Malaysian comic artist Reimena Yee’s The Carpet Merchant Of Konstantiniyya started as a spin-off comic to add more backstory to a character from another of her webcomics. But it turned out to be her most prominent work yet, and was recently nominated for an Eisner Award, the comics industry’s equivalent of the Oscars.
The Carpet Merchant has been nominated for this year’s Best Digital Comic Eisner, alongside Bandette by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover; Barrier by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin; Contact High by James F. Wright and Josh Eckert; Harvey Kurtzman’s Marley’s Ghost by Harvey Kurtzman, Josh O’Neill, Shannon Wheeler and Gideon Kendall; and Quince by Sebastian Kadlecik, Kit Steinkellner and Emma Steinkellner.
While Yee, 23, is not the first Malaysian to be nominated for an Eisner – Tan Eng Huat was nominated for the Best Penciller/Inker Eisner in 2003 for his work on DC Comics’ Justice League Of America – The Carpet Merchant Of Konstantiniyya is the first Malaysian creator-owned comic book to be nominated.
The Eisners will be given out at a ceremony during Comic-Con International in San Diego in July.
In an e-mail interview from Melbourne, Australia, where she is currently based, Yee said she hadn’t expected to be nominated for the award at all.
“I submitted the comic partly as a ‘see what happens’ experiment. I thought I may as well give The Carpet Merchant a shot since so many readers resonated with it, plus I love the comic enough to want to see it move beyond our cosy corner of the Internet,” she explained.
According to her, The Carpet Merchant started out as the backstory for one of the main characters in her other comic, The World In Deeper Inspection, which is an “urban Gothic webcomic about the life of a Jersey Devil detective and his friends in Victorian England, as they work together to bring peace to the recently-dead”.
A webcomic set in 17th century Istanbul and 18th century England, The Carpet Merchant is about the life, death and afterlife of a Turkish carpet merchant during the Ottoman era, who goes on a business trip and comes back a vampire.
“It’s historical romance. It’s magical realist. Basically, if you like Midnight’s Children with a bit of Dracula (the original novel) and The Arabian Nights, this is the book for you,” Yee explained.
“The vampirism isn’t the central event of the story. It’s about how his love for his wife (and vice versa) helps the both of them survive this terrible event. It’s about personal strength derived by trusting God to be compassionate and see you through your struggles.”
Yee first published The Carpet Merchant online in February 2016.
“I do everything myself, from planning, writing, drawing, putting the pages online and marketing it,” she said, adding that the story is depicted in an art style that resembles Ottoman miniatures.
Two graphic novel volumes of the comic have been published so far, the first in 2016 and the second earlier this year.
The KL-born Yee started being fascinated by comics as a young girl reading newspaper strip comics like Garfield, Zits and Kee’s World by The Star’s very own C.W. Kee.
“I wanted to be a newspaper cartoonist for the longest time, but I wasn’t very good at being funny. I was more comfortable with long-form stories, about characters, themes and worlds, so I also read a lot of novels,” she mused.
“The moment when comics and novels collided was when I discovered the richness of webcomics, which has all sorts of things, from Penny Arcade to The Meek, and now including My Giant Geek Boyfriend.”
Yee currently works as an assistant editor and admin for webcomics publisher Hiveworks. She is also a freelance artist who does illustrations, portraits, and games and packaging design.
“I don’t really do comics – by that I mean, being involved in the creative process – as a freelance thing. Comics don’t pay enough for it to be a full-time job, especially for the amount of effort put into it. So I do comics as a personal thing, making my own stories and having control in all parts of the process.
“Now I’m pursuing a pipeline of publishing them into actual books by actual publishers (and getting an actual advance from them),” she said.
Yee is currently working on an upcoming two-part young adult graphic novel that will explore a totally different genre and theme than The Carpet Merchant.
“It’s about the anxieties of being a millennial in the 21st century, and while the characters are fictional, a lot of what it speaks of is based on the real life experiences of myself and many of my friends/cohorts. Stay tuned for that!”