Rachel Ang: EWF x UWRF Exchange

This year, EWF sent comic artist and illustrator Rachel Ang to the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. We spoke to Rachel about her time in Ubud, battling Impostor Syndrome and doing a comics reading at a Pecha Kucha. 

Tell us about your experience at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. What were your initial impressions?

Ubud – and the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival  –  is really amazing and beautiful. The festival program is really diverse and interesting, and I think it’s a really good partner for the Emerging Writers’ Festival in Melbourne, because you two both create spaces for events and practices which are a bit more experimental and perhaps not usually considered ‘literary’.

At UWRF you spoke on a panel called ‘Captivating Comics’. What was it like to make connections with other comic artists, especially those who are living in different parts of the world?

It was pretty wild. I really enjoyed meeting Indonesian comics creators. It seemed to me that there wasn’t necessarily an Indonesian comics style or voice, in the same way that there isn’t a unified Australian comics style or scene. It’s a bunch of very driven people making cool stuff.

You are the Art Director of Pencilled In, a magazine devoted to publishing and championing the work of Asian-Australian writers and artists. What was it like to experience of the art and literary community in Southeast Asia?

Well one thing that made a really strong impression on me is that the Festival publishes a bilingual anthology of writing by young Indonesian writers. It’s called Origins (Sangkan Paraning Dumadi) and the work is of a very high calibre. I liked that it was acknowledged that Indonesia is very diverse and multi-lingual.

There is a saying that “everyone in Bali is an artist”, and it seems to be true. I found  a real culture of making things in Bali that crosses boundaries of “artists” and “laypeople”. I saw so many amazing drawings. I wonder how much creative potential, how many untold stories, are out there waiting to be unlocked in potential artists – that might have flowed freely and without inhibition – if those people were to grow up in a place that truly values art and writing as an essential part of life?

There was this artist who made these face carvings into small rocks – like wicked grotesque pet rocks. It felt really true to the spirit in each rock. I wanted to take one home but was worried I’d be over my baggage limit 🙁

What have you gotten out of the exchange?

Wow, so much. I think the main thing was just being in such a fertile and positive environment and meeting other writers and creatives. I suffer a lot from Imposter Syndrome, and recent events have convinced me a) that it’s totally normal and never goes away; and b) most people feel similar insecurities about their work.

It gave me the opportunity and space to work on a project which has been really difficult and messy – I think I did some good thinking and writing and drawing while I was there.

Another really valuable lesson is that it’s okay to relax and do nothing for a while. No buildings will fall down and nobody will die of disappointment if you lie next to a pool for a day.

What were some of your most memorable moments from the Festival?

The most memorable moment was definitely the adrenaline I got from doing a comics reading at a Pecha Kucha event. I was feeling really anxious about the event because I was showing some really recent, raw work that I felt quite unsure and vulnerable about. I have never had that kind of huge, positive, almost visceral response to my work before. It felt like I was the queen of sad poetry.

Another memorable moment is that during my panel on comics, someone broke a glass on my foot.

What is next for you? What are you working on at the moment?

The main thing I’m looking forward to is some time off work and jumping in the ocean. Apart from that, I’m working on a collection of comics (some of which I drew while in Ubud) which will be translated into Japanese. That’s a project that was initiated by Sticky Institute and City of Melbourne – five Melbourne artists are making zines which will be translated. I may need to format my comics backwards to suit the conventions of manga.

Do you have any advice for emerging comic artists or writers?

I get asked this a lot and I always feel under-qualified to answer, as I’ve not been making comics very long and don’t have any special expertise. I would say that writing is about two opposites – carving out space in your life for solitude, to be alone and write. I would go so far as it say it’s probably better to be an introvert. The opposite is that you have to find your tribe, for solidarity, critique, and to grow as an artist. I am deeply indebted to my friends and peers, who are gifted well beyond my tiny portion.

Rachel is a Melbourne-based comics artist. Her work has been published by The Lifted Brow, The ABC, The Stella Prize, Going Down Swinging and Cordite. She is the Art Director of Pencilled In, a new journal dedicated to publishing and promoting the work of young Asian-Australian writers and artists.