Pages 2-3 of Not To Be Racist

Read the full comic Not To Be Racist here:

One of the electives I’m taking this semester at uni is a design course in which I’ve been tasked to design a zine, a magazine/poster/article/pamphlet/thing ..? It’s pretty broad on what a zine can be, so the brief was to theme it after a social/political/cultural topic. A couple of ideas were kicking around in my head: asexuality or racism. Funnily the tutor suggested choosing a topic like the perception of ibises if we were struggling to find a topic.

I’d been thinking about making a short film about casual racism for a while. There’s a lot of media about discrimination faced by Black people but I feel like Asian racism is only just starting to come up in discussion. I had a conversation with someone last year about transphobia and racism. He argued, after watching a Dave Chappelle Netflix special, that trans people should not be comparing transphobia to racism because it supposedly negates racism..? Like “transphobia is not as bad as racism so you shouldn’t say it’s like racism.” I tried telling him that by saying one thing is bad doesn’t mean another thing is not also bad. By comparing two things that are bad, someone who doesn’t understand why thing 1 is bad can begin to understand because of their existing understanding of why thing 2 is bad. He argued “but Black people had slavery!”, forgetting that I am Chinese. He’s cis and white, by the way.


Things like this remind me that many people don’t realise Asian racism exists – racism is just something to happens to Black people. But it happens more than you think. Primary school kids shout “SPEAK ENGLISH!” as they ride their bikes past me. Teenagers call out “KONNICHIWA” while I’m waiting for the bus, as a middle-aged woman walks ups to me speaking ching-chong gobbledygook. This is just stuff that has happened in the past few years. In school, I was basically the only Asian student, which meant that the other kids assumed I was related to any other Asian they saw. They loved to slant their eyes to mock my Asian facial features. It’s stupid, and labeling it as “childish” implies that it’s a normal thing for children to do. This shit leaves trauma.

So yeah, a lot of material to pull from.

Choosing to take a design course was not an immediate 100% let’s do it. I had two electives to fill this semester; The last two years, I did screen media courses and each time I thought to myself “Never. Again.” before forgetting about it when it came to select electives again. While I love filmmaking, studying it and having your art be graded on criteria is just so discouraging. Industry filmmaking is so formal, structured, scripted – and I don’t jell with it anymore. And also working in groups where everyone makes it deeply apparent they’d rather be doing absolutely anything else but filmmaking is not fun.

My favourite thing about filmmaking is the problem solving. I often think about David F Samberg’s video on ‘The Problem Solving of Filmmaking‘ and various commentaries from Matt Johnson about how they found the structure in the edit or as they were filming. I’m terrible at improvisation, but it’s what I enjoy the most – and often in my short films the best jokes were unscripted and just happened cause I thought of it in the moment.

This comic, like my short films, was basically improvised, bodged together. I didn’t write a script or a plan for how the comic would play out. I just thought of an idea and immediately scribbled drawings on paper. A tutor, after I showed the finished zine to her, said it had a clear structure. It was only after I had drawn the sketches for each story that I realised I could arrange them in a narrative going from light-hearted to dramatic.

One reason I was nervous when choosing to take a design course – knowing there’d be a zine – was that I can’t draw. I haven’t drawn art in years. The most I’ve done in the past few years is doodling storyboards for short films, which I stopped doing when I started fully improvising. 1 double-sided A3 paper, or 8 A5 pages needed to be filled with content. I knew I couldn’t get away with minimalism – drawing small pictures or writing a little bit of text surrounded by a vast amount of white space – 1. because I’m not smart enough to come up with some artsy justification and 2. because it’s boring.

The last comic I made, from November 2016.
A storyboard from my short film Raindrops (2021)

I scribbled a rough draft of each comic page on paper. A couple stories were redrawn when I thought of a more interesting layout.

I experimented with drawing over old pictures of me but cartoony, but it just looked plain bad.

Page 1 Digital redraw Draft

Also there’s so much white space. It sucks. I looked through some greyscale comic books I have and was inspired by Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper series. She uses paint brush strokes in the backdrops of panels, and well I just thought it looked cool and it dealt with the overwhelming empty space on each page so I tried it out with a brush in Photoshop called ‘Kyle’s Ultimate Pastel Palooza’.

Page 1 Digital redraw Draft 2

By the end of the comic, I’d found making it quite therapeutic and maybe went a bit overboard on the paint splatter. I still had 1 page left I needed to figure out how to fill. I tried going for minimalism, and then kept adding stuff.

Page 7 draft
Full final story spread across 3 pages

I compared the earliest page I’d drawn (the ‘Is that your mum?’ story) with the later pieces and recognised that my art got less bad as each page went on. I was really unhappy with the front cover, and the fact that it’ll be the first thing anyone who reads it sees, so the last day before I had to submit the zine, I redrew the first page. I actually had to finish “colouring”/filling in the colours at the uni on a mouse hours before I submitted it cause I had to catch an early bus. I printed the comic on paper – stapled it together, and for the final page, made a little flappy part to reveal alternative panels.

I’m really happy with the final piece. It’s the most personal I’ve gotten in my art and doing it has kind of revitalised my interest in drawing art. It’s also really gratifying to have just made a thing. I made something that didn’t exist before and now it’s in my hands.

I don’t think I’ll ever be an artist, but I’m loving experimenting in other mediums to express myself.

I’ve been thinking about music lately.