ChannelDraw
Gianluca Costantini
Political Comics

Ai Weiwei’s ‘Zodiac’ Is a Mystical Memory Tour

Like a cosmological comic, the artist’s new ‘graphic memoir’ entwines recalled experience with legend and imagination.
The New York Times, By Jonathan Landreth

As the Year of the Dragon dawns, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has released “Zodiac,” a “graphic memoir” of scenes from his career — both real (hanging with Allen Ginsberg, the O.G. of Beat poets, in 1980s Greenwich Village) and imagined (debating Xi Jinping, China’s paramount leader). Each chapter frames the artist’s take on traditional beliefs about the characteristics humans share with the 12 animals of the Chinese lunar calendar. Gianluca Costantini’s intricate line drawings pair with Elettra Stamboulis’s comic-bubble text to help expand Ai’s lifelong campaign for free expression to a new medium for a new generation. Ai spoke with Jonathan Landreth about parents and parenting, punk rock and the passage of time, all via video chat last week from Berlin.

Some of “Zodiac” looks drawn from photographs, and some seems to depict dreams. Describe the process and why you chose the graphic medium for the sequel to your 2021 prose memoir.

Gianluca, the illustrator, and his wife, Elettra, and I sat together. The idea was to gather things from my memory, like a timeline, and offer mystical stories from China’s past. I explained it as a mix of memory and mythology. We thought this would relate not just my experience but general knowledge for whoever was interested. It’s a story with so much related to my situation that the publisher called it a memoir, but it’s not. Memory is subjective. We choose some things to remember and lots to forget.

Most images in the book are related to photos because I post all my images on Instagram. They did the research. They asked questions and I answered. I never wrote a sentence but I did edit. All the dialogue in the book is based on my interviews.

Gianluca, the illustrator, and his wife, Elettra, and I sat together. The idea was to gather things from my memory, like a timeline, and offer mystical stories from China’s past. I explained it as a mix of memory and mythology. We thought this would relate not just my experience but general knowledge for whoever was interested. It’s a story with so much related to my situation that the publisher called it a memoir, but it’s not. Memory is subjective. We choose some things to remember and lots to forget.

Most images in the book are related to photos because I post all my images on Instagram. They did the research. They asked questions and I answered. I never wrote a sentence but I did edit. All the dialogue in the book is based on my interviews.

Ai Weiwei / United States / Zodiac / The New York Times

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