Back in 2010, long before drawing-a-day challenges became a craze on Instagram, Malaysian illustrator and t-shirt designer Chow Hon Lam (also known as Flying Mouse) embarked on an ambitious project. The goal: to create an illustration fit for a t-shirt from concept to completion every single day for an entire year. No simple sketches and no days off. He called the project Flying Mouse 365.
In order to reach his target Chow began turning away paying commissions and job offers, throwing himself full time into the project. Each design is filled with quirk, character and a dedication to craft. Over the many days, and weeks and months, as if by magic, inspiration began popping up everywhere. “Everything around me inspired me,” Chow says, “a cup of tea, a watermelon, a cloud or a bird, anything.” In Chow’s imagination a watermelon became a juicy crime scene; a knife caught red-handed by orange and apple cops. In another image, panic-stricken worms spell out the word ‘help’ with their wriggling bodies as they rather helplessly scurry away from a hungry bluebird. As a whole, the collection of images gives us a glimpse inside his head that reveals a world of fun inhabited by tight-rope walkers, cartoon dinosaurs and sunbathing sushi.
After Chow graduated from high school he found part-time work at a graphic design house in Kuala Lumpur where his drawing journey first started. As an illustrator, he is self-taught. A self-imposed bootcamp, Flying Mouse 365 was rich training ground for thinking fast and executing quickly with care. “When this project was completed I noticed my drawing skill had improved a lot, my speed of coming up with new ideas also improved,” he says.
For fun Chow likes to watch funny videos of kids and animals on social media, “They are just pure and cute,” he says. Charm and whimsy abounds in his work, a good example being his ongoing comic and personal favourite project, Tu and Ted. Tu and Ted are a tiny rabbit and a giant polar bear, two buddies who bump into other characters on their daily adventures; usually celebrities from the super hero universe and the world of retro video games. The project is a collaboration with a friend of his. “Tu is actually me,” Chow says. “My Chinese zodiac is Rabbit and Tu means rabbit in Chinese. Ted is my friend, he looks like a polar bear.” Instead of the dialogue usually found in comics, Chow relies on visual storytelling and short captions to translate the scenes. Being able to relay a story and emotions in bite-size is a skill he also uses when creating his zany animated sticker packs for WeChat. Some other clients he’s created work for are Nike, AirAsia, Reebok and The Dave Matthews Band.
In his spare time, Chow watches super hero movies, anime and manga. Besides making cameos in Tu and Ted, his favourite characters zoom out of his head and into a lot of his work. He’s dedicated a whole series to imagining what super heroes do when they’re not saving the world. Spider-Man restrings tennis rackets, the Flash delivers pizza and Magneto works in a scrap yard. “It’s fun to see those familiar characters doing something that they’ve never done before,” he says.
Chow’s playful approach is resonating with people who want to wear his art. To date nearly 100,000 people have bought a T-shirt featuring his designs. Perhaps it’s because his pen tool is a light sabre in a world that can often seem pretty dark. “Nowadays people are facing a lot of stress,” he says, “sometime we forgot how to smile. I hope my work can bring some smiles to people’s faces.”
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