An artist as well as the founder of small-press comics publisher Yam Books, Rina Ayuyang is the creator of the new graphic memoir, Blame This on the Boogie, to be published by Drawn Quarterly this month.
Ayuyang previously shared her quirky autobiographical slice-of-life stories in Whirlwind Wonderland (Sparkplug, 2009). Her colorful new memoir, a chronicle of growing up in an immigrant Filipino family in the 1970s, is a densely-illustrated ode to the uplifting power of musicals and dance. In an effort to deal with school bullies, Ayuyang escaped into the world of musical icons like Ginger Rogers and The Jackson Five. She also details a later-in-life obsession with Dancing With the Stars that helped her navigate the balance between her career and early motherhood.
PW’s starred review of the book said: “Ayuyang’s visuals are wonderfully musical, lilting across the pages with energy and movement.” Ayuyang spoke with PW about her inspirations and her deep love for spectacular on-screen pop culture dance.
As an artist and a publisher, what do you get out of these different roles?
Basically, I went into publishing because I would always nag other publishers about why they weren’t putting out certain artists [so I did it myself]. Being the publisher is behind-the-scenes, more like directors; as an artist, you’re the one in front—though a lot of time, you’re left alone behind your drafting table. Though, I am also highly collaborative with artists. As a publisher, I can be more purely enthusiastic and I’m not as self-deprecating.
Blame This On the Boogie has overarching themes on immigration, culture, and joy in pop culture. How did you pull together all these different themes, to create the kind of story you wanted to tell?
I’ve always wanted to do a kind of cheesy homage to the Hollywood musical. It’s challenging in a format that’s not live-animated, because it requires movement. The looseness of the drawing helps. Musicals were a way for me to escape from reality as a kid—and from what’s happening today, too, though I didn’t want to bring in as much negative energy from current events to the book. But from my childhood, to dealing with depression, pregnancy, and motherhood, the theme of musicals linger organically [alongside] my personal experiences.
There are themes of being different and also being the same. We were different in ethnicity, culture and how we related to pop culture. And we were part of a family, and a community and a bigger picture of the world around us. For me, pop culture was a sort of a ghetto, an escape, from the rigors of school and dealing with bullying.
So let’s get into Dancing with the Stars. What was it about that show that drew you in?
The dancers are free to be as over-the-top as they want, in musicals and in ballroom dance. The movements are so expressive and exaggerated, sometimes it’s almost a caricature
How were musicals a way that your family also negotiated American culture as immigrants?
My parents’ generation lived in the Philippines, born in the 1940s. The Philippines has a huge western influence, especially from pop culture. They always watched movies, went to (and hosted) dance parties. My childhood was also the 1970s, the height of disco. Filipinos love to dance, so disco was the thing. Theatrical, musical—that is quintessential Filipino. I’ve never seen a Filipino that hasn’t had rhythm. I’ve inherited from my family the cinematic feeling that comes from music, the rise in emotions from, say, a hundred-string orchestra.
Who are your cartooning idols? I get a Lynda Barry vibe from the density of your pages.
What Lynda Barry does with her storytelling is amazing to me, first and foremost. And I read the Sunday funnies, reprints of Peanuts, and some of my comic timing comes from that. The looseness of my drawing, I’ve taken from French cartoonists, such as Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar, who do Carnets (diary strips). [My book is] all colored pencil. But painting was my first love; the color is inspired by the atmosphere of the Bay Area, West Coast artists from the ’60s and abstract art. But it’s also from Filipino artists and the vibrancy of Filipino fashion.
How has your family reacted to the book?
My mom is excited about it. She laughs at anything I write, especially when I poke fun at my dad. Sometimes, I feel like I just write these stories for them! But my dad has always been a humble, cautious fellow about celebrating, but he’s been positive. I told the more difficult stories not to relive them, but to move on from them and take what I could learn.