California-based comic artist and illustrator Yumi Sakugawa's work has featured everything from lonely one-eyed monsters to an ode to The Baby-Sitters Club character Claudia Kishi. Her off-beat comics that explore the trials and tribulations of human interaction have been featured in Sadie Magazine and The Rumpus and her comic zine Mundane Fortunes for the Next Ten Billion Years And Other Stories was chosen as a Notable Comic of 2012 by the Best American Comics anthology. We talked to Sakugawa about unrequited friend love, meditation, and exploring relationships in outer space.
How did you first get started drawing comics? Is it something you've always done?
I always enjoyed drawing and writing as a kid. I think even at a young age I was just making up stories in drawings and writing and I just didn't know that I was making comics. It was just my way of expressing myself. For the longest time in my early 20's, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do. I was torn between different mediums -- I wanted to be an artist, I wanted to be a playwright, an illustrator. It wasn't until after I graduated that everything came together in my head and I wanted to be a comic book artist. I didn't have to choose between drawing and writing -- I could combine the two perfectly in one medium.
When it comes to writing and drawing your comics, what comes first: the images or the words?
More often than not it's usually the writing. One famous cartoonist said, "I'm a writer who happens to like to draw," or something to that effect, and I relate to that sentiment really well. I think before I start any story the writing has to be very clear in my head, whether it is the dialogue or the text or even just the narrative structure.
Many of your shorter comics, like "Mermaid" and "Full Moon" for example, are very poetic. Do you find that your writing style tends to lean towards more of a simple, poetic composition when you're writing?
I think that's actually a very recent thing. I think my comics before have usually just been straight-forward prose. I guess this is a new direction. I'm not really sure where I'm going to take it, or whether it's just a phase that I want to keep pursuing. I guess it's the state of mind I am in right now where I don't necessarily want to say too much in my comics in terms of text -- [I] want to be more simple with my words. I find that even the finished form of the comics are very short but they actually started out much longer. I really take a lot of joy in shaving off words until a three paragraph text sort of becomes two sentences or a paragraph condenses itself into one sentence.
I absolutely loved your "I Think I Am In Friend-Love With You" comic. What was the inspiration behind that?
Well, I've definitely had many unrequited friend loves throughout my life [laughs]. I think it was inspired by hanging out with a college friend and talking about college -- the things I did in college that you don't really get [to do] in the adult world, the "real world." It got me thinking about college-specific emotions that I experienced during my early twenties that I don't experience as much these days. I think in college -- as with a lot of people who have just graduated from high school and are entering this new phase of their lives -- I felt this overwhelming desire to be understood by somebody or to feel a connection with somebody that wasn't necessarily a crush or a romantic love, but just wanting somebody to really "get" me.
I wanted to explore that idea because in many ways an unrequited friend love is sadder than an unrequited crush because with an unrequited crush, it happens all the time so it's sort of understandable that you don't fit a person's particular guidelines for a romantic partner or a soulmate. With a friendship it's much more general and the guidelines aren't so strict, so it's a greater blow to not have your friend crush requited. [The comic was] definitely based on several friend crushes I've had in my younger years -- some names I won't reveal.
A lot of your comics deal with human connections and relationships and the distances that can exist between people -- you've even written about people going into outer space! Are you typically drawn to the subject of intimate relationships and how they evolve?
I'm very interested in different ways people try to connect to each other or feel disconnected to each other. I actually don't know why I write about space so much. I guess one major influence for me is Ray Bradbury. I loved reading his stories in high school that explored human relationships, love and loss and connection in this fantastic context of outer space or Mars colonies.
Those fantastical backdrops [outer space] hone in on the nature of whatever connection that might be on your mind, whether it's someone you feel close to or someone you love that's very far away or someone who's sort of passed on to another phase of his or her life that you're no longer a part of.
Your guides to meditating are beautiful. How does meditating affect your process as an artist?
I've been inspired by a book written by film director David Lynch called Catching The Big Fish. He wrote this amazing book, which I actually consumed in audiobook form -- I recommend it because David Lynch has such an amazing reading voice -- and he writes about how transcendental meditation helps him as an artist and his creative process. Reading that definitely inspired me to take meditation seriously on a daily basis. For me, meditation helps in so many ways. It's like setting the reset button on your brain. It's so easy for us with our smart phones and computers and daily schedules to get distracted and bogged down by so much of the daily bullshit that we have to go through. Meditation is just this amazing, simple way to completely clear your head and deepen your creativity. As superstitious as this sounds, it's a great way for me to receive messages on a subconscious level of what to do next, whether it's in my artwork or in my life.
Who are some of your favorite comic artists?
There's this Japanese female manga artist named Moto Hagio whose short stories and graphic novels were recently released in its English translation by Fantagraphics. They released her collection A Drunken Dream and Other Stories and this full-length, ginormous graphic novel Heart of Thomas. I came across her stories last year and they were so amazing and I was shocked that I hadn't heard about her more and that she isn't more famous. Another graphic artist I really love is Rutu Modan. She wrote and drew Exit Wound. Definitely Blankets by Craig Thompson, I think that was the first indie graphic novel I read that wasn't a manga or a Marvel Comic. And Adrian Tomine was one of the first indie comic artists that inspired me to pursue comic books.
Are there any upcoming projects that you're working on that we should look out for?
I'm in the process of doing a print version of "I Think I'm In Friend-Love With You" because a lot of people have asked about it. I definitely want to make more follow-ups to zines that I've released about meditation and self-love and all that other good stuff. Definitely more short comics and zine collections. I'll also be tabling at different zine conventions in the next few months. In February I'll be tabling at the LA Zine Fest, in April I'll be tabling at the Brooklyn Zine Fest, in May I'll be tabling at the Toronto Comics and Arts Festival, which I'm really excited about. I'm also working on a long-term book contract. I guess you could say it's a graphic novel. It's a complete secret -- I haven't told anyone about the story!