What interests Lille-based illustrator Sun Bai most when creating her work is “how to place my characters,” she tells It’s Nice That. Instilling her undeniably beautiful works with soft and melancholy atmospheres, she tends to depict an “amused sadness” in the scenes of everyday life. From a man stepping out of the shower into a steam-filled room, to the quiet act of peeling vegetables, “everything is a pretext for exploring the unspoken words between my characters,” she explains.
Cigarettes, coffee and strolls are all elements which frequent Sun’s work because they are “moments of doing nothing”. Cinematic in the way they are framed and carry a story, it is no surprise that the illustrator is inspired by a lot of films as well as literature, comics and manga. She notes a pertinent liking of Italo Calvino’s The Complete Cosmicomics at the moment, citing his “romantic, soft fantasy of the cosmos” as an influential visual stimulus. Elsewhere she looks to Hong Sang-soo, the South Korean filmmaker, someone she admires for his interpretations of relationships and the way he explores tensions between characters.
Having first studied oil painting in Shenyang, the city in northeast China where Sun grew up, she didn’t classify herself as an illustrator until she moved to France. In Lille she studied further, entered the world of fanzines and started self-publishing projects which brought her closer to the universe of alternative comics and illustration. Now, she’s also part of the collective Les Éditions de Soleil d’hiver which also releases a myriad of illustrated works around France’s arts festival circuit.
Sun tells us about her latest release, her first graphic novel titled La plus belle plage du Nord, a collaboration with Lucas Burtin and published by Fidèle Éditions. It tells a story of the near future, set in a northern seaside city. “Most of the people have left Earth,” explains the illustrator, “a woman comes from the big city nearby to visit an old friend.” The protagonist strolls, gets dinner, smokes cigarettes and wanders the deserted city. She also spends time with a guy. They get coffee, walk on the coast and have a moment to say goodbye. The idea for the graphic novel, says Sun, “comes from my end-of-the-world fantasy. It must be a soft, desperate but tender world’s end.” Visually, the graphic novel is informed by her daily strolls.
As well as releasing La plus belle plage du Nord, Sun is also working on a new sci-fi comic which she started last year. This story similarly takes place in the near future as humans begin an interracial immigration. Composed of several stories featuring the same characters from the same universe (though each story can also be read independent of one another) this comic sees Sun push her visual and conceptual expressions further still.
Over time, Sun has added to her expanding creative universe. Gradually, her daily experiences have added to the detail of the atmosphere. This new comic opens with a story titled Does She Dream of Electric Pelicans, created last year. It revolves around an astronaut who comes home after a stint at the space station. Once home, he takes a stroll in the park with an old friend. In this emotive story, the landscapes are inspired by Sun’s hometown of Shenyang. As for the narrative, “the idea comes with the regret that I never went boating with my friends like I promised,” she reflects. Quiet moments from Sun’s life delicately merge with memories of her home town and imagined adventures. Her work is both fragile and powerful and examines the future of humans as well as introspective emotion. It’s something she wants to continually explore in comics, illustration and editorial work in the future.
Sun Bai: Astray (Copyright © Sun Bai, 2021)
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.