Interview: Xiao Yan

There goes another week! Which means it’s time for yet another interview with an inspiring and AWESOME creator! =3

Today, we speak with Xiao Yan. To be frank, I only discovered her when Michelle from Epigram gave me a preview copy of her collaboration work with Dave Chua. It’s called “The Girl Under the Bed“, which is a supernatural tale set in Singapore during the Ghost Festival when all ghosts come out to play. Bwahaha. I love the story, and I love the illustration even more. Truly worth her salt, I gotta say! Hehe. Well, hope you enjoy the interview then!


Who is Xiao Yan?

I’m studying graphic design at the School of Art, Design and Media (ADM) in Nanyang Technological University (NTU), ’cause they don’t have a major for illustration here and I was interested in both animation and a bit of graphic design… And it’s like, illustration is applicable to both. But anyway it’s nice that they teach painting and figure drawing in my school; and they welcome anybody to take these courses so that’s good enough for me.

What does being a comics artist mean to you?

I can’t really answer that ‘cause I just started as one. Before this project I was just drawing my own stuff, some school posters which I had a lot of fun with, and a few commissions now and then. Sonny Liew happened to teach my comic book class last semester. I showed him some work one day and I asked, ‘Could you give me any pointers for self publishing?’ and he said, ‘D’you wanna draw for a comic?’

Turns out that Epigram Books was trying to push for a graphic novel initiative, with local artists and writers showcasing Singapore-based fiction, and Sonny asked if I wanted to be involved. So I said, ‘Okay.’

I guess, being a comic book artist just means pushing out your own (or others’) stories and hope people like them. Or not. Or they don’t know how to feel about them. Any of the three responses is fine by me.

What is your creative process like?

In this book? It’s my first time teaming up with an established writer, so I really didn’t know what to expect? Before this I had only worked on my own self-initiated stories and pet projects. Anyway, Dave provided the dialogue and storyline and trusted me to work out how everything translates across the panels. I also helped him out with fleshing out the characters and some aspects of the plot.

I’ll do thumbnail sketches first and then I’ll run through my storyboarding with a friend, and he’ll point out what could be improved, or what to put in to make the pages more interesting, or if there’s any plotholes or weird jumps between panels and he’ll suggest solutions to iron them out. I think it’s good to have an outside party reviewing the story… in that sense, he’s sort of an unofficial editor for the book. I feel it is important to work with someone who is able to critique the work constructively while being aware of and contributive to the creators’ artistic intentions.

What is it like working with a writer like Dave Chua on “The Girl Under the Bed”?

Dave is cool, he’s not tyrannical with what I’d do with his story, and he’s open-minded to my visual interpretation of how it plays out.

Of the works you’ve done so far, what is your favourite and why?

I don’t really have a favourite, I’m forever wishing there’s so many things I could improve on my drawings, the more I look at the amazing stuff other people could do. But then again, to each their own.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about being a comics artist?

I came across an interview with American comic book artist Becky Cloonan (who drew Demo, American Virgin) sometime ago, and she said this that really drove the point home:

“Comics are hard work. Comics are relentless. Comics will break your heart. Comics are monetarily unsatisfying. Comics don’t offer much in terms of fortune and glory, but comics will give you complete freedom to tell the stories you want in ways unlike any other medium.”

To most people a career in comics seem really bleak unless you made it out there, but it’s a special kind of creative freedom you can enjoy, and for a price…

How can a comics artist appeal to a publisher like Epigram Books?

I can’t really answer this personally for myself, since I was recommended by Sonny. But I think most importantly before approaching any publisher you gotta have a solid body of works to show.


Xiao Yan’s work can be found on her website at thirdtentacle.net. Do keep an eye out for this very talented artist! =3

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