In this creative generation, cartoons are not just any more for little kids’ enjoyment; they have also become young adults’ pastime. And passion, even.
Khmer illustrator Pen Uddam – a rising name in his field – uses his artwork to motivate and inspire teenagers to feel positive and creative, especially during their ‘lazy days’.
The 22-year-old self-taught artists co-founded a comic community known as “Kjel”, which means laziness in English, to share comics and cartoons to young Khmer adults between 15 and 30 years old. Aside from giving fun to its readers through their artworks, Kjel founders also aim to educate young people about the good reasons behind laziness.
It was five years ago when Uddam gathered few of his artist friends together to work for a small art project. He named his team “Kjel” for mere fun, not knowing that it will become a solid community in the local art scene. The group makes accessories for sale and comic strips for social media posting. Since the comics they create are seen and read for free online, “Kjel” get most of their income from selling their arts and crafts.
But “Kjel” wasn’t really intended for profit. A few years after they team was formed, they gained an unexpected popularity among comic and art enthusiasts in Cambodia. People followed their comic strips on Facebook and Instagram and enjoy the stories that Uddam and his team post at least once a month.
At present, it has become a platform to motivate young people during bad, lazy and unproductive days.
“Laziness is a thing that everyone will experience in life so that once they read our comics about laziness, it can make them laugh because they can feel their laziness too,” said Uddam.
“When they feel lazy, they can think of Kjel,” he added before laughing.
Uddam noticed the huge effects of his funny comic stories to young adults. People gave him positive feedbacks on social media; with some sharing what they think of his comic strips. The unforeseen support that Uddam is getting pushes him to focus more on what he can share to the loyal readers of “Kjel”.
He even spends most of his time off his fulltime job to create new stories for his most favourite project – “Kjel”. The young illustrator said he aims to share his perspective through his artwork and inspire people with the power of creativity. To him, laziness is not a totally negative trait, as every person has its own way and pace of doing things. Some people may be lazy at studying but are good and active at other things.
“Lazy people are kind of creative,” he giggled, “because they will try to find something easy in order to save time for laziness.”
Uddam usually makes comics or cartoons for “Kjel” whenever he feels lazy doing other things.
“Actually everyone is lazy and we need to admit it. But people need to set their own schedule of when they can be lazy and when they can’t because everyone has their own responsibility.”
Most of the contents he makes for “Kjel” are about childhood memories, human experiences and habits.
“I think [imagination] is kind of an inspiration that make audience be more creative,” he said, emphasising that creativity is not just applied to arts but in real life as well.
Even though his efforts on making people feel positive about laziness couldn’t prove anything, Uddam said the feedbacks from his audience can be one example of how his message about laziness works.
“One reader sent us a picture of our cartoon that he painted. He said, the picture is cool so he just wants to paint it.”
Uddam asked, “Who is the lazy one now? If he is lazy, he will not spend his time painting a picture and sending it to us”.
Uddam dreams to make a comic book for Cambodia. Influenced by “Tam Tam” and “Mom and Mab” as he was growing up, Uddam misses the feeling of having readily available comics to read during idle times. He noticed that Khmer comic books are not as easy to find as English ones.
“I couldn’t find many comic books in Cambodia. I remember 15 years ago when I was still young, there are some comic books but they were written in a foreign language. I think, if there are comic strips or books made in Cambodian language available for every Cambodian, it will be good” said Uddam.
Currently, “Kjel” comic strips are written in Khmer and English.