For Xueting Yang comics represent a way to express herself in a way she couldn’t do with words.

Text: Dorthe Smeby
Illustrations: Xueting Yang

Oslo based illustrator and cartoonist Xueting Yang made her comic book debut in 2014, where she interprets her experience of moving from China to Norway ten years ago. Her exhibition “Kjøkken” at Grafill is a sneak peek at her upcoming comic book, and also presents recent comic creations focusing on the symbolic moments of everyday life.

– From a certain perspective, I wouldn't consider myself a professional illustrator. I draw only that which I wholeheartedly believe in and have fully experienced. When I attempt assignments that I am not entirely certain about, my style may sometimes resemble that of others. My own artistic style has evolved over time as it reflects my various states of being, Xueting says. 

– For instance, when creating the children's book "Gjemsel," which deals with the loss of loved ones, I used a fragmented and collaged approach to depict the turmoil within a child's psyche. When working on the memory-centric comic book "Kjøkken," I drew inspiration from the illustration style of books I read as a child and vintage photographs. My artistic style seems to emerge gradually from life itself.

Born in Kaifeng, a small city in China, she had a passion for writing and drawing from a young age. At the age of 23 Xueting got the opportunity to pursue a two-year Master's program at KHiO in Norway, which also marked the beginning of her journey into creating children's books and comics. 

– Back then, Norway offered tuition-free education to foreign students, a policy that has since changed. If I were in a similar situation today, as a person from an ordinary family, I would not have had a chance to study in Norway and make the subsequent life choices closely linked to this country. My work as an immigrant carries a distinct mark, blending a cross-cultural visual language, elements from the Eastern poetic tradition, outsider observations of Norwegian society and nature, fractured identity stemming from the depths of the soul, and a mingling of past and present moments. My presence in the world of comics can be attributed to the open doors and generous educational opportunities I received at Norwegian schools ten years ago.

– When did your interest in cartoons start? Did you always like to draw?

– My foray into creating comics began when I lost my fluency in my native language after moving to Norway. As an immigrant, neither my English nor Norwegian was sufficient to express my feelings about this new and unfamiliar world. Therefore, I resorted to drawing stories, much like I did when I was four years old, to visually convey emotions that lacked corresponding words. I predominantly use a combination of hand-drawing and digital coloring. Hand-drawing allows for more freedom and spontaneity, while the digital coloring phase requires careful consideration of overall composition and the relationships between different elements within the artwork.

– Can you tell us a bit about the exhibition and what we can expect to experience?

– In this exhibition I've brought together the two comic books I've been working on over the past six years: "Kjøkken" and "Badet." Both share similar themes and creative approaches, focusing on the summoning and reintegration of memories. I aim to provide a comprehensive atmosphere within the exhibition space, mirroring the immersive and contemplative ambiance of the stories themselves.

The exhibition is a result of the Grafill stipend, which Xueting received right after graduating from KHiO.

– I was changing in the old Tøyen swimming pool (Tøyenbadet); my feet were wet and my phone rang with the confirmation message. I couldn't believe it. I was a complete unknown, had never published any work, and here they were, granting me funds to create comics. These stipends, awarded by Grafill for each of my books, have been a gentle and encouraging presence during the silent and protracted process of creating comics.

– How is your creative process different when working towards making a book contra your other work?

– I create two different types of work; my own books and client projects. When I work on client projects, there are times when I can deeply resonate with the theme and express it through my artwork with strong emotional connections. However, there are also moments when I might not have a strong reaction to the theme. In such cases, I approach the work in a more rational manner, and the results may sometimes lack a distinct personal touch. When I work on my books, I choose to illustrate things that I wholeheartedly believe in and have personally experienced. My illustration style for my own books has gone through several changes, often reflecting my different emotional states during the creative process. For instance, when I was working on a children's book about loss titled "Gjemsel," I used a highly fragmented and collaged style to depict the turbulence within a child's inner world. When working on my comic book "Kjøkken," which focuses on memories, I drew inspiration from the illustration style of books I read during my childhood and from vintage photographs. It's as though my artistic style slowly emerges from life itself.