The World in Deeper Inspection

My longest running and second oldest serialised work. TWiDI is my non-commercial passion project. It is the embodiment of all the things I have loved all my life into one big story: gothic literature and aesthetics, the Victorian Era, cryptids and paranormal phenomena, literary fiction, cultural and artistic history, and character-based writing.

TWIDI is also what I call my ‘landmark work’, in that it has documented and continues to document the maturity of my artistic and narrative voice since the age of 18. Every story is approached differently, as an outlet for all the strange and experimental ideas I have — ideas that wouldn’t work elsewhere — and for concepts and historical fun facts that I’m unable to explore in other stories.
TWIDI is mainly a playground for folklore surrounding the otherworldly and the beyond: how humanity processes death and grief through story and the creation of mythological characters and religious beings. In almost all my work, the afterlife appears as a constant theme, side-by-side with literature. TWIDI features supernatural characters, themselves inspired by our real-world stories, who engage in reading and storytelling.

What makes TWIDI slightly different than the rest of my portfolio is its outsized focus on creativity as a connecting thread between people in the past, present and future. While the wonder behind this focus is core to all of my work, TWIDI specifically celebrates the joy of being creative in personal and mundane ways.

The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya

Part of TWIDI, The Carpet Merchant was originally meant to be a couple of self-contained chapters featuring a major secondary character’s backstory, before it spun out of control and emerged as something more than I could ever imagine. The experience creating TCM was life-affirming during a period of internal crisis, and initiated the maturation of my confidence, process and philosophies that now inform the rest of my practice (Artist Statement) (Craft Philosophies). Because of its impact to my personal and professional transformation, I would consider this a signature work of my early 20s.

TCM is my antithesis of the Orientalist elements in gothic literature; rather than accept wholesale the flourishings of Orientalism as just-so stereotypes based in reality, it instead reveals the Occidental hand that invented those fictions. The origins of the literary vampire is tied to the origins of the Romantic Orientalist literary movement, which followed the success of the French and English translations of The Arabian Nights, and the introduction of Orientalist fads in European society. From Robert Southey’s Thalaba the Destroyer, Lord Byron’s The Giaour, all the way to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the vampire in Gothic fiction represented the foreign Other from a different land and culture who seeks to ‘poison’ the Western world: a projection of British imperialism towards the nations and people they had colonised.

TCM is the start of a thematic and pluralist artistic throughline continued by Alexander, the Servant & the Water of Life. Both are small-scale explorations of characters and their place in their times, using relevant art histories and material cultures as part of the worldbuilding. In TCM, Ottoman illuminated manuscripts, Ushak carpets, arabesque, millefleur tapestry, classical Roman mosaics, and Rococo S and C vegetal ornamentation flesh out a story rooted in its turn of the 18th century Turkish, Greco-Roman and English settings.

My first children’s story, though I wrote this for young adults too who were experiencing a similar conflict about the fear of growing up and losing oneself to aging. The main character Lora’s fears of growing up is based on how I felt when I was 11. I witnessed my peers become teenagers around me, turning their attentions outward to crushes and trends, while I stubbornly held on to play-pretend and my internal life. I remember telling myself as kid that I will continue to watch cartoons and not engage in those live-action dramas that adults watch, which seemed boring and only talked of things that didn’t matter to me. This is not true anymore: I watch both, and I am all the better for it, especially now that I am able to appreciate complex, diverse subject matter and have witnessed more of life. This gradual shift and positive acceptance of change is what Seance Tea Party is about: growing up, growing old, is not about desolation and shrinking, but about possibilities expanding. It’s story about growing up that’s neither about abandoning or retreating back to childhood, common in coming-of-age and 90s ‘overworked dad regains meaning of life’ films respectively. Instead, it’s about becoming the person you are all through the stages of life.

Seance Tea Party is nostalgic, warm and cute. I based its art direction on vintage children’s book illustration, whimsical autumnal Halloween aesthetics, and heartwarming, quirky, beautiful all-ages movies of the 90s - basically the kinds of things I have enjoyed as a kid (I still do).

Originally a humorous adventure-comedy for adults that found its place as an all-ages book. My Aunt is a Monster has stronger callbacks to my core interests: joy, wonder and life fuelled by a love for all the world. It’s a companion to Seance Tea Party in that it features a cast of mostly adult characters across age ranges who model exuberance and vitality, even if some of them are typical cartoon villains.

The art direction is less involved; it’s just the best of my natural art style turned up to maximum, plus a comeback of the way I used to draw as a teen - which had stronger whimsical flourishes compared to the measured, somewhat serious, literary approach used in my historical fiction. The story itself is light-hearted and fun, inspired by my favourite genre of fiction: the cozy adult comedies of Alexander McCall Smith and playful books with extremely long titles like the 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window, and The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an IKEA Wardrobe.

Alexander, the Servant & the Water of Life

A thematic and artistic followup to The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya. The scale is much more ambitious: it’s a retelling of a 2000 year old literary tradition about the life and legends of Alexander the Great, with motifs featured from the visual and literary traditions of various cultures, religions and histories that have written and illustrated the Alexander Romance.

I came across the Romance by coincidence; its multicultural, multichronological development called to me to continue the chain of storytelling. My take on the 21st century iteration of Alexander Romance is based on my interest in tearing down the Great Man myth: to pull away the layers of egoistic fluff and reveal the people who made his name, in his past and future.

(A current, ongoing project, so can’t give a full retrospective!)