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Designing the trickster is tricky

I wrote a few comic strips based on the character some time ago. I made a ton of character sketches—none of which I liked. For about a year, I worked on the character design. How can I modernize a six hundred-year-old character? It wasn’t easy. I read many stories based on the character. Some in Lao and some in English. There weren’t that many Xieng Mieng stories published at the time. A lot of the character design I had to make up was based on all the different versions of the stories I’ve read or heard. I wanted my character to last as long as the original.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to come up with a lasting character. I had a huge influence from Disney and Dr. Seuss, with who I grew up with. I read all their books and I admired their work. I continued to do more drawings and write down some ideas I had. I decided on a character who was clever but also empathetic towards others. In some ways, he’s a Mickey Mouse and a bit of a Cat in the Hat. He would trick people but not in a mean way. He was a little rascal who thinks he can get away with anything. And he did.

Didn’t mean to be mean

At first, I made him a mean tricky person. He was always out looking to trick someone. He played pranks on everyone. After a while, I got tired of the character. This character was not friend-worthy.

When designing a lasting character, it’s a good idea to make sure the character is likable. If you don’t like the character you’re developing, don’t expect others to as well. Look at the characters you are attracted to and find out why they attract you. The way they talk, the way they treat people, the way they behave, etc. I continued trying out different variations.

The art of fighting without fighting

In the next few iterations, I made the character more empathetic. He’s aware of what he’s doing but he’s also cautious about the things he does. Depending on the situation, he would assess it and figure out what would be the best outcome. The punishment must fit the crime. When I was watching Enter the Dragonthere was one scene where he tricked a bully into a boat and left him there by himself. Before that, the bully asked him what his fighting style was and he replied “You can call it, the art of fighting without fighting.” Confused, the bully asked him to show him. And the bully got what he deserved.

Xieng Mieng was an immensely clever person. He can quickly get out of tough situations and avoid being in a fine mess. So with these thoughts in mind, I finally had enough material to work on the story.

My first children’s book is called “A Sticky Mess”

A Sticky Mess is the comedic origin story of one of the most beloved folk heroes of Laos. This is the hilarious tale of cleverness and ingenuity for children aged four and up. The story is in English with some Lao words in English phonetics. Based on the Xieng Mieng Lao Folktale.