Lights is a popular Canadian musician who recently released a series of comics along with a concept record. The project — called SKIN&EARTH — tells a single, united story in 14 songs and 6 comic issues. Lights wrote and recorded the music, as well as wrote, drew, inked, colored, and lettered the book.

The scope of this project is massive, but Lights was able to create a piece of work that is as skillfully done as it is emotionally gripping. In SKIN&EARTH, the main character, En, goes on a journey that readers will follow with intrigue, hope, and sometimes even desperation.

En is a student in a world where her life is very much dictated by her societal class. After her heart is broken, a mysterious, mystical woman named Tsu comes into her life and takes her on an adventure filled with everything from car-burning, to party-crashing, to cruising in the wilderness. But something’s up with Tsu. Perhaps she isn’t what she seems to be? (Warning! Spoilers regarding this plot element ahead.)

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The tale is both gripping and empowering, as is the music that goes with it. With beautiful visuals and a story you can dive into headfirst, SKIN&EARTH is a great addition to any bookshelf. It’s currently available as a trade paperback and a hardcover with some pretty amazing QR-code integration that lets you listen to the corresponding song while you read.

Lights took some time to chat with ComicsVerse about SKIN&EARTH, her process, her inspiration, and what empowers her.

ComicsVerse: First of all, congratulations on your JUNO Award! How did it feel to have this project recognized in that way?

Lights: Thank you! It always feels pretty nice to win awards, ha! In particular, the JUNO is a nice kudos from my peers in the Canadian industry. Feels good to get that kind of props especially when you do something different like I did with this project.

SKIN&EARTH #1 Page 3. Courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment.

CV: How long did you have SKIN & EARTH in your mind, and where did the story come from?

L: It has been a decade-long dream of mine to make a concept record with a comic book accompaniment. I just don’t think I ever had the confidence and guts to do it until recently.

As an artist, you’re constantly putting yourself out there for people to judge and insecurities can get the best of you and hold you back from really stepping out and trying new things. I’ve shaken off a lot of those strange pressures over the last few years and in 2016 committed myself to make this project I’d always dreamed of, for better or for worse.

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The story itself is a metaphor for a journey through depression and finding the light at the end, told in a dystopian, fantastical way, using two characters to represent two sides of myself. It points to the fact that a lot of us deal with this, and we should view it as part of what contributes to our strength as opposed to something that makes us less valuable.

CV: Which would come to you first — the images and the story, or the music? They fold into each other so well, I was wondering if they may even come to you simultaneously?

The story came first, to which I built the music. It actually created a wonderful launching pad for every song. There was always a pre-established direction in a songwriting session, having the story in mind; in terms of how it should feel and what it should be about, which was a welcome first for me. But as the songs were being written, more ideas for the story would come too. So, in the end, it was this awesome symbiotic creative embryo.

CV: So because the album was released before the last few issues of the book, we had an idea of what was coming. “Almost Had Me” sort of told readers to be on the lookout for “a wolf in the daylight,” which made it a tad obvious that Tsu was disingenuous. Can you talk through that decision to let readers/listeners in on that idea by releasing the record when you did?

L: I’m so glad you were able to dive into the project with this kind of depth! That’s all anyone wants as an artist! I knew at some point either all the comics would be out before the music or vice versa, and I really was excited about it. I liked the ability to give people a chance to guess what one art form might look like when you have only the other. Art is at its finest when it forces imagination.

SKIN&EARTH #1 Page 5. Courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment.

CV: Clearly you’re a busy person and this was a huge project. What motivates you to create when you’re tired and would rather just relax and unwind for like 10 seconds? What gets you excited to make something and power through the fatigue?

L: I actually enjoyed creating every panel of this comic; that was what got me through the fact that it was a ton of grind work. I was lucky that if I got burnt out on one thing, I could just move to a different art form. I’d go work on lyrics or write a song, or work on the storyline. I was able to bounce around between mediums enough that nothing got boring or tired.

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CV: The art in this book is truly awesome. It seems like anime and manga have an influence on your style? Is that right? And what else do you pull inspiration from to create your artwork?

L: I definitely give my little manga nod in the children’s book, Mitsuki the Moon Princess, that En talks about here and there throughout the story. I will admit I am still in the process of learning how to draw manga style, but having read manga for years there are probably subtle influences throughout the story that not even I’m aware of.

The thing I love about manga is that there is always a cute little creature element alongside a horrific monster element, all in the same book. The ability to marry both those seemingly different genres into one sentiment is the beauty of manga. I don’t really have either in my book, but God, I was tempted to bring in a little cute comic relief pet so many times. Most of what attracts me to art are beautiful women, cool hair, and interesting colour palettes. So in all the panels, the girl’s hair is always glam [and windblown.]

CV: What was it like seeing your book in a shop for the first time? Any different from seeing your record on a shelf?

L: It was absolutely surreal. I can safely say every time I see one in a comic shop I still get chills and want to go tell everyone in the store that it’s mine. But I just keep my mouth shut and buy stuff ha!

SKIN&EARTH #2 Page 2. Courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment.

CV: I sat down and re-read the book while listening to the record. I’d read each section while hearing the song that corresponds with it, and I swear there were moments when I’d read a line and you would be singing the same words at the exact same moment. It happened at least 3 times. Was that intentional or just the happiest accident ever?

L: This is amazing! This is the ultimate way to experience Skin&Earth. I’d like to say reading the line at the same time you’re hearing the corresponding lyric in the dialogue was purposeful, but more realistically that was probably a happy accident. Everyone reads at such different paces that I didn’t even bother trying to line things up. Maybe next time….

CV: Are we going to see more of En’s story? This book leaves some room at the end and I’d love to see where she goes next.

L: This is just the beginning of En’s story. I realized that when I got to the last chapter. I thought I’d be able to wrap this story up, but eventually, a story starts to come to life and write itself, and I discovered SKIN&EARTH is just her origin story.

CV: Let’s talk about one of my favorite topics — empowerment. I was extremely empowered by this book, by the record, and by your live performance. En is from a marginalized community and finds out that she is an incredibly powerful person — not because anyone gave her that power, but because it was in her already. Why was this something you wanted to explore, and how does it translate to the stage? And what empowers you in general?

L: I am empowered by the strength I find within myself, not the strength I get from anyone else. Someone can tell you ten thousand times to be confident but you’ll never know what that means until you teach it to yourself. The beauty in this realization is that this power is in your hands and no one else’s. I’m empowered by my flaws, I’m empowered by the things I used to hate about myself that I’ve come to love over time. That’s what En’s character is all about. She doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing, she’s winging it most of the time. She makes mistakes and bad choices, but that’s okay. It’s all the journey, and it’s on that journey that she finds her power.

SKIN&EARTH #2 Page 3. Courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment.

CV: I love seeing all the feminist books that exist in the comics space, but we can obviously use more. Would you create another like this, exploring even more characters in new places? What messages would you like to send?

L: This won’t be my last comic that’s for sure. I suppose if I had to boil my work down into a couple messages it would be: first and foremost, chase your dreams because you have no idea what you’re capable of with a bit of hard work. And second would probably be: embrace who you are, love yourself, for all the flaws. That’s the only way you can find the confidence to be fearless and put your art out there.

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You can catch Lights at San Diego Comic-Con International. Check out her schedule and be sure to pick up SKIN&EARTH from Dynamite Entertainment at your local comics shop.

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