Comic relief

With pop culture references and its signature bare-skinned characters doling out financial advice, The Woke Salaryman (TWS) has been a sleeper hit with young people in Singapore and beyond. NTU grad and former HEY! student artist Goh Wei Choon, who is the co-founder and illustrator of TWS, outlines why the monochromatic comics strike a chord with youths

by Derek Rodriguez / Illustrations by Goh Wei Choon

How did TWS become so popular?
Our readers are mostly young people who have just entered the workforce and are starting to think about their finances. We were lucky that our very first comic post for Father’s Day went viral, when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shared it. The story by my co-founder, He Ruiming, about his father working through the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, resonated with a lot of people.

Wei Choon (left) with TWS co-founder Ruiming

As a visual storyteller,what are most of your days like?
I spend the bulk of my time drawing. It’s quite labour intensive, especially for sequential storytelling, where you have to draw the same characters and concepts across time and situations. I’m grateful that I was able to quit my job and do TWS full-time. Before that, I would work from 9am to 6pm on weekdays, then go home and work on TWS until 2am.

How has COVID-19 affected you?
It hasn’t affected TWS because I only went full-time after the pandemic started taking over our lives. My TWS partner, Ruiming, and I have always worked remotely. We communicate on Facebook Messenger and use Google Docs and PDFs. I work with our freelancers in similar ways. On a personal level, my fiancée and I decided to postpone our wedding, which was scheduled for June.

What does your family think about your work?
My parents are quite savvy and understand what I do though they can’t fathom how I can make money from it. My fiancée thinks I’m a workaholic but since I’ve gone full-time, I spend more time “decompressing” after work. She works in the creative field too so she understands what I do down to a tee.

What’s a hot topic you hope to cover soon?
I recently drafted a short comic about Internet gurus that offer ridiculous get-rich-quick schemes. Look out for that!

Who was your favourite NTU prof?
There were many amazing profs at ADM, so this is very difficult to answer! My favourite profs were the ones who inspired and motivated us to want to learn more ourselves after each lesson. Prof Ishu Patel, a visiting professor, was really great like that. He had amazing industry insight and the most wonderful first-hand stories of legendary animators.

What’s your best memory of NTU?
I enjoyed plugging away at my final-year project with my batchmates. We often stayed up overnight to watch football, play games, and complain about the imminent threat of failing the course and the impending horror of job hunting. I also loved hanging out at the sunken plaza of the ADM building. It’s where I met my fiancée and it’s just a super cool place to chill and take photos.

DRAW: YOUR GREATEST FEAR WHEN ENTERING NTU AS A FRESHMAN

You were once a student illustrator for HEY!. Tell us about your favourite assignment for the magazine.
I like this one (below). It was an active departure into a style of art I wasn’t comfortable with or good at. I was more used to doing vector style illustrations back then. This style of drawing would become a staple for me. You can see that bold, ragged, dry brush style in TWS comics.

How did you discover your personal style?
Every young artist is concerned about this. I’ve been there. You want to know what your superpower is, like in the anime My Hero Academia. My advice is to not care about style. The important thing is foundation – the skill to draw whatever you want first. Style will come by itself after that.

What inspires you?
I’ve read a few books that have changed my life. Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life helped me put suffering into perspective and made me realise the steps I need to take to make my life more meaningful. Atomic Habits by James Clear has helped me deal with procrastination. What resonated with me was the importance of taking the first step. When I want to get started on work now, opening the working file is the trigger I need to get on with it.

What do you do when you’re not drawing?
I play video games, watch movies on YouTube and cycle.

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