I’ve always loved comics. I’ve lost myself in comics a thousand times over, and I love that you can tell surreal, crazy stories with no limit—and talk about important issues to make the plot meaningful and the story worth something at the end of the day. I’ve always loved that about comics.
As with music, when you’re a fan of comics, you kind of want to become a creator, too. And I always wanted to but there was this little voice in my head that was like, “You don’t know how to do it. There are people out there who have been working their entire lives doing it.” But there’s always been this inkling of wanting to try it. I’ve dabbled in comic art, mostly through pop art-style painting, and my aesthetic throughout my music career has been manga- and anime-inspired. I love the power of how much you can say with just a few colors.
When I started working on my fourth record, I had this feeling like I’ve said it all but I knew I hadn’t. You start wondering how you can get these new ideas out of yourself. I felt like I needed a second voice. I wanted to create a character who could be a conduit for that other little voice of mine that I’ve been hiding away. That voice of mine that wants to sing angry songs and wants to sing songs about sex so that people won’t immediately go looking into my personal life like, “Wow, this song’s angry, I wonder what her husband did to her?” But through a character I had a way to sing about this stuff without necessarily speaking about a moment that I’m dealing with in my current life. I wanted a launching point for creativity where these songs would come from and it would create this whole new pool of inspiration, things to write about.
And I’ve always just wanted to see a comic with a record tied into it. I know it’s been done in the past a few times—you have Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance who is a big name in comics now, and Coheed and Cambria ties music to comics—but it doesn’t happen that often and I really wish it did. It’s such a cool idea, and the time is now for mixed, multimedia projects. There are millions and millions of people putting out music, how can you reward people for wanting to listen to all the songs on your record? Well, let’s tie it to a story, let’s tie it to a visual, let’s tie that to a music video, let’s have a story behind it…let’s create lore, let’s create an explorable Instagram world. And that became the seed of Skin & Earth.
I really had to commit myself to doing this project before I really knew how to actually do it. I knew I had to commit myself to the project or else I would back out.
It started with the story in two sentences. A really simple idea of the story. And I didn’t tell anybody – my management team or my label. I didn’t know how to explain how this project was going to come out…because I didn’t know how the project was going to come out.
I want to talk about battling your inner demons, and how your darkness kind of becomes your closest friend and your worst enemy and your sweetest lover – and through these relationship ups and downs you come out the other end who you are because of it. And I wanted to create this story that took what we think makes you broken actually becomes your strength and becomes your origin story. I don’t think you can become who you are without a hard time. And I always wanted to address environmental issues that are important to me as well.
So that was the underlying concept. That was the basic idea that I brought into every songwriting session. I’d be like, “Here are 12 phases of the story, each will represent the 12 songs, let’s pick which one of these parts we want to write about today.” And it established this really creative environment launching point every time I went into a session. The songs just started to flow out.
By the time we had “Savage” and “Skydiving,” I think we had “Almost Had Me” and a bunch of songs that I was really excited about, that’s when I kind of revealed the whole concept because it was coming together and I proved to myself that I could do it. So I presented the idea to my management team and my label.
Then it was locked in and reality hit me: Oh, I have to do this now.
There’s a thousand different theories about art and writing and production, but the whole picture? There are no books that tell you how to put it all together. So I knew I had to figure out my own path into it. I always talk a lot about attending YouTube University—I honestly spent so much time watching tutorials on digital art techniques and webinars and literally learning everything I could with the resources that I had. In this day and age, we have all the resources at our disposal. Mostly for free. If you want to learn something…it’s there. You have no excuse.
I bought a tablet and I started to flesh out the look of the characters as the songs were all coming together. But I thought, “I don’t know how to write a comic.” There’s a technique to how you want to the page to turn, and how many speech bubbles appear on a page? And how many panels? The flow of the action? There’s a lot of knowledge that comes with writing a comic. So I thought, I’m going to see if I can get someone else to write this and I’ll just do the art.
I reached for the stars and I was in touch with Brian K. Vaughn…I’m a massive fan. He is amazing. I got in touch with him and he’s obviously very busy, he’s one of the biggest names in comics, but he basically turned around and said, “You know exactly what you want, you are a writer, you can do this.” And he encouraged me.
If Brian K. Vaughn tells you you can do something, you just kind of believe it.
The best advice I got throughout the whole thing is that there’s no such thing as good writing, just good re-writing. Nothing ever starts out good. You can’t expect your first idea to be the one. It was definitely a work of love and learning the entire time—I was down to the wire reworking and redrawing and making sure the ending was right, right up until that last issue. You can see the progression of my art even through the six issues. I never felt so proud and so empowered. Because I’m reminded that we so often shut ourselves down before we even try something because we’re afraid that we won’t be able to accomplish it without ever having even tried it. I try to tell people whenever I can, Just try it. Put the work in. A vision is one thing, but actually putting the time in, you’ll be amazed what you can accomplish.
It’s opened up my world in terms of music, too. With songwriting, you can get into a rut, and you become afraid of saying the wrong thing or writing the wrong thing or not saying enough of the right thing…you get stuck in your head. This comic, and writing from this perspective, really freed me back to that feeling you have on your first record, when there are no rules, you don’t understand anything about the industry, you’re just writing freely based on inspiration and creativity before you get caught up in…everything.
Lights is currently on tour promoting her album Skin & Earth, and she is donating a dollar from every ticket sold to environmental organizations Grid Alternatives (in the U.S.) and Equiterre (in Canada).