Come, children, and mothers of children;
weavers of wonder, wards of warriors.
Hear me now as I recite
A story, of a lifetime faraway.
Listen.

About

An Eisner-nominated graphic novel duology set in 17th century Istanbul and 18th century England, about a carpet merchant's reconcilitation with faith, love and home in the aftermath of his death by a vampire.

A magic realist, romantic, historical epic with a modern, satirical take on Gothic fiction and the literary vampire genre.

Volume One:

A Fragment of a Turkish Tale

Zeynel and Ayşe are a pair of happily-married carpet merchants in 17th century Ottoman Istanbul. While on a business trip, Zeynel becomes a Good Samaritan to a lost traveller in red. He wakes up the next day discovering, to his horror, that he is the victim of a blood-sucking djinni. Now a djinni himself, he returns home desperate to reconcile his new life with his faith and former human identity, afraid to leave behind the woman he loves.

Volume One, Book 1 - The Carpet Merchant

Ayşe is a small town Anatolian girl with big dreams. On her quest to secure marriage and migrate to the capital, she meets Zeynel, the accomplished son of a highly-esteemed scholar family. Unlike Ayşe who is confident in herself and her ambition, Zeynel is insecure — pressured to live up to the expectations and desires of other people. As they get to know each other better, they discover that their meeting is perhaps more than just chance.

Volume One, Book 2 - The Vampire

25 years later, Zeynel is the happily-married husband of an amazing and successful carpet merchant, co-owning one of the biggest workshops in Istanbul. During a business trip, he plays the Good Samaritan to a mysterious traveller in red… which turns out to be a mortal mistake. Forced into an unwilling transformation, he must reconcile his old identity with his new vampiric curse, and make sacrifices to protect the people he loves — but that means saying goodbye to Ayşe, the woman who forms his entire world.

Volume Two:

A Modern Karagöz and Hacivat

70 years later in England, Zeynel is at the centre of a fad for all things Turkish, grappling with the meaning of home as it is distorted by Orientalism. Meanwhile, he and his young English friend must deal with the return of Mora Strigoi — the ancient Roman vampire responsible for Zeynel's death — who has come to seek forgiveness.

Volume Two, Book 3 - Los Bibilicos

70 years have come and gone since Zeynel left home for an endless pilgrimage. By invitation of a young English friend Alfred Grimsley, he moves to a quiet town in Southeast England. During the journey, he muses about his family's history, his love for stories, and Ayşe's legacy... unaware of the danger in pursuit of him.

Volume Two, Book 4 - Durme

Now settled in this strange English land, Zeynel finds himself the centre of the latest fashion for all things Turquerie. He is surprised to find the vampire responsible for his death — Mora Strigoi — at his door begging for his forgiveness. As Zeynel and Mora struggle to make sense of each other's differences, Alfred Grimsley uncovers a trail of blood made by a mysterious serial killer, and makes the terrifying discovery that it ends at the doorstep of his closest friend, Zeynel.

Read the original webcomic for free

The ebooks below collect both volumes of The Carpet Merchant as originally published on alcottgrimsley.com

Buy the print edition

Two deluxe hardcover editions, each with matching gold-foil covers and over 300 pages of richly-coloured story. Available in English and French.

Support your local bookstore or library by requesting The Carpet Merchant through them!

Press Kit & Miscellany

About the Author

Reimena Yee is a strange and fancy graphic novelist, illustrator, designer and comics outreach lead. Hailing from the dusty Malaysian metropolis of Kuala Lumpur, she is now based in Melbourne, Australia. She is greatly interested in the world, its histories and its cultures — a passion that once brought her down the road to a STEM career for half her life, before leaving to communicate her love of the world instead through art and story.

The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya is her first full-length completed graphic novel.

Press

Interviews, reviews and features.

  1. The Other Vampire, Farrago Magazine (2016)
  2. Artists You Should Know: Reimena Yee, The Beat (2018)
  3. Comics Dragnet 3, The Comics Journal (2018)
  4. Reimena Yee Sells Us On The Carpet Merchant, The MNT (2018)
  5. On Comics and Carpets, Bosphorus Review (2018)
  6. Malaysian Artist Reimena Yee on Her Eisner Nomination, The Star Malaysia (2018)
  7. Feature #221, Out of the Fridge Podcast (2018)
  8. Feature, PanelxPanel #15 (2018)
  9. Reimena Ashel Yee: Lovingly and Respectfully Illustrated Stories of a Carpet Merchant, Communicating Design (2019)
  10. Review, Strange Horizons (2019)
  11. To Read A Carpet, LA Review of Books (2022)

Praise & Accolades

"Glittering with life across every page."
K O'Neill, author of The Tea Dragon Society

"Yee’s graphic novel is multifaceted. At once, it serves as a love letter to carpets and Turkish miniature, a rebuttal to and dissection of Orientalism from the eighteenth century to the present, a lesson on how to tell stories set in cultures and times that are not one’s own, and a reminder that we are always capable of rewriting our own stories."
ML Kejera, reviewer, Strange Horizons

  • 2018 Eisner Award Nominee (Best Digital Comic)
  • 2019 McDuffie Award Finalist
  • ALA List of Best Graphic Novels for Adults 2020

Some common questions over the years

Is this a free webcomic? If so, where can I read it?

The Carpet Merchant started life as part of a larger webcomic, so it'll always be free to read. I've created ebook versions of the original manuscript that can be downloaded from my itch.io page, which you can read with ease on your laptop or mobile device. If you want the final print edition (with nicer art, fixed dialogue and better lettering, in the physical form it was intended for), see the next question.

Where can I buy a physical copy of each volume of The Carpet Merchant?

Both volumes are available at all bookstores and libraries!

Are you Turkish and/or Muslim?

It is awkward to see how common this question is, despite being upfront about my identity. No, I'm neither Turkish or Muslim. I'm Malaysian, raised in a multicultural, multiracial, Muslim-dominant country.

Why did you make this book? What gave you the inspiration? How did it come about?

Whenever I'm asked this question I always get the feeling people are expecting something grand. Like I intended to make this story all along. The truth is it was the most mundane point A to Z ever.

When I was 15, I created The World in Deeper Inspection, a large-scale concept comic about a Jersey Devil detective solving whodunnits and fixing other spooky people's problems. One of the important secondary characters is a vampire who plays the role of helpful, well-resourced informant: Zeynel. I came up with his character in the way all naive teenagers did, in that he is a vampire who happens to be Turkish, he is not-overtly pious, he is chill, I thought he is cool. Hooray! I made an OC (original character)! There was no real reason behind his characterisation.

Fast forward 5 years later, after The World in Deeper Inspection became a real webcomic, I reached a point in the narrative when I had to present Zeynel's backstory in order for the following chapters to make sense. Only then, as a more aware 20 years old did I realise the magnitude of that naive, innocent decision. Oh my god! What have I brought unto myself?

At that stage I couldn't change his race, culture or name. He was already an established character in TWIDI. Plus, I felt it was, and still is, icky and disrespectful to consider even the idea of rebooting him into a character with another (so-called safer) body. So what else could I do? I had to take responsibility as a storyteller and try my best to do Zeynel justice — in the sense that he won't be seen wholly as a stand-in or stereotype of a Turkish Muslim, but as a fully-realised person with his family, faith, insecurities, dreams and personal values integrated into his identity. (In other words, an actual character.)

The moment when I consciously chose to assert responsibility of my storytelling was when the mundane point A to Z veered off into... well, who knows what this is.

Over time, as I developed the plot and the characters, and went deeper into research, the backstory grew beyond the original purpose. What started as a simple 100 pages substory of a larger comic became a two volume 600 pages standalone epic. The Carpet Merchant grew organically in response to the research and the challenges of writing outside of one's lived identity.

Still, the core motivation that I brought over from TWIDI didn't change. I wanted to make a story using the things I was passionate about: history, art, gothic tropes, faith (not bound by a specific religion) in its mundane and complex beauty, and ambitious comics layout.

What is your opinion about the representation of POC in publishing? Ownvoices? Cultural appropriation?

As a POC from the global south, who is a minority in my own country, I think we're beginning to be at that place where POC should have started a long time ago. At least we're having the necessary conversations. We still have a long way to go though, because there still isn't enough of us, both front-facing and back-facing, to reflect the true diversity of our world (I mean this in an international, nearly 200 countries sense). This industry is still very white and very Westernised.

Regarding ownvoices, I've two opinions that aren't mutually exclusive: 1) It's important to give marginalised identities power to tell stories in their own voice, in their own terms, to be authentic with their passions and lived experiences without self-censorship and microaggression 2) At the same time, it doesn't exclude anyone from exploring outside their own boundaries. By anyone, I also mean the marginalised.

Because of the way our society is, choosing to do (2) is not going to be a light decision. It means becoming actively responsible, learning about your own privileges, acknowledging power dynamics and understanding the space you uniquely occupy in said dynamic. Even if you're marginalised. Even if you're like me from a former colonial country. There are biases, assumptions and schemas inside your brain that need to be challenged, revised, reconsidered. It's a journey that continues past the last page and into your next book, even if that book is different.

Do your research. Never accept yourself as having reach the ultimate stage of wokeness. You always have something to learn. Revise, confront, argue with yourself. Consult. Respect. Finally, constantly amplify, support and acknowledge the voices that already exist.

 

A Note From A Storyteller

The final author's note I wrote for the printed edition of Volume Two, as a replacement for the original ending and an introspective of the life-changing journey of making this duology.


Readers of the original 2016 – 2018 webcomic will notice that the epilogue is completely different. Yes, it is. In the years since the aftermath of The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya, I’ve come to realise that the true ending of this two-volume historical vampire epic about love, kindness and the transformative power of story is not Zeynel’s ending alone, but his and mine.

Every carpet tells its own tale, carrying in its every knot and pattern a part of its weaver. When the story of The Carpet Merchant first came to me in December 2015, I was two months shy of my 21st birthday. Young, nervous and green, I poured my heart and soul into its creation, which soon coincided with a period of personal crisis and upheaval. Looking back, so much of Zeynel’s character journey foretold or reflected my own. In Volume I, as he made that brave leap away from an old life, with all its trappings and ill-fitting futures, after his induction into Ayse’s world, so did I. And as he soothed and transformed an injured soul in Volume 2, so did I for my own lost soul that needed repair. Guess the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, etc.

Anyway, as dramatic and sentimental as the truth will sound, creating this story completely changed me and my everything. It brought me back to life, taught me to dream, and rescued me from the midnight sorrows of regret. It helped reclaim my voice and confidence. It made me the storyteller I am today, both in a career and craft sense; and it challenged me in the joys and perils of historical writing beyond the common and the easy. While I’m older now, at the point where I am able to pick up the telltale signs of a story drawn and written by someone in their very early twenties, there is nothing I’d change (beyond the edits I made for the remastering). It is the perfect, raw encapsulation of the person I was long ago, once upon a lifetime.

The love that I still feel for The Carpet Merchant is immeasurable, the kind that will last for as long as I live – one that I will continue to carry in the telling of all my stories, whether written or lived. 

Thank you, my book, for the gifts you had given to me during and after your becoming.

And, lastly, thank you my Zeynel, for showing me that love is the true redeemer.

Inspiration

The Carpet Merchant is in essence a love story - love between a married couple, love with one's family, and love for and from God. It also features positive representation (a gentle hero, a powerful heroine, and plenty of side characters), and weaves several core Turkish themes - love, compassion, endurance, gentleness and the concept of qadar - not commonly recognised in media, particularly comics.

The story is technically a Gothic romance, but it jabs back at the origins of the literary vampire, which was a consequence of the Romantic Orientalist movement (English poets borrowed Eastern folklore to write fiction that evoked the 'exotic', following the success of the French and English translations of The Arabian Nights), beginning from Southey's Thalaba the Destroyer, Byron's The Giaour, and up to Stoker's Dracula. The vampire in traditional Gothic fiction represented the Other, eventually transforming into the foreign invader during the late Victorian era. But looking deeper, one wonders: who is the real vampire? Is it Dracula, or the Englishmen - who took his name, his history, and turned him into a villain?

It's also a story about storytelling - in books, folklore, songs, and even carpets. These stories are often made and passed on out of love, much like beloved memories are, and this love is the foundation of a person. Zeynel grows to discover the healing power of storytelling (of love, of love, of love) in the face of grief and loss.