Most of us can name a favorite book. We can also name a favorite album or record. But what if the two were one and the same? Enter Skin & Earth, a comic series AND album, both written by Canadian alt-pop musician Lights.
In September of 2017, Lights — born Valerie Anne Poxleitner — released the concept album alongside a 6-part comic book series – a process that allowed for soul-searching and greater ownership of self.
I had the fun of chatting with Lights over the phone. She called me from Los Angeles, where she was preparing for the fourth show in her We Were Here tour. Recently nominated for two Juno Awards in the Pop Album and Artist of the Year categories, Lights’ joy and shock in sharing the news was contagious. You could feel her energy through the phone as she shared her delight in how the tour is going and how it feels to see her vision come to life.
“In a way,”she explained when I asked her about Skin & Earth, which is a departure from her 2009 EP, The Listening, “it’s a culmination of all my selves. The first phase was my lo-fi nerd self, which progressed into the gritty flannel stage, and then I became a mother. Skin & Earth became the opportunity to combine all these parts of me, and truly own them.”
I asked her what this stage should be called.
She laughed. “Sexually empowered nerd woman stage!”
Bumper stickers, anyone?
A long time fan of comics ranging from Calvin & Hobbes to Saga, Lights loves the creativity that they inspire.
“Some people would argue that [comics are] for kids,” she said, “but they’re not! They let you see and create worlds and play with your imagination, and people need that.”
She loved the idea of an intersection between album and comic, but no idea how to go about doing that.
“Luckily, there’s Youtube University!” she laughed. Yes, that’s right – Lights took on not only creating a fourth record, but writing and drawing the related comic. Skin & Earth follows Enaia, who must find her way in the last remaining city in a post-apocalyptic world. Tempest, a mega-cooperation, controls everything from media to water rations. The city is devoid of feeling, and En must find hope in what looks like a very hopeless world.
In creating this, En became a conduit for Lights’ own vulnerability.
“I wanted to talk about our inner demons,” Lights explained to me. “Whether that’s body dysmorphia, depression – we all carry some sort of darkness. But that darkness is also what makes us strong. There’s beauty in what we might think are our flaws.”
As Lights frames the story of Skin & Earth to be a metaphor for her struggles in mental health, she writes and performs in a relatable way that’s not lost on its audience. Having struggled through my own years of anxiety and depression, I found an instant bond with Lights that quickly became an inspiration to be vulnerable about it in the same way.
When En first started taking shape on paper, the character began as more weak and uncertain, and Lights felt that was inauthentic. She rewrote her main character to be more like herself – and in fact, like each of us.
As you read the comic and experience the songs, you hear a character who is fully engaged with every aspect of herself – her feminine power, her voice, opinions, and sexuality. It is an interesting time to be seeing this emergence in the dueling media of print and audio. As more and more women publicly claim their own power, it’s not a stretch that we are drawn to examples and role models. In the world of comics specifically, Lights feels that the more women there are in comics, the more women will want to be creators of their own right.
Regardless of career or profession, Lights believes comics possess the ability to fire up our imagination and our creativity in a way other media can’t.
Through talking with her and following her career, it’s obvious that these creative experiences have allowed a significant amount of expression and liberation for Lights. I asked how these experiences inform the raising of her 4 year old daughter.
“It’s all about an underlying layer of emotional support,” she replied. “That’s the only constant they need. The rest is, and needs to be, all them.”
And the same extends into support of the family as a whole. Light’s husband, Beau Bokan, is the lead vocalist for the band Blessthefall. The demands of both careers require the two to be touring the globe, sometimes across continents from each other.
“It’s a constant choreography,” Lights said of their family’s balancing act. It demands spontaneity to be supportive of each other’s passions, while intentionally prioritizing family time. Their daughter Rocket is currently accompanying Lights on her tour.
“Dad’s touring in a van, so she’s definitely with me!” she laughed.
Lights performs at the Norva this Friday, February 23rd, along with Chase Atlantic and DCF. Doors open at 8pm; tickets available online at thenorva.com or in-person at FM Restaurant.