TurtleMe a.k.a. Tae Ha Lee is the author of the fantasy series The Beginning After The End and its subsequent webcomic adaptation alongside artist Fuyuki23. He's been penning this fantasy epic for six years and has produced over 150 chapters. But all of this writing has been behind a pen name, TurtleMe, and all fan interaction has taken place behind a computer screen. This past weekend, Tae Ha Lee took the stage at Anime NYC last weekend to meet his fans for the very first time.
During this exciting weekend for TurtleMe, Popverse had a chance to interview Tae Ha Lee about meeting his fans for the first time, how audience has impacted his work over the years, and the challenges of writing a toddler protagonist.
Popverse: Tae Ha Lee, you're now finally meeting your fans for the first time. How has that been?
Tae Ha Lee: It's honestly been pretty surreal. I think because I'm used to seeing my fans and readers online behind comments and pictures that they post. It's been an adjustment, but I think in a very good way. Feeling their energy when we meet, to shake their hands and taking pictures with them, I think that has been a real blessing.
Have you been able to check out anything cool at Anime NYC yet?
Yeah, I just bought a few Gundam models actually!
So let's talk about The Beginning After The End. You've been writing this expanded epic story for years now, how has the storytelling changed for you over time? Has your writing process changed?
Yeah, I would definitely say that it has changed. In the beginning, I very much had a concept and an idea, and I kind of ran with it. I had a lot of things going on in my head, and I just really wanted to regurgitate everything out of my head into writing. But after a certain bit, with so many characters, so much lore, so much world building, it was hard to keep track of all this, and I ran into walls at certain points early on in the story. It took me a bit to find my footing and go in the right direction for the story to unfold.
Nowadays, I very much outline the process before I move forward. I have a whole outlining procedure where I write a two or three bullet points outline, and then I even go deeper into the outline with a one or two pager, and then after talking with my editors, I finally write that all down in actual chapter format.
And how does that transfer into adapting into the comic for Tapas?
I guess one adjustment was my chapters these days have gone longer so I can't just do one novel chapter to one comic chapter. Because it wouldn't make sense. But I think translating it into the comic, honestly was a learning experience from the beginning. Since the webcomic industry wasn't as developed back then, where there's guides and know-hows of the terminology of describing certain scenes and certain panels, but through working so much with the Tapas team and with the artist [Fuyuki23] as well, we were able to kind of come up with this sort of pseudo language of web comics, and writing from the novel to the script and adapting into that script form has become a lot easier.
Because you publish online and serially, you get more interaction with fans through comments than a traditional author would, has this feedback shaped your process?
I'm sure you might have read this before, but reader comments are a double edged sword, right? As much as they can help you and encourage you, they can also hurt you as well to a certain extent, and that was very much the case— especially in the beginning.
I was also new to writing. There was thankfully a lot of readers that were still very encouraging and told me about my mistakes, but also what they liked about it. But also, on the other end of the spectrum, they're readers that were not so much of a fan. But I think, A) through those experiences I've been able to build a tougher skin, and B) I have learned to gain confidence as a writer.
Because in the beginning, I often got confused, and I almost tried to change the story in a way that would better suit my readers, because I get the feedback so quickly. But I think through the times I realized that, at the beginning and the end, it's my story, and the readers are still here because they like it. So, I've been able to more confidently move forward.
Speaking of your story, one thing that really stood out to me was your choice to start off this story with a literal baby as a protagonist. Obviously, he's not a traditional baby, but over those first few arcs of your story, what challenges did you come across working with a physically newborn character?
Yes. So funny question, because I literally had to research quite a bit on the actual physical limitations of infants at various age stages starting from a couple of weeks old to a couple of months, just so that when the main character, when Arthur, is describing his experience as a baby it's relatively accurate from a physiological standpoint. But aside from that, I think I used the idea of this king being stuck in a baby's body as a sort of symbolism of 'The mind might be great, but there's something always holding him back.' And it was through those hardships that he was able to kind of grow in a different direction than his previous life.
You were talking earlier about the community you have with your audience, but there's also kind of the wider community of people writing in similar spaces. Who do you think is putting out cool stuff right now, in the fantasy space?
Growing up I read a lot of western epics starting from like the Inheritance Trilogy to, you know, even like The Name of the Wind, a little bit more recently by Patrick Rothfuss, but I also really appreciate the more modern day kind of progression fantasy, as we call it, where the main characters get stronger progressively, and it's shown through the arcs. Some of the authors I can just name off the top of my head are like, Bryce O'Connor, Will Wight, Andrew Rowe, just to name a few. Growing up and reading those, really solidifying myself in this genre, having other authors in this genre that are so talented, it really helped encourage me and just push me forward.
That sounds that like a really good reading list for your fans! My last question, which is a question we like to ask over at Popverse because we're focused on fandom and what people like— What is your big fandom? You mentioned Gundam earlier, what are the things you're most interested in right now?
Anime wise, I love enjoying SpyxFamily— a little bit more wholesome. Like I said earlier, I really like Gundam. I grew up on Gundam. Before, I had touched my hands on Legos, it was Gundams first.
Outside from that, I think my list of manga was a bit more on the classic side. I grew up with Inuyasha and YuYu Hakusho, stuff of that nature. So, but definitely, I think, right now, SpyxFamily is the big one. Chainsaw Man is also one I've been really digging and even getting back into Bleach, actually.