YouTube Celebrity: Lev Yilmaz’s “Tales of Mere Existence”

It’s difficult to categorize the medium through which Lev Yilmaz brings us “Tales of Mere Existence;” his videos are collections of still frames, cartoons which Yilmaz finishes as he narrates in a bored, complacent tone. He describes an argument with his girlfriend and draws her arms across her chest, followed by narrowed eyebrows. Watching the drawings-in-progress gives the “Tales” a sense of animation, placing them in the space between cartoon and comic strip.  We do not see Yilmaz – he stays on the other side of the tracing paper he uses as canvas – but his cartoon avatar gives us the bare bones. He stares, wide-eyed and with no curve to his mouth, as the world is filled in around him.

The shorts are autobiographical snippets of Yilmaz’s life, thick with sarcasm and refreshingly light on philosophy. Yilmaz’s voice is pitched low with nasal overtones, turning each video into a three minute sigh. Lev keeps the stakes low, the emotions muted. He doesn’t use the potential of his drawings for escapism, but stays rooted in the mundane. He presents his life unembellished and lets us in on the joke. “A Conversation with my mother,” is just an illustrated transcript, but nothing else is needed. “‘I just made some fish, would you like some fish?’ and I said ‘no mom, I don’t like fish.’ And she said ‘you don’t like fish?’ and I said ‘no mom, I don’t like fish.’ And she said ‘this is tuna fish,’ and I know mom, but I don’t like fish.’” It continues this way for minutes, leaving us gnashing our teeth and laughing at the same time. From time to time he pauses in the narration and drawing, and you can see him counting to ten in his head and praying for patience. His “Tales” straddle the line between the everyman of Seinfeld and the bizarre memoirs of Sedaris, though his tone is all the latter. Yilmaz has a half-empty glass, and it’s been sitting in his sink for years.

“Tales of Mere Existence” explores our hidden insecurities and the mostly internal tribulations of getting by. Yilmaz draws himself at parties, surrounded by star-eyed, smiling people who have it all together. “Procrastination” is a slow motion train wreck where Yilmaz describes his day and his intentions to “get his stuff done.” The videos are personal, but they’re personal to everyone.

Yilmaz is the voice of the YouTube generation precisely because it does not aspire to be.  His “Tales” echo the frustrations and outlook of an audience scrolling through videos online. As an art form, “Tales of Mere Existence” is doomed to unprofitability. The synthesis of narrative, minimalist animation, and ennui works perfectly and exclusively in a digital medium. A book loses the personality of Yilmaz’s voice and the soul of seeing the penstrokes. We look to television for entertainment, not a reminder of the menial lives we lead. “Tales” is effective precisely because it only offers up bite-size portions of life. Too much, and we would choke. TC mark

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  • http://twitter.com/becki_says_rawr Becki Barlow

    found this guy on YouTube a while ago, he’s brilliant! but is he still making videos?

    • Levni Yilmaz

      Yes I am Becki, all three of these videos are from the last month.
      -Levni Yilmaz

    • SACT

      Lev answered to your comment, I so envy you :)

  • http://twitter.com/Jeweledelephant Sharron

    Yes!!! I stumbled across Lev on You Tube a few weeks ago and have been telling people how great I think he is, sadly most of them had no taste because they ‘just didn’t get it’ WHAT is not to get I wondered.
    My favourite cartoons is procrastination, I have been trying to get stuff done for years. He hits the nail on the head everytime.

    Great post, and great taste

  • Denis Hamilton

    I’ve always loved Tales of Mere Existence – it’s the only YouTube channel I actually go out of my way to check.  I’m trying to find my fave one but it doesn’t seem to be there – I think it was called “How We Managed to Not Date”.  

  • Abby

    i remember i was just finished listening to some  song on Youtube and it showed a bunch of recommended videos,which featured “How I Found Out About Girls”,and now i’m like completely addicted to “Tales of Mere Existence.”Now i tend to think in Lev’s voice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/yarbrobot Michael Yarbrough

    I believe in Levni.  I came across his work several years ago, and have been enjoying and sharing it since.  Thoughtful, disappointed people will be fans.  If this is a just universe, Levni should succeed.  with just one click, you can feed little levni.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/yarbrobot Michael Yarbrough

    I believe in Levni.  I came across his work several years ago, and have been enjoying and sharing it since.  Thoughtful, disappointed people will be fans.  If this is a just universe, Levni should succeed.  with just one click, you can feed little levni.  

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  • abc

    Can’t think of anything much to add other than I love him. Stumbled upon one of his videos (I think “How To Cope With Depression”) a couple of years ago and have excitedly watched each one since.

  • http://twitter.com/monishd Monish Datta

    So Glad Lev’s back to making his videos. They’re awesome, always tinged with a little sadness and leaves you thinking. I wish he was more active on Twitter :-/

    Oh well, Thought Catalog + Lev Yilmaz = WIN!

  • Anonymous

    I, as many others here, stumbled upon him on youtube and have been a fan ever since. So very mundane but true. 

  • Anjal

    This is such a big hit only because his cartoons are a reflection of his true emotions. Not an ounce of what he tries to convey is fabricated. Nor it is an attempt to be/act cool. Just a man reflecting his sincere thoughts, which a lot of us can relate to.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10036647 Aimee Vondrak

    I am so glad someone finally recognized Lev!! His videos/Youtube Channel is simply fantastic, and shares such a centralized idea in ThoughtCatalogue that its authors bring to life the art of almost effortlessly relating to absolutely everyone in their times of trial. The most personal of feelings and experiences are made public and put on trial over which the communities can bond. Stunning.

  • Ben

    While Lev may not be able to perfectly transcribe the experience of watching the online videos to a book, I think he has the talent to create a book that is brilliant in another fashion.  Even tales of mere existence could work in that form, but it would have to be from a completely different angle in order to suit the new medium.

  • Shane

    Out of idle curiosity, what did happen to “How we managed to not really date eachother” ? It seems to have vanished entirely. Anyone know?

    • Josué A.

      The girl who was on the video asked Lev to remove the video.

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