When Inspiration Runs Dry, Just Keep on Living
By Ping Chang ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer
Dec 27, 2022

If you click open the Instagram account of author/illustrator Fshrimp you’ll see a half-naked middle-aged man with a bright orange fried shrimp on his head. For three-seconds the deadpan character dances a goofy dance, during which time the strange magic of the animation is sure to make you do a double-take.

Fshrimp has always loved to draw. While still in elementary school, the young Fshrimp created a character called Fried Shrimp Man. After she became an animator, she hoped to give Fried Shrimp Man his own animated short, but the idea never got off the ground.

Later Fshrimp began drawing her Worrier comic, which details the experiences and insights she gained working as a freelancer. Her concerned mother never understood her freelancer lifestyle, and the graphic novel re-imagines their tussles as epic battles between kungfu masters. The realistic and sometimes cutting dialogue attracted 5,000 online fans, and soon publishers came knocking.

For a freelancer who had always worked on other people’s ideas, it was finally time to tell her own story. Fshrimp prepared a detailed outline that would place Fried Shrimp Man in a story similar to the Japanese manga Midnight Diner, but the publishers didn’t bite.

“After returning home I struggled to think of some other way to tell Fried Shrimp Man’s story. So I decided I might as well be honest about it and instead write a story about my inability to write.” As soon as she stopped working so hard on Fried Shrimp Man, her personal story began to flow. Emerging as a mixture of tears, laughter, struggle, and joy, her autobiographical account of her years working in Paris was born.


Living in a Foreign Land

Fshrimp says her life in Paris was always one step forward, two steps back. Not only was she adapting to life in a foreign country, she was also plagued by the twin curses of the freelancer: a lack of steady work and an unstable income.

Uncertain about her future, all she could do was redouble her efforts, and keep plodding forward. Her graphic novel details every phase in her pursuit of a career in animation, from tortuous visa applications to the joy of landing a gig with a famous director, not to mention the horrors of living in an apartment so cramped that she had to bathe in the kitchen.

In Fshrimp’s drawings, the trials and triumphs of life overseas become important milestones, marking the passing of time and bearing witness to her personal growth.

“I have a poor memory, so I’m always afraid that all of these wonderful moments in life will disappear if I don’t take the time to record them.” Fshrimp has always kept a diary, and she has saved all the work she has produced from her student days to the present. Every once in a while, she likes to go back and review her life. “Sometimes the things I’ve written make me laugh. At other times I’m surprised I could ever think such a thing.”

Each time she looks back she gets to know herself in a new way. She never feels ashamed of her past failings; often they provide the seeds of inspiration. When asked what part of her book she’s most proud of, Fshrimp points to the character of the anxious director. “Whenever his anxiety was up it drove me crazy. But once he became a character in a comic book, I could see him as this interesting, three-dimensional person.”

Beyond her personal rites of passage, Fshrimp also incorporates the lives of an international cast of colleagues into the story. Some, like her, are just starting out in their careers. Others have been freelancing for over a decade. Each has their own lessons to learn, but they share a common sympathy. Through these various encounters, readers can’t help but feel they’re following in the footsteps of Fshrimp, making their way through the wide world of Paris, testing their resilience and steeling themselves for the next challenge.


The Creative Self: Fried Shrimp Man is a Real Fictional Character

She had a character. She had a story. But Fshrimp had no idea how to start from zero and draw a complete graphic novel. “In animation we talk about timing, but you don’t have that in comics.” To set the visual rhythm of the work, she used a technique she learned as an animator: using the density and complexity of the background to guide the movement of the viewer’s gaze. She also set the goal that each frame of the comic should “communicate”, allowing the reader to take in all of the basic information in an instant.

There was an upright model of a skeleton called Oscar in the French studio where Fshrimp worked on one of her projects. Whenever she felt her story was becoming overly self-indulgent, she would shift the focus onto the skeleton to symbolically shift the perspective to that of an objective observer and provide a sense of resolution. This kind of introspective shift from subjective to objective can also be seen in the way she defines her relationship to the character Fried Shrimp Man.

“Readers might see him as a fictional character I invented, but to me he has always existed. To tell the truth, even I don’t fully understand him. I’m still observing him, getting to know what he’s like.”

If artistic creation is a process of getting to know oneself, then Fshrimp is not only deeply familiar with that process, she has a knack for conveying how it feels in her work. Readers are immersed in the tension and discomfort of her journey of self-discovery. Equally, they are part of the healing that comes when she steps back to have a good laugh at herself.


Life is a Marathon, the Journey is the Goal

While the world has yet to be graced with a Fried Shrimp Man animated short, Fshrimp’s story has only just begun. In addition to continuing this series about her professional development in Paris, she is also pushing her Instagram web-comic Drinker’s Club into new terrain. Fshrimp also recently took up running marathons, and a story about long-distance running is currently brewing.

To many people, the journey is something you pass by in order to reach a destination. Once you arrive, the journey is over. Through her stories, Fshrimp asserts that the journey itself is the goal. When you get stuck in life, you keep on running, you keep on drawing, you keep on living. As long as you keep going, the story will unfold along the way.