In Acrossing the Miles, the Beat’s intrepid Animal Crossing travel reporter Avery Kaplan will leave her home base on Dharma Island to soar across the Dodo skies and visit the finest creators in comics on their respective virtual islands. This week, she’s heading to the scenic island of Koriko.
On Wednesday, June 4th, I left Dharma Island to visit Koriko, Mathew New’s Animal Crossing island.
Mathew is the cartoonist behind the Body Issues Project, and his upcoming all-ages graphic novel debut, Billy Johnson and his Duck are Explorers, will be published on August 1st, 2020.
As I learned soon after getting off the plane at Koriko International Airport, Mathew has considered the seasonal element in the decoration of his island. “I’m currently switching the flower colors out to match whatever the seasonal shrub is,” he told me. “We’ll see, in a month and a half from now, whether I have the energy to do that repeatedly or not.”
Signs of Life on Koriko Island
Mathew has started several additional accounts on his Animal Crossing game in order to create additional “houses” to decorate. Each of these buildings is decorated to resembled a different amenity for the residents and guests of Koriko.
This first of these has been designed to be a schoolhouse.
Next, we headed to the downtown area, where several of the residents of Koriko live. I was introduced to the much-lauded Raymond, who has been modeling a more casual look on Koriko.
While Mathew has themed outdoor areas around each of the villagers houses to match their sense of interior design, he had to admit that he had been left somewhat at a loss by Rex’s dirt-filled cabin. ““I try to theme the yards around the aesthetic or the type of animal they are,” he said, “And I’ve just got nothing for this guy!”
As we continued the tour of Mathew’s residential area, a certain business-turned-casual cat wouldn’t give us a modicum of breathing space.
We also visited with Marina, the newest resident on Koriko, whose home possessed a very pink aesthetic.
After we had visited the villagers who lived downtown, we headed to the island plaza, where Mathew showed me the flag of Koriko, which features the bird character who represents him in the Body Issues Project. The character was introduced in the Art Model Comics component of the Body Issues Project. That comic tells the story of Mathew’s journey to acceptance of his body, which is intertwined with his introduction to art modeling.
“I drew myself as this little bird, and people really responded to it,” he said. Mathew explained that the Art Model Comics follow his personal journey to acceptance. “I used to have really bad body issues. And now I’m an art model. And kind of tracking how I went from there to now, which is a pretty drastic difference, and not something people would have expected me to be capable of.”
After realizing how the depiction of himself as a bird was integral to success of his Art Model Comics, Mathew applied the concept more broadly with the Body Issues Project. In that series, Mathew accepted roughly 70 submissions from people about personal issues they had dealt with regarding their bodies. He has illustrated around 25 of the submitted stories, mostly using cartoon animal avatars, with a more “realistic” illustration of the featured individual appearing at the conclusion of each comic.
“Since I used a little bird character to discuss these kind of sometimes trickier topics, when I had the idea to have people submit their own stories for the Body Issues Project, I kept that idea of keeping them as animals,” he said.
The decision had an effect on the project in more ways that one: “I think by not showing the real person until the end, people kind of check their assumptions a little bit at the start of the comic. Like, they’re not forming any ideas based on their personal stereotypes of the person they’re reading about.”
I was curious whether Mathew assigned each individual an animal, of if they choose the species themselves.
“They always choose their own animal,” he confirmed. “Sometimes I’ll ask them for like a couple, because once I started getting so many submissions there was like, some had already requested your animal.”
Koriko Amenities Aplenty
Then, we came to one of the most impressive locations on Koriko: the scenic overlook. Mathew told me that while he had done some considerably planning to arrange certain areas of his island, the scenic overlook was a happy accident. “It’s been a lot of planning, but not everything that turned out cool was actually planned,” said Mathew.
“I wanted to make these twin waterfalls over in the more nature-y part of the island,” he continued, “And when I was done I came back over here and was working on the plaza and realized this area looks right over it, so I made a lookout.”
Around the plaza are several outdoor entertainment areas for the enjoyment of his residents, which Mathew says will serve as a site for seasonal decorations later in the year.
He has also designed a nice outdoor smoothie bar, although he told me he’s hopeful that the game will eventually add a coffee bar (preferably featuring Brewster the barista) to the museum.
When you have a crush on your hip barista pic.twitter.com/L3u1HVPeA2
— Mathew New (@MathewNew) April 20, 2020
As far as outdoor areas go, Koriko was just getting started. Next, Mathew led me to the northeast corner of the island, where I was asked to change to my attire before accessing the outdoor spa.
Mathew explained that he had to use multiple speakers in the area in order to keep the sound of the music being played audible over Animal Crossing’s non-diegetic background soundtrack.
Next, Mathew showed me a comparatively undeveloped area of Koriko, where we had an unexpected close encounter of the third kind. Wait a minute – did that UFO tail me from Figaro?
Next, we arrived at Mathew’s residence.
As we entered, he explained that it was only a one-floor home, as the second story and basement were currently devoid of decoration – one of the hazards of decorating several additional structures on Koriko.
Another room is his bedroom/cartooning studio. Mathew has customized the cartoonist set with the eponymous protagonists from his upcoming graphic novel, Billy Johnson and his Duck are Explorers, and the walls are decorated with a poster of Roald and one of the posters available through the Hello Kitty-themed Amiibo cards.
I asked Mathew to tell me a little bit about Billy Johnson and his Duck are Explorers.
“It’s about a young amateur explorer who’s very enthusiastic about going on adventures but not very good at being an explorer,” Mathew said. “His parents are famous explorers, and he’s kind of trying to live up to their name, but he’s just not built from the same stuff as they were. He travels around trying to get artifacts, usually comes back empty-handed, but he always takes along his best friend, who’s a talking duck/professor.”
You can get a sneak preview of the first few pages of Billy Johnson and his Duck are Explorers on Mathew’s website.
Next, we visited his kitchen, which is nicely stocked – including a novelty toaster.
And in the bathroom, which Mathew said was his favorite room in his house, Mathew showed off his collection of fish prints.
Visiting the Koriko Public Library
Once Mathew had showed me the entirety of his home, we headed over to the Koriko Public Library.
In the main room of the library, Mathew has prepared an in-game book release for Billy Johnson and his Duck are Explorers, which will be published on August 1st, 2020.
Mathew told me that it had been something of a journey to get the all-ages adventure comedy published in a single volume.
“It was originally self-published as four issues over four years,” he said. “I’d come home from my dishwashing job and draw the issues, but those four issues are now being collected in one book.”
Each room in the library was impressive, and captured the carefree and inspiring experience of visiting a library in the pre-pandemic times.
My personal favorite area in any library might have to be the stacks.
The Koriko Community Center
The final stop on the tour of Koriko was the community center.
The main room features different games, as well as posters of the Koriko residents.
There’s also a board game room, which includes additional activities.
And it includes a music room, where there are multiple instruments available for use.
Figure Drawing on Koriko
Upstairs at the community center is the Koriko Community Center’s art classroom, where Mathew has hosted several figure drawing sessions.
“I had a couple figure drawing nights for some of cartoonist friends,” Mathew said. “I did different reactions and they actually drew it.”
Mathew said that figure drawing nights had been one of his favorite ways to connect with his friends in the game.
Mathew was kind enough to share some of the sketches completed by the cartoonists during these sessions with the Beat.
Getting Together in Animal Crossing
While it is nice that Mathew has been able to hold several figure drawing nights, he told me that he was nevertheless missing conventions.
“It’s an interesting year to have a debut book coming out,” Mathew said. “It’s kind of disappointing that all the shows in the fall aren’t going to happen… Which is understandable, I think it’s the right choice, but still. It would have kind of been nice to go on a little mini-book tour, I think!”
While comic conventions may not be taking place until next year at the earliest, Mathew is at least able to get together with his cartoonist friends in Animal Crossing – and the game has helped him connect with his family, as well. In fact, playing with his family has been a part of the game for Mathew since childhood.
Mathew told me he and his siblings played the original Animal Crossing on GameCube, which was released in 2002 in the United States, when he was around twelve years old.
“Originally we all started off in my one town, and eventually they all moved out and got their own towns,” he recalled. “They still had houses in my town because that’s where they started, but eventually they started their own villages. So I was the only one left, but they all still had houses.”
A similar occurrence took place with Mathew’s niece and her mother. While Mathew’s niece had initially been playing using her mother’s account, a specific incident made it necessary to reconsider the arrangement.
“My niece had bought like, ten thousand bells worth of party poppers and then she sat in front of the store and popped them one after another until she ran out,” Mathew said. “Not her money to spend! So that was when she finally gave her her own character.”
Mathew explained that playing with a four-year-old is a singular experience. “She loves being in tents, in real life and in Animal Crossing, so she refused to upgrade her tent to a house,” said Mathew. “But she wouldn’t have storage. So my sister would get on and there would be stuff in front of her house that my niece had dropped off for her to put in my sister’s storage.”
Mathew said that during the height of quarantine, Animal Crossing offered an avenue for him to connect with his niece, who he was unable to see in person in spite of the fact that they live in the same town. Instead, he would get several FaceTime calls each week, with his niece requesting an Animal Crossing session on the other side.
My niece and I leaning into that Island Life pic.twitter.com/YLb9AMo0xk
— Mathew New (@MathewNew) June 14, 2020
Mathew still connects with his siblings through video games, as well. “My brother lives in DC now, so that’s kind of a big way that we still socialize anyway is video games, since I don’t see him that often,” he said.
Mathew said that while he would likely be devoting more of his gaming time to Pokémon now that the DLC for Sword and Shield is being released, he would still be finding time to visit Koriko.
“It’s always been my favorite series, but now that my town’s pretty complete looking, I’ll basically only be logging on for like the events, I imagine, and to do some fishing now and again,” he said.
Be sure to follow Mathew on Twitter to keep up with the latest news about his work!