Book Reviews

Book Review: Zen Pencils: Cartoon Quotes from Inspirational Folks

Australian cartooonist Gavin Aung Than, who first made his breakthrough with Zen Pencils, is releasing a second collection of cartoons October 13.

His first collection is imaginative and inspired. It is apparent that Aung Than has given considerable thought to the famous sayings and philosophical tidbits before putting pencil to paper and creating something quite magical.

His sepia-colored montage to John Green’s advice to writers “Make Gifts for People” is reminiscent of the opening scenes of Disney’s UP–heartbreaking, but redemptive in its vision. At the same time, Calvin Coolidge’s “Never Give Up” is given a fresh remake from the usual inspirational rhetoric that graces boardroom walls and mission statements; Aung Than paints Coolidge’s words through the eyes of a child who slays dragons and whose willpower (and imagination) knows no bounds or limitations even in the face of defeat.

Many of the pieces have a personal feel, and there is a definite anti-corporate theme running throughout the collection. It’s as if Aung Than has given voice to his own feelings of apprehension and insecurities upon forsaking steady income as a graphic artist in order to put passion and interior happiness ahead of the pursuit of material comforts. And therein lies the genius–and therefore, success–of Zen Pencils.

Perhaps his cartoon interpretation of Howard Thurman’s “Ask Yourself” sums up Aung Than’s spirit, which is to give artists wings with which to soar: “Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go and do that…because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Better than any boardroom poster can ever make the average Joe feel–and definitely more profound.

Andrews McMeel Publishing, $14.99 Trade Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-4494-5795-2,


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