3 Panels is a monthly column examining graphic novels and their influences on everyday life.
Weng Pixin, who goes by “Pix,” distills colors down to their essence. Her work is often called whimsical, resonating a relatable sweetness that’s never saccharine. It’s why her comics are the perfect mechanism to depict life’s misfortunes. You don’t expect difficult topics to accompany panels befitting vibrant dreamscapes.
Pix’s first novel, Sweet Time (Drawn & Quarterly, June 2020) debuted during the early months of the pandemic. A combination of fiction and memoir, the book was tonally prescient for its time. Her expressions of heartbreak and depictions of disintegrating relationships became a medium for readers to explore similar grievances in a rapidly isolating world.
Now Pix retells her complicated matrilineal lineage in Let’s Not Talk Anymore (Drawn & Quarterly, June 2021). The graphic memoir begins in 1908 with her great-grandmother Kuān and ends with Rita, Pix’s fictionalized daughter, living in 2032. The stories are braided into seamless threads that explore the ways five young women survive in an often-harsh world. Yet the book is not without hope. As a character reminisces in the final chapter, it’s about “making space to wonder about the women who made us.”
To read Pix’s graphic memoir — and her other semi autobiographical comics — is to read with your eyes wide open. She paints in vibrant colors that are a visual feast. Beautiful interludes signal the ending of a story thread: A colorful bag with a flame flickering in its center. A crow picking at the ripe flesh of a grapefruit. Patterns and textures also create an active energy in dialogue-free panels. But it’s often not about what a character is saying, but what they aren’t.
Pix is a multi-talented cartoonist. A Singaporean artist, she is a member of Chicks on Comics, an Argentine-based comics collective. As an art instructor, Pix often encourages her students to create whatever’s weird and interesting outside of the established art rules she teaches them. And with her spare time, she sews and offers repair patchwork services for clothing, replacing holes with patterned patches akin to the ones she paints in her comics.
Sitting in our pajamas, we chatted over Zoom about Let’s Not Talk Anymore, breaking unhealthy parenting patterns, and learning to speak up.
Let’s Not Talk Anymore is a graphic memoir about the women in your family. How much input did they have in the storytelling?
No input. I started the book because my mother was such a quiet figure. And there was a lot of tension growing up. As I grew older, I felt like she was also being very protective when I asked her about her life. So, my questions to her about her childhood or how her life was like, she often very quickly misinterpreted my questions as intrusive. I think that got me interested to know what kind of mind frame she must be in to not want to talk about her life before me, in particular. I was asking questions about her life before she became a mother.
Now for my maternal grandmother, I tried to ask my aunties, my mom’s sisters. But they all said, “There’s no point asking these questions. I have no information. No, we don’t have this. We don’t have that. Why do you want to ask?”
You hit a brick wall. Do you feel like that’s more age related? Or due to something else?
I think it’s quite a mix of a couple of things. One is perhaps the age, the time frame that they have been born in, which is like the world in the 50s. My mom and my aunts, they were from the 50s. And my grandma would be earlier than that. And I think in that time frame in general, folks would not really be encouraged to think much about life in that way. I’m guessing that maybe the day-to-day life experiences were, “Let’s just try to survive the day,” and not about taking the time to reflect and to ask questions.
I think another thing is that it’s from being a woman. Based on my memories of my mom, and also the memories of interactions I have had with my aunts and my maternal grandma, I get a very strong sense that they come from an upbringing in particular that didn’t really encourage them to talk about themselves at all. They have a very strong sense of, “my life is to just get married, to get partnered up, then be a mother to a family.” And for me, as a woman of this generation, I don’t have children. And I ebb between one thing and not one thing. I spent a big proportion of my life being an artist. And for me to not have the space to think about what I would like to do for myself is very foreign.
Writing memoir is difficult because you have to face a lot of topics that we tend to avoid. And in trying to be honest, you also don’t want to hurt others. Were there any of those topics, or did you have to overcome those difficulties in writing the book?
I was trying to find articles that talked about life in certain periods of time, especially during my great-grandmother’s age, as well as my grandmother’s age. And I think the more I read, it just could get really depressing. I don’t think I put that much [in the book]. It’s not crazy heavy. There’s some stuff in there that’s not great at all. But I suppose maybe the style that I use to paint, which is kind of cartoonish, they’re not kind of like hardcore realistic, I think that helps to kind of lighten it for me to work with the subject matters and to pick out one or two subjects to capture. I was reading about famine in China for my great-grandmother’s story. And there were families eating their kids because they were just so hungry. So, I didn’t put that in, but I did draw them being hungry, or something visually more palatable for me.
Yeah, we don’t want to put that form of infanticide in the book. But when you’re talking about the cartoonish style of your painting, I think that it’s almost a mode of inception. How you draw and the palettes you use, they’re vibrant and also very soft. As readers, we’re more receptive to it. And when we’re in this very nice, welcoming place, then you’re able to introduce those hard topics for us that we might not normally want to read about if the drawings were more realistic.
Yes, I like that point, but I have to admit it was not planned that way! My general style isn’t realistic. Proper perspective, composition, I just have never been drawn to doing that even though I admire artworks that involve those visual clues. But I’ve always liked looking at very flat drawings. I love outsider artists, like a lot of other works by outsider artists that are flat, and almost like textile art. It’s a general influence in my own visual styles.
In order to understand who you are, you go into the past. You portray all of the women in your family with this very unflinching perspective. They’re angry; they’re flawed. But there’s a realness to that. Do you find that in portraying the women in your family in an honest way, it counters patriarchal ideas about how women should behave?
It was without intention in any way to criticize the patriarchal system, but I think in itself, it shows something without pointing it out. When I was working on it, I didn’t want to set out being like, “All the women characters are good, and all the men are bad.” Even though, if you read a lot of articles, there were just a lot of bad men out there in those times. I kind of wanted to blend it a little bit more. So, there are some parts where the woman is unfortunately very manipulative and treats the grandmother like a slave, but at the same time, she cares about the daughter as well. There’s only maybe one clear bad person, which is a guy who was trying to be an asshole.
Earlier, you mentioned toxicity and relationships. You see that toxicity [in the memoir], but when you get to Rita, it’s different. There’s a sudden change, and your relationship with her is not the relationship with your mother or your mother’s mother. Can you talk about what happens in that transitional space?
Oh my god. So, the joke I have about Rita is that this imaginary daughter is based on my very imaginary healthy parenting style. She is curious and passionate. She’s not moody and gloomy. That’s the joke in my head. But honestly, she was invented to process the same questions. She was the character that I was when I first started the book. I have all the same questions. They sounded kind of whimsical and naive, but they are just that because I have no information. I felt an urge to have a character that does the processing for me.
You put yourself on the pages and as a reader, we have to interpret it without any guidance. We have to get inside your head and get into our own as well.
The reason I got into comics was because I grew up in a somewhat strange way. I mean there are stranger ways people have been [raised]. Walking on eggshells was a big part of my childhood. What made it easy was I started to draw and write. I wanted to write, but I noticed that because I was a painting student in art college, I couldn’t help but include drawings and paintings along with my writings. Then that sort of naturally became comics. And I found that in comics I could learn to speak better and transcribe my thoughts. And it took meeting teachers in college that encouraged me to not just talk in [my] art, but to learn to speak in real life. Because you have to go out there and get a job, you have to go out there and make connections. Not being able to speak can take a toll on you at certain points. So, I had to force myself to get comfortable.