tagged q and a


Last month Aiden Gleisberg and Rebekah Edwards kindly invited me to present on Memory of an Avalanche in their Foundations in Critical Studies: Embodiment class at the California College of the Arts. I wanted to thank everybody for all the support and warm vibes! My wall is now full of fan letters and amazing sources of inspiration to keep drawing and pushing through :)

I wanted to share my responses to some of the questions from the class…

I found comics to be a good medium of connection due to its accessibility. I’m interested in the possibilities that the relationship between words and images opens up for this narrative. I want to create multiple entry points for others to engage with the content—maybe through character design, drawings, shojo manga aesthetics, emotional resonance, etc. I want to exploit humor to establish a sense of agency, to decenter dominant narratives (immigration, trans embodiment, queer of color identity politics, community activism, etc), and most importantly to render the space of margins as inhabitable and empowering. I’m using comics to build community in tangible ways and to draw people into participating in my struggle. This is how I imagine the healing process and initiate a paradigm shift.

I’m using the illusion of truth often associated with the genre of graphic memoir to instigate discomfort and validate the existence of margins. However, while I’m categorizing my work as a graphic memoir for others to take this narrative seriously, at the same time I’m disrupting this very dichotomy of truth VS lies, questioning the significance of that distinction in processes of identity construction and relational practices. The content of my work challenges this truth-lie dichotomy by poking fun at the audience’s curiosity itself. If one is wondering whether or not any part of my narrative is true, they are, in the logic of the story, rendering themself a cultural authority—akin to the court clerk, the immigration officer, or the doctor who constantly questions the legitimacy of the protagonist’s identity and existence (i.e., “Is Bo a good or bad immigrant?”). So in a sense, I’m using the “graphic memoir” genre as a two-pronged approach—to normalize the existence of margins and to subvert the cultural conditions that create and maintain those very margins.

My work is very much manga-inspired. I’m drawn to the nonlinear modality of visual storytelling in manga. There are many instances where I disrupt the normative left-to-right reading order by breaking panel borders and forcing the reader to move their eyes around the page. That’s another way I’m enhancing this aspect of emotional truth. In terms of the drawing, I feel that comics is an art of abstraction. One rule I have for abstracting my characters is that they must in some way remain racially recognizable (or strategically unrecognizable) as well as legible in terms of gender embodiment. I spend a lot of time on background work, which is typical of most manga, since I want to build a world that’s comprehensible and relatable, to exaggerate the illusion of truth. In terms of the storytelling style, my comic is a bit choppy and works like an emotional rollercoaster. That’s because I use the concept of impossibility as an organizing principle of the entire graphic memoir, as a way to articulate the inarticulable violence, which is the lived reality of those inhabiting multiple margins. I’m using this storytelling style to disrupt romanticized narratives of survival (e.g., marriage, citizenship, graduation, etc) and disorient the reader from what they’re usually comfortable with. I’m strategically (and literally) opening up the “in-between” space, the spatiotemporal location between “before” and “after,” and to resignify what markers of “survival” and “success” mean via both form and content.