As our new Animation Director, Dylan Glynn created the cover of this issue of Nat. Brut. His work floats seamlessly from the small scale to the large, from still images to the animated. It is buttressed by delicate line work and an affinity towards the surreal. Since returning to Toronto after graduate school at La Poudrière, Dylan finished a few large commissions in the past year and is now turning his attention to a few new projects.
Many of the works in progress are still being developed, but prior to this interview, Dylan shared his pitch materials and storyboards with me. As with his previous work, the resonance of each project to Dylan’s own life was clear-eyed and self-aware. These personal origins stand out in “Rain Boy” and “Our Love,” two stylistically differing takes on negotiating relationships, romantic and otherwise, as a queer person in our modern world. “Rain Boy” is a proposed children’s book following a raincloud child who is initially rejected by everyone, but eventually beloved when the townspeople get used to the constant rain and Rain Boy brings a rainbow. With “Our Love,” Dylan addresses the malaise of dating app culture and a media-saturated with desire for white bodies. Based on Dylan’s realization that he’s internalized racism in his own dating practice, this style test has a finished script that expresses dual shame and frustration. Its portrayal of obsession is admirable in its self-reflection.
While browsing Dylan’s Vimeo page, I also noticed a sparkling pink anomaly that appeared to be a demo tape for a song sung by a horse. Although the soundtrack was all neighs and whinnies, its lyrics were cheekily subtitled in English and replete with rainbow color effects. It turns out this video was part of a pitch package for “Pony Tale,” an expansive episodic animation that Dylan has been collaborating on with three former classmates from La Poudrière. “Pony Tale” is an incredibly detailed world in which Coco Chantilly, a drag queen horse (who sings the demo tape I’d accidentally discovered) is only one of many characters in an unforgettable drag/Western mashup.
The following interview is transcribed from our second Skype conversation in August, while Dylan was still finishing the Nat. Brut cover. At first, I thought he was in a dorm room, based on the contractor’s white walls and an open linen closet. But soon Dylan revealed to me that he was in a studio that he keeps at his parents’ house, a short drive away from his apartment in Toronto. After a quick virtual tour of this sun-filled space, we settled in to talk about his works in progress, artist personas online, and knowing when a joke really, truly lands.
Abby Sun: One of the things I really enjoyed about watching your short animations was how heavily narrative they are. What are some good stories that you’ve encountered recently? Things that you’ve enjoyed reading, watching, listening to?
Dylan Glynn: I like how broad that question is. I saw Frank Ocean in concert recently. It was magical. There’s this outdoor festival near Toronto and I went to it the one day he was performing. Early on in the set, he performed this song called “Good Guy.” That song is really short. It’s a minute and something, but it tells the story of how he was in New York and this guy in New York was like, “Oh, you’re in New York, you should hit me up.” And then they go to a gay bar. There’s this lyric: “I know you don't need me right now/And to you it's just a late night out.” To me, listening to it, that song is pretty narrative. It’s a simple story that a friend would be telling you about meeting someone online that you maybe thought was cute and had romantic, or overly romantic, expectations about what’s going to happen. Then you go and it doesn’t feel that special, or maybe it feels disappointing. But it’s not like the person is a bad person. The song is called “Good Guy.” It’s like, you’re not a bad guy, you’re a good guy, you’re just not what I was expecting. I really liked that a lot.
AS: He also didn’t need the standard three or four minutes to tell this story. He told it, and then he’s onto the next story.
DG: It is totally that kind of story. It did really hurt me in this way, but it was also just a night out. That one really hits me. I also saw the movie The Big Sick recently. It was super, super funny. I just love the humor and it really speaks to me.
AS: I saw The Big Sick in a theater in rural Wyoming. I was completely shocked they were showing it and I saw it on a Tuesday night. There were actually other people in the theater with me and everyone laughed at the same parts I laughed at. That made me really believe that this film could be enjoyed more universally.
It sounds like one of the reasons why you liked that Frank Ocean song was because you could identify with it. I’ve noticed in your work that, over the last couple of years, your animations seem to be moving in a more autobiographical direction. Of course, it’s easy to say that about any artist’s work—that tendency to read the autobiographical in it. In particular, I’m thinking about “Service Magique,” which I find this delightful, skewed, and fantastic representation of being a foreigner in France. You made that when you were a foreigner in France. Some of the projects you have in progress, like “Our Love,” which is connected to that Frank Ocean song “Good Guy,” pick inspirations out of your own life. What place does autobiography have in your work?
DG: I don’t think for me it’s obvious how it has changed over time. There’s this really old school idea that an artist’s job is to tell the truth and that good art is true and has truth to it. When I started seeing myself as an artist more, drawing more, and thinking yes, that’s who I am, I always thought that truth and my experience –my “truth”—is the anchor of my work. I’m exaggerating a lot and stylizing a lot. I want everything I do to have emotional truth. That’s where the autobiographical part comes into play because I’m referencing feelings that were true for me and that I want other people to experience and to know that they’re not alone.
In Meadows. 48 x 48 inches, acrylic, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.
AS: That sounds like it’s speaking to a really specific audience. Are you thinking of people in particular when you’re making your work?
DG: Sometimes. But a lot of times I have this feeling in me that I’m wrestling with and that I want to share. I want to express it. I think that’s a very basic human thing—I’m expressing it through my work. That’s the main –I don’t know if you want to call it impetus or what—to work out feelings through my work. It’s not a new idea, but that’s the practice for me.
AS: There’s also the idea that all artists have vanity within us. Not only are we working out issues through work but we also want other people to see the finished product.
DG: And to say, “That was good.”
AS: The validation.
DG: I’m fine with the validation afterward!
AS: When we last talked, you mentioned you lived pretty close to your parents’ house. Now we’re talking while you’re in your studio there. Do you work in that studio often?
“I WANT EVERYTHING I DO TO HAVE EMOTIONAL TRUTH. THAT’S WHERE THE AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL PART COMES INTO PLAY BECAUSE I’M REFERENCING FEELINGS THAT WERE TRUE FOR ME AND THAT I WANT OTHER PEOPLE TO EXPERIENCE AND TO KNOW THAT THEY’RE NOT ALONE.”
DG: I don’t work here as much as I thought I would. I can see that sort of changing. I’m working here right now because they have a printer—I don’t have a printer—and I need it for the Nat. Brut cover. Usually, I come here once a week because I do laundry here. And maybe I do a bit of work, but there’s a lot of gossiping with my mom and I’ll go to Starbucks with my dad. One day I’ll do big paintings again, and then I’ll want to do them here because I have the space and the light.
AS: It’s not a ton, but it sounds like you do spend time with your parents. Do you think about them at all in terms of your work and them being a part of the audience? Especially with the pieces that are more about childhood and growing up, like “Rain Boy,” or perhaps “Our Love”?
DG: Did you see the comics on my website with my mom in them?
AS: Somehow I missed that!
DG: I think it’s because my main brand is that I do these artsy animated shorts, and that’s how I make my living.
AS: How do I find them?
DG: Oh, I might have hidden them. I’ve been trying to narrow my brand more. I had a comics section on my site, then a kid’s section, also animation. My portfolio was getting bigger and people would say to me that my portfolio was too broad.
I have my own series of comics that are called “Asian Mother Alert” and it’s all these Asian mom-isms with my mom. Those are definitely for my brother and for my other friends who would get it. But my mom loves them. She’s a super good sport about them. In that way, my parents influence my work really directly. There are smaller ways too. On Friday, I was driving with my dad and he was driving so dangerously! I did this drawing about it and put it on Instagram. For Christmas, a lot of times I’ll do drawings and paintings that are very personal to them, so I know they appreciate that. To be totally honest, I think my mom gets my work more than my dad does, even though he’s very supportive.
In a certain way, the reason that I’m even into drawing has to do with my mom. I’ve never seen my dad do a drawing, whereas my mom has a portfolio of work that she's done. She’s quite good at drawing and painting. I remember drawing with her a bit as a kid. In certain ways, she’s quite strict, but she would indulge in buying me art supplies, but she would never buy me toys, dolls, or candy. I remember being in this art supply shop and she kept letting me buy things. I was like, this is amazing! From an early age, she’s been really supportive, which I think surprises a lot of people who might think she’s a certain way because she’s East Asian.
AS: The whole tiger mom stereotype. It surprises people whenever some story of a group doesn’t fit into what they imagine it to be…
What remains on your website is still a mix of work for clients and work that seems a lot more personal in genesis. How does all of this fit together right now?
“FROM AN EARLY AGE, SHE’S BEEN REALLY SUPPORTIVE, WHICH I THINK SURPRISES A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO MIGHT THINK SHE’S A CERTAIN WAY BECAUSE SHE’S EAST ASIAN.”
DG: I think all the time that my work isn’t cohesive enough. I see other artists who are completely consistent—like every work is a panel from the same comic. Truthfully, I only want to do that if I absolutely have to. It’s not really what I respond to in other people’s work. For me, the standard in branding in an authentic way as an artist is this Canadian artist named Jillian Tamaki. Her work has a thread through all of it, although she’s working in illustration as well as being known for her comics and graphic novels. She’s also done some book covers, too. There’s always this sense of identity with her work, although what she’s doing is not the same every time. I hope that my work would have that kind of thread, as well. Some people reviewing my portfolio have said there is a thread, although there’s also a sense of experimentation. If you would indulge me, since you’ve seen it with fresh eyes, I’m always curious how it comes over. I’ve considered making a new Instagram…
Asian Mother Alert Part 3: Tiger Mom (but not in the way you think). Digital, 2014 . Courtesy of the artist.
AS: Whenever I see artists with identities that are so performative—I do think being an artist is performative, with how you act in Q&As and artist talks and so on—when these performances are part of an artist’s persona, I adore that kind of dedication to uniformity. But other times I find it exhausting. I think the way your work is being presented right now is that it’s true to the reality of being a freelancer. I’m generally more interested when I see that artists have broad interests even if it does mean that viewers have to spend more time on an artist website.
You have work that is specifically about our modern "internet and selfie culture" where you depict nature taking over aspects of the characters’ lives (as in your pieces depicting people being submerged in water). I think those contradictions are sort of hallmarks of what you’re interested in. So, to me, having “too broad” a portfolio isn’t necessarily a contradiction. Are you interested in any other juxtapositions?
DG: For the piece that I’m doing for Nat. Brut, I’m really trying to develop this idea of a moving painting but I’m trying to avoid having too much obvious digital media in this one. I really want it to look as much as possible like traditional media but have it in fluid motion. But, streamlining the process is pretty hard. I’m trying to keep my work immediate but the animation is super tedious. I’m trying to have more direct application.
AS: I was really charmed and surprised by some of your animations. In “Service Magique,” there’s a scene of a line of “failed characters” in the theme park that completely changed the tone of the animation from something that was farcical to something with existential dread. In the “Money Trees” world of animals, not only did you include the maple leaf currency symbol on the register of the check-out line, there are also acorns as coins. These tiny details are so immersive for me. Do you ever manage to surprise yourself? When you come up with these ideas, is there ever a sense that something is really going to work?
DG: The drag queen horse story “Pony Tale” was a group project and I felt really good about those storylines. There’s something I also like about the recording for “Advanced Vegan Identity Theory,” which is why I’m going ahead with that one to make it into a fully realized animated short. For “Pony Tale,” all the satire that goes into that and the crossover jokes that we make between the country-western and drag worlds just kill me. I’m so happy with those jokes. I’m surprised by how much I love the comedy we came up with.
" ...I’M REALLY TRYING TO DEVELOP THIS IDEA OF A MOVING PAINTING BUT I’M TRYING TO AVOID HAVING TOO MUCH OBVIOUS DIGITAL MEDIA IN THIS ONE. I REALLY WANT IT TO LOOK AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE AS TRADITIONAL MEDIA BUT HAVE IT IN FLUID MOTION. BUT, STREAMLINING THE PROCESS IS PRETTY HARD. I’M TRYING TO KEEP MY WORK IMMEDIATE BUT THE ANIMATION IS SUPER TEDIOUS."
AS: Are you able to describe the feeling of knowing how it’s really working?
DG: We tell the jokes, and they land really well. I’ve formally pitched “Pony Tale” two times in front of an audience of people who can actually give us money and help us develop the show. When I was developing the pitch in school, we’d get back together as a group and pitch it to the class. It was the first time, pitching, where I’d be really confident telling the jokes. It was like telling jokes to my friends; it was the same types of jokes, I knew how to tell them, and it was the same type of tone. I know how to deliver all of it and I don’t have to think about pausing. I am that drag queen horse and I know how to talk like the character as if she’s real. Whereas with “Money Tree,” I really liked the idea, but the school hated it. The person who ran the school hated me for making that film and was embarrassed by it. With “Service Magique,” I don’t know how to feel about that one. Recently, more people have said they liked it, but I tried really hard. I don’t see that one as a big success. After “Pony Tale,” I thought I should try comedy because that pitch went so well. With jokes, you have to test it out on an audience. There’s certain content that sticks.
AS: The “Pony Tale” idea is so generative. I’ve always thought, at rodeos, that the dress code is so flamboyant. There’s glitter everywhere. All these male rodeo contestants are required to braid their horses’ manes and tails. “Pony Tale” is a clear logical extension of that world.
DG: After working on “Pony Tale,” when I see horses, I’m convinced that they've been drag queens this whole time. Their long hair, long faces—
AS: They’re so contoured!
DG: Yeah, so contoured. It’s a long, thin, contoured nose. Long eyelashes. Horse shoes. It just kind of kept going.
Dylan Glynn is based in Toronto and studied animation at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario and La Poudrière in Valence, France. His multidisciplinary practice is characterised by its emotion, grace and sense of wild-movement. His work has been recognized and exhibited by Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, Somerset House and the Canadian Screen Awards.
Abby Sun, who originally hails from Columbia, MO, is a photographer, filmmaker, sound recordist, and lover of road trips. She is the Senior Editor and Photography Editor for Nat. Brut and a programmer for True/False Film Fest.