In the top half of an hourglass, a polar bear and her cub perch perilously atop a wedge of melting ice, its dripping water becoming the "sand" that is inexorably drowning an urban couch potato figure in the hourglass's bottom chamber. The beautiful yet arresting digital painting is "Countdown" by yuumei and it is currently one of the most popular pieces on deviantART. It is "archetypal yuumei" in its perfectly balanced blending of a striking lyrically beautiful visual with an underlying urgent social or political message.
Her specialty is digital art in an anime style, but she often employs traditional watercolors and other elements. Her cause is saving and preserving what's left of the Earth's wildlife and its environment; she donates large portions of profits from her artworks to a host of wildlife and environmental organizations and urges all deviants and others to do the same. But what has really been her stand-out achievement setting her apart are her beautifully illustrated literary works that she publishes on deviantART that have been translated into over 20 different languages by deviants from all over the globe.
"1000 W0RDS" tells the story of a child of divorce's longing and loss in a series of interactive flash comics panels combining `yuumei's anime-style characters with a running text of poignant dialogue between a child and an artist. The narrative is clever, acute, thoughtful and does not cop-out with a final dive into sentimentality, but instead finds a healing revelation in personal growth and a commitment to creating one's own happiness. It has become a deviantART favorite with almost one million readers having viewed it since its debut two years ago.
Someone once told me art is about content not skills. And a picture is worth a thousand words.
"KNITE" is a flash comics tale set in China and being released chapter by chapter on deviantART. It's the story of a troubled youth whose avenue of rebellion is to light up the night sky with his Christmas light-festooned kite, an act which inspires others to fill the heavens with their own "stars". The symbolism of flights of freedom beyond totalitarian fences is subtle and effective without detracting from the simple enjoyable storyline. The framing of scenes and the perfectly juxtaposed lines of text with characters' telling facial expressions is worthy of finer Hollywood cinema drama. And yuumei often provides a brief explanatory commentary at each chapter's end. One can be swept along in the flow of beautiful images, linger over the thoughtful literary text, and then be further enlightened by the author's "final thoughts."
As an artist with a bright future as a storyteller – a future that is already proceeding as a model of new paradigms in art technology and literary publishing – we had many questions for yuumei (and happily, she answered some).
As a storyteller creating narratives such as "1000 W0RDS" and "KNITE," do you think of yourself primarily as an artist or a writer? Or will you continue to develop your obvious talents at both in tandem?
There is a thin line between drawing and writing, if there is a line at all. Both art and words exist for the purpose of communication. However, I do see myself as more of an artist than a writer. Truth be told, I am completely awkward with words. I often can't find the right words to express my emotions, and I marvel at those that can speak and write so eloquently. My roommates enjoy poking fun at my strange grammar on a daily basis. It's fortunate that I don't need to be a poet to plot a story. Images and colloquial dialogues flow through my mind, and that's how I create my stories. The art of storytelling is not just about the words or visuals; it's about the thoughts behind them which is why one doesn't need to be an artist nor a writer to be a storyteller. The popular comics and memes employ simple words with simple pictures, but they express an entire world of relatable situations. If it gets the point across, then it's brilliant. Nevertheless, I will continue to try to improve my language skills along with my drawing skills. The transition from Chinese to English was a short one, but the journey for self-improvement is always endless.
Your "politics" of wildlife conservancy and environmental activism is evident in most of your art, yet the message does not overpower the visual beauty of your art. How have you achieved this balance which so many other "artists with causes" fail to maintain?
Though there are many things in the world that I hate, such as oil spills and shark finning, I do not truly believe in the existence good vs. evil. I think this mentality of mine allows me to find visual beauty in subjects that I personally despise. During the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, I couldn't help but notice the elegant way each disgusting drop of oil moved through the water. It's easy for my human mind to associate the oil with the destruction of what I love, and therefore symbolize it as "evil", but that is just my own ego speaking. If I stepped back and looked at the grand picture, I can let go of that ego and capture the actual beauty in everything. I don't believe that it lessens the environmental message by doing so, but it does increase the chances of getting people's attention.
"1000 W0RDS" deals with the social trauma of divorce affecting children. Have responses on your basing a "comic" narrative on this painful subject been mostly positive and supportive or has there been any significant backlash?
I am happy to say that the responses have been 99% positive. Before I made "1000 W0RDS", I created "Tape it Back Together" and I received a lot of encouraging feedback. Children of broken families would tell me about their personal experiences which all served as inspiration for "1000 W0RDS" and "Rumination". My greatest joy was when a child told me how my stories saved her parents' marriage after she showed it to them. Be it positive or negative comments, the feedback from dA has been the greatest encouragement for me to improve. People are honest on dA, and if they disagree with me, they will say it. Their critiques have taught me to be humble, but have also taught me to stand firm for what I truly believe in.
One might ask: Once a story has been read online, why would anyone buy a traditionally published version of that story? And yet a publisher will be releasing "KNITE" as soon as the online chapters are completed. Is this because your fans will buy the "finished" edition, having "invested" themselves in the interactive author/reader creation of the online story, contributing praise, support and suggestions with each chapter? Has building a pre-existing e-readership online become a benefit rather than a hindrance to traditional print?
An e-readership is definitely a benefit, and the proof is in the rising web comic industry. As my publisher, Eric San Gregorio at 4th Dimension Entertainment, would be happy to tell you; the comic readers of today don't want to spend money on what they don't already like. I share the same feelings myself. If I truly love a story, I will buy the printed book just to support the artist. If I have never read the story before, I feel less willing to spend my money on something that I may not even enjoy. Beyond that, it's simply impossible to keep anything off of the internet in the information age. All of my favorite printed mangas are scanned and translated for free by volunteers within days of publication. The standard view these days is that all information should be free for public viewing, and since art is just another form of information, it's only natural for every comic to be free online as well. As long as your work is engaging, the readers will be happy to support you by buying a printed copy or some other merchandise. This is something my publisher has fully embraced, and if you check their listings at Team4D you will find most of them to be webcomics of various genres. The transition from print to digital in the comic industry is like a revolution. Now artists don't need sell their rights to publishers to get their work out, and it's all thanks to great art sharing sites like deviantART.
How much of a help is it to an author/artist to have the continuing instant feedback and personal interaction with millions of deviants worldwide during the chapter by chapter creation of an online narrative? Do you make story adjustments in ways you might not have originally envisioned because of fans' suggestions?
The wonderful feedback from the dA community have been the best influence in not just being an artist, but also in being a person. I can honestly say that I was practically raised by the dA community since I was 12. They have helped me from simple technical details like fixing my anatomy or correcting a typo, to adding an entire character to a story. The best example would be when the Knite group Knite-Fliers ran by 1illa hosted a create your own Knite character contest. I thought it would be fun to offer the winner's character a cameo in my story. I was stunned by the talented aozorize's spectacular character design of Zhen so I got her permission to make him a main character. The addition didn't change my prewritten plot for Knite, but her character definitely made the story much more dynamic and exiting. People have expressed concerns that I was no longer writing my own story, but simply trying to please the public. That's far from being the case. I am open to critiques on how to improve, but I do not change my stories to simply please the crowd. It's hard to draw the line between self confidence and arrogance, but once you have found a balance, the vast expanse of opinions on dA will help you more than any professors at fancy art schools.
Once your stories have made the leap from online narrative to traditional published print media, would you like your characters continuing on into movies or games in either animated or live action incarnations?
I would love to see my stories animated and made into live action movies or video games. I believe the goal of most artists is to have their work be seen by the world, and different mediums would definitely expand the audience. From novels, to comics, and finally movies, each medium has its unique way of communicating information. The interactivity of games also adds another layer to the experience. People that don't like to read novels might like to watch movies, and while each medium's appeal is different, the message conveyed can be the same.
What are your thoughts when you check the "FlagCounter" tracker on your webpage showing so many people from so many nations looking at your art worldwide?
It's a very flattering experience, but my nerdy self is more interested in the social implications, which is actually why I got the flag counter in the first place. I wanted to study the flow of information in cyber culture and their relations to location. For example, the top 4 countries are English speakers, showing that the language barrier has the biggest impact on dA traffic. What's interesting is that though China has the highest population in the world, Chinese people make up a very small percent of the visitors, falling far behind other smaller non-English speaking countries. China is still a developing country, so many people do not have internet, but beyond that, China's Internet Police often blocks access to dA to prevent the Chinese people from learning about democracy and free speech. I was very frustrated when I couldn't visit dA at times of political turmoil while visiting China. All of this is very relevant to my research about cyber activism, which is the topic of my next comic, Fisheye Placebo. I hope everyone wasn't too turned off by my nerdy ramble. I promise the actual story is much more interesting than analyzing a flag counter.
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