Meet A BC Comic Artist: Kelly Chen
BC's home to many talented comic artists - one of them is Kelly Chen
You & Me BC
January 7th, 2022
Kelly Chen, also known as Scarlet Wings Kaili, is a Vancouver-based comic and the creator of the Halfsoul series.
We talked with Kelly about how she started, the emotions behind her work, and what she thinks about how BC's broader art community views comics.
When did you start drawing seriously?
Kelly: When I was little I had a lot of trouble with communication. I was late in developing language skills, and for a very long time it was hard for people to understand what I was saying. So I communicated by drawing things out, like if I needed to go to the washroom or something like that.
And over the years I kept drawing, but for different reasons. I faced social problems in school, so it became a way for me to cope, and it reinforced to me the power of visual communication.
I fell in love in with comics because of the mix of visuals and narrative. My favourite comic's the first one I read, which is Tsubasa by Clamp. It taught me a lot about how to use a visual medium to communicate effectively.
How would you define your style?
Kelly: A mix of eastern and western influence, with a lot of contrast. It's its own thing, it's just how my art comes out. There's a lot of variation depending on the medium too.
Your artist name's Scarlet Wings Kaili - where did that come from?
Kelly: I got it sometime around high school. I hated my name because I had trouble pronouncing it and it became social grief for me. So I just decided to start using another name, and I liked the sound of Scarlet Wings Kaili.
What's the process for coming up with a piece?
Kelly: For comic pieces, I think about the stories for a long time before I actually draw or write something - like how story will go and who the characters will be, then I slowly put it on paper.
A portrait by Kelly
I start with the writing, and that’s usually longest part of process for me because language isn’t my strong suit.
Then once I have the script, I go to penciling and illustrating.
What do you hope to capture in your art?
Kelly: I incorporate a lot of mental health issues into my work, because it’s something that a lot of people are dealing with and sadly mental health therapy is not very accessible.
At first my stories were helping me to cope and express things. There are many stories of trauma that end sadly; I want to make stories that capture life's difficulties and that it doesn't always work out as we want, while showing there's always hope or a positive side to things.
I created my series Halfsoul specifically for this reason.
Tell me about some of the projects you’ve done
Kelly: Halfsoul is my big one. It has four different parts, each with a different element being explored. The first is about trauma and recovering. It has a lot to do with the experience of PTSD, and making it clear that what happened to you isn’t okay.
The second part's about invisible disabilities, anxieties, bullying, and resilience. It follows a girl with invisible disabilities, who faces an internal struggles of ‘why can't I be normal?’, but also comes to the realization that it makes her special.
It's difficult to write these stories at times, because it comes from my own emotional hurt, but I do it because it’s important to normalize these feelings and to send readers messages of support and empathy that no one has sent them before.
An image from Halfsoul
I can heal, and I think readers can too, by having these conversations through characters. When writing it helps that it takes place in a fantasy world, as that creates distance which makes it easier to approach these issues.
I'm still working on the third part. It will be about dysfunctional families and learning to have boundaries, while part four will be about dissociation.
Aside from Halfsoul, I've been featured in several anthologies, and made a couple smaller books around 12-24 pages, mostly to experiment with styles and comic content.
How much support do comics in BC get?
Kelly: Cloudscape Comics is a comic collective that has been a great organization and done a lot to help me develop my career. They are my number one support.
But unfortunately there's a separation as to what's considered proper art in BC, and comics are not taken as taken seriously by the BC Arts Council and government.
I remember looking at applying for BC Arts grants, and they didn’t even have option for comic arts. This exclusion's a problem for comics throughout the world too.
Kelly's part of Cloudscape Comics, a collective supporting BC comics
There are two different art worlds and only one's being recognized: the fine, high art world with galleries, paintings, sculptures, the things you learn about in art history.
But there’s great art that happens everywhere else, like comics.
Kelly: Definitely to finish Halfsoul.
In the future I also want to write an autographical comic about my experiences in accessing health care, and how traumatic it can be, especially as young women with a disability and mental health issues.
To see more of Kelly's work, click here
To get in touch with Spencer van Vloten, editor of You & Me BC, please send an email to email@example.com