Rising pop singer-songwriter Mxmtoon (who also goes by her real name Maia) got her start by uploading videos of herself playing songs to YouTube, but she’s quickly found success off-screen, too, and is currently on a sold-out North American tour.
Shortly before she hit the road, Mxmtoon released her debut full-length album The Masquerade in September (produced by friend and collaborator Cavetown), bringing her stirring ukulele tunes to an ever-widening fanbase. Album highlights “Prom Dress” and “Seasonal Depression” came with fun, quirky videos that depict issues relatable to young adults (and dare we say, regular ol’ adults), like crying at prom and the feeling of hopelessness due to lack of sunshine during the winter months.
The videos certainly did the tracks justice, but the Oakland-based artist didn’t stop there. Today, (Oct. 22), the 19-year-old has released her first graphic novel — titled The Adventures of Mxmtoon: The Masquerade — to accompany the album. The novel seamlessly pairs with the album, encapsulating her introverted, teenage tendencies and free-flowing creativity.
The idea for The Adventures of Mxmtoon initially came when she was creative-directing her video for “Prom Dress.” Thanks to the cartoonish storyboards she had made in preparation for the video, and with the help of illustrator Ellie Black, she brought those images to life with a vibrant and endearing visual for every track on the album. “It’s nice for each song to have its own special moment,” Maia, who opts not to share her last name, tells Billboard.
Billboard spoke to Maia about the graphic novel, her current tour and what to expect in the future. Preview The Adventures of Mxmtoon below, and check out the Q&A after the jump.
How did the concept for the graphic novel develop?
Behind-the-scenes, I would make these comic book storyboards for the music videos — I ended up making for a couple of my songs, like “Prom Dress.” It’d be these four-page things where I’d have the details and directions for what we wanted the video to look like. When the idea of an album came to the table, we were thinking of music videos and I naturally wanted to do what I was doing previously, where I was storyboarding everything myself. And then the idea came that we could do a graphic novel out of all of it.
No one’s really seeing the amount of visual art that I do alongside the projects all the time, especially when you’re spending hours on end making page-long things with detailed drawings for everything that’s going on in the song. No one’s seeing that process most of the time, it’s just people on the internal side, and so we thought it would be really cool to basically make visual aids for everything on the album. You’re not always able to do videos for every single song, so a graphic novel is a great way to provide visual aids for everything we’re doing.
It seems like you have a say in most things you do. You’ve creative-directed a lot of your videos, produce your music, and you’ve had control over your career from the beginning, thanks to social media.
It’s been really cool, especially as a creative individual. It’s funny, I’ve never had a dream job when I was younger — I just knew I wanted to do something creative and artistic. It’s so wonderful now that being a musician has not only allowed me to express myself through writing and songs, but it’s also provided these other avenues for me to explore myself as a visual artist, which is where I originally started. I get to think about other projects that would be creatively fulfilling to me, and this graphic novel is definitely one of those.
Did you think that this was going to be something that your fans would appreciate?
I wasn’t really sure! I think I knew that there would definitely be some people that would be really excited about this project, but I think it was really such a cool challenge for me. Making an album is one challenge, but then figuring out how you want to organize a graphic novel alongside that and make it cohesive with another piece of work was just something I wanted to personally figure out. Like, a really good problem-solving activity. The great thing about it is that there will be people who will want to interact with it as much as I loved making it, but it was definitely a shot in the dark. I don’t know what people are going to think, but I hope it’s positive [laughs].
How did you come up with the style of the drawings?
I worked with this New Yorker illustrator named Ellie Black on all of the internal drawings. I did the cover art, but we worked together on making sure that all of the graphics inside of the book were fluid. She did an amazing job. I think it was basically the storyboards in her own style, based on what I did originally. I did 20 pages of my own sketches and then Ellie took it from there. Her style is so distinct and charming and simple, but also she did such a lovely job of capturing the essence of what was going on.
Do you see yourself taking on more projects like the graphic novel — meaning, not strictly musical?
I would love to do more stuff like this in the future. In my mind, it would be really cool to have this collection of graphic novels that go through the history of my music. That would be really cool.
Now that The Masquerade has had some time to breathe, what are your thoughts on how it’s been received?
It’s been amazing! The reaction has been so great, and the audience seems to really love it. I’m so proud of it. They’re proud of me too, which is really sweet. It’s exciting, I feel like a lot of avenues have opened up for me as an artist and what types of music I can make now that this album is out. “Unspoken Words” is becoming a fan favorite and I feel like “My Ted Talk” has a very dedicated following [laughs].
What has changed for you since the release of your debut EP, Plum Blossom, in 2018?
So much. I just did a tour back in March, but it was only 10 days long and this one is three months long. The sell-out factor is crazy. Playing live shows is really the one moment where I feel like I can connect with the people I see on my social media feed. The fact that those are real people that will spend 15 bucks and come see me perform on a Saturday evening…I just feel really lucky that I’m able to do it, and even luckier that many people want to come see my show. Maybe a little bit nervous on stage, but it’s amazing. I never thought about how many live shows I was going to be doing this fall, but there’s a first time for everything and touring is something that I really enjoy. A lot has changed, but I’m just kind of riding the wave.
What can fans expect to see at a show?
Oh, man, they can expect to see a live comedy routine that they probably didn’t sign up for, because when I’m nervous I make a lot of jokes. This is the first time I’m playing with a band on stage and I love it. Fans can also expect it to be a personal, smaller show. It feels like a real show now. When it was originally just me, it felt like a podcast. It did not feel like a show yet.
You recently mentioned that you might retire by the age of 30! What you would like to accomplish between then and now?
Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I want to retire by 30 [laughs]. I’m way too antsy to ever give up a job. I mean, between now and then, I’d really love to just keep making music and do this for as long as I feel like there’s life in it and people are excited about it. I don’t know what that means necessarily, but I hope by the time I’m 30 I’ll be able to develop my personal life a little bit more.
Right now, I’m 19 — really young — and I am experiencing a different kind of teenagehood that a lot of people aren’t ever going to experience [so] I’m just going to grind out the work. But it’s really exciting to me and I’d like to just keep making music. Maybe I’ll retire at 40 [laughs].
Anything else in the pipeline?
Tour is what I’m focusing on right now. In terms of what’s next: a lot more live shows next year, and of course, new music will be on the way after that.
The Adventures of Mxmtoon: The Masquerade is out now via Ingram/Spark.