On his web log site, triggercut.diary-x.com, the work of journal comic designer Neil B. may seem sparse in quantity. The quality of such minutiae, however, has established him as a truthful and thoughtful writer among fans and critics. Born and raised in Pennsylvania by Indian-American parents who emigrated to the States before he was born, his web log could be considered a chronicle of events in the life of a young gay man, as he is such, but more to the point, says Neil, is to extract the â€œuniversal in the specificâ€ and appeal to a general audience, both gay and straight. Here he makes a strong case for such in this interview with the Comixpedia:
"Imitation of Life is a web log in the form of a comic strip, or a "journal comic" as they’re being called. Thus it’s about non-fictional events in my life. I try to make each installment about some event that inspired a unique or interesting emotion, if not an epiphany. As these sorts of things happen to all of us all the time, it’s not hard to think of material for the strip; coming up with ideas is pretty facile. [They generally] consist of something that made me grow or change as a person, even if only a little, or subtly. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the effect of an experience on you immediately, but I try my best to include these types of events. In many cases they might seem insignificant, but I think that makes them fascinating in a way.
"I’m inspired by my love of short story literature, which in its use of epiphany has been heavily influenced by James Joyce. In his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, for instance, we see the main character growing from childhood to adolescence in one chapter merely through a progression of epiphanies, and with an amount of exposition that some readers find confusingly small. I think that’s a more interesting way to record and reflect on your life than gags and whatnot, because those are contrived and untrue.
"When I started, I thought [a journal comic] would be a neat experiment; I didn’t know it was already a popular idea, but I probably would have tried it anyway. Along the way, various readers have told me that they connected with the strip, or were even moved by it. I’m simply not a good enough writer of superhero stories to achieve the same result in that genre, at least not without a whole lot more planning and effort!
"The strip can be a little alienating because there’s no plot (and never enough exposition), no gags or punch lines, and no other main characters. I care about those things, but I think that applying them to my day-to-day life story would be contrived.
"In many cases I’m very surprised by people’s reactions. I would have expected that readers would need more exposition and conventional storytelling tactics to connect with the strip. But I suppose that they do connect with it because they can identify and empathize with even a few detailed moments of someone else’s life, when those moments are focused on what makes us human â€“ just those everyday emotional reactions. That’s somewhat of a goal anyhow, and it seems like I’m making progress toward it.
"It’s hard to predict an audience’s reaction to the strip, since it really hasn’t been made for any particular audience at all. People of very different ages, and all genders and sexualities have expressed appreciation of the strip, so I think it would be very cynical to presume that "only gay people would like it. I would hope that readers can ‘find the universal in the specific.’
"I think the state of gay comics appreciation will change, quite simply, as more people write good comics with gay characters, which is happening all the time. (Nowhere Girl and Young Bottoms in Love are already very popular with straight audiences.) Stories on the Internet don’t need to pander to popular appeal, since there is no problem of competing over shelf space; this possibly means that web comics will be at the forefront of gay comics, so I hope more creators will take up that challenge.
"I suppose the stigma of homosexuality raises a lot of difficult issues in many people, and most of them don’t view comics as a primary venue for dealing with difficult issues. So it’s really a problem of acceptance for both comics and sexuality! But I think another reason why the many gay online comics are not better known is that a lot of them are designed for only a gay audience; it’s hard to appreciate someone else’s in-jokes.
"A highly reputed gay short story in Asia, ‘Lan Yu,’ was first published anonymously on the Internet before being adapted into an award-winning movie and such. So that’s an example of how gay web comics could help win further acceptance…
"I’m not completely out, so it did take some nerve to talk about it in the comic. I simply reached a point where I couldn’t be sincere in what I was writing about without mentioning it. It was more of a decision to be sincere, to not have that dissonance in knowing that the comic strip wasn’t really about me, than a decision to discuss homosexuality for its own sake. I suppose that mirrors a lot of people’s coming out processes.
"I’m not out to my family, [but] I didn’t really feel the need to ‘vent’ or use the strip as an outlet for it; I simply thought that by hiding that aspect, I was writing a story about someone else, and was being dishonest in that sense. It’s kind of funny that I have this high standard of truthfulness in art and not in my own life. Oh well…
"I think homosexuality jeopardizes a lot of the values that are insisted by Indian American families, and Asian Americans in general. But, my parents don’t know about the journal comic!
"People of racial minorities already have a challenge in being accepted by the mainstream in a racist culture; it’s very difficult to then also deal with the burden of being gay in a homophobic culture. Of course that’s true for me personally as well, although I haven’t had to escape any lynch mobs or anything."
UPCOMING FOR NEIL B.?????