August 8, 2017

Letting Go Of Training Wheels

Hello everyone!

I hope you’re well today. I wanted to take a moment to follow up my last blog entry – I’ve been receiving messages from people pretty much every day, and many of you had a lot of kind words and support to offer. I want to thank you once again for allowing me to share that terrible experience without judgment – It gave me a sense of closure that I didn’t know I had needed.
I also have been receiving a lot of messages from people who are concerned for my wellbeing – I want to make it clear that I am in a very good place right now, I have healed in so many ways and I no longer feel consumed by sadness. It has been a journey to get here, but I feel elevated, I feel ready for the world and most of all I feel loved.

Originally I had wanted to follow up my last entry with a post focusing on healing from trauma, but I’ve decided against it. The way traumatic events affect our bodies is so complex, and everyone processes information differently. This also means we all heal differently, and I think it would be wrong to assume that there is one sure-fire way to heal from bad things that happen to us.

But at the same time, I want it to be known that it IS possible to heal after trauma. There’s this belief that once something happens to you, especially a sexual assault, that you will reel from it forever. If you’ve ever been hurt in this way then I want you to know that it doesn’t have to control you forever, that you do have power to persevere, and that there is love and kindness in this world for you.

There are a few things that I DO think were very helpful to me in my process of healing, though – one of those things is meditation. When we go through a traumatic event it is so disorienting, we lose ourselves and our sense of safety. I felt very fragmented after enduring a lot of abuse in my life but meditation has helped me to keep myself stable and centered. I have prioritized meditating every single day and it has healed me. Another thing that I find to be important is spending time in nature – I have been lucky to have grown up in Colorado, and now I live in a farming town in the Pacific NW so it isn’t difficult to get out there. But I have found that when I feel most unheard, my answer is to spend time in nature. Our earth is constantly speaking to us, and if you just stop and listen, she will guide you.

It’s also important to have a very patient and loving support system – I am a true believer that love heals all wounds. We often don’t have support when we are hurt, and this leads to so much suffering. A lot of people also opened up to me that they went through similar events, and I’m sure there are many others out there who have been hurt. But I want you to know that I am here for you, just the way so many people have been there for me. And I truly do love you.

With that being said, opening up about what happened to me has opened so many doors within my mind. I no longer have any heaviness interfering with my creativity! And so I have been going through a very transitional period. I threw my schedule to the wind and I’ve been having so much fun creating art! I have so many ideas to express, and I have entirely changed the way I do my script, the way I plan, even the way I draw.

Everything is flowing so fucking amazing right now you guys, I can’t stop creating. I feel like I’ve really found my tempo, and I have “let go of my training wheels!” What I mean by that is I’m at a point where I’m not even thinking about my process or calculating too much about how to execute my work, I’m just letting it happen. I feel a new sense of confidence and direction of where to go. It’s hard to even stop working – but luckily, my hubby is good at letting me know when it’s time to take a break lol. Life is balanced for me, and for the first time in my 27 years being alive, I feel a sense of “home.”

I want to continue to give back to the community, and I want to continue to help people with my work. I said this before but I really want to also think of ways that we can offer better protection and guidance to young indie artists – we get taken advantage of in so many ways, so it’s important to be savvy. I hope this blog is a good start for that, and while I’m no expert I hope that my anecdotes of my own journey are helping other people.

I have a lot of plans for the next few months of the year, and I can’t wait to share what I’m working on. I’m wishing everyone the best, and I hope you have a wonderful rest of your week!

Much love to you,

Ai

July 14, 2017

We Need To Protect Young Artists.


You guys have really supported me through a lot. I’ve grown not only as an individual but as an artist, and I want to continue to share my experiences so other artists can benefit from them too.

There’s something I’ve been wanting to get off my chest for a long time. Something that I’ve been wanting to say but I haven’t had the strength… until now. This is going to be very hard for me to write, and very long, please bear with me.

When we’re early on in our artistic journey we are vulnerable in the world of comics. There are a lot of people who will prey on us because of our talents, and when you’re taking the indie route there isn’t a lot of protection from people trying to manipulate, steal, or otherwise harm you. But how can you tell who’s really on your side?

When I was finalizing my script for Project Survival (Or at least what the script was at that time – I’ve re-written it so many times!) I started networking with lots of artists online. It’s important to bounce ideas off other people when you’re a writer. I ended up making a friend who gave me a lot of tips on how to be a better writer, and in turn I would help them with their work too. We would do critiques online with one another and talk passionately about our work. I really cared for this person – they were like an older sibling to me, and it was great to have someone to look up to.

This person continued to encourage me to work hard on my story, but things came to a halt when something terrible happened -I was raped. I talked about this in my work, “It Gets Better” (published in Dirty Diamonds #6), and while I have healed from it, at that time it destroyed me. There are no words that have the ability to describe how terrible it is to go through something like that – it’s as close to killing someone as you can get without actually killing them.

I became very reclusive. But I had to keep working on my story – So many other circumstances had tried to take Project Survival away from me, and I just couldn’t let it happen again. But my living situation was so volatile at the time, and I was very young and naive and trying to survive. I had left home as a teen and never stopped to take care of my heart – I was too concerned about making sure I would eat and sleep somewhere safe. My ambitious pace of working on my story had come to a slow crawl. This “friend” had asked me what was wrong as we chatted online one day, and I reluctantly broke down and told them I had been sexually assaulted.

I wouldn’t say their response had been a shock – I couldn’t feel anything, I was numb – but even in such a disconnected state I could feel the emptiness in it. They told me that it was bad, but I ought to get over it. My comic will take forever to come out now that I slowed down and I need to get moving. There was truth in that, but understand how broken I was. How completely destroyed I was, but this person seemed more concerned about me continuing my work than healing emotionally. Looking back that would’ve been the time to never speak to this person again, but when you’re in a traumatic situation you process things a lot differently. I was in survival mode, I was in a situation I really needed to get out of and after being so beaten down there was just no other cruelty that could sink me lower. And I saw this person as an older sibling remember, they were one of the few people who I thought had my back.

Despite this set back I continued to work hard on my story, and over the course of the next year or so I eventually had my ideas organized enough to prepare to launch. There was just one last thing to do – Travel, do LOTS of it, to get a solid understanding of how to portray my environment. I felt that Rockland, a fictional city in Project Survival, should be as much of a character as the rest of my OCs and I needed to get a good feel for it. I was feeling a little more “normal” but I was still a long way from where I am today. I was feeling confident in my work, but when I would discuss it with my friend something felt off.

The more I talked to this person the more it felt like they did a lot of judging of my work – telling me what I needed to do different, and how the personalities or motivations of my characters should be. It confused me a bit how pushy they were – I bounced ideas off of other people too, but they never straight up told me something was completely “wrong” or “bad.” It was my story right? But it wasn’t only that – I showed them a promotional pic of Project Survival I had done, and they immediately told me it could look better and they could draw on it to show me. I explicitly told them no, and they drew over the pic anyway. I was livid. They’d even asked if I’d like them to be an editor for me – at the time I didn’t understand what that meant (I figured it meant critiquing each other’s works) but after they drew on my picture I understood what they were trying to do. I quickly told them after thinking it would be okay that I had changed my mind – My story was mine and mine alone and it felt like they were trying to take my hard work from me. But this wasn’t the thing that ultimately ended things – the above were big factors, but the next thing just tore me apart.

On one occasion I got online and we were talking about comics. But suddenly this person took the conversation on a strange course. I’d known they’d been having trouble in their personal romantic life but beyond that we didn’t really talk about those kinds of things. They had seemed really discontent about their partner that day. Remember – at the time this person was like an older sibling to me, and I figured for them they felt the same. But on this day they started telling me about a girl they had fantasized about. A girl about the same age as me. He started talking about how he had a fetish for covering girls in wax, and dressing them, and then having sex with them while they can’t move. He started asking me what I think he should do to a wax girl, where she would want to be touched while she can do nothing about it, expressionless like a doll.

I don’t know if I can fully portray how devastating this moment ended up being for me. But he continued to talk about having sex with girls while they cannot move – remember, I had been recently raped, and his message literally made me relive it. When I was sexually assaulted I had been unconscious, and as fucked up as it sounds I had been glad for that. My “friend” was aware of that. But when they sent me those messages about fucking motionless, expressionless women – it triggered memories of the event that I didn’t know happened. They made the assault become a full-blown, 360 nightmare for me. It literally felt worse than the day it had happened. It broke me you guys. For them to send me something like that, talking in detail about violating women – and I was in such an emotionally fragile state, I couldn’t even say what I wanted to, I wish I had told them how horrible what they said to me was, how insensitive, how cruel – it just crumbled the integrity of the friendship to rubble, not that there was much there given how they had treated me but I was a young artist and I was in a vulnerable situation. I didn’t know how to protect myself. But I felt so shell-shocked in the moment, I tried to just brush the conversation aside like it was nothing. Eventually they stopped those messages and said to me they ‘forgot’ I was raped and “my bad.”

 Looking back, I see that this person saw just how vulnerable I was, and they wanted to take advantage of me. They didn’t see rape as bad which is why they didn’t sympathize with me. In fact, they probably had wanted to do something like that to me, if we had been in the same country. And they didn’t encourage me to work hard because they believed in me, they just wanted to wait for a moment to try to seep into my work and try and take it – thank GOD that I didn’t let that happen, and this person NEVER saw my final script or any special information. My gut had always told me not to show them my true script, and to this day I have never shown it to anyone out of fear that they will try something. Not that I have to worry at this point – I have re-written most of Project Survival and will continue to, but this situation left me cynical in some ways. I create art because it is my purpose; it is a colorful, vibrant and beautiful process. But other people are just in it for what they can get – to take, and take, and take.

I ended up just blocking this person and never talking to them again, but you guys I have been hurting about this situation for so long and I never told anybody. So many people have tried to stop me from making my comic. The person who raped me did it because they were jealous of me for YEARS that I was a talented, vibrant person.  And they didn’t want to see me shine. And that was just one of many horrible people who I came across.

But to trust in someone after going through so much, to see them as a sibling and then realize that they only wanted to use me, steal from me and sexualize me – it’s so minimizing, I have so many ideas and so much to give to the world. You guys, this is why I really don’t post selfies of myself too, because I always end up getting sexual DMs – I hate that kind of attention, and it reduces me to nothing. I’m a comic artist and that’s what I want to do, is make comics, and it just fucks with me… I’m serious this is not a game to me like this is my whole universe. I’m not just some random girl making comics for fun, it’s bigger than this. And my physical self is just one dimension of me. To be minimized is terrible.

But I don’t want to feel like that anymore. And I want to become closer to people. I NEED to in order to continue forward. But sometimes I feel so distant from the world and so alone. I don’t relate easily on a face to face level with others, honestly I don’t like it because I feel like people assume so much about me when they look at me. But online I feel I can connect with people on the level I’m trying to. So I wanna leave this pain in the past and become more open. I want to share more of my personal life too, because there are people out there who care about me and would like to get to know me better. But I also want us to all continue to build a network so that growing, vulnerable artists can have protection.

A lot of us are expressing ourselves through our art because we have been hurt or broken. We are doing it because we are searching for a better place. We are doing it because that’s our only voice. And when you take the indie route, you don’t have a company protecting you – you are prey. At the time before I launched my comic, I didn’t have much of a voice at all. No one really knew who I was until I worked on the webcomic chat. But now that I have built somewhat of a platform and I feel wiser, I realize that this painful situation also harbored a gift – It has given me a perspective that I didn’t have before and I can use it to help other people and myself.

Now I am healed, and in a very loving situation. I have stability for the first time in my life and a partner who cares about me not because what they can get, but because they genuinely appreciate my existence. I have learned to set boundaries, how to determine who I can trust and who I cannot, and my anxiety is nearly gone. I have no more fear when it comes to speaking my truth. My comic has evolved so much already and I have you guys by my side. I am blessed, and I know what to do with that blessing. Going forward I vow to always be a support to young artists, I vow to continue to always be myself and speak my truth. I have ambitions to turn this blog into a library of knowledge so if you have questions you can just come here where it is safe. This journey has been such a rigorous one, but I will never quit. Thank you for reading this – I have needed to say it for too long. I feel much lighter now.


-Ai

July 13, 2017

COMICS 101: LETS TALK ABOUT AUDIENCES!

Hey there!

I hope you have been well. As usual I have been quite busy, but there’s something that’s been on my mind that I’ve been meaning to talk about! What, exactly, you ask? Well your audience of course!

Your audience is a huge part of the realm of comics for multiple reasons! As a comic artist, your audience is a source of support, patronage, encouragement, and of course criticism. But who exactly IS your audience? This is a question that I used to ask myself during the planning stages of Project Survival, and the early stages of its launch. I felt that this was important to determine so I could market my story better, but finding my target audience was a bit complicated.

Of course, I could try to target groups of people based on the style of my comic (manga-influenced), the themes (Action, Romance, Thriller, ect) but that didn’t make much sense to me. My comic is a LOT of things – beyond an action comic it is a political comic, it tackles themes of economic corruption and spirituality, and it is an erotic romance – Project Survival is an eclectic graphic novel! And so how could I possibly find a group of people who would be interested in all those things? Well, I’m now deep into the 4th chapter of Project Survival, and I have gained a lot of insight into this question. My views on who and what my audience is, and how they relate to my work have altered and evolved into a more tangible perspective. Let me share some of what I have learned thus far!

1.       Your Audience Creates Itself! Yes, this is HUGE! As I mentioned before, I originally had a hard time understanding my audience. Naturally the best solution was to just send out links to it absolutely anywhere I could, and to talk to any and everybody about it, whether in person or online. The results were relatively surprising for me – some of the places that I’d thought would bring lots of traffic in brought nothing, but many other sources that I didn’t even consider drew in a lot of readers. People will read a comic (or novel, or any other media) because something draws them to connect with it. A lot of my readers are not even comic fanatics – but something about my tone, my message, or the underlying themes of my story brought them to me. You really can’t know who would be interested in your story before they read it – only THEY will tell you through their actions or commentary. It’s good to keep aiming wide so that you’re drawing in enough people to make that decision for themselves.

2.       Your Audience Is Constantly Changing! This means that readers will come and go for multiple reasons. Some readers will be very excited about your comic, but as your plot progresses and you take different risks, some people may lose interest. Other readers may simply forget about your comic, and stop reading – but they may come back to it too! It’s important to understand this, especially early on in your comics journey, because if you don’t you may lose yourself. I’ve known people who have quit making their comics solely because people unfollowed their work after certain pages were posted, assuming it was because the readers didn’t like certain content – but remember, like I said above you really don’t know anyone’s reasons unless they tell you why! But readers are constantly feeling your story out, and if it isn’t for them then that’s okay. It isn’t a reflection of how valuable your work is, it’s a reflection of their interest.

3.       People Read Your Comic for MANY different reasons! Some people will read it because they love your work. Some will read it because they love you! And some people will read your comic because they love to hate it. Seriously, your audience is just such a diverse group. I originally thought that people would be drawn to my comic because of its dense plot, which very many are, but that’s not the only reason. Some people are reading because they like that my characters are POC, or they like my art style. A lot of people are reading to see Sophia get dicked out by Ross. Lol. I even have certain people who have read all of my comic, all 100+ pages, solely to tell me what they don’t like about it (although, to devote such time to negativity is characteristic of the green eyed monster ;) ). But ultimately this means there are so many different variables when it comes to the formation of your audience. Which once again, is okay!

4.       Your audience is often your editor! Especially if you’re an indie artist, the bulk of your feedback will come from your readers. ALWAYS remember this! And respect your audience. Their feedback is a great way to determine how coherent your story is, or how well people are following along. You may not have a very vocal audience, but even one person giving their feedback is very important. The odds are that they aren’t the only one thinking whatever they tell you – but take it with a grain of salt as well. Your audience will help you fix pacing, tie up loop holes and elaborate more when necessary, which strengthens your story a lot! So thank them!

5.       Not everyone will understand your story! I felt it was important to add this last point in. If you’re a comic artist, you should also understand that not everyone will get your work. Think of it like a movie you totally loved – have you ever needed to explain it over and over again to one friend who missed the entire plot? Or have you ever read a book and needed someone who understood it to explain to you what the underlying message is? Same thing will happen with your comic, BUT DON’T SACRIFICE YOUR PLOT!!! If you’re getting a lot of confused responses on your work then you may have some fixing to do, but also know not everybody will follow your story and it may just not be for them. Some people will follow along perfectly, others will need you to hold their hand through every single page or they won’t get it. But a good way to maintain a middle ground is including commentary on your pages. That way, you’re not only teaching more about your story to your readers but you’re ensuring that everyone knows what’s going on. But if you’re making those efforts and a sole reader doesn’t get it, don’t feel like you have to move mountains. Just make sure you’re clarifying information enough, and if not make adjustments for the future.  

And so, what should you take from all of this? Well for one, keep yourself open! Share your comic to any and everybody. Be loud about your work, and people who are interested will be drawn to it. But also don’t place so much weight on your audience – they aren’t a reflection of the value of your work, and they shouldn’t change who you are. But they are an EXTREMELY vital part of the process and will aid you when you need it most. Take care!
-Ai

April 2, 2017

Its 2017, and the sky is the limit!

Hey guys!

Gosh, it's been almost a YEAR since I updated this blog! I apologize for being so inactive for so long, but I'm happy to say that I'm back with much to share! Even though I spent the bulk of last year distant from social media, I have been consistently writing and producing artwork since then. I've learned and grown a lot over the past year or so, and I want to take this journal to reflect on the most recent epoch of my journey.

PROJECT SURVIVAL PART III is finished! and boy what a journey it has been so far! It feels like just yesterday I was writing in this journal, sharing my desires to launch this comic. Now we are almost halfway through the first arc of PROJECT SURVIVAL, and boy has this been a tough journey! But I have enjoyed every bit of it. One thing that has struck me the most is how quickly this journey has moved along.

When I first started PS, I had very little experience making a comic of this size! I entered into this very ambitiously, and I was able to see great results! By the time I finished the second chapter, I received an opportunity from Tapas Media to publish my work through their company - I almost fainted when I found out! And from there, PS has continued to grow. But, what I didn't realize was just HOW MUCH I was still getting to know my comic, and myself, and how complicated things would start to become in my life. There was a lot for me to learn, not only as an artist but as a young girl in her mid-20's.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that I regret anything, but being where I am now and reflecting on this past year has given me a lot of perspective on myself. When I first started PS, things were relatively simple - my goals were to learn to just make my comic, produce enough work to update consistently and of course tell an amazing story. I had the time and liberty to work at a pace that suited me, and in a way that I felt most comfortable. When I struck a deal, things got a little tricky for me - per my contract, I needed a certain amount of work done and ready for display, and I would also need to work more in a scrolling-comic format, something I had never done before! And so, I grinded. I produced a colossal amount in a short period of time, and did my best to study the new format.

It was a difficult transition, to say the least - I was not so happy with the work I was creating. Something didn't feel natural in my process - I was burnt after grinding so hard, and I felt very obligated to produce art at a rate that I wasn't used to. The quality of my work suffered a bit because of this. To make matters worse, during the production of PS I became very, very ill.  I believe I'd talked about this briefly, but haven't really wanted to get into it until now. I woke up one day with severe stomach pain and ended up collapsing shortly after. This turned into a hell of a nightmare - I because extremely ill very quickly. I was losing a lot of weight and became malnourished; I'm already very petite so this became a big problem. and the abdominal pain only worsened. I've been in and out of the hospital over and over again during the past two years. I went to so many doctors and specialists and still no answers. I have never felt so anxious and afraid as I was watching my body waste away, with no answers as to why. Finally, I found the right specialist who could give me an answer. after a few procedures I was diagnosed with a severe case of celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes your body to attack itself when gluten is ingested. This started to improve for me after I was able to eliminate gluten from my diet, but the complications it has caused me have really rocked my world.

Despite the immediate improvements after removing gluten from my diet, it was nearly impossible for me to work consistently. It's only now that my energy levels have returned to a point where I feel close to normal though I still experience a lot of issues due to celiac disease. The stress of going through all of this really took a lot out me, and depressed me. It was really hard to go from being super active and functional to having no energy with constant pain. I had to work really hard to gain weight back and get back to normal, and so I stepped away from the internet and posting my comic so I could focus on stabilizing my health.

When I took a step back from it all I realized something - I had lost a bit of myself as an artist! Why? I'd been so busy producing to meet the pressures I'd begun to impose on myself, I forgot the most important rule of all - To create FOR MYSELF. Before publishing my work this was a no-brainer, but striking a deal so early when I was still transitioning and learning about myself and my creative process complicated that. Taking a step back allowed me to revisit my origins. I spend almost all of last year creating for myself, writing and writing and drawing and drawing. And you know what? Something beautiful happened.

Not only did I find myself again, but I found something within me so quintessential and remarkable - I still struggle to articulate it. For lack of a better term, I'll call it an inner voice. I spent about 96 days in the Rocky Mountains last year. I grew up surrounded by their beauty, and the time I spent with those mountains proved to be the most introspective days of my life. The mountains became a dear friend to me,  and experiencing their strength helped me recognize a force within myself. The experiences I had meditating in those mountains were so profound That they inspired me to redirect PROJECT SURVIVAL onto a new path. And so, I rewrote my story. again. ALL of it.

This was a really, REALLY big risk! I'd already started my story and at this point I was halfway through the 3rd chapter. Nonetheless, I felt no fear. I wanted to write what was immediate in my heart, and where I am now vs my initial launch in 2014 is totally different. I wrote for hours and hours, and drew so many private PS comics. I may release them one day, but for now they remain private. All of this transitioned me into a new headspace, although it felt so familiar. It was as though I was back to the basics, the lightheartedness of creation, but at the same time I now had the necessary perspective to make the most out of it. and maintain it.

Aside from the artistic growth I was experiencing, something else has happened over these past couple years - I fell in love! and HARD! It honestly caught me completely off guard, (I know, I know!) I wasn't expecting to fall but I'm so happy I did. Being in love is a beautiful thing, it teaches you a lot about yourself and others and it causes you to grow. When you are truly in love with someone, they become sort of a muse to you, and as an artist that is a beautiful thing. Falling in love made me realize that I also needed to take a moment to stop and smell the flowers. Those of you who have known me for a long time know that I had a very hard childhood and early adulthood. A lot of that time was spent trying to stay alive and well. It hasn't been until relatively recently that I have felt at peace. I wanted to take time away from grinding all the time and enjoy precious moments with my loved ones, which can be so fleeting in life. And to just be a girl in her 20s! Moments like Cuddling with my beloved, shopping with my girlfriends and hanging out with family became my soulfood. 2016 was truly a year of healing for me, in many ways.

I also took some time to focus on school - I finish in May! I'm 26 years old and have been fighting to get through school since I was 18. It was a long, grueling battle but I am so happy to be getting it out of the way.

And so, where are we now?


Well, I've finished part III of PS, and am preparing to launch part IV! It seems the "Demigod" has run out of patience, and Sophia is out of time! What will she do?

 I'm feeling well adjusted to PS's new format as well, and I'm having a lot of fun tweaking the aesthetic. I have a lot of exciting ideas for executing this chapter and I can't wait to share them all. I've relocated across the country to the Pacific Northwest and work from home now, so lot's more time to create! However, its crunch time for school, so it will take some time before updates are weekly again. part IV will most likely premier at the end of April/beginning of May, and I'll have more information on a schedule as we go along. I'm VERY excited about this chapter - I've learned so much and feel confident that this chapter will be a strong one. And teach me even more!

This journey has humbled me in ways I cannot even begin to express. I will be making a separate journal, similar to the "10 things I've learned" entry I'd previously published to highlight what I've learned during this epoch. I also aim to continue to update this blog (much more frequently!) and give you guys a few sneak-peeks and exclusive content. I want to thank everyone for their support, as always it is immensely appreciated. Knowing that there are people out there who support my work and my ideas is an honor.
Take Care!


-Ai