Tuesday, July 22, 2014

San Diego Comic Con 2014

Hey all!

Here's our new print for Comic Con 2014! It's from our picture book "The Rekindling" coming out next year. "The Rekindling" is a fantasy action adventure about a young boy who seeks an enchanted flame to revive the spirit of his fallen people.

The print is signed by myself and Randy Bantog (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) and is a limited edition of 100. If you're going to Comic Con this week, stop by Small Press O-04 and say hello!


Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Hey all!

The TEDx Talk I did last year at TEDxYouth@SanDiego is up on Youtube! The title of the talk is "The Fruits of Adversity" and the theme is using failures to push ourselves to greater heights.

Hope you all enjoy it!


Monday, December 16, 2013

Disruptive Behavior

Are you willing to burn bridges behind you so you can’t run back to safety?

Our lives are the sum total of our repeated actions and decisions. The things we do on a day-to-day basis add on top of each other over time and eventually become the whole of our lives. We build momentum for ourselves with our daily thoughts and actions, those actions become habits and those habits harden over time into circumstance.

But what happens if we are thrown into an unfamiliar space and our daily routines are disrupted?
What can be gained?
In the Hero’s Journey, the major growth occurs after the hero commits to the journey, leaves home and is thrown into a dangerous environment that forces the hero to grow in order to survive. The hero’s day-to-day rhythms are broken and reality is reframed in new and interesting ways. When old ways of doing things are no longer an option, hidden strengths and talents are often revealed. The initial limitations we have by being in an unfamiliar place can often lead to the expansion of both our mindset and repertoire.

Looking back I think so many of my prior attempts at true transformation failed because I stayed in the same environment which fostered the same daily routine. I was unwilling to take the necessary steps to really shake my world up and allow something truly new to enter. Sure I looked like I was committed but I was really standing in the doorway, afraid to leave home. There was a always a way out.

This all changed during my creative sabbatical in Minneapolis. I had gone out there with the sole purpose of creating my own content and looking back I knew if I had done my sabbatical in Los Angeles, I would have run back to doing client work and perhaps even gotten a full time job when things got rough. It’s just too easy to fall back into old habits. The new environment, while hard to adjust to at first, ended up giving back in ways I could never have predicted. 
I had to significantly up my game in terms of self-discipline because there wasn’t a client with a deadline to keep me on track anymore. There was just me. I had to police myself and made sure I produced a certain amount of work each day, even if it was drivel (which it often was). At some point it dawned on me that other than myself, no one really cared whether I finished my projects or not. If I wanted to see these projects exist in the world, it was all on me. That gave me all the motivation I needed to be more disciplined than I’ve ever been in my life.

And since I was so far away from everyone I knew, I had to really sharpen how I communicated with people through email and the web. I learned to pitch media outlets whenever I had a project I wanted to feature and write cold-call emails to new clients whenever we needed funds to replenish the war chest. Basically, I learned how to write concisely, pithily and economically and get complete strangers to respond to my emails. This became an indispensable tool when running our Kickstarter campaign for RE:INVENT and writing my TEDx talk. 

I also created a private blog called Magnus Labs, which became a place for my collaborators to start posting the personal work that we hoped would change the direction of our careers. The work on Magnus Labs eventually became the seed for our book RE:INVENT. The way I had previously lived my life was completely disrupted by being in Minneapolis, but this disruption has led to the development of tools I simply can’t imagine my life without today.

In retrospect what helped me immensely on this journey was that I started burning bridges behind me. By that I mean I stopped giving myself a way out or a way back to safety. I committed to making it work no matter what. My options were whittled down to "Get It Done Or Die Trying".

The greatest example of adaptation to a comfort zone thrown into upheaval is my good friend Francis Tsai’s fight with ALS. Since his diagnosis in 2010, ALS has paralyzed him little by little to the point where he is now fully paralyzed. Amazingly, he never let ALS stop him from making art! When he lost the use of his hands he painted with his feet and when he lost the use of his feet he began to create art using eye-gaze technology. I know this is a journey no one would ever want to take, but I learned so much by watching the way he handled this monumental disruption to his life.

He didn't have a way out.
He had to find a way.

The thing that inspired me most during his fight was his ability to adapt, he was willing to mentally let go of a certain way of life in order to survive. Letting go can be very difficult because we are all creatures of habit, we all spend nine months inside a womb and when we are born we have to be literally cut from our mothers. Separation doesn’t come natural for people. We are genetically hardwired to cling to ideas of safety and comfort, even when they are already gone.

Especially when they’re already gone.

I think Francis exemplifies how to deal with being in a new and unfamiliar place. He dealt with the cold hard facts of realty and elevated his effort and tenacity every time something else was taken away from him. He was growing “new limbs” to replace what he was losing. It seemed like the less resources he had, the better and stronger he got. Every obstacle wasn’t stopping him, but pushing him to a higher level. The strength, resiliency and resourcefulness he exhibited in his fight is something I try to apply to any new endeavor whether it's publishing a book, running a Kickstarter or giving a TEDx talk. Unfamilair spaces often seem daunting at first and are fraught with opportunities for complete and abject failure, but if properly engaged they also hold the potential for tremendous growth.

What new tools can you come up with to survive in a new environment?
What “new limbs” can you grow to compensate when familiar ways of doing things stop working?
Are you willing to forge into unfamiliar spaces for the things you want?
Are you willing to burn bridges behind you so you can’t run back to safety?

Remember, if there’s no way back you have no choice but to move forward. 
And when you do, you will literally astound yourself with how much strength you have inside. 


PS: I use the term "burning bridges" as a metaphor and am not in any way shape or form condoning or encouraging people to actually mess with bridges. The image of the bridge exploding in this post is a screencap from The Dark Knight Rises.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Getting In

There's ALWAYS a way in.

A couple of months ago I spoke at a UCLA Graduate Animation class about career development and the subject of “how to get in” came up. A student asked me how she was going to break into game design when she had no contacts and didn’t know anyone. I could see it was really weighing on her and it took me back to being a student when the stress associated with “getting in” was all consuming. At the time I felt like I was on the “fringe” and there was a “center” I was desperately trying to break into, but had no clue where to start.

It got me thinking, no matter how long we’ve worked or what our field is, aren’t we always trying to “get into” something? At this point even though I’m ten years into my career and seven years into running Magnus Rex, there are still definitely times when I feel like that student on the outside looking in. So, my answer to her was something I’ve followed my entire career. 
”You get in by getting started. You get in by doing.”

I know that sounds annoyingly vague so please let me elaborate, I want to tell you about how my girlfriend wound up with her dream career. So, my girlfriend majored in Business and Economics at UCLA, and immediately got a job doing marketing for Coffee Bean after graduation. She soon realized the job wasn’t for her and after some soul searching she realized she wanted to do something completely different. She wanted to get into veterinary medicine.

Now that is a HUGE jump. She had to redo the second half of undergrad in addition to completing a host of prerequisites just for the opportunity to apply. This meant that due to the high level of competition to get into veterinary medicine school there was a good chance she could get rejected even if she did all the work.

Undaunted, she got started.

She began to volunteer and started taking classes at various junior colleges. After a little while she became a receptionist and eventually a veterinary technician at a reputable practice. Now, while she was getting professional experience, she was still taking classes, building her knowledge base up and completing her prerequisites.

After three years, all the hard work paid off and she was accepted into a Top 10 veterinary medicine school at the University of Minnesota. During her time there she got an externship at VCA West LA’s prestigious new flagship hospital, which eventually led to her attaining a highly competitive internship at the same hospital after graduation. From that internship she developed the relationships that got her a great job at a fantastic practice called The Village Vet.

She had fought her way from the fringe all the way to the center.
She was now “in”.

The entire process took roughly seven years and it was fascinating to watch her push closer and closer from the outside to the inside. She broke a long, grueling process up into small digestible chunks, she didn’t try to chew the whole thing at once. She was patient and strategic, building her career up block by block. At every step she simulated a piece of what she was going to be doing at the next level using the resources she had on hand at the time. 

She was prototyping. 
She acted as if she was already in the game. 
She was immersing herself in the world she wanted to be in (even if it was just volunteering at first) and developing the tools necessary to be of value in that world.
She was always doing.

And while she was doing, people were watching.
You never know who’s watching you when you're busting your ass.

At every juncture I saw people in positions of power point her in the right direction and open doors for her. They saw her talent, compassion and above all, her desire. Game recognizes game and the powers that be accepted her as one of their own. She started out about as far away from where she wanted to be as you can possibly get and now she has arguably one of the best jobs in the city.

Did she know what the road was going to be or how she was going to get to where she wanted to go? Well, yes and no. My girlfriend has told me on numerous occasions that she had a specific endgame in mind but she couldn’t have predicted 90% of the things that have happened along the way to help her on her journey. She said the best thing she ever did was planning just enough to get going and then leaping into the fray. Her bold attitude reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by W. H. Murray from The Scottish Himalayan Expedition. It’s called The Magic Of Making A Start.

“Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events
issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed would come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: ‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.’”

What this says to me is, “Get started and we’ll figure it out along the way.” This really resonates because I’ve found that the path to where we want to be is dynamic.

Things change.
Circumstances change.
And above all, we change.

Sometimes the elaborate plans we make at the beginning are completely useless by the time we get to the middle. Our lives and careers are a labyrinth and at any given point we can only see a small part of the maze. No one really knows anything in the beginning; it’s just a bunch of hopes and assumptions. You figure out the really big stuff by doing. And as long as you get started and more importantly keep doing, great things can start to happen. You begin to find your voice, your audience and your niche.

But let’s go back to the beginning for second. Why’s it so damn hard to get started? I think it’s because we can’t see all the steps it’ll take to get to the end from the beginning, so it’s much easier to stay home and make plans. I’m all for plans but at a certain point it frankly becomes more of a stalling tactic rooted in fear and procrastination than anything else.

How can you get started with the resources you have on hand? No matter how big the dream, there is always a way to start doing, to start acting as if, to simulate a piece of the world you want to get into from where you are right now.

Do you want to draw comic covers? How about doing a series of illustrations of your favorite characters and posting them online? Give the editors a glimpse of how your work will stand out on a crowded rack.

Do you want to start your own lifestyle brand like tokidoki or Sanrio? With product fulfillment centers like Society 6 and online communities like Etsy you can market test your vision for minimal start-up cost.

Publishing, comics and animation seemed like closed worlds for the longest time, but through making RE:INVENT and Mythika, those worlds have since opened up to us. It's great to have people's attention now, but I know for a fact no one would have cared if we didn’t do it ourselves first. Because in the end we “get in” by doing.

Everyone starts from somewhere and at some point everyone was on the outside looking in. But where you start is not where we have to finish. There’s always a way to “get in” and if you are dedicated enough and can create enough critical mass on your own, eventually something amazing can happen. 

The things you do at the fringe can actually become the center and maybe...just maybe the tables will turn and others will be trying to figure out how to get into your world.


PS: If you live in the LA area and have a furry little friend who's hurt or needs a check-up, ask for Dr. Theresa Loo at The Village Vet.