Sunmi is a cartoonist and illustrator whose work explores themes of emotional distance and fantastical femininity, within a framework of queer and Korean diasporic identity, mythology, and history. Their Twitter and Instagram are @sunmiflowers and their website is sunmiflowers.com.
Your lineart has a very distinct ink-like look, and it contrasts nicely with a very delicate coloring. Which materials do you use to create this aesthetic?
I ink traditionally! The feeling and way that ink moves on paper is very important to me, and it's too hard for me to recreate digitally. My preferred tool is the Pilot Parallel pen, but I like to experiment with all kinds of pens and drawing methods. I scan inks and then color digitally on Clip Studio Paint using the "colorize" tool, messing with the color palettes and levels, and then airbrushing. I also like to add a "noise" filter for texture.
I was particularly blown away by your zine Love Letters to Sea Goddesses. Can you tell us a little bit about your work with printing and zine-making?
Thank you! I would say that I've really been making zines since I was a kid, when I first found out I could just draw my own stories and staple the paper together. I discovered them again alongside indie comics and small press/self-publishing in college, and it reconnected me to why I love making comics and books. I like that I can have a lot of control while also getting to experiment with each one, and I like meeting people through sharing parts of ourselves through zines.
You illustrated a story for the Dates Anthology series of queer historical comics. How was the experience of doing historical fiction? Did you participate in other comic anthologies?
I loved illustrating the story for Svetla and the Dates Anthology! It was lovely and so well-written, and I really enjoyed learning about ancient Bulgaria. I would definitely love to do more historical fiction, and have an idea for a story that is more speculative, but inspired by the Silk Road relationship between ancient Korea and Persia. I have also done a couple of other anthologies, off the top of my head I did a comic for Power & Magic Press's Heartwood: Nonbinary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy, which to this day is still one of my favorites.
You describe your work with the words "fantastical femininity," which is a really beautiful way to put it. Can you tell us about the concept, and how you like to express gender with your art?
I think I came up with the term after getting into drag culture, starting with RuPaul's Drag Race of course … aha … and then learning about US queer history. I realized that if gender can be a performance and a reflection of how others see me and vice versa, for better or worse, then I should at the very least let myself embrace the fantasy of it all? Reading comics like Ranma 1/2 and Ouran High School Host Club as a kid and dealing with a lot of social anxiety also ties into this, probably … Fiction and art was a way for me to explore and express gender, and still is.
Do you sketch a lot? What is your process with an illustration idea, from the conception to the final execution?
I used to … I fall in and out of the habit, if it is a habit at all. When it comes to illustrations, I do try to sketch as many ideas as I can come up with before taking one to final, but it depends on the time crunch too. For my own projects, I end up sitting on ideas for a long time, anywhere from months to years, or if I am immediately struck by something and I have time, then I will put forward all my attention into it right away. My brain is fickle … but I do take things from conception to finish as best as I can, in the most interesting way …?
You also do fanart—if you could choose one IP to do official art about, which would it be, and why?
… Hamtaro. I can't think of anything else honestly, in terms of "IP." Do they still make Hamtaro stuff? I don't know but they are just so cute.
Firebird is the title of your upcoming graphic novel debut. Can you tell us what the story is about?
Yes! Firebird is about a shy & studious sophomore in high school named Caroline, who signs up for a peer tutoring program and is paired with a senior "bad girl" lesbian named Kim. It plays off of "American" high school rom-com tropes as well as shoujo manga, but primarily it’s written from a very personal place and my memories of being a depressed, closeted teen growing up in an area with a large and diverse Asian-American population. In those days, I looked up to the kids older than me, both "boys and girls," and was always wondering, "Is what I feel admiration or attraction? Do I like you or do I want to be like you?" That … is Firebird …! Coming out … in 2023 probably!
Any other project we should keep an eye out for in the near future?
I'm hoping to work on a new short comic this year … but I can't promise anything … Every few months I switch between miscellaneous creative hobbies, so you never know. Maybe I'll finally try hand-sewing some garments, try weaving or woodcarving again, or make some little guys out of clay. I also joined an urban farm co-op last year, and organize in my local community. Feel free to follow along on Twitter or Instagram!