Review by Ian Keogh
There’s layer upon layer of baggage to Yao Xiao’s self-identification, encompassing her Chinese cultural heritage, and sexual identity. Having previously identified as queer, a great enough family taboo, she’s now concluded she’s bi. The starting point of Everything is Beautiful and I’m Not Afraid is Xiao coming out as bi to her mother, who lives in China, aware she has her own secrets, and continues with Xiao exploring inner conflict and uncertainties.
While themes occur, this is a collection of strips rather than a continuous narrative, perhaps best seen as a box where Xiao deposits her thoughts. These are presented as poetic metaphors, the intent clear, but the subject hidden, or the contrasting views of society to surface presentation.
At first glance the art appears crudely drawn, but there’s a graphic sophistication to the pages from the clever use of colour as an identifying device to visual metaphors accompanying the poetic ones. The sample art shows the smart thinking behind the way Xiao organises her thoughts visually, resulting in pages that are graphically rewarding while also actually reducing a complex stream of ideas to something simply understood. The left page contrasts Xiao’s conflicting thoughts about coming out as bi, and many other pages have a similar interesting representation of ideas.
Despite the impressive graphic sensibilities and poetic contextualising, there is an element of Xiao circling the same self-doubts over and over, and the originality is in the presentation rather than the content. Occasionally Xiao hits on something that may not be as widespread, such as the problems of dealing with the US immigration system (costly) and how she has to carefully qualify her own experiences by advising that appointing a lawyer is a necessity. These diversions, however are brief, and the self-esteem issues rapidly return. The advice Xiao can offer to anyone experiencing similar uncertainty is largely common sense, although the point would be that the more advice out there the better, as who knows where anyone who’s troubled will land on it. That being the case, this is a clever approach, and should hit a chord.