Behind Thỏ Bảy Màu’s (the Seven-Colored Rabbit’s) success is Huỳnh Thái Ngọc, a young storybook illustrator. This famous rabbit has taken social media by storm with his little black eyes and rosy cheeks, going on everyday adventures with ông Năm and chị Xô. Beyond the screen, fans are able to see Thỏ Bảy Màu in comic books, on backpacks, or even as a stuffed toy.
After only a few years of activity, Thái Ngọc has already amassed a fan page of nearly three million followers and five comic book collections - with his latest book, ‘Thỏ Bảy Màu và những người nghĩ nó là bạn’ (the Seven-Colored Rabbit and People who think he is their Friend), selling out 5,000 copies within its first week.
Currently, he owns T7M Studio which specializes in content creation, cartoons, and mobile games. When asked how Thái Ngọc was able to do this within a short span of time, he simply responded with: “don’t compromise.”
1. Don’t compromise and copy others
In recent history, Thái Ngọc has noticed that the industry for illustrated cartoons has grown like ‘mushrooms’ - sporadically and unpredictably - but at the same time, as of late they’ve fallen off a bit. He explains that because the industry is so saturated, the public will only support a stable character with regular appearances and consistent quality in design.
He believes that fictional characters need to have distinct personalities. To illustrate his point, Thái Ngọc has given out popular examples from other comics: Én, the bird, always focuses on the practical side of every situation whereas Vàng-Xám, the famous dog duo, celebrates the little moments that are often overlooked in life. With this in mind, Thái Ngọc’s Thỏ Bảy Màu is defined by his cleverness and innocent personality.
In order to give your character a distinct personality, you need to completely devote yourself to their creation. Thái Ngọc places an emphasis on giving them individual traits, unique storylines, and specific expressions - these aspects will be the foundations of a successful fictional character. But more importantly, you need to be able to tell a story that people will still want to hear, even years down the line.
This can be hard and in attempting to hit this goal, some have resorted to stealing content from the internet and applying it to the creation of their characters. Thái Ngọc explained that those who follow this direction quickly fall into the trap they set for themselves because these acts of plagiarism are one of the quickest ways to kill your own credibility and harm the art community you reside in.
If your character is created to only tell stories or to just mimic other characters, it will forever remain as part of the background, paling in comparison with the rest.
2. Don’t compromise just for advertising money
For illustrators who are just starting out, advertising contracts from notable brands are extremely important and necessary. But when collaborating with a brand, Thái Ngọc urges illustrators to consider whether the ad content is a good fit for the character that you’re building.
Brands and audiences are both similar in that they both have choices when approaching fictional characters: they can engage with multiple works at the same time. With this in mind, Thái Ngọc reminds illustrators that any one of them can leave you if they find that your fictional character is being inappropriately advertised.
For example, at T7M Studio, the company has refused advertising contracts that do not match the character or style of Thỏ Bảy Màu. T7M Studio has even once accepted a loss over rejecting an animation project that was produced for the brand, in hindsight, Thái Ngọc reflects on this decision as a success.
From personal experience, Thái Ngọc feels lucky to have been offered stable advertising prices for his Thỏ Bảy Màu. This allows him to consider selectively whether the ad is appropriate with the ethos of his character.
With his industry experience, Thái Ngọc notes that it’s important for illustrators to not compromise the spirit of their creations just for advertising money. However, he admits that if a brand’s offer is extremely generous, illustrators should consider the offer because those earnings can help you develop other projects in the long term.
Beyond advertising contracts, Thái Ngọc suggests that artists diversify their sources of income with book publications, games, or merchandise - to name a few. This will allow illustrators to be financially able to implement future projects more comfortably.
3. Don’t compromise outputs just to ease boredom
After long periods of work, anyone can run into roadblocks, feel exasperated, or burn out. Thái Ngọc thinks that at these moments artists are most susceptible to compromises, a decision that he feels is unwise and unhealthy.
In Vietnam’s current saturated market for cartoon illustrations, it’s even more essential for individual artists to innovate and present something novel to the community. Thái Ngọc suggests that the first way to do this is for illustrators to experiment in different directions. For example, Thỏ Bảy Màu has been able to expand beyond comics into other areas where the character can engage with the public.
Thái Ngọc admits that every step you take will be difficult and challenging but will inspire your new creations. There’s never a guarantee that any project will be successful but by exploring new artistic possibilities, you’ll at least be able to overcome that roadblock and continue on your career journey.
4. Don’t compromise on dreams that are too small
During Thỏ Bảy Màu’s infancy, many of the inspirations for the character were instinctive for Thái Ngọc. With that being said, ever since the beginning, he’s always had a clear vision for his character to be able to interact with all facets of our daily lives. That is, Thái Ngọc has always envisioned for Thỏ Bảy Màu to expand beyond the screen.
Thái Ngọc observed that the Vietnamese market has always been fond of fictional comics, cartoons, or shows. But despite their popularity, the market has been dominated by content imported from Japan, Korea, or China instead of those from domestic creators.
So Thái Ngọc has been harboring a bigger dream, he wants to bring his Vietnamese Thỏ Bảy Màu to international audiences. One day, he hopes his character can be on par with many beloved classics such as Doraemon, Pikachu, or Hello Kitty.
“It may be difficult at first to give shape to your ambitions, but if we compromise and only dare to dream small, it will only make it more difficult to achieve greater success.”
Translated by Nina Pham