The State of MMWs: an update

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

-Ehiorobo “Limeade”

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.

Creating Work that Hurts

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.

Project FlowerHead

On twitter a few days ago I was stirring up hearts and minds with this dumb as heck tweet:

roseinmyeyesJust kidding. If anything my drawing stirred up only my own mind. It sort of inspired this idea to draw MORE FLOWER HEADS!

So I did.

The next day I got to work on sketching out my idea.


It took a lot of references….. This project taught me that as long as I’m learning it’s okay to ask for help. In the end we don’t know everything and that is okay! (layer2 is actually 3 references-in-one…I had to merge them together so they could actually fit in the screen cap….)

A million references and two layers later my conceptual sketch was complete!flowersktch

Next on the agenda was line art. Now, I’ve been having some issues with my line art which I’m still trying to work through.flowerheadlineart

One major one is closing lines: I’m not sure what about closing lines gives me so much trouble and I don’t even know how important it is to close lines! I watched a digital speed paint once where the artist does their line art and then fills in the shapes to color which is WAY faster than the way I color. I color by using a large sized binary pen and color a little past the lines and then go back and erase the excess. I like this method not only because I’m used to it but also it forces me to focus on the little details in the line art and make sure I don’t miss any spots when coloring.

And after a couple days of work:flowerhead

I’m not super practiced in coloring skin tone but last minute I made the artistic choice to go with the skin tone that most matches the origins of the flowers. So the sunflower has Native American toned skin, the tiger lily and the cherry blossom are both different tones of Asian and Pacific Islander and lastly the dahlia has Central American toned skin. I actually found it very difficult matching skin tones and choosing realistic looking skin colors. Looking at the color picker versus how the color looks in the context of skin are very different things that I still need to work on.

Anyway, some final thoughts: It was really important for me to represent API people since I’m API and I hardly ever talk about it. In my art I personally feel I have an obligation to represent my community and all of my identities including my gender fluid identity not to mention other oppressed minorities.
On a less serious note: I want that ‘trash lord’ shirt so bad….UGH. Honestly, whenever I design outfits and clothes for my art I always want those clothes to exist. I’m lookin’ at all of you fashion designers out there: HIT ME UP I WANNA MAKE SWEET AS HECK CLOTHES. And since we’re talking about my **sarcasm** SWEEEET sense of style, LOOK at those sweet as heck swing dancing shoes. I had a vague idea of the shoes I wanted to draw but when I looked them up…I just–I want those shoes.

Alright, I’m all done. If you’re an artist (OR a fashion designer) and you have any advice leave a comment below and lemme know what’s up with the what’s up.
Later skaters, have a lovely week!

Weedy Scorpion Fish

Heyyy, sorry this is really late but I’ve been busy traveling and recovering from all the shifting time zones. I recently had the opportunity to visit the Georgia Aquarium and I saw this weird fish that inspired me to make a character!

Inspired by the weedy scorpion fish here’s some progress sketches!

initial concept and planning
final sketch
Line art

Alright! Bye bye for noooooow!

Out of Space Process

So this week since I’ve been focusing a lot of my energy drawing, writing, and breathing Out of Space comic I figure it would be nice to show you guys my process works out. Now, just so you know everyone is different and we’re all entitiled to our own way of doing things. This is merely my own process.

First, I start out with the idea. The concept of Space Unicorn has always been running around in my mind ever since I made the first comic of it.

It started out on a limb when I was getting some advice from a cartoonist, so I drew out my idea implementing their technique which I now use in all my comic endeavors, but I’ll go into that in more detail later.

Second, with my idea in mind I start to write the script, or at least plan out some kind of dialogue. For a prospectively long and story-oriented series such as Out of Space I’ve finally taken the time to write an full script along with character planning sheets. basicSUdesc
All of this, the character planning sheets, scripts, and even floor plans have been pretty new to me since I’ve never put this much behind-the-scenes thought and effort into a comic before. This is definitely a first time for me and it’s definitely a lot of work that I’m still getting used to but the pay-off is so wonderful.

Just the other day, I was writing a really emotional scene and I just was so overwhelmed and felt so swept up in all of the character’s emotions and feelings I had to take a break from writing for a little. Now, maybe I might just be a little emotional as a person, in general but I’d like to believe that it’s because, unlike my other creative endeavors, the characters have been planned out and some-what developed. I’m still working out the details on Solis and some details about Space Unicorn that I’m still working out.

Now for the actual story boarding. I’ll show you what I mean using the Episode 2 script that I wrote. Ep2scriptYou can see that the heading is purple which is just an indicator for me that it’s been published already so I don’t confuse where I’m at in the story with what I’ve published and what I’ve written.
I’m sure that I don’t write scripts correctly or with the correct formatting but like I said before we’re all different and this works for me.
P1, P2, P3…” is an indicator I made up to help me visualize and categorize the actions happening in each panel. Most of the time the script is a guideline for me since the visual you want might shift and change as you actually draw it out but for the most part the dialog stays the same

When I draw out the initial sketch I use pencil and I lay a grid underneath to make sure that my lines are straight and I can maintain size continuity as best as I can. The grid I use is just regular graph paper which is nice because graph paper is the same size as the paper I work on (7”x11” printer paper.)epsketch001



I write little notes to myself in the margins since Tapastic’s size requirements are pretty narrow and when I ink I can maybe clear up some details that are unclear.

I ink using a fine point Sharpie on a light-box, nothing too fancy. Sharpies have a habit of bleeding through the page but for my purposes, they work!epsketch002



Then, I take the scanned image into PaintToolSai to make small edits. For this episode I had to do a lot of coloring in for the parts that are supposed to be space. For upcoming episodes hopefully there won’t be too much digital editing.

Finally I put it through Photoshop CS5 so I can write in the dialogue using a font I specially created via since I know my handwriting is atrocious.

And that’s essentially it! There’s nothing special to my process, no late night walks on the moon or special tea brew that wakes up my creativity just a disciplined writing and a lot of support from all of you!

You can find the final product here and feel free to subscribe to the series, like, and share as you wish!

Have a wonderful rest of your week!