Illustrator Annie Li on what humans can learn from her highly intelligent baby-blue baby alien character

The Taipei-based illustrator who goes by the moniker Smalltalk, discusses the inspiration behind her illustrations of baby aliens, from tarot to internet memes.

18 May 2022

The little blue alien which often appears in Annie Li’s illustrations reminds us of those iconic blue creatures, the Draags, which inhabit René Laloux’s planet of Ygam in his 1973 cult-classic animated film Fantastic Planet. But while the Draags were a race of gigantic creatures oppressing the diminutive humanoid inhabitants of Ygam, Annie’s little alien is a friend to the human race and often occupies itself with teaching them lessons and reading them stories. Her illustrations are an intriguing combination of sci-fi strangeness and cosy familiarity, all drawn together with her cartoonish, school-room style of drawing.

Through her work, Annie likes to imagine “a future world where all the living creatures have evolved to higher intelligence”. In this world, aliens and humans are not so different from one another. Her little blue alien child rides bikes, goes to school and visits the doctor just like any other human kid. Meanwhile the humans in her illustrations have adopted blank, staring eyes – “a common alien facial feature”, Annie says. Her vision of baby aliens and baby humans playing together in harmony might easily descend into the realm of twee-ness if it weren’t for the little dashes of satirical humour and some details which verge on the sinister. For example, in one of her illustrations, a blue baby alien teaches human kids about the cat-shaped Nazca lines (a geoglyph found in Peru) – so far, so cute. But then you’ll notice that the Alphabet above the blackboard has become re-muddled to spell “apocalypse”. Is our little blue friend plotting the end of the world as it carefully infiltrates human society?


Smalltalk: The Nazca Lines (Copyright © Smalltalk, 2021)

Wanting to understand this enigmatic character, we asked Annie to tell us more. Her answer was intriguing yet cryptic: “The blue alien is like The Fool, card zero in the Tarot deck which is the new beginning and the infinite possibilities,” she says. “The blue alien loves to explore and to discover the unknown realms. The blue alien can appear anywhere, it is an avatar of yours and mine.” Hopping from arcane to her most contemporary references, the illustrator tells us that she often looks to internet memes and comedy films to inject moments of humour into her illustrations.

Speaking of some of her favourite pieces, Annie points us to one of the most minimalistic works in her portfolio. Cooked is a line drawing of a human passing a cookbook to an alien. While the rest of her work usually depict aliens teaching humans (post-apocalyptic theory, complex scientific experiments, lessons on Nazca lines etc), this charming little work suggests what we might be able to offer aliens in return. It is inspired by a quote from American author Michael Pollan: “When you learned to cook is when you became truly human.”

She continues: “I found it fascinating and started to think maybe food is the common language of the universe.” So it’s unsurprising that another of her favourite projects also revolves around food. Snackway is a zine which describes “a mad world where foods become conscious”. She concludes with a promise that Snackway Vol. 2 is on its way.


Smalltalk: Cooked (Copyright © Smalltalk, 2020)


Smalltalk: Clinical Trials (Copyright © Smalltalk, 2021)


Smalltalk: Bon Appétit (Copyright © Smalltalk, 2020)


Smalltalk: Turn on, tune in, drop out.(Copyright © Smalltalk, 2022)


Smalltalk: After party (Copyright © Smalltalk, 2022)


Smalltalk: Do not travel (Copyright © Smalltalk, 2021)


Smalltalk: Addicted to pizza (Copyright © Smalltalk, 2020)

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SMALLTALK: Turn on, tune in, drop out.(Copyright © SMALLTALK, 2022)

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About the Author

Elfie Thomas

Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.

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