Comics is a unique medium for self-expression. Autobiographical works from the serious, like David Small’s STITCHES and Alison Bechdel’s FUN HOME, to the whimsical, like Lynda Barry’s ONE! HUNDRED! DEMONS! give readers a variety of stunning options. Joining these and many others, Rina Ayuyang’s BLAME THIS ON THE BOOGIE is a vibrant and joyful autobiographical graphic memoire from Drawn & Quarterly. Ayuyang lovingly narrates life as a Filipino American growing up in 1980s Pittsburgh. Her bold illustrations whirl across the pages sweeping readers off their feet. 

Image courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly.

We had the pleasure of talking with Ayuyang about BLAME THIS ON THE BOOGIE. Ayuyang shares her thoughts on comics and memoire, her artistic process, and what’s coming next. 

[Editor’s note: portions of this interview have been lightly edited for clarity].

ComicsVerse (CV): Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your wonderful autobiographical work! Can you tell our readers a little bit about what they can expect from BLAME THIS ON THE BOOGIE?

Rina Ayuyang (RA): Glad to chat with you! BLAME THIS ON THE BOOGIE is my personal homage to the classic Hollywood Musical and the 80s pop music scene. It explores how both helped me through the hardships of childhood and accepting my Filipino identity in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and strangely enough got me through some intense periods during parenthood and my struggles of comics-making.

CV: Comics has become a popular medium for autobiography. Artists like Lynda Barry, Alison Bechdel, and Nicole Georges come to mind. How did you decide comics was the best medium for your story?

RA: I always loved comics when I was a child. I loved drawing and sharing humorous stories about my life experience, so making comics just made sense! But I first realized that I could tell my own personal stories through comics when I discovered Adrian Tomine’s OPTIC NERVE, Chester Brown’s I NEVER LIKED YOU and John Porcellino’s KING CAT minicomics series. They all told amazing, heartfelt stories of average, ordinary people and that really made an impact on me. I learned that comics didn’t just have to revolve around sci-fi or Marvel or DC superheroes.

Image courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly.

CV: Your style is very colorful and full of movement. It is a happy kind of chaos that sweeps readers into the story. Can you tell us more about how you arrived at this style?

RA: I think it  comes from doodling in my sketchbook. One year, I was on this mission to draw a short strip or doodle every single day and make sure to post it on my blog (to feel productive about it). A lot of the time I would draw on the bus to and from work, and so the challenge was to get it done before the commute was over. So I got that “chaotic” animated style from that ritual.

I think I also got this fast technique from one of my painting teachers in college back in the day, who taught us this exercise to watch TV and try to draw the movement from the show you were watching as it happened. I liked that spontaneous feeling I got from that and drawing on-the-go. It felt immediate and very much a record of the present. I liked how it lively it captured moments on the page.

CV: BLAME THIS ON THE BOOGIE serves as a love letter to 80s music and many styles of dance. You capture the movement of dance beautifully. You also catch the bursts of emotion that we feel when we hear great music. Was this a challenge for you to portray in comics, a silent medium?

RA: Oh definitely! How do you portray movement in a book?!! It’s almost impossible! But I think part of drawing is feeling the line, not just robotically putting something down on paper. That’s the same way with listening to music, right? You feel the notes being played and you interpret or react to it through movement and dance. I think that’s the same way I tried to interpret the feeling or reaction when hearing a great song or seeing an exuberant dance number in a musical. I wanted to recreate that joyfulness and expression on the page through vibrant, technicolor scenes through the bold colored pencils and sweeping strokes on the page!

CV: BLAME THIS ON THE BOOGIE takes a memoir-like format, where you explore different phases of your life. You include experiences such as being bullied in middle school and high school, and the 2011 Steelers-Packers’ Super Bowl. How did you choose what made it into the book?

RA: I was very much set on making a feel-good story. There were indeed down moments of my life that were represented in the book, but the idea was to quickly replace those moments with happier or humorous ones— and that’s how musicals inspired me in this book, as a means to escape from sad, harsh reality to happy, funny and joyous moments. I think I also needed the story to be that way, possibly because I needed an escape from all the depressing and emotionally-charged events that are happening every day in American politics right now!

Image courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly.

CV: Another major aspect of your work is the juxtaposition between your childhood and your motherhood. Both experiences influence your art. You also explore your identity as someone from the Philippines, as well as a Pittsburgher. Could you elaborate on your process for making sense of these identities in your art?

RA: Comics is one of the most accessible ways to share stories, especially ones that you don’t see that often. For example, coming from the self-published works of mini-comics, it’s very easy to tell your own personal truth and in this case to share a story in comics form about a Filipino American girl growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Comics is also a great medium to connect with those that are seemingly different than yourself. Even though I’m telling a story of a certain Filipino family in a certain town during a certain time, it also tells stories that are universal like childhood, horrible school experiences, parenthood, and the impact of pop culture and social media.

I also wanted to compare how I coped as a child to how my son copes with his own childhood. I wanted to explore how my experiences as a kid shaped how I am as a parent and how it could possibly influence my son’s journey.

CV: Who or what are some of your creative influences?

RA: Oh there’s so many. I love so many painters from the Bay Area Figurative Movement that worked bold lines, colors and movement like David Park, Richard Diebenkorn and James Weeks. And there are so many cartoonists that I look up to like Lynda Barry, The Hernandez Bros, Joann Star and Lewis Trondheim to name a few.

CV: What’s next on your creative agenda?

RA: I am doing research and working on a film noir detective story that is set during the 1920s and focusing on the Filipino American immigration experience in California during that time. It’s somewhat a departure from dance and autobio, but my family history and found family photo albums from that time will definitely help drive the story. I’m pretty excited..and intimidated by it!

BLAME THIS ON THE BOOGIE is available from Drawn & Quarterly here!

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