Harry Hambley from Cardiff is only 18, but he’s something of an Instagram sensation.
In June 2016, Hambley put up his first cartoon on Instagram.
“The name doesn’t really mean much, except that it sounds fun and that it’s a lot different from typical titles,” Hambley told Mashable. “It’s purposely ambiguous, so that it doesn’t get associated with anything in particular — meaning I can keep using it when I decide to explore different creative fields or ideas.”
Cut to 20 months down the road and he has over 345,000 followers and his own merchandise.
Over time his cartoons have developed a very distinctive style.
“I’m really trying to tap into a very simple yet warm aesthetic,” he told us. “Something clean enough to communicate an idea, but cozy enough to still be inviting.”
Predominantly the comics feature his leading character, “Bean”.
“The concept behind the Bean is that it is a very neutral and kind character, that goes through the same day-to-day struggles that most of us do,” he told Mashable. “It’s not a ‘bean’ bean as it’s definitely closer to being human, but it’s genderless and curvy, like a bean is. I guess you could call it a Human Bean.”
Hambley cites Moomintroll from the Moomin book series and Lemongrab from Adventure Time as the “main stylistic influences” for Bean’s look.
Wider inspirations for Hambley include the works of Pendleton Ward (Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors), Regular Show, Spongebob and Over the Garden Wall.
“I also love the themes within Studio Ghibli films,” he told us. “They definitely encouraged me to make the Bean friendlier.”
Positivity and emotional themes are prevalent in Hambley’s work.
“Right now, there’s a lot of negativity and fear in the world,” Hambley told Mashable, “as lots of things seem to be changing — whilst it’s important to feel unsettled sometimes, it’s also important to be reminded of the kinder side of humanity, and to not feel so alone. If I can promote any sort of message through my work right now, I want it to be a positive one.”
But his comics are not unambiguously wholesome or happy. Earlier works of his in particular are laced with darkly comical allusions to negative emotion and death.
“My style has changed a lot since I started,” says Hambley. “I think that, when I was making those darker illustrations, I was in a worse personal place, and my work was a reflection of all my frustrations with school, teachers and worries for the future.”
“It was hard for me to tap into anything that wasn’t dismal, as it felt disingenuous. But, after leaving school, I was able to put more effort into art and my own projects, and felt less held back. So naturally, my work changed in that time too.”
Hambley thinks that Ketnipz started to take off in summer last year, just after he left secondary school. Mashable asked him why he thought his work had become so popular.
“I’m not sure, but hopefully my audience see the Bean as a familiar face on their feed, and can relate to whatever situation it gets itself stuck in, or whatever message it’s trying to communicate.”
Whatever it is about the simplicity of Hambley’s aesthetic, or of the stories he tells, clearly his work strikes a chord with people. So much so that at least one person got a tattoo of it.
If after seeing this snapshot of Hambley’s work you don’t want to head over to his Instagram and see more of Bean, well that’s just…