+ Add Journey

The Story of Duncan Lin

“From my earliest memory, I have always liked drawing, but have never thought about making it my career,” says Duncan Lin, one of Taiwan’s most popular comics artists from Hualien. With a fanbase of 20 million and growing, Duncan has been approached by various renowned companies, such as Line, Asus, and TVBS for creative collaborations. He uses a caricature of himself as the main protagonist in his comics, which are centered around the hilarious going-ons of his daily life. With the cameras rolling, he wears his character as a mask, not wishing to expose his face. He is about 5’3, with a skinny frame, his dyed blonde hair peeking out from behind his mask.

“My father always objected to my interest in drawing, but my mother was rather supportive. Some of my most precious memories are of those childhood drawings. I would show them to my mother, deeply excited, and she would look at them and say, ‘Oh, that’s [a] really nice picture’, and then display it on the fridge using a magnet. And I would feel so proud every time she did this. I would think, ‘Wow, I need to draw more, because I want more things to be displayed on the fridge’, and then slowly…. the fridge got filled up. And the old drawings would be removed, and the whole process would be repeated. And this small matter, and that fridge, they influenced me, and allowed me to feel like perhaps I should continue drawing in the future.”

On the other hand, Duncan’s father was a strict figure, quite the opposite of his mother. “My father never smiled at me from the day I was born till the day he passed away. He never genuinely smiled at me and was always kind of distant - he’s a very, very strict kind of father - so we never really talked much, and of course after I graduated from high school, I left home.” Like all typical Asian parents, Duncan’s father hammered the notion: ‘do not pursue art because you’ll starve to death’, and that if he became an artist, ‘you’ll only earn money after you’re dead’.

During his university years, Duncan majored in English, and he began his work life by teaching English and working at a restaurant part-time. After serving in the army, he worked at a Bed & Breakfast in Hualien. Later on, he went on to open his own street stall at a place in downtown Hualien called Tie Dao (鐵道, meaning railroad), where he would set up his own stall, selling accessories for ladies. “I think that after having dabbled in different occupations, you slowly realize that, perhaps you don’t have your career all figured out, but you will definitely realize what you don’t like to do. So through the elimination process, you can then slowly work toward finding something that will make you happy.”

It wasn’t until his father fell ill that major changes were set into gear. He had been very supportive of his son starting up his own business selling women’s accessories, but a couple of months into the launched venture, Duncan’s father passed away. It was a devastating moment - although his father was a stoic man that rarely showed his affections, he was nevertheless there for his son at the moments that counted. “I remember the first few days I started the street stall business, my dad would sit on the bench beside me, worried that I would not have customers - so he always sat there for an hour or two, even after he became ill”. As his father’s health deteriorated, he was hospitalized at a facility close to their house and just a few hundred meters away from the ocean. Since his father disliked laying in his hospital bed, they would go to the parking lot by the harbor, and spend many hours there. “He always told me “hey Duncan, go grab a wheelchair; let's go out for a stroll!” Duncan recalled, “We would make small talk, but sometimes we didn’t even talk, [...] just look out at the ocean.” Father and son would sit on the bench and smoke cigarettes until dawn. “During those six to eight months of hospitalization, as I stayed by his side, we probably spoke more than the previous decades combined.”

Duncan shared with us one of his most precious moments with his dad. One particular morning, after getting only an hour of sleep, Duncan was woken up by his excited father, who told him that the hospital nurses were saying that there was going to be a beautiful sunrise. Duncan propped his father onto the wheelchair and pushed him out into the parking lot. It was still dark when they sat down on their usual bench. The sky went from darkness to a gorgeous purple, and when the sunrays hit, it created a mesmerizing blend of colors in the sky. “I remember saying to my dad, ‘Oh my god, how did the nurses know? This is amazing!’” he recounted. Yet it was also a sobering moment, because he knew his father didn’t have many days left. Duncan went around the bench and took a photo of his dad. “It really was a hell of a sunrise,” the artist continued, “I asked him, ‘When you see something as beautiful as this, don’t you want to take out your phone and take a picture?’ But my dad didn’t even look at me, he just said, ‘My eyes are the best camera.’ ….That moment is always fresh on my mind because it was the first time seeing my father happy like a child, that day of the beautiful sunrise; it’s really what I miss most, those moments between us in that parking lot.”

A few years ago, Duncan’s work provided him the opportunity to come into contact with an old flame - art. As it was already an old love of his, Duncan decided it was time to share his work on social media. Slowly but surely, people began to take notice. As his fans increased, his hobby soon turned into a full-time career. Duncan’s main focus in art is trying to find the spark in the mundane. “The more minute, the more people take things for granted. I want my art to be a reminder, sort of like saying, ‘Hey, do you guys realize you behave this way?’”. His work is extremely relatable because they depict the reality of everyday life. Combined with his own unique sense of humor, he has a knack for pointing out details that people tend to ignore. “I feel that the reason why many people like my art is because I’m just like everybody else. My experiences are common experiences shared by everyone, so people can relate”. When it comes to making people laugh, Duncan says that he’s really just entertaining himself. If he’s too concerned about making the audience laugh, then he believes the art will be too forced. Duncan measures himself to his own set of standards: “I feel that the most important thing in drawing is that I, myself, must find it funny. That is the most important.”

One of his greatest accomplishments in recent years is a new piece of public art commissioned by Hualien City Hall. Having been vocal about his love of his hometown, he was approached to create an art piece. It was an opportunity he could not pass up. Duncan knew he wanted to make something that could be interactive - so he created a statue of his famous caricature - a Duncan statue with an arm hanging out mid- side hug. Every once in awhile, whenever Duncan drives back to Hualien from Taipei, he makes a detour to check up on his Duncan statue. “What makes me really happy is that 8 times out of 10 when I drive by, I see people posing for a photo with the statue. I think it’s one of the best compliments a creator can get, to be able to put a smile on people’s faces.” To Duncan, that feeling is invaluable. The statue now stands at Duncan’s old street stall, where he first started his career. “I chose to place it there because those days were some of the most unforgettable times in my life.”

Despite his current success and bright future, Duncan’s greatest wish can never be fulfilled in his lifetime - being able to show his dad how far he has come. “I never imagined four years ago that I would be where I am now. If my father showed up in front of me right now, I want to be able to jokingly tell him, ‘Hey, guess you were wrong about starving artists, eh?’” His childhood dreams have now become his reality. His father had passed away during a period of artistic inactivity, when Duncan had basically given up on art altogether - so it brings him sadness that his father will never see him and his creations. “For me, it’s always going to be a little missing piece in my life, because I’m always going to be curious about what he would think of me, if he were alive today.”

Duncan’s advice for young creators? “Love what you do, so you can do it for a long time,” he said with certainty. “It’s nice if it pleases other people, but you, yourself, is the most important audience.” He cautions young artists not to stress too much about perfection, but rather to focus on the creative process, and the emotional connection one experiences while creating something. For Duncan, it’s about how he expresses himself, and where he gets his sense of accomplishment from: within. “Recognition is great, but it's not the only thing; even if nobody appreciates what you're doing, don’t give up, because you have to appreciate yourself. I would say success requires hard work and luck, and I would wish you all the best of luck and hopefully you could all do what makes you happy, and that's the thing that matters most.”