There’s few musicians that have inspired me in my visual arts endeavors. For a long while I listened and consumed music as a very separate creative outlet than my visual art making until the last year when I started my Mark My Words series of comics that illustrated some songs that had stuck a visual sort of cord with me. They were the kinds of songs and lyrics that painted a clear narrative that I wanted to fill out with an added visual context of my art. It started as a creative exercise the same way that I did illustrations for each article I’d write on here. The exercise allowed me to springboard off of an already laid out narrative no matter how vague or specific. With that solid foundation I was able to focus more on visually conveying the narrative and experimenting with composition and color and panel layout. I could see what worked and what didn’t and adjust accordingly. I can’t say I’m proud of all the art that came of it especially considering it was really only for practicing my cartooning skill. Even though I should have probably focused on my fundamentals so I wouldn’t be so limited in my art making, I definitely don’t regret the time and energy I spent on those comics but lately, since meeting more creative folks in college I’ve been second guessing the work I created during that time.
Maybe I’m growing as an artist and no longer need to create on the backs of other people’s work. Or that I’ve learned enough from that exercise and I’m ready to move on and explore all facets of sequential arts and comics instead of just the visual aspect of it. I’m not sure.
Although, lately music like Chance the Rapper, Childish Gambino, and Ehiorobo’s rapping possess a visual flow unlike any of the indie-rock/pop music I’d engage with previously. For example:
I’m ’bout to tell the ‘fridgerator sup
Right beneath the Haagen-Daaz at brunch
Probably gotta pacify my tongue like
That tastes pretty good
It’s this seemingly endless string of concepts and ideas that don’t stay in a single place or idea making the organization of these lyrics into panels a trickier task. It’s a challenge I won’t back down from nonetheless but still, a challenge. It’s the kind of nonlinear narratives that have me questioning the nature of a conventional comic and the way we convey our information from left to right as a linear sequence of events. These raps, though, aren’t linear and are borderline not even narrative at times. It feels like the flow of events in these kinds of raps are more similar to an evolution. I can most describe this as the music video for The Music Scene by Blockhead.
The music video is an animation, the medium that has been best equipped to depict non-linear narratives or even non-narratives like in The Music Scene music video. But as a sequential arts nerd whose spends most of their free time studying this medium to figure out what works and what doesn’t I’m interested in experimenting with the medium like so many others have and studying what they’ve done to better my art making. One of the artists that I think exemplifies this is Tillie Walden. Her work is just phenomenal in how she tells stories in such a surreal way that, although it follows a somewhat linear narrative at times, she still experiments with comics and what the medium can be in a way that I really respect and admire.
It’s been more than a year since Skylar passed away. I’ve finally reached a point where I can talk about him and his influence on my life without dissolving in a puddle of tears and incoherent mumbling. I can finally refer to him as “dead” and openly speak on his death as a suicide without my heart crumbling at the thought of the pain he must have experienced in the moments leading up to his death. I’ve been able to take myself to the dark places in my head that went dark after he died and try to reconcile with the parts of me he took when he died. I’m not as angry at him for his suicide, as I am angry at the horrible circumstances that this child was born into. I can refer to him in the past tense knowing my memories of him will be with me forever. The guilt still remains, of course, but it’s no longer the guilt that keeps me in bed every morning thinking I don’t deserve a wonderful life because I know Skylar loved me and wanted me to be okay just like he is now.
I wanna say I’m past the worst part of the grief but I don’t think that’s entirely true. I don’t know but I doubt there’s ever knowing if you’re passed it. Like a flu, you suffer with it and it lingers and you eventually regain your ability to breathe through your nose again but you don’t really notice. So I think it’s too soon for me to tell. I could just be compartmentalizing my grief again as a coping mechanism. Who knows! I sure don’t.
But I’m finally writing about it, or at least allowing myself to feel the pain of his loss and letting that pain influence my art.
It helps that these past couple of months I’ve been talking about Skylar, to anyone that would listen: my new friends at college, my old friends from high school, my professors, everyone. The more people I told the more I felt I was giving life to Skylar again, like I could relive these memories I had of him and instead of be sad about them. I told stories about his vibrancy and his human-ness and his radical brilliance and his fucked up parts too. Over time I realized as I relayed each of these stories and memories we shared: Skylar shaped so much of who I am now. Even before he died, he, so often was my beacon of support that I looked to when I was confused or just needed to be validated as a fucking human being or when I felt alone in my struggle as a queer non-binary Vietnamese kid. He was always there.
And then suddenly he wasn’t.
For so long his death frustrated me, how can someone who I knew for a few months affect me this way? And even now? How can that happen? Then I take a step back and see how much I depended on him to guide me through my journey to reclaim my Vietnamese identity and culture and be proud of my brown skin and my queer body that doesn’t need to change for anyone except myself. He was such an important person in my life and I think I was to him too.
The story I’m writing honestly didn’t start as a testament or in memoriam of our bond. I simply wanted to create a story depicting elderly and healthy queer trans bodies of color striving and being happy. I guess there’s a subconscious part of me that still wants to write these darker stories of grief because my story kinda took a slight detour from the happy fluffy gay adventure I had in mind. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, objectively it’s interesting to think about how my brain is so opposed to fluffy idealized happiness, but it is hard to write these dark narratives. Since this story is such a personal experience that I’m still very close to a lot of the time writing this story requires me to delve into the darker parts of my mind, the parts so dark I’m scared to tread for fear I’ll lose my way back. That’s why I have such an affinity for this story. It’s challenging me to face a lot of my grief even though it hurts. I’m finally giving myself the space I’ve always needed to ask myself: How do you feel about this? Why do you feel like that? Are these feelings productive? How would they affect a person in the long term?
I guess it’s the kind of questions I have yet to find the answer to.
I wrote you a poem and I hope you never read it.
You Don’t Have to be Strong Anymore
You were taught that to be weak is to love, is to feel, is to be emotional
I was taught that to be strong I had to silence my anxieties, choke down my tears, and only scream into pillows when no one could hear.
I don’t want to be strong anymore.
I want to be my whole self
I want to be vulnerable and sad, and angry, and cry in public.
I do that a lot,
I find myself crying in front of people a lot
And I want you to know it’s okay.
I want to feel that it’s okay.
I feel it in the way you text my name when you’re upset
I read it, not like a calling but like a question.
They shouldn’t be allowed to do this vian
It’s not right what they’re doing vian
It breaks my heart, knowing you,
The person I always regarded as having all the answers
Looking at me for the reasons.
I want to make life fair for you.
I want to make the world happy and safe.
It breaks my heart that I can’t, not for anyone.
Not for you, not for Skylar, not for anyone.
I don’t want to be strong anymore.
I can’t ignore the sound of my heart breaking
So much and so often.
I can’t be strong anymore.
And that’s okay.
As I was getting my stuff done for the day this was the one thing I kept telling myself I’d already done and boyoboy was I wrong.
I honestly have no idea what a pigeonhole is but I just kinda did some creative guessing??