“January 2020” is a personal comic about long walks home and places you can never go back to. It depicts my typical walk during the early Spring 2020 semester from my studio desk in Sam Fox to my dorm in The Village across campus. Any of my walks from studio back home in the wee hours of the morning could be bleak and miserable. But that semester, I made it more bearable by listening to the song “Cough It Out” by The Front Bottoms (a band that’s not for everyone). After the COVID-19 pandemic forced WashU students out of on-campus housing, I realized I would never take that same walk again.
This comic is featured in a zine project by Lucy Chen.
The concept began in January 2021 as a semester-long project for a writing class:“I’ve been thinking a lot about the disruption of routine (caused by the pandemic). Last year, whenever I had to make the trek from studio to my dorm room apartment (the village) past 2am, I’d put on The Front Bottoms’ “Cough It Out” then put my phone in my pocket with the volume up. In the frigid night air, it’d be the only noise present, along with the sounds of my own walking. There was no one else but me. And the lead singer of The Front Bottoms’ muffled singing. And my own singing along with him. I’d usually pass one or two strangers by Bauer, in which case I’d lower the volume until I was sure they’d pass. When I reached my dorm, I’d open the door to find the lights off and the air still, with all my four suitemates asleep. Before I graduate in May 2021, I realize it’s likely that I won’t ever be able to see or visit certain places on campus ever again.”
I ended up abandoning this concept until later. In November 2021, my friend Lucy asked me and some classmates to make something for a zine. The prompt was “self reflection.” I decided to revisit my aforementioned “Cough It Out” concept, which still resonated with me. I graduated in May 2021 and for many reasons will never make the walk from Sam Fox to the Village again.
In my sketchbook, I thumbnailed a few pages. I wanted panels to show 1) me walking and 2) the campus around me. The trickiest part was breaking up the song lyrics into panels. I thought about how I could size panels in a way that reflected the sound, pauses, or meaning of the lyrics. I tested different layouts in Figma.
In terms of color, I wanted to draw completely in grayscale and then use a gradient map to apply color. I believed this would speed up my process and add visual clarity because it would let me focus on the relationships between objects’ values rather than their hues. Still, I collected inspiration for possible color palettes early on: pieces by Amelia Allore (@mimiadraws), Mariel Rodriguez (@meruz), Kelsey King, and Suzanne Siegel. In particular, I was drawn to the quiet solitude @meruz manages to portray here and here.
I also began collecting any photos I took on my phone of places I’d see during my walk. Several of them were taken anywhere from 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was typical of me to pull late nights in studio before walking back to my dorm/apartment on campus, eating dinner if I hadn’t already, showering, and going to sleep. Despite my unhealthy habits, I learned to appreciate the walk.
Actually sitting down and drawing after a full day of work was the hardest part of the process. In my previous four-paged comic “Sweet Dreams,” I struggled with drawing characters consistently. I attempted to circumvent that by drafting the first page, then the last page, then the middle page(s) instead of going in order.
After drafting out a few rough sketches, I decided to revisit my paneling because parts of it felt clunky or overcrowded.
I did more research into “established” comic layouts such as those by Jack Kirby and Scott McCloud. I’ve made (and attempted to make) comics before, and I always find paneling (which also affects pacing) very difficult. I sometimes feel like I approach comics way too academically and try to find the “perfect” layout, but it actually helped me to fall back on standardized paneling. Instead of attempting to cram four panels into one row, I decided to let my comic breathe.
At first, I attempted drawing campus landmarks from memory because I thought it’d be symbolic and impressive. When trying to draw a particular area near the Engineering school, I decided to “cheat” and look it up on Google Maps street view. I realized I had compressed the space in my memory.
Drawing campus from memory would be hard to do, look boring and unspecific, and wouldn’t give the images enough information for readers to know where I was. I ended up referencing Google Maps street view. This sometimes resulted in me drawing things that were way too detailed, but ultimately gave my comic a clearer setting.
After many late nights and taking an extension (thanks, Lucy), I finished all seven pages and began gradient mapping and typesetting.
This stage involved a fair amount of trial and error as I attempted to match the same colors to the same elements (my silhouette, building lights, etc). Each page also went through several rounds of small edits, largely addressing type placement, visual clarity, and color.
The biggest change I made was due to a friend commenting, “if anything i kind of wish there was a panel of you putting in your headphones? would hit home that this was a song tbh but also thats just me.” I realized that in no panel was it explicit that I was listening to “Cough It Out.” The last panel on page 2 was meant to show I was listening to something in my earphones, but it was too subtle. I made it more explicit by drawing myself in the middle of putting on earphones as well as a closeup panel-within-a-panel of my phone screen playing the song. Doing so added much needed context.
Even though I pulled a week of late nights for this comic, I’m glad I finished it. It forced me to try things I’d never done before: draw a seven-paged comic, work something entirely in grayscale and only add color at the very end, integrate an entire song with my own drawings, draw five thousand gothic buildings, and draw crappy silhouettes of myself walking from different angles.In the future, I need to develop a consistent character design of myself and figure out a faster way to move from grayscale to color (among other things). But I want to keep drawing and making comics. I have a lot to learn.
Thank you for reading! Please enjoy these silly drawings I made during this time.