Wisut Ponnimit is a famous illustrator who created ‘Mamuang’ character. He is a Thai manga artist and cartoonist based in Bangkok. After debuting as a manga artist in Thailand in 1998, Wisut came to study in Japan. He spent 4 years from 2003 to 2006 in Kobe. In 2009, he received the Manga Encouragement Award in the Japan Media Art Festival for his manga “hesheit aqua”. His major manga works include “Blanco,” “hesheit, and “Mamuang”.
“Mamuang” character becomes so famous on Instagram and be used in various collaborations worldwide. This simple way of drawing and coloring makes people fall in love with Mamuang.
Could you please tell me your career story and background?
I started drawing cartoons in 1999 and wrote for a Thai magazine. It wasn’t Mamuang at that time. Then my drawing style became simpler little by little and finally, I came up with Mamuang. In 2003, I started to draw Mamuang without colors and I went to study Japanese language in Kobe.
Then, some magazines in the Kansai area contacted me to do some little jobs. They gave me a tiny space in their magazines. So, I had to design small drawings to put inside the small spaces which I was provided. That’s why I created the Mamuang character.
What was your turning point that inspired you to create Mamuang?
Actually, I drew lots of cartoon characters named ‘He She It’ in 1999. This cartoon focused on myself and on what I was thinking. I continued to draw it for 5 years until 2003, then I started to think about other people because I had been thinking about myself for so long when drawing. So, I started to be curious about people I’ve never felt interested in or don’t particularly like. What do they think? What do they like? Then, I tried to draw various characters and Mamuang was one of the characters that I came up with. There are lots of types of characters such as mysterious characters, funny characters, good guys, bad guys, etc.
Mamuang is a person who will always be simple with no stories, just standing still with a smile. And then, people started to ask me about Mamuang often. Maybe she is the easiest character to remember, and people don’t usually remember other characters.
The real inspiration is that I want to turn my attention to other people more than myself. We should pay attention to what other people think. We care about ourselves too much.
In the past, we used to think that this person is boring, this person is in the way we like or don't like. As we got older, we started to think that a person had to have a reason for doing such. It's not that we judge a person that they are wrong, but that they are not good and not like us. So, I began to try to pay attention to other people and saw what they were thinking.
Mamuang is also a boring character. To be honest, she's just standing there. She doesn't have any stories. Well, I like people who have superpowers, a sense of humor, a sense of madness, etc. As for Mamuang, she is just a character of a passive person. This person has nothing special.
I heard that you have been in Japan for 5 years, drawing illustrations. Why did you decide to come to Japan?
In my family, my mother let my brother go study abroad to get more experience. I tried to go to England and America. England because I thought that maybe I should go study at some art school for a short time. If I really did join classes there, I used to think about what I would have to do if I went to a specific country. Let's say that I went to England and if someone asked me why I choose England, I wouldn’t know how to answer. Because I like the Beatles? No, I just felt I didn’t really like English that much. Or if I went to America and if somebody asked me why I came to America, maybe I could say I came because I like Mickey Mouse. But deep inside, I like Doraemon more.
I think that is what really made my heart’s decision to go to Japan. I really liked Doraemon since my childhood. However, to tell people that I like Doraemon, was unconvincing as a reason to adults. For example, telling my mom what I like and that's why I was going to Japan. It seemed to be a reason that a child would use. When I was young, I tried to make my reasoning more relatable to my parents.
So, I pretended to be like, yes, I like Europe, because maybe my parents would be satisfied to hear something like that. England is a country that adults feel comfortable hearing. It's big and English is used. But as I got older, I started to accept myself. I was sure that I like Doraemon, and I like Japanese cartoons.
In the past, I watched cartoons from almost every country. But Japanese cartoons are unique. Cartoons from other countries usually take revenge, like Tom and Jerry. Teasing each other harder and harder. When I watch it, I feel like I want them to feel more hurt. I feel resentment and anger. I feel much when I watch foreign cartoons. But when watching Japanese cartoons, when they complete their revenge, sometimes they become friends. For example, at first, characters may be competing against each other in a football match, angry at each other. But in the next episode, they could be on the same team, which makes us, as readers, feel a different way, not resentment, but that it is cool to respect and help each other. So, I liked that better than western cartoons.
What is your motivation to be an artist and create your artwork?
What do I learn from our lives every day? For example, learning not to look at things from the outside. When you look at dumplings, they don’t look delicious at first sight but when you eat it, it’s more delicious than one may think. So, we learned that we shouldn't look at dumplings from the outside. Whenever I learn something, I want to “record” it. So, I use the method of drawing cartoons as a recording.
In the beginning, it was more story drawings such as drawing a cartoon about dumplings. The first method I used was to draw a manga as a story, but now, there are other methods, such as drawing a cartoon in one block, so it doesn't have to be a story. As you have ever seen on my Instagram account, I drew one manga and posted it. The method is the same. That is, what we learn in our lives and then transform such into cartoons and texts.
Actually, I “record” because I want to tell readers that I've come across stories like this. I think that if someone encountered the same issue as me, they won’t waste their time with it. If they have read my work, then they might go faster. It sounds good, right?
We all know that Mamuang is not only an illustration. But you always attach a short meaningful quote to it. What is your inspiration for doing this?
The images and drawings are actually just there to get people to see the message. What I intend to convey is actually not the drawing. But it's the things what I learn in life. I’m not the kind of person who wants to say that I am good at drawing and that I draw for people to see how good I am. But I’m a person who wants to convey what I have learned.
However, text alone like ‘eating Ovaltine without water’ can make things difficult. You could have Ovaltine, but it is difficult to swallow. It's like drinking coffee without water. It will be difficult to drink coffee, right? We must have something to make it easy to understand. which is an image with the text. So, I draw in order to help communicate my messages.
There are lots of illustrations and characters in the world. How did Mamuang become a famous character worldwide? What are the unique points of your artworks?
Let me guess, maybe the first reason is, that there is a message and the messages I write are about things that other people have done or had the same experience with. So it's easy for people to relate with. The second reason, I post on social media which is free and can spread quickly and easily.
Also, people see my pictures repeatedly. So, they remember the characters. If I said it was another character and drew it repeatedly, it might get recognized too. It's probably because social media has easy-to-understand messages.
There is a quote I’ve heard you say from an interview before, ‘Art comes from life.’ Could you please talk about this?
I think ‘art’ is our view of our lives. for example, we paint a woman's face with long hair. It's up to each person's point of view. We may not see this person with normal long hair, but we see her as someone with shiny and super long hair. This is one person's point of view. Then they would draw a picture of this long-haired woman as they are. It doesn’t have to be similar to be realistic.
So, art is the artist's perspective of what is in front of him/her. It doesn’t have to be that long-haired woman, it could probably be something in their life. For example, today it is very warm outside. So, I wrote a song about the hot weather. This is also another kind of art. So, I think art comes from how a person sees their life and how they described it. But it's rarely caused by anything that they are not interested in. It must be something in a person’s life.
What is your Copic favorite colors? Could you please recommend us your favorite tones/color group?
My most commonly used colors are E21 to color skin and R00. I like those colors because they are soft and beautiful.
And then there's the YR000 color, but it really depends on the time. Sometimes I like other colors. And there's a weird color like E71, the purple one.
As I told you before, I intend to tell a story. So, if a color is too disturbing, it will cause a drawing's message to be attracted to the color. Light colors are meant to dominate our drawings. If the color is too dark or too colorful, it will press the lines. Viewers will look at the color first instead of looking at the meaning of a drawing. So, I use light colors often because I want to tell a message.
Why did you decide to use Copic markers in your work? How does Copic support your work?
At first time, I used watercolors. But when I made more work, using watercolors made it difficult and unable to draw. When I can’t make a deadline, it becomes so stressful. I got in the mindset to draw happily. So, I should find something that can be finished quickly. It would be more comfortable to do because my purpose is about delivering a message and what I learned in life through art. So I think I can draw with anything, watercolor, black and white colors, etc. It’s about telling a message.
When I found out about Copic, I liked how easy and fast it is to draw. It doesn't make me feel stressful, messy, and doesn't need to be washed. Also, it's dry when I submit my work and it still looks beautiful when scanned. It is easier to print than something made of watercolors. Watercolors are difficult to mix also. I’m not good with that. That’s why I use Copic.
Please kindly explain how Copic helps your career?
Copic helps me work faster. The faster you get, the more experience you have. So I can spread my artwork more quickly.
Do you have any message for Copic fans and your fans around the world? Could you please encourage people who have a dream and want to be a great artist like you?
Drawing makes me concentrate. I draw on paper. You don't have to be on a computer and don't have to draw on your iPad. Drawing on paper makes me calm and happy. I think people who draw on paper know these feelings very well.
I want people to be confident, happy and proud that they still draw on paper. Our hearts are probably the same. We don't have to live with electricity. We live with the world, paper, land, no charging; it's a happiness that the next generation may never understand.
So, if you're happy with drawing on paper, I'm happy too and want you to continue to be confident doing so.
You don't have to be like me. It's better to be yourself. Now I see a lot of people who are better at drawing than me both in Thailand and abroad.