The new book by L.A.-based artists Nada Alic and Andrea Nakhla is more human than a lot of humans are.
If art imitates life, and if life is L.A.–or like, anywhere in 2016–then what you have is a cultural landscape mash up of Entourage-level fuckboi-dom, Kardashian money lust, and the kind of frivolity only The Bachelorette could so unsparingly deliver. Kind of fun, but mostly just a bummer. Which is why a read of Future You No. 2, the illustrated book of short fiction (and follow up to Future You No. 1) by writer Nada Alic and visual artist Andrea Nakhla, is like water to a dust bowl. In a time of pronounced superficiality, Future You is the deeply human antidote: intimate, intelligent, and beautiful as it traces the strange but painfully familiar thoughts of its characters in their search for connection, love, and meaning. We sat down with the long-time best friends and creatives behind the book to talk about meeting each other while living in a house of 60 people, the rambling path to becoming a legit artist, and using their work to create a tribe of people who feel all the feels.
Tell us about your backgrounds–was there a definitive point when you decided you were artists?
Andrea: I don’t think there was a definitive point. My mom always encouraged me to be creative. We had a big craft bin, and she always encouraged me to draw and paint–she never put me in sports or anything. I remember that a lot of kids growing up around me said they were going to be artists, but I was always like, “No, I’m really going to do it.” But I spent a lot of my early twenties traveling, and it’s harder to do art that way. When I hit 25, I thought, “Oh shit, people are running companies at this age.” I realized if I had this idea of myself as an artist, then I actually had to do it. Up until then, I hadn’t done a lot, but that’s when I started doing a series of portraits. Since then, I’ve consistently focused on making art.
Nada: My trajectory was more nebulous. Every job I’ve ever had has been championing other artists, and I was always sitting on the sidelines. I never really identified with being an artist, so I used the creativity I had to tell other people’s stories. It wasn’t until 2014 that I started writing fiction and sending little stories to Andrea, and that’s when we came up with this idea to make a book together–and when I realized I could be an artist, too. It’s just been the last couple years that I’ve gotten comfortable with the idea of being a creative person and owning that.
You two are obviously close–you’ve put this amazing and emotionally intimate project together–how did you meet and become friends?
Nada: In our early 20s, we both worked for a non-profit. We were living in San Diego in this normal-sized house with 60 people in it–all working for the same non-profit. It was bunk beds for days. We spent a lot of time on the road raising funds and awareness for the war in East Africa, but we would spend months in between training and working in the office in San Diego, and that’s when we had a chance to get close. We were just fast friends–we clicked. Eight years later, it’s my longest enduring friendship, and it’s lasted through so many changes–different cities, long distance–she’s actually the whole reason I moved to L.A. She’s more of a sister to me than anything.
How did the collaboration come about?
Nada: I was living in Toronto at the time, working at Etsy, and I just felt really stagnant in my life. Andrea and I would Skype, and we came up with this idea of putting out a zine as a cool way for us to connect with each other. I started writing stories and sending them to her to visually interpret. We put out our first book in June 2014 when I was still living in Toronto. That one was super well received; we basically sold out. It’s something we loved doing, so we kept doing it. It’s a cool way for us both to express artistically and collaborate with each other.
Were you guys specific about what you wanted from each other’s work?
Nada: In terms of the artwork, I had no expectations. I just wanted to her to create whatever she wanted. We both like a more bright, illustrative aesthetic, and that’s a lot of what she does. But every time she’d send me something, I would just be thrilled.
Andrea: I felt the same about her stories. I was constantly like, “Are you kidding me?? These are so good!”
There’s a sense in the book that the reader is being let in on an extended secret; it’s very interior and intimate. Was that intentional, or do you think it’s a result of the chemistry the two of you have as close friends?
Nada: At this point, it’s intentional because it’s the only way I know how to write. I’m constantly filling up the notepad on my phone with these little moments. There’s a story in the book, “Francis Forever,” that takes place in a post office, and that literally came to me while I was standing in a post office observing all these characters, how people weren’t standing in line the way they were supposed to, and how that reflected an inner turmoil in me. That exploration of the internal landscape has always been something that’s deeply resonated with me, so it’s what I want to be able to write about. But to your point, Andrea is always so supportive of my work; it makes me feel like I could send her anything in any form, and she’ll be receptive.
Andrea, walk us through your process once you’d receive Nada’s stories.
Andrea: She would send me a few versions of the stories as she was working on them, so I had an idea of what to expect before I got the final draft. They are very interior, as you said, and since she and I hang out and talk all the time, I always feel deeply about the stories. For this book, it took me a while to figure out what to do stylistically, but I landed on the marker drawings because they’re a bit more expressive. I felt like they fit well with the emotional level of the story–there’s a youthfulness there. So, usually I’d mock up some sketches and send them to her, and she was always supportive, too. She was like, “These are great, do whatever you want!”
There seems to be a theme in the book about feeling irreparably flawed in love, and the push and pull between indulging those flaws while being terrified that they’ll be exposed. It’s such a conflicted dynamic–can you talk about that?
Nada: That is 100% accurate and also how I feel. I really feel a lot of empathy for the characters that I write about. They’re very endearing to me; they’re delusional, but in this sweet, romantic way that I sort of cherish and feel like gets easily discarded–especially in L.A., where it’s cool to be aloof. I really like digging into these characters who have no chill because in my heart, I think that’s who I am. And often times in dating, I’m trying to be this super chill girl, but I like the idea of romance, and I want to believe in it. So I think those types of characters are far more interesting to me because they’re in touch with their emotional landscape in a way that people who are jaded refuse to confront. There’s so much below the surface in relationships that it gives me a lot to work with.
Andrea: One of my favorite stories is the dancer one. It’s not so much about being flawed in a relationship as it is about a deeply flawed character who feels like she has potential she’s not reaching. That one is so relatable. You reach these points in your life when you think, “I could have been great at so many things, but I’ll never know.” It’s about our search for value and meaning in our lives.
Yeah, and the dancer’s character is a perfect metaphor because it taps into this “dance” we do to feel important.
Nada: Yeah, it’s about this performance aspect we encounter as women. We have to feel so successful, funny, intelligent, super hot–whereas a dude can just be in a band and that’s it, everyone wants to fuck him. Like, they just get a free pass. There’s a certain level of exhaustion that even I experience keeping up appearances just to be considered of value. It’s something I still struggle with, even though as I get older I’m more and more accepting of who I am and of my imperfections. I think it will be a lifelong struggle, especially living in L.A.
What’s been the biggest takeaway for you in creating this book?
Nada: It’s really satisfying to set out to do something, do it, put it into the world, and have people respond to it. This is a very DIY labor of love since we both have jobs. My idea of success for it is purely seeing people connect with it and feeling heard and understood, feeling like they belong to this tribe of people who feel deeply. It affirms that my people are out there when people tell me that a story resonated with them. We’re still learning a lot, and when it comes to things like press and putting the book out there, it’s a clumsy process. But that’s fine because what really matters to me is when someone relates.
Andrea: I agree with that. In my art, I want to make something that’s accessible to people, something they can connect with. When that happens, it’s just the best feeling.
Photos by Nora Schaefer