Annie Mok is an illustrator, writer, musician, and broadly inspiring artist currently based in Philadelphia. Some of her work can be read online at Rookie Mag and her band See-Through Girls will soon be on the road with newly released material.
First, have you always drawn in some kind of way? Your style looks like it just pours out of you finished, like I assume you've sort of drawn stories your whole life and it's the easiest way for you to communicate.
I've always drawn, yeah, but developing this style that looks relaxed was a long struggle. I always loved loose, sketchy-looking artists who used a strong observational foundation to cartoon and extrapolate from illusionistic reality. But for years in and after art school, as I talked about in my piece for Rookie, "Stars in Your Pocket," I held onto an idea of comics that derived from a white boy's club, old-school cartoony slickness. I drew how I thought I should, not how I wanted to in my heart. It feels synchronous that around the time that my drawings changed, I started to identify as trans, and deal with childhood sexual abuse that I'd repressed.
Illustration by Annie originally in Rookie Mag.
I'm wondering how your creative output is informed by the way you're feeling emotionally and mentally. Like did you ever watch Sex And The City? Do you relate to Carrie's work style, where her writing is totally informed by what's currently happening to her?
Yes! Absolutely, things grow and shift in the middle of my making them all the time, based on what's been entering my sub/conscious, just like happens with dreams. I'm dreaming awake.
That's such a cool way of describing your creative process! What is it like for you to deal with personal issues in your work? Cathartic? Scary?
Memoir-based work comes to me easily, and in cases like Unholy Shapes and Body Language, the stories haunted me so I had no choice. However, though fiction feels harder to write for me because there are more choices, emotionally it's easier, especially if I make a marked choice to make it multiple characters interacting, rather than one character with an internal monolog that dominates the narrative. "Florals" is mostly autobiographical, so that one's a little different, but it was still refreshing because I got free from the exact details of the encounters that I based the story on. My friend Coda did a big astrology read for me recently based around my Saturn return. She read my chart as saying that my Saturn return would be a lot about writing, and that I had a big interest in writing sci-fi and fantasy, and that that might be a way for me to escape memoir, where I get hung up on temporality. And it's all true -- when I tell stories from my life in person, or write them down, I feel I have to tell every detail and get every moment in. It's easier with comics to filter down, because the form is so time-based and can feel tight in a way that prose feels sprawling to me, but in prose I can just go forever. My regular editor at Rookie, Lena, often cuts 2/3 of my essays down.
The new moon just happened, and I decided the other day that I feel done with writing about my traumas, at least as a central focus. I get concerned sometimes that the things I make feel to other people like Xiu Xiu feels to me, which is to say cathartic but very difficult to experience. I want to have fun and be in the world more, in my life and my work.
Excerpt from Unholy Shapes.
Can you think of the last three instances or things where you felt intensely inspired by experiencing them?
I sobbed about the death of Doralis in Gilbert Hernandez's Luba comics. I had a psychotropic experience during Metropolarity's reading at RIPE in Providence. I cried more reading essays by Pixie Casey and Jenny Zhang for Rookie Mag.
Is social media ultimately a more useful or distracting tool for your creative endeavors?
You know how you eat a little piece of chocolate (I'm talking dark chocolate with low sugar) and you feel ALIVE and you're smiling? Then you eat half a bar and you feel gross and you can't fall asleep properly? And the line between one and the other feels so blurry? That's the internet.
In the creative process from start to finish (start being your idea's inception, finish being its publication) what is your favorite thing to do? What is the most tedious or uninteresting part for you?
I love to brainstorm and dream. My friend Coda pointed out that I have zero earth signs in my chart -- I have a hard time staying grounded! I also love having drawn everything and getting to design it, because it's fun mindless work that I can do while listening to podcasts. Drawing and writing is always a pleasure, but it comes with a lot of fear too. It's neat to see something done, designed, and printed on paper.
Illustration by Annie originally in Rookie Mag.