Smash Pages Q&A: Olivia Dinnall on ‘Bi-Assed’

‘The Purple Alien’ discusses her work on the popular Line Webtoon comic, which explores what it means to be biracial and bisexual.

Olivia Dinnall aka “The Purple Alien” is a cartoonist and illustrator whose webcomic Bi-Assed runs on Line Webtoon. The comic explores what it means to be biracial and bisexual. As Dinnall describes the book:

“You would think that ones race and sexual orientation wouldn’t have anything in common, and for the most part, that’s true. But when you’re a biracial and bisexual person growing up, you come to realize that the two have more things in common then you would think…..those things being the ridiculous stuff people say to you based on the two.”

The result is a comic that will make you cringe in sympathy – or cringe because you’ve encountered those comments in your own life. It’s a great comic, and following Dinnall on social media one can see that she’s always drawing, often in different styles and approaches. She’s working as hard as ever on the webcomic and planning future projects, but is also collaborating with a friend and making some changes to Bi-Assed, and we talked recently about how she works.

The first question I like to ask is how did you come to comics?

I’ve been into comics since I was 6 years old and they have always been a big part of my life. I started drawing them more professionally when I was a junior in college.

What kinds of things you were working on then?

I had an internship working on a comic series for a publishing company, where the writer wanted more “Marvel-ish” art for there book. I guess I shouldn’t say the work was more “professional”, seeing that all work can be considered professional. I guess you could say the work I did was more “industry standard,” but I found it to be too overwhelming.

Where did Bi-Assed come from? By which I mean both the comic and the title.

The idea came after I had taken a break from comics. I had been doing more detailed, professionally drawn comics for a while, and I got kind of sick of it. I wanted to do something more fun like Owlturd’s comics, but more personal. I came up with Bi-Assed when I was at New York Comic Con. I was mostly going to panels based on being either POC or LGBTQIA or both. I came to the realization that my experiences as both a biracial person and a bisexual were pretty interchangeable! It was also at the con where I realized the problems that bisexual and biracial people deal with is very rarely addressed, because so many people assume we don’t have any. I wanted to change that.

As for the name “Bi-Assed,” I took the word “biased” and separated the “bi” to stand for bisexuality and biracial, and added the “assed” because an ass is how I would describe most of the people that my strips are based off of.

How did you end up at Webtoon?

Again, it was through a convention, this one being Boston Comic Con (2016) where Webtoons had a booth set up, and I had made friends with a couple of the people working there. I met the same people again at NYCC, and decided to go with them because they were an easy to use website and because they’re associated with Patreon which is very useful.

How do you work? Could you walk through how you make a comic?

I write out my strips weeks in advance, and are based off of random experiences that I or my family have dealt with. My comics are %100 digital, and done in Clip Studio Paint. How I make it is pretty simple I guess. I always at a solid color block as the back ground, sketch out each panel, then ink them, because of the style of my comic, I usually only have to ink 2 or 3 panels and can just copy and paste it multiple times.

You post sketches and drawings on twitter and instagram and tumblr, and these are pieces you’re drawing in pen or ink and you seem to enjoy that aesthetic. Is keeping a sketchbook and drawing a lot part of your practice?

Absolutely! I try to fill up at least one sketchbook page a day, more if I can. I try to practice as much as possible, so I make sure to make gesture and life drawings a day along with fun doodles. I also try to do at least one finished piece of art once every other week – once a week if possible.

You said that you had been drawing in a different style before the webcomic. How did you work out the style for Bi-Assed?

I’ve been trying to get my own webcomic started for years, and I’ve always tried to use my original or “natural” art style (AKA the way I draw when not working on Bi-Assed). The problem was that I tend to put a lot of detail into my art, and trying to put it into a comic was just….frustrating. For Bi-Assed, I knew from the start I wanted it to be a more goofy light-hearted comic, so a cartoony style was more fitting for it. I also found it much more relaxing and less stressful.

As you’ve been making the comic over the past year, has what you’ve wanted to do or been trying to do changed or come into focus or made you start think differently?

A little bit, but not really. I’ve always wanted to have a career in art, but specifically what kind of art varies. So long as I have a career doing what I love, which is making art, then that’s all that really matters to me. To be honest, working on Bi-Assed full time would be an incredible dream come true, but I’m not entirely sure how possible that is.

You’re making the webcomic digitally and making other work all the time, is there a difference for you working digitally versus not? Does a certain style or approach lend itself to certain tools you use?

I work both traditionally and digitally quite a lot, so it’s gotten to a point where the two of them aren’t that different for me. I would say the only real difference is that working digitally can being faster and easier depending on what it is I want to do. Bi-Assed for example, was actually going to be a traditional comic. Inked on paper, then colored digitally. But because of the tone/style I was going for, it was much easier to do it all digitally.

You announced that your friend Owen is going to guest write some strips and do you want to talk about what you two will be doing together and why?

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to incorporate non-binary into the comic, but due to the fact that I am cisgender, it wasn’t my place to do so. Even though I can’t relate to NB due to being cis, but I was told they were pretty similar to the problems biracial/bisexual people deal with, and I wanted them to feel included. It wasn’t until I was at a convention and met a reader, while I was talking to them, they brought up how they’re bisexual and non-binary, that I really wanted to try and add being NB to Bi-Assed. My friend of 12 years, Owen, who identifies as NB offered to write a couple of strips a week, and it all took off from there!

So is there anything else you’re working on? other projects you want to hype? things you’re planning?

Many! The process is going very slow due to my day job, but I’m still excited for them! At the moment I’m working a series of holiday cards focused on little girls of color, and for the past year I’ve been working on a toy line that involves girls of color with jellyfish that I’d like to get started on kickstarter. There are a few other projects in the works, but they’re still very deep in development.

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