Solaris Interviews: Haniboi
I am always massivly inspired by creative people doing their thing. That's why I loved living in London so much!
Han Lee aka Haniboi always stuck out for me as he was very proficient translating his illustrations and ideas into fun products and prints. So it was really great catching up with him and gaining a little insight into his creative mind...
Hi Han! Please introduce yourself to the amazing readers of this blog...
Hi amazing readers, my name is Haniboi, I’m an illustrator based in Taiwan! My main work is character design, and I recently created this new character called “Happy Crotch “.
The reason why I started this new character is very simple: I wanted to throw 3 of my favourite things ( drawing, music and sex ) into one pot and see what's going to happen!
We know each other from our time at Central St Martins. What was the most important lesson you learned studying at such a well known university you think?
Don’t be afraid to try new things! With this attitude in mind I am always looking for new things to learn, and also to enjoy the progress doing it.
You were already using the name Haniboi when I met you, can you elaborate on how to got the name and what it means to you?
I am a childish guy and Han is a such short name! So my flatmate started to called me Haniboi. Personally I love the idea of staying a boy forever: Boys love to have fun, boys can play anywhere and boys are brave! Plus a boy has a simple mind which I really want to keep.
When we hung out in London you already started producing products alongside all the illustration work you did as well. The Haniboi Wallet Tape comes to mind. Was that your first official product?
I’ll say my first 'official' product was back when I was in high school and I started to make badges to sell. When I saw my friends loving and wearing my badges I fell in love with the idea of making my own things!
Can you tell us a bit about how you got your first products made?
The badges were an easy project even for a high school boy, I still remember I took my pencil sketch to the badge studio and look at them turned my work into computer. It was the coolest thing ever! I loved the clean line and color blocks! It still influences my style nowadays!
My first mass manufactured product was called Hanitape. It's a cassette tape looking wallet.
I started this as a project during my product design course at university. In that time I really wanted to figure out the whole process from designing a product to developing it and putting it on market. But no one could teach me that and college takes money and years to learn 'design'!
So I saved 1/4 of the college fee to use the money to made this product and see how long it takes to make this money back.
After that I just keep on learning and doing in the same time. It is not the best way of releasing a product because I made all the mistakes I could make! Lucky for me I had a good feedback from trade shows and order started to come in quickly.
It was a great experience and much cheaper than college!
I really liked the Rock Alphabet you did. Seems to me music has a big influence on your work...
“YES!!! Music is a huge influence” I have been saying it since… forever! At one point I was really tired of myself saying I love music so much without creating my own. It is like to say you love basketball but you never play ball and only watch the NBA on TV!
I really felt like something was missing. So, 2 years ago I started to make my own music. Today’s technology helps you making beats so easily and fast... I couldn’t find any excuse not doing it!
You have quite a couple of tracks now on your own Soundcloud account. Do you see your music as an extension of your design practise or is it an additional thing you do for fun?
At a moment it's for fun and practice, because it takes time to learn. But I have this plan to make sex music for my character Happy Crotch! I’ll like to do an whole album full of sex tracks: From how you touch yourself to old school candle red wine strawberry sex etc.! To use music to tell that story would be a fun project, so just wait for it...
We both graduated awhile ago. Any advice you want to give any budding illustrator out there who is just about to leave university?
I can’t give any advice sorry, everything is changing so fast! I don’t even think you should go to university to learn “design” now! To have a big number of followers of your work online is much more important than a diploma or C.V.
In fact… personally I always ask for advice from much younger people that I meet, so… need to pass!
You did quite a couple of screen prints which got sold via known galleries like Nelly Duff. Tell us a little bit about that.
I used to spend a lot of time in London Print Club to make my own prints when I living in London, I love the color in screen print! It suits my style very much. Nelly Duff is a great gallery, I had a nice time working with them.
I wish there would be a screen print studio in Taiwan too!
You moved back to Taiwan after working in London for some time. Was it hard to settle back in? I can imagine the design scene in Taiwan is quite different from London...
The hardest part is you understand them but you don’t agree with them! They like your idea but will not go for it. People are afraid of change, that's what worries me!
Let's talk a little bit about the UPUP app you developed. You ended up creating plastic character toys for that as well. Tell us a bit how it all happened.
Dude… it is a long story… here is a short version of it...
UPUP started as my own side project. I put the website online and after 2 days it went viral! After that I started to get a lot of interest for UPUP and we started to license the characters. There are so many stories in between, because the whole process took about 3 years!
You even collaborated with UNIQLO at that point. How do you manage a project once it goes this big? I assume there might have been a lot of legal stuff you needed to sort out?
In Taiwan is once your name is up their people would line up to work with you. The legal stuff is not the problem, my agent took care of it. The big problem is they always asking for the same thing! When working with big companies it's hard to ask them to listen to you. There would be advertising and PR company in between, so is hard to communicate. I need more experience of working with big company for sure.
Your most recent project is HappyCrotch which is a cute character which is basically... a crotch! How the hell did you come up (no pun intended) with that one?
One thing I love about Happy Crotch is that the name sounds so wrong but yet so funny!
The reason I created this character is very simple: my crotch isn’t happy!
I didn’t have sex for a very long time and when I ask my friends for advice just found out that no one’s crotch is happy. We are all living in a fake world full of sexual content to excite our crotch but no one is truly happy with it! I found it very interesting because there can never be just one answer to this issue, because everyone has a different kind of 'happy'. So Happy Crotch is my way of finding my own answer...
Did you get any flack for creating a toy that talks about masturbation and sexuality this openly?
Not yet… it is still a new character, people still don’t know about it. But I am looking forward to it! I like to hear about different points of view and see some angry people!
At a moment the work I do for Happy Crotch is still very safe, I need to spice it up more! Still working on it...
The packaging and the figures ( there are three colourways now ) look very slick. How did you get them produced?
I worked together with a HK figure studio called “Unbox “ and they are very professional. Thanks to them my crotch came out very smooth and shiny!
Are you collecting toys? How do you feel about the current character design / urban vinyl scene?
In fact… I don’t collect anything at a moment. It takes too much time and money! I think we are in the best and the worst time of character design, or creation in general. Everyone has a social media account and can be an artist, this is the best thing ever! So many people are doing exciting works, and people can find them on their phone! However, we don’t get excited any more, we can find anything in no time!
I remember when I was young and saw some new Japanese figures in the toy store: I needed to find out their story myself through hard work! I had to ask around friends, spend time to collect all the information and merchandise. Nowadays an artist has to put out works daily for people to like, it is totally another way around now! Things are very accessible.
I love both, it's just up to you how you see the scene.
Most designers and illustrators dream about creating their own prints or toys. Is it hard to make your money back once the production cycle is done? Can you give some advice how to approach creating and selling your own products?
Oh, no… I can’t give advice again… but I’ll like to share a lesson I just learned: Spend times on the category you want to do before you started your own project!
If you want to make a toy, spend time on learning how to make it: Ask people who know, follow their fan page, like their photo, get to know more people who are in the scene. Go and meet them face to face!
In the process you will learn new skills and be able to tell people what you working on. You will build up your own network! Not a media one, a real one with people who will sort things out for you and help you to spread the word! This way you are making friends, creating work and do marketing in the same time. It sounds easy to do, but it takes time! Years maybe, but it feels much more solid.
What can we expect from Haniboi in the future?
I am working on the first music video for Happy Crotch, it is coming soon!
Any final words of wisdom?
Be honest with your crotch.