YAYA 涯涯 is a multimedia artist whose print works make up our latest virtualgoodsdealer creator partners drop. The collection of selected works include a comic book, a poster print, and stickers. View and shop the collection on our online store, virtualgoodsdealer products. In honor of carrying YAYA 涯涯’s works on virtualgoodsdealer, we decided to speak to them about the inspirations behind their work.
Who are some artists, in any medium, that you look up to?
YAYA 涯涯: This is a dangerous question because I could go on forever… But here are some that I consider to be the most personally resonant for me.
Asano Inio has a very abrasive earnestness to his storytelling and drawing style that I feel deeply seen by just as much as I cringe at his intense misogyny that lives in his work. I like his highly technical cinematic composition style and his searingly but also beautifully nihilistic slice of life writing that also taps into a very raw existential inquiry into what it feels like to be broken and alienated from society & his despairing questioning of what “normalcy” really is. I really admire and take inspiration from the way he integrates pop aesthetics with extreme emotions.
Naoki Yamamoto’s erotic manga is very intellectual and abstract, I love how it’s genuinely so hot & self-aware yet spliced with a lot of extreme violence and a totally transparent display of his own fetishes. I’m drawn to the political undertones and casual absurdity of his work and how he explores themes of power and social rigidity through sex. I like that he’s both extremely intelligent and horny, and very naturally expresses both characteristics in his work.
Katsuhiro Otomo is a huge inspiration for me as he is an absolute monster of an artist. I’m constantly in awe of the integrity and dedication with which he approaches his work. Akira and Domu are cultural behemoths, and I draw just as much aesthetic and thematic inspiration from his art as I do from thinking about the ways his work has assimilated into pop culture vocabularies.
Haruko Ichikawa is my original inspiration for diving into making art about queer voids, emptiness, and rage. I resonate with her unique storytelling style that taps into the philosophics of self-gestalt, truth manipulation, and abuse and grooming in poetic and soul-crushing ways.
ZUTOMAYO is one of my favorite jpop artists currently active. I am a huge fan of their acrobatic, high-energy, technically stimulating pop music, but I especially love the multiverse of indie AMVs they’ve been making with some of the coolest indie animators right now.
Dreamcrusher makes the most expansive and warmest soft-yet-strong queer nihilist revolt musik. Their live sets changed the way I experienced live music forever – as a heavily experiential and spiritually cleansing abrasive hug, where “now” is the most important thing. Please support their music!
Tsai Ming Liang has such a beautiful visual language within and across his films, I really relate to his poetic intuition for shot composition and editing. He weaves such aching metaphors for intimate disconnect and alienation in contemporary urban settings.
“mirror in the mirror” is a comic book with original art and story by YAYA 涯涯. Mixing existential comics and poetry, this 68-page saga explores themes of self/other, love/loss, subject/object, and more.
A digital preview is available here, courtesy of the artist. Originally completed & released in February 2020, a 2nd print edition was released through Quiet Year in October 2020. This edition is currently available for purchase at virtualgoodsdealer products.
What was your process for creating “mirror in the mirror”? Did you start with the poems or with the drawings or with the story?
YAYA 涯涯: I didn’t have the finished product in mind when I started, I was just making short comic “vignettes” at first because I felt like I really wanted to try out various ideas for co-opting manga language for my own ends. I didn’t feel like I could successfully write a whole story, and thought maybe my strength is more in these nonlinear, abstracted “moments” moreso than linear storytelling. So I sketched out a few different comics and it was very intuitive, whether it was working a lot on one comic or just a little bit on a few. I wanted to develop a low pressure but intentional method of creative working where it felt like I was moving forward a little bit each day even if I didn’t have a particular end goal in mind.
Once I had the bulk of the comics and illustrations mostly completed, I started thinking more about the flow, and what was still missing. I felt like I needed something to link everything and form a structure, so I thought my poetry might work well for that. Once I had all my puzzle pieces, it was a matter of curating everything into the most intuitively logical flow, thinking about the themes and ideas of each piece, the connecting points, the dissenting points, and arranging them in a way that leads but also rebuffs the viewer. I wanted the book to be an obscured yet transparent expression of the feelings that I was holding onto at that point in my life, a record of who I was at that space-time vertex that’s abstracted in a way that hopefully makes room for the viewer to enter into and gain something from.
At the end of “mirror in the mirror”, you mention that CLAMP was an inspiration for you. I can see that in some of the character designs and in the non-linear storytelling and multi-world settings.
What were some of your inspirations behind the character designs featured in the pieces we are carrying?
YAYA 涯涯: For the comic, I designed the characters pretty fast. I wanted to make characters that incorporated elements I thought were cool so I would have fun drawing them (robot parts, disfigurements, gay, cat ears, jacked women). I designed them in pairs since self/other is a core theme of the book, so I designed them to meaningfully contrast yet still look good together.
The print character is a direct reference to Chii from Chobits. I started thinking about her a lot, how she is this extreme embodiment of East Asian feminine ideals - passive, obedient, blithe, helpless and totally dependent on a man, pale, thin, cute and sexy, her whole existence predicated on loving a man and being loved in return. It’s easy for certain demographics of people to relate to her, as someone who is objectified, sexualized, and commodified based on appearance, and as a figurative and literal object. But she’s also very existential as an object that can’t serve her intended function as a computer, which I like.
I was also thinking about the ambiguous yet emotive expressions that Asano Inio draws, the way he utilizes cinematic lighting and subtle adjustments in line work to create these layered, intense, and earnest expressions in his characters.
So with both of those influences I thought it would be interesting to try drawing a character that’s a fucked up Chii. Like what if Chii had the freedom to be insane and pathological and full of rage and intent to kill? She had all this society-bending power within her the whole time – what if it was hers to use as she pleased, for her own selfish and impure reasons that had nothing to do with whether a man loved her back or not? I basically drew the print with that in mind. I think in doing that I made Chii trans.
Can you talk more about the character design elements that look cool to you? What elements are you drawn to?
YAYA 涯涯: Right now, I’d say I’m very into character designs that embody a dangerous sexuality, particularly in women characters. I like a very open sexiness that can and will defend itself mercilessly or even kill just for fun. I like things that attract you and make you desire it, but then lash out and hurt you when you get too close, similar to what Kunihiko Ikuhara said in an interview, a sweet manjuu bun that’s actually toxic and poisonous when eaten. But beneath the rage and defiance there’s a very deep nihilistic sorrow and emptiness. I like character designs that can project that kind of image.
I also really like artful muscles. Like not really macho muscles but muscles that play into forming beautiful body lines and expressing purposeful strength. Long black hair is something that consistently attracts me, particularly in male characters, because it makes me want to be them lol.
And obviously, I’m drawn to cat ears, but I’m also picky about cat ear designs. I think they make no sense anatomically when there’s cat ears and also human ears, the exception being Loveless where they lose their cat ears after losing their virginity, so they would still need ears afterward. I prefer a wider rounded shape to cat ears rather than pointy narrow ones. They should be the same color as hair, because anatomically that makes the most sense right? Unless they’re removable appendages, Chobits-style. I don’t have a placement preference, though I do think side cat ears are more baby, while top-of-head cat ears are more adult-like.
Riding motorcycles is a very cool and unique pastime of yours. What’s your favorite part of it?
YAYA 涯涯: I’m into motorcycles for the romance – both for the IRL manifestation of my Kino no Tabi fantasies, but also for what motorcycles show me about the way that I express and feel love. Motorcycles are my constructive escape from the mundanity of everyday life – most of my work for my day job and my art is digital and I consume all my media digitally, so I’m on computers and screens all the time except when I’m sleeping or on a bike. They take me far and get me into sticky situations I’d never be in otherwise. I see and experience the most beautiful sights when I ride the coastline or through the mountains in SoCal. They make me feel like part of my surroundings rather than caged off from it. My bike brings me to my friends, helps me expand my world, forces me to stay conscious and present in-the-moment; it’s visceral and physical, very much the opposite of my usual activities but in a balancing and grounding way. The intensity metabolizes and purifies a lot of heavy feelings that would otherwise fester inside me. Bikes represent great freedom and power, but (as I’ve learned the hard way) also great responsibility and forethought.
I recently realized that most cis women who ride motorcycles have husbands and boyfriends that help them through every part of the process, so me as a queer alien person learning such a dangerous sport in a new place with no one I could rely on to guide me in a highly cis male-dominated activity was really going through it on Extreme Difficulty Mode, and I did pay for that in more ways than one. So my lesson was that I have to put in that much more extra effort into researching my bike, doing the maintenance required to keep it running well, evaluating my riding technique and what I need to improve, taking care of it and growing into it. But in doing that, I find that the more effort I put into the bike, the more deeply I recognize and appreciate what it does for me and how my efforts are reciprocated (with the right bike anyway). Bikes are very personal and special machines, and I find that I have to cultivate and reflect on myself just as much as I have to take care of my bike to be a good rider and live to ride another day. It’s not for everyone, but bikes have become a necessary part of how I experience life.
Does it impact you as an artist?
YAYA 涯涯: I don’t think it directly impacts my work so much as It plays into core themes in my work while extending them in ways I wouldn’t expect. I haven’t started drawing motorcycles for instance, but the ways in which bikes make me think about and articulate how I feel about power, gender, and sexuality for instance, gets expressed into my art in indirect ways, or I focus on those ideas more when I consume media because of the reference point I now have from my bike experiences.
Like, bikes are really sexy right? They’re sexy because of the inherent danger of riding them, the high intensity bodily experience, and the lizard brain power of operating a strong machine going really fast. So in that, it makes me think about how sexuality and power are so intertwined, and I start noticing how power and sexuality are related in media and IRL. I’m really interested in how power is negotiated in sex for example, so I’m fascinated by East Asian sex work narratives of how imperial concubines or oiran sex workers experienced power within their particular social hierarchies, power and (non)consent during or via sex with men, how sexual desirability (and all the intricacies of desire) shapes the agency they are allowed to have in society, if you can call that “agency” at all. Or how most porn is a highly absurd and comedic medium that uses sex as a mechanism of exerting and maintaining power over women as a fantasy and as an industry logistic, and isn’t actually erotic or sensual at all. How all this is upset and recontextualized and takes on different meaning in queer romance and erotica and the ramifications that queerness, something that is in my view so intimately related to carnality and bodywork, has on destroying society as we know it ~
And what does it mean for me, in this body, to want to claim a place in a hobby that is 97% dominated by cis men, most of them white? This can be extrapolated to my interest in seinen incel manga, or my motion graphics work, or even my upbringing in a family/diaspora that explicitly and implicitly favored boys over girls, the ways me not wanting to be a girl (or a boy) or not acting like a “normal” girl complicated my relationship to that. Bikes are literally a vehicle for my physical body spatially but also a metaphorical vehicle for experimenting with and contemplating how I specifically relate to power, gender, and sexuality.
Finally, we asked YAYA 涯涯 to rank their favorite anime.
Some of the pieces discussed in the interview are available for sale now on our online store, virtualgoodsdealer products. Thank you YAYA 涯涯 for being so open and enthusiastic about your interests and inspirations.