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 comicdom’s finest creators on their respective virtual isles. For this entry, she’s heading to the appetizing island of Salt Falls.
It was the afternoon on May 27th, 2020 when I headed toward the Dharma Airport, ready to visit Salt Falls.
Salt Falls is the Animal Crossing island of Wendy Xu, an accomplished cartoonist whose work you may recognize from many different places, including Mooncakes, which began as a webcomic in 2017 and was published by Lion Forge in 2019.
Arrival on Salt Falls
It was raining when I arrived on Salt Falls. Fortunately, I had been forewarned about the weather when Wendy sent me the Dodo Code, and my ghost umbrella was ready to go.
Wendy was wearing a dark blue hakama and a berry red beret, and she accessorized with a black lace umbrella and gray browline glasses.
We began the tour of Salt Island in the marketplace, where Wendy had arranged several stalls to display the duplicate DIY cards she had collected, so any visitors who needed them could help themselves.
Salt Falls has multiple outdoor areas where villagers and visitors can gather, and many of them are based on locations that Wendy has personally visited.
Wendy showed me around a park that was modeled after a park she spent time at in college. “I actually modeled it a little bit after Washington Square Park, by NYU, which is where I went to school,” she said. “I always really liked sitting by the fountain, so I thought it would be cute to have that here.”
Nearby is a beach picnic area, with a frog blanket designed by her friend Lizzie.
Along the west coast of Salt Hills is a boardwalk area, which Wendy says strongly reminds her of a childhood vacation. “I grew up in New England, so this always reminds me of summer and of a little bit of Bar Harbor, Maine, which is where I spent a few fun days on a family trip,” she said.
Exploring the Neighborhoods
From there, we headed inland, toward the two neighborhoods where her animal villagers live.
As with other areas of Salt Falls, there are multiple parks amid the residential areas. “This is actually one of my favorite parts of my island, this little nook for my villagers,” said Wendy. “It feels like a little park with vending machines and a swing.”
Wendy introduced me to several of her villagers, including Muffy the goth sheep, Phoebe, Beau, and Elvis, all three of whom were out walking in the rain, and Judy, one of the more popular characters in New Horizon, who Wendy found while exploring a Nook Miles Island.
Wendy explained that one of her favorite Salt Falls residents was Alfonso, on account of the fact that he reminded her of her fiancé. “My fiancé went to the University of Florida, so he’s a gator, and Alfonso’s like a big fanboy and he’s also a big fan boy,” Wendy explained. “Whenever I’m doing photo shoots at Harvey’s island, I always use Alfonso for a stand-in for my fiancé.”
Next we headed to the south neighborhood. Wendy told me that she preferred the more intimate neighborhoods. “I know a lot of folks have their villagers spread out, but I just really like the coziness,” Wendy said. “It’s not quite a city, but it almost reminds me of Osaka, where the houses are pretty close together and people put planters and laundry stuff outside.”
There are two frogs living on Salt Falls: Robert, the “bro-frog,” and Puddles, who considers Wendy to be her best friend. Wendy says that the high occurrence of frogs wasn’t intentional: “It just happened to work out! But I do really like the frogs. I think they are some of the cutest-designed villagers. Lily is one of my favorite villagers from Pocket Camp.”
The southeast portion of Salt Falls is dedicated to agriculture. “I’m trying to cultivate more gold roses and more hybrid flowers in general,” said Wendy. “So when people visit, there are gold watering cans there for them to water my flowers with.”
A majestic three-tiered waterfall anchors the well-organized flower fields and the fruit orchard.
The Restaurant District
While Wendy had told me earlier that much of her island was themed around food, I was still left speechless by her restaurant district. “Especially now, I really miss eating out,” Wendy said.
Wendy said that the stall furniture piece was invaluable in her Chinese restaurant construction project, noting that the item was exceptionally versatile.
Wendy told me that eating out with her friends is one of the things she misses most about the lack of comic conventions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I miss seeing friends and going out to dinner with them and cooking and doing group meals is one of my favorite things,” Wendy said. “So I’m missing the post-con group dinners with friends. Especially hot pot!” She explained that her con traditions include special meals: “We always do hot pot before Flame Con every year, it’s been a little New York friend tradition, and so I’m definitely going to be missing that this year.”
veggie hotpot with grandmother after a hard sunday’s worth of selling turnips pic.twitter.com/LbqbNX58GY
— wendy xu (@AngrygirLcomics) April 16, 2020
Below the larger restaurant is a smaller, separate food stall.
Then, what used to be an Italian restaurant has since been converted into the Salt Falls laundry mat. It isn’t surprising that Salt Falls is under constant development, as Wendy is always challenging herself in new ways, as I discovered when I asked about The Cook’s Companion, her space fantasy webcomic which is currently available through her Patreon.
“I started it as a challenge to myself because I wanted to see if I could do black and white better, because Mooncakes was all in color, so I had to learn how to color for that book,” said Wendy. “I really wanted to take a step back from color work to try and relearn the fundamentals of doing strong black and white work. I always really like to push myself, and most of my favorite comics either very limited color or just entirely black and white, so I wanted to learn how to do that.”
From the restaurant district, we headed to the east shoreline. “One thing I felt was severely lacking was development on this beach, so I made it a Night Market,” said Wendy. “There’s a seafood stall up there, and a shaved ice stall over here, and all these little food stands down here.”
The Northern Island
After showing me around the Night Market, Wendy leads me up the beach, to an area only accessible using our ladders.
Then, she showed me the spookiest part of Salt Falls, located in a secluded copse of trees near the northern shore: The Wicker Man area!
Next, we headed toward the Salt Falls Museum, which is surrounded by a ramen stall and plenty of educational displays, including fossilized amber and several space exhibits.
We passed Nook’s Cranny (where superstar Julian the unicorn was shopping under his rainbow umbrella). “Here’s the front of Nook’s, which looks a bit like a rummage sale,” Wendy told me. “Ryan Maniulit also made these bags of rice, which for me is very important.”
Approaching Wendy’s Home
Wendy’s home is somewhat separated from the rest of the development on Salt Hills, past several scenic photo spots and into the wilderness in the north. As we approach her house, a Tea Shop sign informs us that we’re heading in the right direction.
“I just really like living kind of away from everyone else,” Wendy said. “There’s part of me that has this secret dream of living on a farm, which is why I have more farm stuff over here.”
The interest isn’t confined to Animal Crossing: Wendy told me that botany has become a hobby of hers in real life, as well. “I love plants,” she said. “I just started growing more stuff this year and it’s been really cool to watch everything, to watch them sprout and propagate them from cuttings.”
The area around Wendy’s house includes a witchy greenhouse and multiple pieces of mushroom furniture, which she has received from her friend in the Southern hemisphere (since it is currently autumn in the Southern hemisphere).
There are also several places that provide the opportunity for some excellent brooding.
Also near Wendy’s house is a special area she created for her grandmother. “There’s a little hidden area with a memorial that’s for my grandma, behind the trees,” Wendy said.
Wendy’s Witchy Tea Shop
As suggested by the sign out front, the main room of Wendy’s home is designed to be a teahouse.
Inside, the notes of “Wandering” by K.K. Slider fill the room with a welcoming, cheerful atmosphere.
Wendy told me that she likes making tea in real life, too: “I love tea. I ordered a DIY bubble tea kit in the last few weeks and it’s been so good for my mental health,” she told me. “It’s not super hard, it’s just about getting the right ratio of concentrate. You have to make the tea pretty concentrated because you’re going to add ice later and that will dilute it, and then you have to add milk and sugar and stuff.”
One of the main level rooms is a potions kitchen. The walls are decorated with a variety of art pieces Wendy has collected from the internet, including some bat artwork by Reimena Yee.
The fantastic and the supernatural are common themes in Wendy’s work, and I asked her if there was a particular reason she responded so strongly to elements of the fantasy genre.
“I love ghost stories, I love fantasy stories,” Wendy said. “Like a lot of other kids, I grew up reading Harry Potter but also Diana Wynne Jones. I think fantasy is just such a great metaphor to explore so many different aspects of being human. I think there’s a lot of really great ways to explore those in non-genre fiction, but there’s something more fun about genre fiction because it asks, ‘What if?’ It doesn’t have to be the hard-hitting, ‘What makes us human?’ It can just be, ‘What if this group of people looked kind of like cats and had magic powers?’”
Wendy explained that there is also a practical interest associated with the fantasy genre: the chance to push herself as an artist. “Aesthetically, it’s a lot more fun to draw all these costumes and magic and sci-fi settings,” she said. “It’s really challenging for me as an artist, and I definitely want to push myself in all of the ways.”
Also located on the main floor is Wendy’s personal kitchen. “I really love to cook,” Wendy explained. “One of my major coping mechanisms during this whole thing has just been doing new recipes and making food.”
Wendy said that the floor seating was one of her favorite aspects of the kitchen layout. “I really like kind of low floor seating. If it was up to me, we would have a kotatsu instead of a table at my house!”
In the back room is Wendy’s studio. “So I kind of made the art studio that I wish I had, with like rice mat flooring and lots of bookshelves,” Wendy said. “And there’s like a kettle in the corner for when I need a tea break!”
A comfortable studio is definitely a necessity for Wendy, who has three upcoming graphic novels in the works at HarperCollins. She shared details about the first, Tidesong, which is a middle grade fantasy that takes place in a seaside town.
“It’s about a young witch who has to learn her family’s magic while grappling with her own very rigid ideas of what magic could be used for,” Wendy said. “I wrote this as a homage to my twelve-year-old self – but to any kid, specifically Asian-American kids – because I know a lot of kids in my community deal with intense pressure to be perfect and achieve a lot by a young age. I wrote this from the perspective of someone who has gone through it, and my wish is that they read this book and they feel better about where they are in life, and they feel okay about venturing and doing what they want.”
Downstairs, Wendy has a root cellar, with space to store her turnips and a fortune telling table. Plus, she has chosen the dirt floor for her cellar, for a very specific reason: “I wanted to put the dirt floor in because I just like the sound when you’re like, scrunching around.” The sound is immensely satisfying.
Upstairs, Wendy has her living space, which she realized might have a special connection to her work: “After I put it together I was like, ‘Wow, this could be the apartment of the two main characters from Mooncakes like, after they move out of her grandma’s house.’”
As we settled in at her inviting tea time setup, I asked Wendy about the dark fantasy comic The Forest Prince, which is currently available on Gumroad.
“The Forest Prince is definitely me wanted to write a dark fairy tale escapist fantasy,” Wendy said. “That was pretty much it. I watched Beastars and I was like, ‘Wow, these are great character designs, I should really incorporate more animal features into my work.’ And I was looking through some old art files and I found this prince that I had sketched a few years ago and I was like, ‘I want to do a comic with him in it!’”
Wendy also told me more about the second of her three upcoming graphic novels from HarperCollins, The Infinity Particle.
“It’s a YA Sci-Fi about a young girl who is eighteen and going through the trauma of having lost her best friend,” Wendy explained. “But then she moves back to her home city, which is on Mars, and she see someone who looks exactly like him and who is in fact a robot replica of him. And that graphic novel is her dealing with, ‘Is this really him?’ And, ‘I still like him, but do I like him, or do I like this robot version of him?’ I wanted to get a little bit more philosophical. I’m a big fan of shows like Westworld and books like Pluto by Naoki Urasawaa. This idea of what makes us human is something I’m philosophically very interested in, so I want that book to be an exploration of those themes.”
While social distancing continues to be a necessity, Wendy told me that Animal Crossing has allowed her to spend time with her friends in virtual spaces.
“Just doing like catalog parties and crafting parties has been really nice on the game,” Wendy said. “Because even though we can’t be in the same physical space, we’re kind of giving each other little gifts, and having fun in this virtual world, so that’s been really nice.”
She told me that the game allowed her and her friends to show their affection for one another in spite of the distance between them. “My friends and I sent each other our wish lists, and it’s nice to just randomly get some mail with a present from a friend, or that you can send friends presents so easily in the game, just to show people that you’re thinking about them… I think that’s super sweet.”
“precious turnips” part 1/2 pic.twitter.com/h2IPqhx4Bd
— wendy xu (@AngrygirLcomics) April 18, 2020