How a young Taiwanese blogger has become a major hit with cartoon-mad Asian teens
Back in October 2004, young Taiwanese Hu Jia-wei started blogging about her life at work and at home, sharing her frustrations about office life and introducing fellow netizens to her family members and even her pets.
But Hu was not ordinary blogger. Rather than sit at the keyboard and type, Hu instead combined text with simple line drawings and imaginative emoticons and within months, her cute cartoon alter ego, who goes by the name of Wanwan, has turned her into the most famous blogger in all of Taiwan. Her fame has now spread all over Asia and the Taiwanese celebrity blogger recently launched her sixth cartoon journal in five Asian countries.
Wanwan was in Bangkok recently - her second visit this year - this time, to meet her adoring public at the Bangkok International Book Fair at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre. Just how popular her cartoons have become with young readers was evident by the hundreds of children and teenagers lining up for an autograph. Two seven year-old boys had no problem reciting the names of all Wanwan's family members and her five pets. She smiled and tirelessly signed books at Nanmee booth for the whole afternoon as well as demonstrating her cartoon drawing technique for her Thai fans.
"When I first came to the book fair in Bangkok two years ago, no-one had heard of me or of Wanwan. During the book launch, the only people who stopped at the booth were those who wanted to rest for a few moments. This time is a totally different experience," she grins.
Wanwan started her blog at www.Wretch.cc, the best-known blog community in Taiwan with thousands of registered users. Her quirky and creative views of what she encountered as well as her drawings quickly drew comments and soon she was attracting thousands of hits.
Wanwan's blog is particularly popular with teenagers and young office workers. She's also created a series of MSN Messenger graphical emoticons as free giveaways to readers. These depict such moods as too busy in the office, as well as tired, depressed and bored. So far, her blog has recorded more than 120 million visitors.
Wanwan's first illustrated diary book is titled "I Hate To Work, But Enjoying My Life". Launched in 2005, it sold more than 50,000 copies in the first two weeks, and sales have now exceeded 100,000. Kingstone, one of Taiwan's leading bookstores, named her as one of its Outstanding People in Publishing and Author of the Year 2005. Her second book "Zzz Go Chill Somewhere Else" enjoyed similar success.
"I just wrote about what I felt at work -laziness, wanting to take a discreet nap … the kind of things all office workers occasionally go through," she says.
Having graduated at from Fu-Hsin Arts School in Taipei at the age of 19, Wanwan worked in several offices before starting her blog in 2004. When the last company that employed her went bankrupt, she decided to go it alone and make her living as a professional blogger and cartoonist.
Her last three journals have touched on different themes, varying from "Do I Have to Go to School?" to "Got To Have Fun All Day: Wanwan Travel Diary", and "Can I Fall In Love Everyday!"
Anyone who's seen her books or read her blog will know that Wanwan is, well, ordinary - not so positive, not so diligent, not so smart and with a tendency to slack - just like most of us, in fact. Wanwan's self deprecating comics seem make her young fans recognise the couch-potato side in themselves, and laugh at it.
Since she's stopped going out to the office, much of her focus has, quite naturally, turned to her domestic life. Her latest book "Wanna Come to My Home", is all about Wanwan family and recounts the day-to-day functioning of all five family members - herself, her father, her mother, a big brother and a big sister, as well as her five pets, - two dogs and three cats.
As a young blogger, Wanwan admits she is addicted to spending time in front of computer. She finds it funny when telling people that she usually goes to bed around 2-3am and get up at noon.
"First thing I do after getting up is to turn on the computer, check mails, have breakfast, draw my cartoons and play with my pets. I enjoy working at home and being a part of family life," says the 28-year-old.
All her books have been published by Revolution-Star, a small publishing house in Taiwan. The publishing rights have already been sold in China, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore and the images she's created have been licensed for mass production. Her emoticons are now turned into promotional gift magnets at Family Marts. She's been approached by a Taiwanese superstar to co-author a new book and she regularly appears in TV commercials.
"And I get lots of chances to travel, which is really great," she says.