Elisha Lim, the illustrator behind the graphic series 100 Butches, has been illustrating beautiful and powerful wall calendars for the past few years. Their SISSY Calendar featured illustrations of people who identify as, celebrate, and challenge the word "sissy". This year's calendar, The Comfort of Queer Family Wisdom Calendar, features illustrations of queer writers, artists, and organizers alongside words from Elisha on combating isolation by picking up queer and anti-racist books, organizing, and having conversations with friends. Both calendars are available at BitchMart! Elisha, who is also a Bitch contributor, was kind enough to answer a few questions about their calendars, the people featured in them, and what they're up to next.
Your wall calendars are amazing. Why did you decide to start making calendars, and what is it about calendars that has kept you making them for the past three years?
Humm. Well, I make art for connection, and I'm excited to stay in touch with folks every year. I love making an annual drawing party of racialized queer celebration, like a show and tell for everybody to enjoy. I chose calendars because they also seemed practical, and an excuse to put lots of lovely portraits on the wall. But some stores tell me that folks don't need calendars now that they have smart phones. Is that true? What do you think? What shall I do next?
I suppose they could say the same thing about magazines, but we don't believe that at Bitch. I use my smart phone for my day-to-day appointments, but I still love turning the page on my wall calendar every month, and I don't see them disappearing anytime soon. [Readers: What do you think? Any ideas for projects you'd like to see Elisha work on next? Let them know in the comments!]
Your 2013 calendar operates almost as a journal, with each of the month giving us an illustration of a person who shaped the year that you chronicle. The calendar introduces us to some rad queer predecessors such as Barbara May Cameron, and also to friends and fellow artists such as Rae Spoon. Can you tell us about a few of the comforting people that you highlight in your calendar, and how you came to create this calendar?
Oh yeah, totally! I'm a little in love and awe of all of these folks, and I love to talk about them! Basically, I had a weird, lonely, odd year. It's over now. I got up and moved out of a bad place, and I'm so proud of myself for doing that! BUT, while I was there, I was amazed and humbled to learn how to read books again. Do you know what I mean? Maybe I'm the exception—but after two literature degrees I just never wanted to read again. I loathed opening books. I'm still not good at it. But I forced myself to read these people: Barbara Cameron, a Lakota American activist and artist, Misuye Yamada, a Japanese American feminist writer, Richard Fung, a Trinidadian Chinese Canadian activist artist radical, and others. And they just pulled me out of a lonely void, and put blood back into my veins.
I also loved reading James Baldwin, but he's so well known that I didn't draw him —I partly want to introduce folks to newer, bigger, broader family trees. It's hard to describe how terrible I was feeling, and I wonder if queers of colour in Bitch's home of Portland feel the same way—or in other racially homogenous towns. I had no idea how much I owe to my rambunctious racialized queer Toronto community. I thought I was invincible, but feeling like the only qpoc was an astonishing assault on my self-esteem. I was furtive and afraid every time I went to the french corner store.
Your Sissy calendar (above) came out last year but has a dateless month format, so it's good for any year! Tell us about your SISSY calendar, and the people who are featured in it.
SISSY is my tribute to an experimental queer vanguard that I love. Queers, and especially racialized queers, are such a daily art movement, taking outrageous race and gender risks and hitting the road with gorgeous public performances, just on their way to the subway. Art movements are about risk, and I don't know if queers feel as much prestige as they deserve for the daily show that some of them work so hard on. What a bunch of masterpieces!
SISSY is a series of testimonials from people who proudly self-identify as "sissies". Some transmen talked about wearing jewelery. Some gay guys talked about tight pants and shoulder dusters. And some femmes gave fashion tips, and refuted the idea that 'femme' is only radical on a man. It's about feats of hardcore fierce radical racialized femininity. For December, Leroi Newbold wrote a piece that really sums it up for me.
"Gwan Wit Cha Sissy self soft eyes, soft skin, sharp braid-up, fashion on point. Sissy ain easy y'know. Sissy means u can't hide. Regular bwoys will be jealouuuussss. Wit cha haters on the corner... waitin... sneers n spit, hurlin insults that fall on sharp tongues. Sissy means u recognize the fierceness in femininity. Hands, duckwalk, catwalk, sibilant s, perfectly arched brows, carefully selected boxer briefs, faggity fagggity, tears sometimes... cut eye and cuss outs some other times. Sissy means u will handle it."
You seem to always be working on several amazing projects at once. Is there anything else you're working on right now that you'd like to share with our readers?
I'm really excited right now to be working on a project called God Loves Queers—it's a film about queers of colour who pray. I've been recording the prayers of queers from four different faith backgrounds, and it's been one of the hardest, scariest, most beautiful projects I've ever been a part of.
What can I say? I feel so lucky to be part of this community. Racialized queers turn everything upside down, which is exactly what art is supposed to be about. All I have to do is stand here with a recorder or a pen, and just try to do it justice. My dad worries that I can't pay my rent or build a pension, but wow, I say who cares. I know what I want to leave behind when I die. Thanks for asking me these beautiful questions!
Thanks for talking with us, Elisha! You can purchase Elisha's SISSY and Comfort of Queer Family Wisdom calendars at BitchMart!