The Process of Making Comics is a series that examines how comics artists put together their work for the magazine. In this entry, b hayward shares what it was like to make Taking Shape for the April/May Issue.
THE BELIEVER: How did this comic start?
B HAYWARD: This comic actually started while I was working on my first comic, “Comfort Levels: The Story of My Medical Transition,” for Rewire.News. It had been a couple of months since I’d quit my job in order to come out and illustrate full-time, and I was struggling—struggling with my hormones and my appearance and feeling like a fraud. I was plagued by the desire to stop doing everything I was doing, because I felt like it wasn’t working—like it couldn’t work—for me. Acknowledging that urge to detransition, to hide or abandon who I am, made me feel like I was lying to myself and everyone I’d told that I was trans. I really freaked out. In an attempt to sort through those feelings, I took a really long shower. In the shower, I started thinking about how I was as a little kid, as a tween, an adolescent, a young adult. I thought about all the ways I’d felt, so alone, so strange, begging to be accepted. And it came together so succinctly. My past selves all united. And I didn’t hate them for who they were. Then I was able to read backwards again, from coming out, to finding out I had cancer, to finding out what being trans was. I felt a new kind of gender euphoria I hadn’t felt before. Almost like a sense of destiny.
BLVR: What’s your process like?
BH: I’m self-taught, so everything is very scattered and messy. Which is ironic, given that everything I do now is digital. It’s hand drawn, but it’s all rubber on glass and electricity. I think my process often begins with me in the bath, typically having eaten a tiny pot cookie, like, half an hour prior. Then I try to visualize my story. Usually what crystallizes first are key phrases from conversations I’d had with my partner, Christina, or with myself. Then out of that come the images.
BLVR: Was any aspect of making this work particularly challenging?
BH: Since I’m so green, I made some oversights with framing, spacing, text, etc. My biggest issue is always organization. The work flows and then stops. And in between those states, I become very distracted and lost. And even though I had that epiphany, I struggled to not feel like an impostor, because I was still wrestling with the issues I was writing about.
BLVR: What drives you to create new work?
BH: I have a lot of perspectives and I have very strong views. Almost everything makes me mad. And the rest brings me such hope and joy. I’m trans and I’m (half) Filipina and I’m queer and I’ve had cancer and I was raised (sort of) Pentecostal. I have a lot of stories to tell! I have a lot to say about human rights. And history! And that’s just non-fiction. I want to put what I can out there, so maybe I can tell a story that resonates with people. If I can speak to someone’s experience through my own, then it will have all been worth it.
BLVR: Without naming any comics artists, what influences you most?
BH: I have a really sharp memory. I can conjure up names and dates and definitions really easily. But when it comes to remembering how things happened, or how they felt, and I’m sure this is true for many people, the images are hazy and dreamlike, the colors bleed. I lean heavily on these kinds of visuals. I’ve also spent a lot of time since I started drawing and painting again (c. 2016-2017) observing everything around me. The way light touches faces and walls, the way a room looks through a glass of water. I think music and film are big for me (and, again, everyone). Stylistically? I think that my work is influenced by the kind of psychedelic webcomics I read as a teenager. I like the loneliness of surreal (metaphysical?) art. I think the act of telling your story can make you feel very alone, because only you can tell it.
BLVR: Which comic should we drop everything and read right now?
BH: Ha! I’m not super up on what to read. I’m a terrible reader. Some artists that touched me recently: Trinidad Escobar, who does these beautiful, moving illustrated poems and comics about queerness and Pinay-ness and love, and Mike Dawson, whose political comics have this really keen sense of storytelling and acknowledgement of history and present being kind of inseparable.
BLVR: What are you working on next?
BH: I’m working on a comic for The Lily! My third comic. It’s about my name, choosing a new one, my Filipina identity, and my family. I’m also working on a comic about eating on a budget and semiconsciously learning to make Filipino food. And I want to do a series of illustrations interpreting Filipinx deities / heroines / mythology / shamanism.