Singapore comic artist Weng Pixin turns her heartbreak into graphic novel

Sweet Time charts Weng Pixin's work from when she was 25 to her early 30s. PHOTO: DRAWN & QUARTERLY

SINGAPORE - Heartbreak drove Weng Pixin into comics.

Unable to talk to family or friends about a break-up in her mid-20s, the Singaporean artist poured her loneliness into drawing.

"I thought I could paint it out," she says. "But I realised that drawing wasn't enough. And then I started to write words around it and it turned out I have a lot of things to say, and the medium of comics really gave me an avenue to say them."

Weng, 37, has had her debut book Sweet Time published by Drawn & Quarterly, the Canada-based company renowned for publishing cartoonists such as Chris Ware, Kate Beaton and Chester Brown.

In 2018, it published Nick Drnaso's Sabrina, the first graphic novel to be longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

"It was surreal," says Weng. "It was like being invited to a party by a group of musicians you listened to when you were growing up."

Sweet Time, which charts Weng's work from when she was 25 to her early 30s, is a collection of colourful stories and scenes, some whimsical, many melancholy.

A couple wander down the street towards a fantastical house full of birds. Argentina Diaries is a series of travel snapshots: a dead dog lying by the highway, a juggler performing for drivers at a stop light, a jacaranda tree in bloom.

"I'm lost," reads the caption of a painting of a traffic junction. "'Get down at this stop,' my gut says. And, I found, I was exactly where I ought to be."

Weng has been creating comics since 2006. She studied painting at what was then Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts, but upon graduation, baulked at seeking representation at galleries.

"I've never felt comfortable with that whole environment," she says. "I've always felt like making art and sharing it with as many people as I can makes a lot more sense than to sell it exclusively at ridiculous prices."

Instead, she worked as a waitress and made art in her down time. She liked how methodical waitressing was, she says, and how it kept her body in motion. At the cafe she worked at, the owners let her put her paintings up on the walls.

Seven years in and frustrated that she could not find an avenue to publish her work, she was considering giving up on comics.

Then she went to Buenos Aires for a residency. There, she met an artist whom she had been friends with online for years and who invited her to join Chicks On Comics, a collective for female cartoonists.

"I saw how having your own tribe helps you, as an artist, feel less alone in your craft," she says.

Weng, who also sews and holds art workshops for children, has another graphic novel under consideration for publication, based on her matrilineal line. It depicts scenes from the women in this line, from her great-grandmother to her imaginary future daughter, each aged 15.

"I feel my work can come across as (feminine), that people will look at it and go, 'Whoa, that's so emotional.' I think that sometimes 'That's so emotional' is almost like a bracket, 'that's so female'.

"But I don't really care. It doesn't matter to me whether you see it as female or not. As an artist, I just want to focus on making my work, without having it clouded by any external noise."

• Sweet Time ($41.45) is available here

• Weng's other work is available at this website

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