From relationship quirks that make you chuckle, to real-world incidences that make you go “Hmm”, Malaysian couple Jason and Ymei (pronounced Wai Mei) of J&Y Productions are no strangers to local netizens on social media.
The duo (also known as The Potato Couple), are in their mid-twenties, hail from Penang, are now bestselling authors, and run their highly popular social media channels as a part-time hobby.
Jason (who started drawing at the age of 4) and Ymei met each other in elementary school, but didn’t become close until they met again in high school.
“We started our relationship during my first year in university, and when Ymei had just completed SPM,” Jason said. “She was quite an emotional girl, so to make her laugh, I started drawing cute stuff to annoy her and make her happy.”
The couple now run J&Y Productions mostly out of Jason’s home, or anywhere with a decent Wi-Fi connection. Their roles are split, with Jason handling content creation and Ymei in charge social media and marketing.
This isn’t a full-time job (yet); Jason works as an engineer, in an engineering firm in Perai industrial estate in Penang.
“80 percent of the stories are based on real-life, but some of the are exaggerated to give the story a sense of humour,” said Ymei. “This helps convey messages more effectively.”
The typical comic strip with two to three boxes and the Phoodles (Photo+Doodles, where comic characters are placed into real photos) takes Jason anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours to complete, depending on complexity.
Then there are also the animated videos (drawn frame by frame) and WeChat stickers which can take all-night to produce.
“To be honest, I’m more like his assistant. I manage our Facebook and Instagram pages, and reply to inquiries, take book orders, and look out for supporters as well as haters,” added Ymei. “I also help with marketing and give him ideas on how to expand our reach on social media.”
“That’s why sometimes I feel like I don’t really contribute much and tell others that the credit should go to him,” she joked. “But then people also tell me that J&Y wouldn’t be what it is without my character inside.”
The Roots Of The Potato
It’s been five years since Jason began uploading his art online, and Jason now reckons that the total number of comics produced might tip well over a thousand, with the comics uploaded to the Facebook page alone numbering more than 800.
“I can’t believe I’ve made so many.”
But initially, Jason remembers how hardly anyone wanted to use his comics for promotional material.
“When I first started 5 years ago, I took up design jobs from clients, designing flyers, brochures, logos, and other illustrations,” he explained. “No one wanted to use my comics because they were bad.”
Today, however, J&Y Productions collaborates with a number of big brands for marketing and brand awareness using The Potato Couple.
“We feel lucky to be able to work with them,” Jason said “But commissioned projects are not the main source of income for the J&Y brand. That comes from our books.”
A Real Page Turner
Speaking on the two books published by J&Y (released in 2016 and 2017), Jason explained how the first book was intended to be just a compilation of his mini comics, some of which had already been published online. It was through deciding the title for the book that the couple finally settled on their moniker “The Potato Couple.”
“At first we came out with 10 to 20 names, but none of them were suitable,” said Jason. “But then we finally settled on “The Potato Couple”.”
The reason behind the “Potato” but, as he further explains, is due to the potato’s mildly sweet taste (symbolic of love being innocent and sweet) and its reputation as a good source of carbohydrates, which is in turn makes it a good source of energy (with love being full of energy).
“We also thought it was a good title for branding because it was simple, catchy, and easy to remember,” he surmised. “So now we need to push both our J&Y and Potato Couple brands at the same time.”
“The Potato Couple” released in 2016 and was written mostly in Manglish.
“We wrote the book in Manglish due to the book being sold in Popular Bookstores and some Singaporean bookstores,” Jason said. “But we later received some feedback from foreign readers saying that they couldn’t understand Manglish.”
So with the feedback in mind, the sequel “The Potato Couple: The Journey” was released in mid-2017, with more stories and wording compared to the first book.
“If you’re not a story-book person, get the first book. But if you like reading, then get the second one,” Jason said. “If you’re a cincai–cincai kind of reader, get both lah.”
With both books making it onto local bestseller lists, the couple hope to release more books in the future, with one possibly planned to be released this year.
“Our readers tell us that they’re really looking forward to the third book, and we don’t feel like disappointing them, too,” said Ymei. “But we choose to take the time and effort to produce the next book, instead of simply publishing one just to entertain readers. I’m sure our fellow ‘potato’ readers will understand us.”
Jason also hopes to try out different genres and try writing more stories.
“Story writing is hard, especially for someone who doesn’t like to watch movies or read novels like me,” he explained.
“I’ve got to learn it the hard way; by taking up story writing courses, through trial and error with my sh*tty stories, telling people these sh*tty stories and getting feedback.”
“Then I pray that I can finally be a good story writer.”
The Future Is Sweet (And Starchy)
The couple also aim to create and sell merchandise, to exhibit and showcase their Phoodles along with other photographers, and most of all to expand and grow the J&Y and Potato Couple brands internationally, citing Crayon Shin Chan and Old Master Q as inspirations.
But before any of these take place, they hope to first grow their current fan-base, with 70% of their readership currently coming from Malaysia, and 10% from Singapore.
“Our readers? They’re the cutest thing on Earth!” enthused Jason.
“The sweetest readers we have are interracial couples. I love to see couples tagging each other on our posts, and I really enjoy seeing people of different races, religions, and cultures interacting with each other!”
As for themselves, the couple simply aim to carry on with their simple lifestyle, aiming to do what’s necessary to be able to free up time for their art and for each other.
“I hope we can build a big enough passive income so I can fully focus on creating content,” explained Jason. “We don’t want a Rolls Royce, or a private jet; just a simple lifestyle.”
“I wish to settle down and have more personal time together. I know at this age we are supposed to fight for our dreams but at times, it’s really tiring, to juggle our day jobs, J&Y Productions and our personal lives,” mused Ymei. “Sometimes it’s important to take a break I think.”
“But no matter what the circumstance, I hope we’re always there for each other.”
- J&Y Productions is run by Malaysian couple Jason and Ymei, producing comics, videos and merchandise.
- One of their ways of monetising is through the sale of their comic books “The Potato Couple”, and “The Potato Couple: The Journey”, which are sold in Popular Bookstores.
- You can check out their comics and art on their Facebook and Instagram pages.
Feature Image Credit: J&Y Productions