Los Angeles-based illustrator Alison Zai has amassed an impressive following across social media. Despite being relatively aloof when it comes to the online presence of her own self, Alison’s work does all the talking for her. Idiosyncratic characters and scripts come to life with eccentric pearls of wisdom and Lewis Caroll-like nonsense, often depicted in a palette of bright cartoon colours.
Many have flocked to Alison’s impressive series of works as endless sources of comfort, laughter, or inspiration – whether that be in her distinct visual style or uncanny storytelling capabilities. “The thing about comics that drew me in was the storytelling aspect,” she tells It’s Nice That on her years-long obsession with drawing. “It’s about being able to shape a thought in my mind into a couple of drawings with words attached that send a message in a very specific way,” she explains. For Alison, it’s clear that being able to communicate through her visuals and text is something special. What makes Alison so distinct is how the whimsical and otherworldly dimensions of her drawings often transmute into something more relatable by way of a quirky aphorism (whether in speech bubbles or narration).
The process of creating these short yet impactful comics and illustrations proves to be a tried-and-tested method for Alison. “I always envision the entire scenario in my mind before drawing,” she explains. “I then create the scene based on the dialogue, and a lot of thought goes into how the speech bubbles and illustrations interact.” In turn, Alison sees the speech bubble itself as an integral part of the comic and finished art piece, as they often navigate a purposeful and dynamic form of their own within the frame. But, it’s mainly the feel of the entire piece Alison enjoys curating. “I’m really into hand-drawn energy,” she says, referencing how even her digital work is created to look and feel traditional. This lends Alison’s work a “very specific style,” which she neatly summarises as “brightly coloured talking animals.” This specific style evokes a similar sensory feeling that one may recall from their time spent sifting through the Mr. Men and Little Miss series from the late 20th Century.
One of Alison’s projects particularly gained popularity, and it was well-earned. Bee Real is a mesmerising, profound, and beautiful comic that first started during Alison’s sophomore year of art school. “It was originally a final for my life drawing class that I pulled an all-nighter for,” she says. “I came up with this idea about the unrequited love between a bee and the sun.” Interestingly, Alison tells us that the original comic was only designed to be one page long, and ended “with the sun immediately rejecting the bee.” However, after consideration, she revisited the comic to transform it for a senior thesis project. “I decided to expand upon the idea of what would happen if they got to know each other,” she explains. What was left was a conversation between the bee and the sun that appears as fleeting as it does heartfelt. Alison – in her signature private style – doesn’t once indicate if any of her narratives and ideas come from her own lived experiences, but the emotive and deeply moving aphorisms seem too relatable not to be.
Alison Zai: end - bee real (Copyright © Alison Zai, 2020)