With Spaniel Rage, you did a drawing of something that happened each day. Did you pick things based on what was visually appealing or just whatever was interesting to you in general?
Well, I had, like, a normal life. I wasn’t skydiving or anything. I was just commuting on the train, or sitting in front of a computer, or talking to someone. I think I started to be aware of whether something was funny, like some comment someone made, or a thought I had while sitting in front of the computer. A lot of times the things that stood out to me were emotional moments rather than action moments. I just used that as an exercise, or not, to make it visually interesting. So that became a challenge in and of itself.
Did you ever expect that you’d re-issue Spaniel Rage? It documents a specific time in your life so viscerally.
I didn’t even expect it to be issued the first time! I had just discovered comics. At that point it was just on the cusp of comics getting more attention culturally, and in the publishing world. Before that happened, the only people who were published were the most famous, or the most successful cartoonists. I was perfectly happy with this idea that I would continue working in the non-profit sector—I was working at a museum at the time—and that I would self-publish comics. [I thought it] would be a way to fulfill my artistic needs to make art for myself, but also to meet other down-to-earth, artsy, funky people. It’s always been important to me to be around exciting personalities. So when it was published, I was really surprised. I didn’t expect that it would ever be in print again. I’m really happy that it’s with Drawn & Quarterly, so all my stuff is at the same publishing house, and D & Q has always been my favorite publisher. It’s a dream come true to be published by them, and it feels really good that they picked it up!
In terms of it being personal…the comics are personal but life is always changing, and people are always changing. It’s, like, OK with me for something personal to be out there. They say that whole thing about your cells turning over every seven years, and at this point the person who is depicted in Spaniel Rage doesn’t even exist anymore. I mean, obviously I do, but it’s an interesting feeling because it’s at once very close to me, and so disassociated. I like that it exists as something that people can connect to personally, or it can remind them of a time in their lives, or the differences and the similarities can be examined. It’s pretty cool that can be there for that to happen.
When you finished school and moved to New York, what particularly drew you to New York? Did you get a job there, or were you just interested in living there?
Well, my family’s from New York. They moved to South Florida right before I was born, so in terms of, like, a big city to move to as a young person, it was kind of my only choice. I had a lot of friends there, who went to college there. My extended family all lived there, and I had a friend who was moving there and needed a roommate. It just seemed like the obvious choice. When I moved there, I didn’t have a job immediately. I actually worked at New York Central Art Supply in the paper department, which was a really great experience. I loved working there but just couldn’t afford to continue working there. I got the job at the Folk Art Museum, but that took a couple of months.
What were you doing at the Folk Art Museum?
I was the editorial assistant. The Folk Art Museum had–has? I don’t know how it’s run anymore–a publications department, and they published a quarterly magazine focusing on folk art. [I also worked on] all of the publications that the Folk Art Museum produced, so like invitations, signs, and all of the printed material. The woman who eventually became my boss alone handled all of the books that the museum published. I worked on the magazine. I had a little column where I talked about upcoming folk art events and exhibitions, and I helped do general editing.
That’s so cool!
It was really fun. It was a really awesome job.
Do you ever write non-fictionally about art for yourself, or do you mostly just reflect on stuff visually now?
Now that I’ve abandoned by day-job lifestyle, I’ve often thought of [the Folk Art Museum magazine] fondly. It’s fun, when you haven’t done it in a long time, to go to work and to get a paycheck. It’s fun to be in the mix, and [for work to be] not only about myself. I guess I’ve sort of forced…I mean, I haven’t done it, I’d like to do it, but I would like to do it—to write about other people.
Do you think that the Spaniel Rage project would have totally changed form if it had been done like, 10 years later? Especially now that you can draw and instantly share work with your audience on social media?
Oh, absolutely. At the time, it occurred to me as though it was my own idea to put it on the internet. Livejournal was really popular and my friend had a Livejournal. I wanted to do it but with my comics, but at the time you had to know how to code in order to put an image on Livejournal. I just decided that it was too hard. I was too early for the web comics moment. Now the closest thing I’ve come to being an online cartoonist is these comics I did for The Paris Review this past summer and fall. Those weren’t really daily diary comics. They were extended pieces. Being online affects the format because you do these things that need, like, long columns that scroll and can be read on Instagram. It affects the way you draw it. I always want to go back to the diary format. I think about it a lot. It’s always been what I do when I’m lost, and I don’t know what to do next. I’ve sort of taken refuge in it. I haven’t really seen what would happen if I did it with social media involved.
Do you make comics daily, in the style of Make Me a Woman, or do you mostly just work toward deadlines, commissions, and that sort of thing?
Truthfully, I mostly work toward deadlines for commissions and jobs. Right now, I don’t have a lot of really big projects, so I’m doing these big drawings. I’m doing these big drawings sort of like going to the gym. I had this long illustration project that ended this year. It was a really fun project but it was very time consuming, and I hadn’t actually drawn any comics in the time that I had the job. Before that I did these comics for Tablet, and I did these comics for magazines, and while they all were very personal, they took the format they needed to take for the publication. So I thought to myself, If you don’t have to do it for anybody specifically, what would you do? It was that moment, too, when I felt kind of lost. Instead of turning to the diary comics, I decided to stretch myself. I felt like I didn’t know how to draw. I did these big drawings to physically and mentally stretch out, and to just get back in touch with technique, if that makes sense.
Do you have any advice for young artists?
It sounds like a cliché, but I think the best thing to do as an artist is to be yourself, and all that it entails. Don’t worry about what painting is supposed to look like. Don’t worry about what comics are supposed to look like, or what drawing is supposed to look like. I had this very comics-y, illustrative style throughout my fine arts education that I could not kick. I practiced and I learned to draw from observation, but I always had this style–it was just in me. Finally I gave in. It was what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to be an illustrator, I was supposed to be a cartoonist. Yes, it’s a big endeavor to learn the fundamentals of art, and it helps you break the rules to learn the rules. But at a certain point you have to take what you’ve learned, and take what you are, and reconcile them. What you are is just as important, if not more important, than those fundamentals. When I say be yourself, I mean really own your strengths, weaknesses, and personality to the fullest. They’re the only things that distinguish you from other artists. Art can have a lot of trends, especially in this age of social media, when everyone’s sharing things and copying things like makeup styles, and fashion styles, and art styles. All that is fun, but in order to get to your true expression, you have to look within. You have to own and accept who you are and what you’re all about. ♦