Zen Pencils by Gavin Aung Than

This hefty book collects motivational comic strips from zenpencils.com, a website by a talented Melbourne artist. It’s an easy read, but because the comics are meant for pondering, it should not be consumed in a single sitting. How you respond to it will vary, based on how the genre of inspirational comics strikes you. I note this because I’m about to criticize, which feels unfair, because I like the work, as a whole.

Its fault, insofar as I can trace my negative feelings toward it this far, is that when Aung Than moves his material from one medium to another, he takes control of the pace of the material, and he uses it in a way which breaks the rhythm of the text. Rhythm in text is something I particularly enjoy, and so this may not be a substantial criticism for many other readers.

Changing the rhythm is inevitable. Comics, as a medium, use distance to imply, and manipulate, time. How well this is done is one of the marks of genius in this style of illustration. As an example of the way comics play with time, the most recent strip, at time of writing, demonstrates the use of illustration to create an audible pause really well.

Let me give an example: I’m particularly attracted to Neil Gaiman’s “Make Great Art” speech.  It’s only about three minutes long. Here’s the YouTube excerpt

now, if you’d please follow the link below, you can read Aung Than’s rendition.


To me, his version is substantially less good than Gaiman’s. Aung Than is forced into an overt, literal interpretation, and loses the rolling flow of Gaiman’s speech, which carries the jokes along.

Now, I don’t want to suggest his work is bad. It is well-executed and he selects his quotes well. I, personally, find I enjoy his strips more when I do not already know the quotation, and when I read them individually as they are posted, not in a bloc.

I’d recommend the book only for people who do not wish to use the website, or who would like to purchase a copy, to assist a talented artist to continue his work. Given that the material in the book is all online for free, it seems to me that its function is like that of a Kickstarter reward. It allows you to express your thanks to the author with money, and him to express his thanks for your support with a tangible object, without any additional exchange of material.