise it. Perhaps she needs another break. Luck favours those who come prepared. It is always easy to say those things, especially when you are not the person staring down a pile of bills. Water price just increased by 30%, after all.
So as I watched her going off to do her grocery shopping, silently in my heart I wished her the best of luck. Eva, stay cheerful, stay pretty, hopefully Mr Right will turn up the next minute.
In the words from one of my favourite songs from the magic kingdom (I of course did not tell her that, as a kid I wanted to be a cartoonist for Disney, but pragmatism, or lack of determination, stopped me), I hope sincerely, for Eva, When you wish upon a star, Your dreams come true.