Up Close and Personal with Cartoon Artist Lillian Chan
1) Tell me about yourself. How old are you? What are you currently doing? Do you live in Boston? In Boston’s Chinatown?
Well, I was born and raised in Boston — primarily Jamaica Plain. Ever since I could remember I loved drawing and playing with words & images together. But, it wasn’t until much later — after graduating from UMass Amherst and working in the web development field — that I decided to actively pursue art. Currently, I’m the design director at Mimoco (www.mimoco.com), best known for the MIMOBOT designer USB flash drives. And during my off days — if I have much time left — I work on my comic Empty Bamboo Girl (www.emptybamboogirl.com)
2) Tell me about your childhood. How much does Ah Lin! reflect your family? Does your family own a Chinese restaurant, for example?
I grew up in a pretty typical Chinese immigrant family household. My dad worked as a cook in a Chinese restaurant out in the suburbs (and which he still does to this very day) and my mother started off as a seamstress back when the Leather District in Chinatown was bustling with fabric manufacturing. They worked hard so that my brother and I could have opportunities that they never had.
3) How did you get into cartooning? How did your parents feel about it?
I didn’t seriously get into it until I started working at the Sampan Newspaper, a small local newspaper in English and Chinese based out of Boston. I was writing for them at the time — putting my journalism degree to good use. But then the editor at the time and I started talking and he suggested putting together a comic for the newspaper. I liked drawing (he knew it) + writing so I thought I’d take a stab at it. I’ve been working on the comic ever since.
But as far as I can remember I’ve always been doodling.
4) What career did your parents want you to pursue? What did you decide to pursue?
Of course, my parents wanted me to study something that would give me a financially secure future — so something in the science or medical or accounting fields. My older brother studied biology and went into the biotech industry. But, I wasn’t science-minded whatsoever. So, while at UMass Amherst, I studied journalism since that was the only major that interested me. Studying art seemed to be out of the question. My parents weren’t enthusiastic about it and I didn’t have enough in me at the time to go for it.
So, I graduated and got a job at a publishing house doing something I was slightly interested in. It wasn’t until a few years later that I decided it was time to pursue art. I wasn’t happy so I applied to MassArt and was floored when I got accepted. My parents weren’t too happy, but by then I was old enough and determined enough.
5) Would you describe your mother as a “Tiger Mom?” And if yes, how so?
I’ve chosen to step back and find the humor — if possible.
6) What’s next for you? What do you hope to accomplish with your cartoon strip?
What’s next for the comic strip is developing it into a graphic novel. So, I’m going back to old comic pieces I’ve done and writing to make that happen — hopefully it’ll be finished by the end of the year.
7) Is there significance for your comic strip title, Empty Bamboo Girl? What do you intend for it to convey?
The term “empty bamboo” or “hollow bamboo” is a cantonese term (jook sing) for American Born Chinese folk — it’s a bit derogatory because it means that you look Chinese on the outside but you don’t possess anything authentically Chinese on the inside…you’re hollow like a bamboo. But, for me, I want to take back that term and embrace it. So, what if I am? Does that make me any less Chinese? No. I’m Chinese American…Asian American…and this is my experience.
I just hope that there are those who can identify with the comic strip and not feel alone in their situation — to find the humor in it all. Or, maybe I just need to find some company in my misery 😛