Cover image credit The Woke Salaryman
Personal finance can be a mind numbing, boring topic. Sure, there are books and swathes of articles about it, but not many are reading.
However, in recent years there has been a slew of writers who’ve made personal finance fun and a lot more palatable.
Yet, this writer and illustrator are taking things one level higher through their web comic The Woke Salaryman.
Drawn in a minimalist style, the creators of this web comic have turned boring topics such as budgeting, debt management and investing into simple, easy to understand content.
The Woke Salaryman is a web comic for people who prefer to enhance their knowledge in personal finance in a non-conventional way: Comics.
Eksentrika managed to speak to the people behind the web comic, writer He Rui Ming and illustrator Goh Wei Choon, to get their thoughts on what fueled their desire to bring awareness on personal finance through web comics.
Heya Rui Ming and Wei Choon! I’m curious, how long have you both known each other and how did the idea for The Woke Salaryman come about?
Wei Choon: I’m actually Malaysian, and I’ve been studying in Singapore since I was seven. I started becoming interested in personal finance when I had to refinance a hefty university loan (SGD 25,000 / RM76,460). I joined Ruiming on The Woke Salaryman to apply my skills as a visual storyteller. I harbored a desire to make the topic of personal finance to be more accessible to everyone. I also saw it as an opportunity to learn more about personal finance.
Rui Ming: I’ve known Wei Choon since we were 19, all the way back during our polytechnic days. We only really closely worked together when I sought him out to join Mothership.sg (similar to a Singaporean Buzzfeed) back in 2016. When we both left the organisation afterwards for other opportunities, the two of us thought it’d be a waste to not to collaborate together as our chemistry was pretty good.
I’ve always wanted to blog about my journey towards financial independence because I believed it would help others. I asked Wei Choon if he could help me out, and he did.
We chose the ‘The Woke Salaryman’ because it was direct and pretty easy to understand. Most of the world’s salarymen are zombies running on a mindless hamster wheel, waiting to be awakened by a mindset shift. We wanted to be the spark that awakens them – a small but important role.
The Awakened Salaryman is be a little long, but ‘Woke’ has some currency. So we went with it.
Sweet. But why did you guys feel it was necessary to present personal finance in the form of cartoons?
Rui Ming: Audiences are getting more and more visual, and their attention spans are short. Probably because millennials are out there working some of the longest hours in history.For our content to accomplish its job, it has to be readily digestible. And quick to engage with. Videos – the preferred format for many brands out there – are simply too time consuming (we both still hold full time jobs). Walls of text turn most people off.When I wrote an article titled ‘All the things I needed to save $100,000 before turning 30’, it got some traction, but I suspected that it could reach more people if we presented it in a more visual format.That original article on Medium had around 500 shares. Our comic version of that post on Facebook got over 6,000 album shares.
Wei Choon: Comic/graphic storytelling has the ability to make topics accessible. We can also make a typically dry topic of finance a lot more interesting by injecting personality, humor and irreverence.
I think this is why we are hitting it big with younger demographics, and this is a very important audience to reach out to. One of the most powerful factors one can leverage when it comes to personal finance is time, so the earlier you get someone to start thinking about money and planning for their future, the better. We know we’re onto something, because it’s very difficult getting young people to think about personal finance.
Comic storytelling is a key factor in our success so far.
I’m glad you guys are doing this. How’s the response been?
Rui Ming: We didn’t expect the response it has garnered, though we’re happy many people have found the content helpful.
Wei Choon: I’m quite overwhelmed by the reaction. I thought we would get some traffic, but our first post went really viral. I’m also happy to find that our post is resonating with readers outside Singapore, even though we deal with some Singapore specific issues (like expensive car ownership).
Could you share a memorable feedback?
After we set up our IG page, one of the our teen followers texted us and said we inspired him to quit his addiction and start saving money and paying off his debt instead. For me, having this stranger confide in our Woke Salaryman persona made me see the real value of what we might potentially bring to others.
What’s the process like when it comes to creating the web comics? How long does the entire process take from idea, concept to final product?
Rui Ming: The piece starts off as how a Content Writer would do it. Long and chunky. Then, we shave it down and decide which parts are important, and which parts are just embellishments or inside jokes. Then Wei Choon draws the comics based on these headlines. Sometimes he rewrites my headlines. He’s pretty good.
Wei Choon: Everything we put on The Woke Salaryman is done on my iPad. It’s such an amazing portable tool that has allowed me to work on the train, which is where I do a lot of the work you see on the page. The app I use (Procreate) allows me to export all the panels in a single PDF file, which I send to Rui Ming via Facebook messenger. He gives comments, we discuss, and I amend accordingly. This repeats until we have something we like. It’s a very fluid process that allows us to collaborate remotely online very quickly and closely. It usually takes about a week and a half for each 20-30 panel album.
What are you future plans for these comics? Ever considered turning them into videos?
Rui Ming: We are looking for a way to produce them sustainably without either of us falling into financial ruin. We have a Patreon page to keep us going, and we’re thinking of getting funding from other organisations.
Wei Choon: Videos are something we’ve considered but they would have to be easy/fast to produce. We might do vlogs where we speak to the camera, but we’re definitely not looking at animating them anytime soon because that’s quite a gargantuan effort. We might try lighter forms of videos, like narrating over our comic panels like a slideshow.
Why do you both feel personal finance and financial literacy is important?
Rui Ming: If you want to dedicate your life to saving endangered animals, you need money for your cause. If you want to look after your elderly parents, you need money. If you want to escape the rat race, you need money.
You can’t buy happiness with money, no doubt, but having enough money will give you the freedom to make choices that give you happiness.
Without financial literacy, the average salaryman will work long hours and until their eventual demise. That’s a tough and sad way to live.
Wei Choon: I consider myself an artist and you guys are an art-centric website so maybe I’ll speak from that perspective. This is what I would tell my younger, idealistic, passionate, artistic self.
I personally don’t like thinking about money. If I could eat air, make art, and happily float around till I die I absolutely would. But I cannot eat my art.
Financial literacy is especially important for artists because it will keep you alive while you work towards what you want to express. I don’t care how art you are, you gotta eat. Not knowing how to feed yourself is not romantic, it’s not passionate, it’s not artistic. It’s stupid and irresponsible. Learn how the world around you works, then find a place where you can sustainably do your art.
If you’re making amazing shit it’s your RESPONSIBILITY to do it sustainably so you can produce more amazing shit without starving at 40.
***Editors note: Please don’t eat your art if you’re an artist. Here’s some tips on saving money if you’re a broke artist. Sorry for the shameless plug.
What has been the worst financial choice the both of you made?
Rui Ming: I stupidly got pressured into buying an investment linked insurance policies when I was 20. I am overcoming this by working harder, earning more money and using the extra income to offset this.
Wei Choon: I didn’t claim Miles when I traveled to America and Europe for work half a year back. That’s a lot of Miles! Arrgh!
What is the most misinformed myth you two have heard about money?
That money isn’t important. That’s a wildly irresponsible and idealistic way of approaching it. Often spoken by people who prefer to run away from their money problems.
If you’re a struggling artist money wise, here are some handy tips on how to get started on saving for the future.