Hire This Woman was a long-running series of interviews at ComicsAlliance overseen by Janelle Asselin. We’re happy to announce that from here on out, with Asselin’s blessing, we’ll be taking over the “Hire This Woman” mantle. Using the questions from the original series we’ll be interviewing our favourite creators who identify as anything other than a man—the title of the column, naturally, will be subject to the subject— and having in-depth discussions about their work, process, and portfolio! Where the ComicsAlliance series ran as Q&As, our series will always be profiles.
For our inaugural edition I sat down with Bianca Xunise to chat about creating art, the ideal workspace, and her fantastic body of work.
Xunise is a radical cartoonist, whose work focuses on music, being a goth, politics, and race. When it comes to her craft, Xunise is eclectic, just like her artistic background.”I like doing a little bit of everything. I work on paper and then I colour digitally. I have a BFA in graphic design from the University of Illinois. And drawing for me, I’m self-taught. I still had to take fine art classes in school for drawing all that kinda stuff, but I don’t have a degree in illustration, my degree is more technical in graphic design.”
You’ve probably seen Xunise’s work on HelloGiggles, The Nib, or maybe splashed across your favourite Adorned By Chi shirt. Her style is instantly recognisable, and Xunise sees that as a reflection of herself and her influences. “My creative style is grungy cute. I don’t mind my drawings being cute, I like them to be cute. But it’s not necessarily total kawaii-ness, ya know? It’s not just lolita drawings of cakes. It’s more like it’s cute but it’s a bat and lil punk dudes punching each other and stuff! I think that comes from a lot of the comics I used to read. I read a lot of manga but I preferred more of the comics that were in the back of the book. I would be reading this action comic and then get bored and skip to the back where everybody was like chibi sized and looks more like a slice of life. So it’d be them just making pancakes or something. And then I also read a lot of comics grunge comics in the ’90s from my older brothers.”
As well as publishing work at numerous online outlets, Xunise has worked with companies like Red Bull and has created wonderful self-published work. Even as we chatted, she was actually sketching. “Right now I’m working on my hourly comics, at this exact moment I’m actually inking while I’m talking to you! I’m having fun with it. I think because writing about myself is what I do all the time, it’s easy for me for me to write about myself. Versus when I watch some of my friends struggle with this because they don’t normally write about themselves. So they’ll be like, ‘Wooah, what do I do?!?’ But it’s easy for me to expand my brain to create this high stakes universe when your subject is almost always exclusively about yourself.”
Music is something Xunise loves deeply, and this year she’s aiming to reflect that in new work. “I’m working on a lot of stuff that I can’t talk about right now! I can say that I’m pushing a lot more towards bringing more music influence and a lot more like goth and punk music into my work. In fact, I’m working on a piece right now about music and I think I probably mentioned this to you before, it kept going into like post-production hell. We finally got it to a good place so there should be some fun stuff coming out this March that I’m excited about. After my whole situation with the hospital, I sat down and was like we need to restructure everything like, ‘Okay, what is serving you? What can you cut? What can you rearrange? What needs to be prioritised?'” Xunise shared, “Last year, I was making the clothes and that was fun, it was something I always wanted to do. But I feel like comics for me last year was more or less promoting things that I’d already made, but I didn’t really feel like I made anything new last year and I missed that. I got so busy with my 9 to 5, but comics is really important to me so I knew I had to restructure this and put comics first.”
The act of comics is something that varies for each creator, especially when it comes to how long it takes. “To create a finished comic, it could take me at minimum two hours. That’s gonna be a one panel illustration that I’ll probably throw on Instagram or Twitter, and it’ll be like an afterthought. That’s at minimum two hours and that’s if the spirit moves me. But usually about three days, and that’s just including getting distracted or editing or getting held up or juggling other projects. But start to finish, even if my distractions were low, probably from discovering the idea and running it out and going back and forth with my editors… actually, like two weeks!” Xunise stated, “For example, if it’s gonna be a Nib comic then around two weeks. If it’s gonna be like one of those slice of life comics that I do for myself those can be like three days, especially if I’m not working that whole 12 hour slot. I’ll work on a little bit then I’ll do something else. So yeah, two hours to two weeks!”
Xunise is most well known for her shorter cartooning, but she has plans on creating other more longer-form work. “My dream project, I dunno if I should tell you this… I’ll be obscure. I have two. One of them is to really get that autobiographical graphic novel to completion. I’m like my hardest critic, so I definitely enjoy the work that I do, the mini-comics that I have, all of that is great. But I want to push myself to get to that long-form format where it’s a continuous story for hundreds of pages.
“The work that I usually reference is Lucy Knisley‘s work, so I want something more on the scale of that but still keeping my sensibilities. The other one is that I really want to dive into talking about music and the importance of it, and how It serves a purpose of taking action politically. How it’s more than just what the kids are listening to and the sound— it serves a purpose. Especially with the climate that we’re in now, I’m really excited about music. It sounds weird but as things get worse politically, art gets better. I’m just excited about at least trying to find a silver lining about this dump we’re in.”
Growing up with an older brother, Xunise picked up some of his tastes when it comes to cult classic comics. “When I was younger my favourite person was Adrian Tomine. Optic Nerve was the first comic I ever found that wasn’t about superheros and it wasn’t manga either. As a kid, I’d read manga, but I never really considered this was something that could be done in the United States, like ‘Oh, this is cool. This is something that Japan has and I can’t have because I’m watching it from the outside.’ But then I found Optic Nerve and I was like ‘Oh, you can talk about nothing in a comic and that’s totally cool.’ It doesn’t have to be a cape comic. It could be a story about your relationship with your mother and that’s fantastic. I gobbled it all up. I own each single issue because I’m that person. And then, let’s see, Daniel Clowes, Ghost World was also really important to me. It combined music and cynicism and girlhood and all these other things. But it wasn’t until I got older and found works by women that set it to a new scale, because now with my third eye open I can go back and Daniel Clowes and Adrian Tomine and be like ‘Oh, wow, I don’t know if I really agree with that.'”
Her hometown and the creators who have passed through have made a big impact on Xunise, though it was the women she discovered later on who really shaped her work. “Living in Chicago, a lot of these dudes come through or live here, and I definitely respect the first generation sad white boy comic dudes. I really like Liz Prince’s work. I own her book Tomboy, but I also own a lot of her older, older stuff. Seeing her work and the simplicity of it, I was like ‘Oh, okay, even my art can be accepted.’ Also, Jane Mai, her diary comics, she has that one comic I’ll See You Next Tuesday. Just reading her diary comics and being like ‘Oh, okay, you can talk about relationship problems, it doesn’t have to be that deep.'”
Another seminal moment in Xunise’s life as a cartoonist came when she discovered the DC comics imprint aimed at young women, Minx. “I own all their comics. Just seeing comics with female protagonists where their whole purpose isn’t about being sexy or getting a boy. I mean, I have no problems with a low stakes love story. If it stills adds the complication of ‘You’re in junior high and there’s this boy you like but now you realise you’re being a bad friend and abandoning sisterhood and how important it is compared to this hot guy on a skateboard.’ Like I have gone out of my way and searched the discount bin at local comic book stores for the Minx comics because if I get to that point where I decide to spawn then I would like to share those comics with my duplicates!”
Living and working spaces are vital to creative process, and it’s often hard for us to strike that balance. Luckily Xunise has carved out the perfect environment in her Chicago home. “In my apartment we’ve turned the whole entire living room into an office. It works because it’s like old turn of the century style where everything has a door with an open floor. The living room is its own room, the dining room is its own room, the kitchen is its own room. My workspace faces south and I get sun all day and it’s perfect because I don’t have to go outside, it’s those big Victorian windows that take up the whole wall. I really like my it. I went through this stage where I wanted it all minimal and wanted nothing on the walls. But now I’m kind of like ‘No, I think I want the witchy grandma house that has too much stuff now.'”
Xunise’s art is universally great, but has important threads and themes, and for Xunise that’s one of the things she hopes that people get from her work. “That it’s inclusive, that it focuses on different types of people from different walks of life. It isn’t cookie cutter and doesn’t follow the beaten path that so many people before me have already done. I try to explore a lot of different ideologies and beliefs. Bringing black women, women of colour, queer women, and non-binary people to the front–boys to the back, sorry. That’s where I focus it, that’s where I want my narrative to be. I want to highlight narratives that haven’t had a chance to be at the forefront, to take center stage. We’ve heard the same stories again and again, and now we can see the success of stories that haven’t been told.”
She has seen that progression in other mediums and wants to bring it to comics. “You see the progress in film, in terms of Moonlight— that’s a story where it’s the first time it’s ever been told. Something that was such a simple story about finding yourself, a coming of age tale, but it still had this layer of a background of a person of colour dealing with a drug-abusive mother, an absent father, and this other father figure who was a dark-skinned Cuban man. It had all of these things that I hope my work can have, the same complexity, with different kinds of people that never get a chance to shine. Also, my work is fun, it’s cute, and I know my music. If you want spooky cute things, come to me!”