Design Assembly recently got the chance to chat with Auckland-based comic artist and illustrator, creator of Extra Ordinary, Li Chen:
Hi Li, can you tell us a little bit about who you are, what your background is, and how you first got started in the industry.
I was born in Beijing, China and moved to New Zealand when I was five (with my parents of course, it’s not that I was an extremely self-sufficient toddler). This is very clichéd, but I’ve loved drawing ever since I was little. After high school I moved to Auckland to study architecture, as a way to incorporate my love of drawing into a career. When I graduated at the end of 2008 I was unemployed for a while so I started making little comics and uploading them to Facebook. My friends seemed to like them so I kept making more, and gradually that developed into my comic, Extra Ordinary, which is based on me, my cat Shoelace, and my partner Jordan. Then in 2012, I launched a Kickstarter project to publish the first two volumes of Extra Ordinary. The campaign went pretty well and we got US$66,580. I quit my job to work on the books, and I’ve been a full time comic artist and freelance illustrator ever since!
How would you describe your particular style of illustration?
I try to make art that is whimsical and warm. It always makes me happy to hear that my artwork makes others happy.
What excites you about what you do?
Making stuff is always exciting! Being able to create things and share them with the world is awesome. I’m so grateful that I live in an age where the internet exists and it’s so easy to not only share my own work, but also to be exposed to so many inspiring and awesome creative people from all over the world. Computers and the internet have made the barrier to entry so much lower for what I do.
What does a typical working day in the life of Li Chen involve?
Routine is very important to me. I heard a quote once that was something along the lines of ‘artists manage their time like accountants’ and that definitely describes me. I always start my day by going for a big walk. Once I’m home I work in my office until dinner time. After dinner I’ll often do a couple more hours of work, mainly boring stuff like emails. I’m a big fan of to-do lists and I like to organise all my tasks for the day obsessively.
What project, personal or professional, are you most proud of and why?
Self-publishing the first two volumes of Extra Ordinary was the project I’m most proud of. There were a lot of firsts for me; first Kickstarter, first time designing books, first time being self employed, first time shipping things around the world. The whole project from planning the Kickstarter through to sending out the rewards took nearly a year to complete. Every step was a massive learning curve and there were a few moments when I didn’t even think I could do it. A few months after I finished the project, someone sent me a photo to show me that my books were in the Hamilton City Library. That was my favourite place to hang out during my childhood, and it felt so surreal to know that something I made was now in that library among all the ‘proper’ books. I cried a little bit!
What have you been working on recently?
At the moment I’m working on a top secret special thing to celebrate my 500th comic. I’ve made something extra special for every 100th milestone, and this one is bigger than any of my previous projects. You just reminded me that I still have so much to do, noooo…
And finally, where to next for you? What does the rest of 2017 and early 2018 hold?
I’m going to be super busy making my 500th comic for the rest of this year, but next year I’d like to do some more self publishing and freelance illustration work 🙂
Thanks for your time Li.