Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Entry 76: Jasika Nicole

One of my favorite things, as you might imagine, is discovering new comics. Almost always, that involves one of two things: Discovering a new creator or team of creators whose work I was previously unfamiliar with, or reading something new from a creator whose other comic work I’ve already come to know and love. Today, however, I’ve come to tell you about a third case, so rare that it has, as of yet, only happened once: Stumbling upon comics created by someone whose work I had already come to know and love, but had no idea did anything comics-related. Imagine my delight, as a comics lover, when I discovered the comics work of already beloved and admired figure Jasika Nicole.

Normally I try not to discuss non-comics media on this blog, to keep the focus fairly narrow and therefore allow myself to cover relevant subjects without giving myself too large and impractical a task. That’s not really something I can plausibly do with this post, however. One reason is that I am such a fan of Jasika Nicole’s acting work that I won’t be able to restrain myself from gushing a little bit. The other reason, which is my excuse to give myself permission to indulge in the first one,  is that Nicole puts so much of herself into her comics work. Much of it is autobiographical or semi-autobiographical, and even when she creates fiction it still has the feeling of raw, real representations of her life experiences, or extrapolations from them.

Writing about Jasika Nicole’s comics without telling you anything about how I became a fan of hers in the first place would feel pretty jarring, almost as much as if I tried to write about Wasted Talent without mentioning that Angela Melick is an engineer. So, let me tell you a little bit about Jasika Nicole and where I know her from.

No, I’m not a fan because of her performance in makeup commercials… but, like many actors, that’s a part of her history. That one comic, by the way, about her first audition, is one of the funniest things I have ever read. It’s one of those things I will occasionally think about and just start giggling to myself. I’m extremely grateful that Nicole was willing to share it with the world, and to do so with such aplomb.

I first saw Nicole as an actor on Fringe. She plays Astrid, a character of whom I am quite fond. Of course, taking a liking to a character on a TV show always has multiple factors. Writing and direction matter a lot. Acting, though, makes up a significant portion of what makes a character one of your favorites. Probably my second favorite episode of Fringe (because nothing can beat the singing corpses) is the one that focuses on the two Astrids from the two different universes, and how very different they are. I cry just thinking about it.

Fringe is no longer running, but Nicole’s streak of playing beloved characters has continued, as she provides the voice for Dana in Welcome to Night Vale. It’s through that role that I was able to see Nicole in a live performance, which was SO AWESOME YOU GUYS. Honestly it was amazing to be there in the audience. I was absolutely floored when she stepped out on stage, because she hadn’t been announced or advertised. The moment she showed up was one of the best surprises of that evening.

So when I discovered that this actor of whom I had become so fond made comics, I was eager to read them. And when I discovered just how powerful, and delightful, and meaningful her comics were, I was absolutely amazed.

Nicole’s comics tend to focus on very personal topics… family, personal history and self-discovery, relationships, that kind of thing. These are subjects that turn up repeatedly in the world of comics, as it’s pretty easy for most people to find something about themselves that they can put on the page, if they look into their insecurities or probe family history for shocking or amusing stories.

The comics that Nicole creates about her life stick with me, though, in a way that these kind of personal accounts very rarely do. I often find myself thinking about the way she presents aspects of her life or her family, experiences that I’m sure are not unique to her. This is one of those cases where, despite focusing so clearly on the creator’s own individual experience, the comics hit upon something that feels universal, that I expect almost anybody could relate to.

Even though these comics are almost always focused like a laser on a specific experience had by a specific person in a specific time and place, I’m someone who’s constantly looking for the bigger picture… and often, as I read one of Nicole’s comics, I find it illuminates some aspect of the culture we live in just by clearly showing one particular event or moment in a person’s life. This one, discussing nude drawings of her mother made by a preschool-aged Nicole, makes me think so many things about the way our culture handles nudity, as well as childhood education, body shame, and how we develop our understanding of things that “must” remain hidden.

My parents were hippies, and I was raised in an environment that never taught me there was anything wrong with nudity. Thankfully I never drew a naked picture at school and got in trouble for it. That honestly seems like an awfully traumatic event that makes me resent the teachers who thought that was the best response to the situation… but Nicole doesn’t present a comic out of anger. There’s no indication that she harbors any resentment toward those authority figures. Instead, she focuses on the drawing itself, on what it meant to her, and on the reactions of her classmates. It’s an extraordinary comic; if you only read one comic by Jasika Nicole, I’d recommend that one. Bear in mind that it is mildly nsfw, if your workplace has a policy against childish, cartoony drawings of naked women.

Jasika Nicole is a woman of many talents. She doesn’t post new comics very frequently… after all, a comics artist is but one of several things that she is. If you’re a fan of something she’s been in as an actor, maybe you’d be interested in her comics as well. If you’ve never heard of her before today, well, there are some comics you can read that will tell you a little bit about her. I recommend them not just because I’m a fan of the creator for other reasons. I would never do that. They genuinely are great reading.

So head on over to her site, read some comics, and quickly devour all of them because it is impossible to slow down once you get started. Then you can join me in vaguely wishing that she could be a full-time webcartoonist, but understanding that we all have different paths to walk in life, and that Jasika Nicole is a woman who walks very many different paths indeed.

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