Minneapolis friends: this Saturday and Sunday, August 8 and 9, is the spectacular biannual comics festival AUTOPTIC and I'm completely thrilled to be among the exhibitors there this weekend. Even more exciting: at the festival, I'll be debuting a deluxe reissue of my minicomic Mare Cognitum, published by my friends at So What? Press. This is the first of two minis we have planned together, with details on the second (new, not re-issue) comic coming soon. If you're in Minneapolis, stop by and say hello!
Winter months of seclusion and quiet labor are changing to spring: little nubbins of grass are popping up out of dry soil, snowdrop flowers are brightening up fence perimeters, and Chicago is dressed in optimistic shorts on the first over-40-degree day. The sun is out! Let's shine some light on what's been happening in these past few dark months! Apologies for the long-list nature of this thing; someday I'll get better at posting more regularly.
Image Plus Text
I'm excited to share the first episode of a new podcast I'm co-hosting with cartoonist Sam Sharpe: Image Plus Text! I+T is a biweekly panel discussion podcast where we will talk about a specific topic related to creative work (not just comics, but since we're both cartoonists there will be lots of comics shop-talk) with a guest. Sam and I first started talking through this project when we were at Ragdale together last fall, and since January we've been recording episodes and learning all the behind-the-scenes production that we'll need to keep a regular release schedule. I'm really proud of this and hope that people enjoy listening! Follow our goings-on at soundcloud, tumblr or twitter for updates, and send any feedback or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bryn Mawr Visit
Last week I visited Bryn Mawr College to join an afternoon event on Religion & Comics with my friend & comics scholar Brian Cremins, hosted by the wonderful Shiamin Kwa. I talked about how questions in religious inquiry relate to my larger body of work and I presented a new little comic, and Brian gave a great talk about Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin. I was super honored to be invited; as an alum of a seven sisters college, being on campus felt like a homecoming--any anxiety I had (which was plenty) about giving a talk washed away when I arrived. Thank you so much to Brian, Ken and all of the students who joined us that afternoon, and especially to Shiamin for her open-hearted generosity--I couldn't have asked for a better host!
The new story I presented at Bryn Mawr is a little 5-page comic I made for an anthology edited by the lovely Rob Kirby about astrology called "What's Your Sign, Girl?" It's due out in Fall 2015 from Ninth Art Press, and an artist from each zodiac sign is making a comic about their place in the stars. I was given the responsibility & heady duty to represent all my fellow Pisces. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to make a comic about something that I deeply & truly don't believe in. That seed grew in to a little personal essay comic that is half about skepticism & my agnostic-to-atheist origin-story, and half a celebration of deeply held beliefs in a structured system of meaning-making. I'm so excited to see the final collection--Rob has managed to collect so many of my favorite artists in to one anthology, it's going to be a thrill to see my name listed next to theirs.
CAKE Bake & other CAKE things
Today is April 1, which means the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo is only 2 months away!! This is my second year on the core organizing team at CAKE, so I have a better sense of how quickly those two months will fly. We've got a couple of fundraisers and smaller events coming up between now and The Big Weekend (CAKE this year is June 6 & 7, and it's gonna blow your socks off). The first big lead-up event, and my personal favorite, is CAKE Bake, our annual fundraising art auction! A truly boggling number of talented artists have donated their art & performance prowess to make CAKE Bake an event you won't want to miss. If you don't already, please follow CAKE on tumblr, twitter or facebook to keep up-to-date on all of our goings-on.
Literary Agency Representation
Big news in the "it's not big news yet but it's an exciting step in that direction" category, about two weeks ago I became a happy client of Mark Gottlieb at Trident Media Group! I have been working this winter on developing some next-big-book ideas, and I'm very grateful to have Mark's expert guidance as I figure out the next steps on those projects.
Upcoming Travel & Comics Shows
Festival season is upon us again! I took a breather from signing up for early-spring festivals, but the rest of the year is getting booked up. Come say hi if you're going to be at:
- LINEWORK NW at Norse Hall, 111 E 11th Ave, Portland OR: I'm tabling on Sunday April 19, but I'll be walking around on the 18th. This is my first west coast show (!) and I'm so excited to get to join the festival this year! I've heard nothing but wonderful things, and I love any excuse to visit my family & friends in Bridgetown.
- Chicago Zine Fest at the Plumbers Union Hall, 1340 W Washington Blvd, Chicago on Saturday May 9: it's the day before mother's day, and my mom will be joining me behind the table! Come say hi to two grinning Texans trying to sell you comics and just TRY to not get a hug.
- CAKE! at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted, Chicago on June 6-7. I'll be the one signing you in, handing out water bottles & snacks, and making sure you have an excellent time!
- Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE) at the Northland Performing Arts Center, 4411 Tamarack Blvd in Columbus, OH on July 18 & 19: it's a rain-checked date in a shiny-new space in one of the country's best comics towns--let's do this, Columbus!
- Small Press Expo (SPX) on Sept 19-20 in Bethesda: did I win the table lottery? Nope! Will I be there anyway? You betcha! I'm going to join the Radiator Comics table for some of the time there, but I'm mostly excited to walk around, see everyone's new work and go to all the panels I can fit in.
- TBD: Autoptic on August 8-9 in Minneapolis, MN: table announcements haven't gone out yet, but Autoptic is a hell of a fantastic show. Hope to see y'all there--fingers crossed!
I love this time of year. I err towards the sincere and earnest, so between connecting with family and friends around December holidays and self-reflection at new year, I'm in my element.
And so, here on new year's eve it's time to say: farewell, 2014! This was a big year, but not a simple one. Professionally, this year I:
- quit my magazine job and launched full-time in to my own freelance & personal creative practice in March, which was equal parts terrifying and liberative.
- sold out of my 1,000 print run of In the Sounds and Seas: Volume I in early winter (so about a year after initial printing) and reprinted an equal number, now sitting frozen in boxes in my studio; I also outlined, penciled, inked and published Volume II in a mono-tasking marathon this summer, and made a new mini-comic Self-Dual for TCAF.
- completed just under 30 pages of freelance illustration work, half of which was comics, which feels pretty solid for a first year out the gate.
- tabled at Chicago Zine Fest, Brooklyn Zine Fest, TCAF, SPX and the St Louis Small Press Expo; I was honored to do the art for the 2014 Chicago Zine Fest, and I'm spectacularly proud of the success that CAKE 2014 was and that CAKE 2015 is shaping up to become.
- attended my first artist residency at Ragdale, where I planned out a new book, made new friends and learned more than I expected about how I can best schedule open hours for writing.
- had work in two gallery shows, "Superheroines" at Werkspace and "Like Comics Without Panels" at Harper College, which culminated in a genuinely fun panel discussion and Q&A with students and faculty.
- had my books picked up by two wonderful distributors, Radiator Comics and So What? Press. I'm relieved and full of gratitude for all the work they have done to help my books find their ways in to stores, because I am totally horrible at that aspect of the book-making business.
While those are terrific things to add to a professional CV, personally this year was surprisingly rough. There was no trauma to point to, no loss or crisis or easy-to-identify hardship, but I'm glad to move past this year nonetheless. I traveled too much and spread myself out too thin, I think; between the travel for comics shows, the three-week-long residency and travel to visit family (two week-long trips to Texas, a second trip to St Louis and a week in Portland), it feels like I spent too much time away from home—away from work routine, gym routine, time with my crushingly wonderful husband Tom, and (crucially) from introvert-mandated down time. I struggled on and off with a pale blue depression over the year, with the "off" parts relieved mostly when I was too busy with work to think about it. Between comfort-eating through the blues and lack of routine and time, I put on weight and lost a lot of basic physical fitness, which feels crummy as someone who once upon a time (all but two years ago) proudly identified as an athlete.
I also look back on 2014 as a year of dazzling connections. I thrive in time alone, and in years past I've struggled with intense social anxiety, but this year I tried harder to open myself up to new connections with people. I recently told a friend that I can be cautious in being too socially available because I fall in love easily, and I rarely have the emotional resources or time to respond to those feelings as generously as I'd like; it's not romantic love, but more like a full wash of recognition of another human being in all of the ways that they are getting through the world, and loving them for doing that. (See: erring toward the earnest and sincere—you were warned!) This year, I got to See and Appreciate so many gems of people, even fleetingly over single dinners or coffee dates, reconnecting with folks I haven't seen in a decade (or more) and getting to know new friends a little bit better. Each one felt like a damn gift, and I'm so grateful.
The new year feels like an opportunity to edit, cutting away the fluff and focusing on the core plot, and I think 2015 has the bones for a pretty great year. I turn 30 in early March, which I will celebrate with Tom in Mexico City (our first non-family-or-work related trip in 9 years together!), so send all of your Mexico DF comics and art tips my way! I'm also going to travel a little less for comics shows to focus on making more books, which is a molasses-slow process for me. My goal is to debut the final In the Sounds and Seas Volume III at Autoptic this August (if I get in), which will wrap up more than 4 years of easily-interrupted work on that story. I'm also looking forward to diving in to this new big, genuinely intimidating book, which I started writing at Ragdale and am developing this winter and spring. I am also going to launch an exciting, ongoing collaborative project in the next month or so (details TBD!). Between that, more focus on self-care and helping make next year's CAKE spectacular, 2015 should be pretty great.
And with that: I'm off to the gym, a few hours of writing towards the new book, and then to a dear old friend's house to wash away 2014 and welcome 2015. Happy new year, friends!
I was about to write "I can't believe it has been 3 weeks since I returned from my residency at Ragdale," but on this pale-gray Friday afternoon with snow floating in circles in front of bare tree branches, the autumnal glory of Ragdale feels so far away.
Ragdale exists in a parallel dimension where time goes slower. I don't know what alchemy created that feeling, but—especially the first week—I would feel like I had accomplished quite an impressive amount of work for a day and then realize it wasn't quite lunch time. I think that feeling was partly inspired by the preciousness of the time at the residency ("You only have 3 weeks, make every minute count!"), but also being secluded from daily routine opened up a surprising amount of energy that is usually taken up by daily & domestic tasks. For instance, food: every weeknight at 6:30, Chef Linda presented a consistently magnificent dinner she prepared for the group. Not having to worry about grocery shopping or meal planning or even negotiating when to interrupt work to stop and eat freed up so much more mental space than I would have imagined.
My studio was a big live-work space with skylights and a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows right next to the kitchen, with a back door that opened to a small semi-private patio that was a straight shot to the meadow and forest. Weather permitting, I walked in the prairie and through the forest every day. It was a completely different kind of flat and wild landscape than what I grew up with in Texas, but there is a kindred charm to it; wildflowers and crickets and deer, I felt at home.
The three weeks of the residency covered that most autumnal of transitions: the first day was an autumn full of life and warmth, where the sun seemed to live in the orange and yellow leaves. By the last day the season turned more quiet and somber, leaves damp on the ground or crispy on the branch.
I shared my time at the residency with an amazing group of folks: writers of fiction and nonfiction, a musician, an installation artist, and another cartoonist (the talented Sam Sharpe). I went in with an "I'm not here to make friends, I'm here to work" mentality (Ragdale isn't free, I was paying for the precious secluded time to focus) but damn it if I didn't adore everyone there. It is hard to stay strangers with folks you share dinner with every night for three weeks, after all! As the last week wrapped up, I wished I had been less stingy with my solitude and opened up my studio and my self to everyone earlier in my stay. Luckily about half of the group is from the Chicago area, so I have time to make amends.
I prepared two tasks for my time at Ragdale, with a rough schedule for my three weeks there: the first week I would read and sketch and open up, and for the rest of my stay I would work on developing a new project, a big book to work on when I wrap up the final volume of "In the Sounds and Seas." Both were goals well met. The first week I read 9 books (!) (collections of poetry, some critical theory, two novels) and kept a daily sketchbook, which was a free-form luxury I sacrificed from my schedule years ago for the sake of mounting deadlines and obligations. I hadn't realized how much I missed drawing for the sake of drawing rather than drawing for a project; it was totally, totally joyful. The final two weeks, in contrast, were HARD. I am not a writer; I can draw for hours on end and feel energized at the end of it, but writing cracks me open and leaves me raw and drained and disoriented. I fought to not look away from that feeling, to stay in it and be uncomfortable; some days were more successful than others, but I ended up with about a page-long summary of a new book plot. ("In the Sounds and Seas" also started as a page-long summary.) I still have mountains of development work to do on it before I will feel comfortable beginning to put ink on paper, but I have a direction. Hallelujah.
In those three weeks, I woke up at 4:30 to watch a lunar eclipse with other cold, sleepy residents. I walked through the prairie to a bench under a thorn tree at midnight and watched the stars glide, enclosed by the sound of dry tallgrass leaning in the wind. I sang old hymns and folk music from my childhood with a chorus of other artists, with a banjo and guitar accompaniment in front of a fire. I sat on my little patio under a blanket after dinner, protected from cold pouring rain, sipping whiskey and reading Alice Notley and feeling gigantic in my Self. I went on long walks and had ferocious, invigorating conversations about comics and fiction and art and writing with Sam. I told and laughed at remarkably stupid jokes at dinner, fueled by gregariously emptying wine bottles. I am so, so grateful for the time and space and people and work and every last little thing about my experience at Ragdale. Three cheers!
* * * *
Less than a week after returning home was a full-day comics adventure. I joined comics scholar & friend Brian Cremins, art professor & gallery runner Jason Peot, former CAKE colleague & comics hero Edie Fake, and needs-no-introduction the King-Cat himself John Porcellino for a panel discussion at Harper College in the early afternoon. Brian taught John's King-Cat, Edie's Gaylord Phoenix, and In the Sounds and Seas in his English class (which still feels completely surreal to me), and Brian and Jason curated and installed the exhibition "Like Comics Without Panels" as a kind of extension of that coursework.
Brian and his partner Allison are true mensches; they packed their car with snacks and water, and drove me and Edie out to Harper. After getting to see the exhibition in person for the first time, John, Jason and some delightfully engaged students joined Team Carpool for lunch right before the discussion started in a black box theater on campus. The theater was packed! Brian's students had all read our books, and it seems like a lot of the rest of the attendees were familiar with our work from the gallery show. I have participated in a few panel discussions at comic shows, where more than half of the audience are other comic artists and the rest are deeply engaged fans of alt comics, so talking in front of a group of folks who are new to alternative comics was unexpectedly invigorating. The questions were thoughtful and open, and I really enjoyed hearing what John and Edie had to say about their work. There was an audio recording made of the event, and I'll share if it gets uploaded or transcribed.
After the Q&A, Team Carpool reconvened drove down to Hyde Park for the opening of "Embodiment," a comics show at the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at the University of Chicago where Edie gave his keynote artist talk and Jessica Campbell performed the (hilarious) comic "That's So Mavis Beacon." I had never seen Edie's artist talk before; the grace with which he connects the public and private, the built and the intimate, is as inspiring in lecture-form as it is in his work. It was great to run in to & chat with friends (my old dear pal Joe Leach! Chad Sell! Laura Park! Oscar Arriola! Lilli Carre!) and meet new people whose work I have admired for a long time, especially comics scholar Hillary Chute, who organized the show. After a group dinner & a long drive home, I felt that happy mix of exhausted and energized, and insanely humbled to have spent the day surrounded by folks I admire and respect and straight up like as people-out-in-the-world just so much.
* * * *
One week later, last Friday, was the closing of the Superheroines gallery show! (Chicago = HQ for comics gallery shows in 2014.) The excellent Jen Thomas of Werkspace graciously let me piggy-back the much-belated book launch celebration of In the Sounds and Seas: Volume II to the closing, which was so much fun. Thanks so much to everyone who came out, including my mom! My mom joined me on the long bus ride down Western to get to the gallery, and chatted with my friends for the full three hours of the opening after a long day of travel. She's the best! Jen is going to be selling comics from the show at a pop-up shop at Werkspace in December (details forthcoming), so if you want to get comics as gifts for friends this season, you couldn't be supporting a nicer artist-friendly, artist-run institution.
* * * *
And now what?
Early this spring and since, I have joked with friends that leaving my job wouldn't really hit me until after Ragdale and the Harper Q&A, and that has proven true. I left my office design day-job in March and launched in to one of the busiest, most heavily-travelled, most densely-scheduled 7 months of my working life, and now I face an empty calendar for the first time since...college? Emptiness is relative: CAKE work could grow to fill any gap, freelance gigs bounce through, holiday travel & festivities approach. But when I wake up every day, I don't have an obvious, pressing, "DO THIS THING ABOVE ALL ELSE SO I HAVE TIME TOMORROW TO DO THOSE THREE THINGS" task.
I've known for years that the pace I was working myself was unsustainable, but even through the stress-tears I loved it. I love feeling busy, I love the work that I get to do, I love thinking hard and trying to get better at my craft and taking each new gig, no matter how far from my big-vision projects, as a way to improve. I'm also competitive with myself: "I did X things last year, I'd better do X+5 things this year!" I don't think those are necessarily bad traits, but I lost things in the shuffle that I want to reclaim. It felt shocking working at my sketchbook at Ragdale to realize how long it had been since I let myself play at drawing. Or read for fun. Or exercise with any feeling other than frustrated, increasingly out-of-shape, begrudging obligation. Just three years ago, those were the Big Three identifiers for who I am (big lifting! big drawing! big reading!) and they were slowly edged out of my life, and my experiment moving forward into this Great Unscheduled Beyond is to figure out how to sustainably bring them back in while also working on Big Vision projects. (Up next: continuing research & mapping out the next big book.)
It has been a disorienting and difficult past two weeks, and I'm writing from the middle of it. I don't have an answer for how to do this, but I know it will never be easier than now to figure out; life has a way of getting more complicated rather than less. This seems like a good challenge. Wish me luck.
I am home from a great show in St Louis with a week to recover & prepare for some exciting upcoming events! First, this coming Saturday is the first annual Great Chicago Fire Festival, put on by Redmoon in conjunction with the City of Chicago. In addition to neighborhood events, live music, local food and a grand spectacle of pyrotechnics on the river is a three-block long bazaar along Upper Wacker Drive on the south side of the river. My distributor & pal Neil Brideau of Radiator Comics has a booth to sell comics, which is really exciting! Radiator Comics is on a mission to bring comics to the public in non-comics spaces, and this is such an exciting splash in that direction. The bazaar is open to the public from 3pm to 10pm, and I will be helping out behind the booth and signing comics from 3pm - 6pm; my super-talented friends Jeff Zwirek and Sam Sharpe will also be there, signing books and shaking hands. If you're in Chicago, I hope to see you there!
I'm also about to head off to my first residency: 3 weeks of reading, research, writing and drawing at Ragdale, a beautiful Arts and Crafts estate in Lake Forest IL on acres of wild prairie, starting on Monday October 6. I had the pleasure of visiting book & paper artist Melissa Jay Craig when she was in residence at Ragdale years ago (maybe 5 years ago now?) and I've been daydreaming of being able to work there ever since. My plan for my time at Ragdale is to write and develop my next big project, after "In the Sounds and Seas: Volume III" is complete. If I end up leaving my 3 weeks with sketchbooks full of fragmented notes and failed experiments instead, I'll be pleased: I have spent so much of the last two years working on clearly defined projects with hard deadlines and little time between, I haven't given myself much time for loose, open, experimental development work. This is really exciting!
This month also launches the gallery show I'm (insanely) honored to be a part of, "Like Comics Without Panels: The Visionary Cartooning of John Porcellino, Marnie Galloway and Edie Fake." The show is up from October 13 - November 13 at Harper College in Paletine, IL, and on October 30 is a panel discussion with the three of us. All of my gratitude goes to Brian Cremins for inviting me to be a part of the show and for being so supportive.
In just one week, three freelance projects I worked on this past spring & early summer manifested themselves in tangible, physical form! Last Friday night I attended the release party for the 826CHI Compendium, and yesterday I received contributor copies of Cricket and Ask magazines.
Every other year 826CHI, the Chicago branch of the national writing & tutoring nonprofit, publishes the best of the student's work in a lushly printed book. This year they paired with DePaul University and their Big Shoulders Press to publish the fourth volume; students in one of DePaul's publishing classes helped edit and make publishing decisions on the book for hands-on experience. I was so thrilled to get to illustrate this fourth volume, which was gorgeously designed by Alison Kuczwara of Tiny Bold Creative. The highlight of last Friday's release party was listening to the student authors read their contributions to their work; I was on the edge of my seat re-living the drama of the jellyfish men rising up against the robot pelicans! Thanks so much to 826CHI Deputy Director Kendra Curry-Khanna and Compendium coordinator superstar Tara Jayakar--working on the compendium was such a dream, and I'm so proud to have gotten the opportunity to work on it.
Shortly after finishing the art for the 826CHI Compendium last March, I started working on art for the Halloween issue of Cricket and then ASK magazines. I pitched a couple of two-page story ideas for Cricket, and I'm so excited that everyone agreed to my favorite idea: a chart showing hybrid costume ideas! I had so much fun working on this, and I'm considering dressing up as a zombie jellyfish myself for Halloween this year. The art for ASK was also a delight to work on: who could turn down a project about the science of baking cookies? Clearly not me, especially when one clearly has to do lots of hands-on "research" with cookies. Thanks so much to Art Director Karen Kohn for these most excellent projects!