Unlike the characters in her comics, who seem to have a hard time getting much of anywhere, Caroline Cash has been making plans. The next few years will see more issues of her award-winning anthology PeePee PooPoo, a video game, and the planned 2026 release of her currently untitled graphic novel with Drawn & Quarterly. I caught up with Cash over Zoom and email to talk about what brought her here, the road that lies ahead, and the joys of dumb humor.
Do you remember what got you into comics?
Initially as a child?
Yeah, growing up.
I read comics all the time. I don't know necessarily if there was any particular thing that got me into it. I read the comics in the newspaper every day, and soon after that I was reading Shonen Jump.
Do you remember which ones you were reading at the time?
I started reading the newspaper comics, I think, when I was 3 or 4 years old, like kindergarten, pre-k. As soon as I could read, I was reading those.
Like Charles Schulz and Peanuts?
Yeah, and like, Garfield. I would read them in order where I would read my second favorite first, and then I'd save my favorite for last, and that was usually Peanuts. Then I read the boring ones in the middle, like what was boring to me at the time.
Yeah, Mary Worth or-- I don't know, any of the ones that have a writer and a different person drawing it that was one cohesive story about someone's life. Then I went to the library a lot as a kid and as a teenager. They had a pretty nice manga selection. So I started reading Naruto, and One Piece, and Rave Master, and Nana, and all that stuff.
Now that you mention comic strips, I definitely see it in your work. The second issue of PeePee PooPoo [#420] has a lot of strip-type humor. Actually, there's a straight-up Peanuts homage in there too. And I certainly see the manga influence a lot. Were you exposed to alternative comics much? Was there an alt comics scene where you grew up?
I didn't start getting really into alternative comics until I was in college. Actually, there's three indie cartoonists whose work I read for years that I didn't know were part of a bigger scene of comics. I was really almost exclusively reading Shonen Jump for a decade. I was familiar with Archie Bongiovanni's work because they did this series called Grease Bats that was on Autostraddle, which is a lesbian website that I frequented a lot as a teenager. It's a big blog. They had a weekly strip on it about messy lesbians. I read that every week. And then I loved Scott Pilgrim.
I can see that influence too.
That was in the manga section at my library for some reason. I read it forwards and backwards. And then when the movie came out, I liked the movie too.
I was exposed to a lot of Kate Beaton's work on Tumblr as a preteen because she had these historical fiction comics that would always pop up. Me and my friends thought they were so clever. So yeah, those are the three alternative cartoonists whose work I was familiar with. Then I was like, "Whoa, wait. They have books and stuff? That's sick.” [Laughs] Except Scott Pilgrim, obviously.
It’s interesting that most of those influences are mainstream, with heteronormative relationships, and your own work has been defiantly diverse and outwardly queer. Is it important to you to show that perspective?
While I was mostly reading mainstream stuff, I was getting a lot out of it. Besides the cool fights, my favorite side plot in Naruto was Sakura’s and Ino’s complicated friendship. It felt very gay to 10-year old me. My work is outwardly queer now because my life is.
So then you went to art school. What were you planning to study at that point?
More of an illustration and print media background. I'm really into printmaking.
And somehow you fell backwards into comics?
Yeah. I didn't really realize that comics were something you could do.
I mean, I’m sure if you asked your teachers, they’d tell you that you can't.
Yeah, exactly. I became friends with Gabe Howell when we were both 18. He went to school to make comics. I was like, "Whoa. That's crazy. What?" We met because there was a project in a literature class where I made a comic and so did he. We talked after class about what comics we liked, and he told me that he chose to go to our college because Jeffery Brown went there. I was like, "I don't know who that is." A year later we had Jeffrey as a professor, which was sweet. He’s a great guy.
Do you remember any details about that literature project?
I remember thinking Gabe’s comic was really good.
But nothing about your own?
Hmm... I think I was trying to draw an elevator right, and that I got frustrated with the perspective, but I don’t remember the plot of the comic itself.
You went to the Art Institute, right? Did they have an actual comics program?
I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. There isn't a comics program there, but there are comics classes. My sophomore year, that's when I started really-- right around when I turned 20, I was like, "Okay, I'm going to actually make some comics. That seems way more interesting than all the other stuff I'm doing.” And so I took two comics classes. One Alternative Comix class taught by Paul Nudd, who's a talented cartoonist, printmaker and painter in Chicago. The other class was a Funny Comics class taught by Jessica Campbell, who made the graphic novels Rave, XTC69 and Hot or Not. She also does big fiber art pieces too. I feel very lucky to have those be my two first comics classes. Another class I took later on that was really helpful was an Advanced Comics Writing class with Beth Hetland.
Did you start Girl in the World as a school project?
It originally was an eight-page minicomic for Jessica's comics class my senior year. That was around the time I went to SPX for the first time that year in September. Avi [Ehrlich] told me to pitch to [Silver] Sprocket, and I had just made that and I was really excited about it, so I sent it their way, and it worked out. I was like, "Oh, I made a comic about girls hanging out," but that could be 8 pages or it could be 70, you know?
So you just kept adding to it? It has a very free-flowing feel. I don't know if you've ever seen the movie Slacker, but it's very similar. Just drifts in and out of different conversations, different people’s lives.
I saw Slacker after I put it out because a couple of people were like, "That's just like Slacker." I was like, "Oh, shit. Oops." The original, it was like the first six pages are pretty much the same. Then there's a different two-page ending where they're watching top 10 best anime fights or something. I think [they] end up going to bed early or something instead of having a whole night unfold.
Tonally, Girl in the World jumps between very serious topics, like mental health and assault, and very, very silly ones. Were you conscious of how those would work side-by-side, or was it all part of that free-flowing feel, capturing an evening in the lives of all these different people?
It was both a conscious choice but also just how nights would go, especially at the time when I wrote the book. I wanted it to be a representation of what my friends and I were up to.
You also change art styles throughout Girl in the World. There seems to be a lot of experimentation.
I learned a lot about making comics by making that book. Before, I had only made comics that were 20 pages or less for the most part, the majority of them being 12 pages, because that was easy to print. I was figuring it out. I learned how to use Photoshop for the first time while making that book. I learned how to use a lightbox. I was really figuring it out a lot while making it.
You can tell. The cover is fully painted, and then there's a couple of pages that are colored pencils. You're using your whole toolbox.
I did all the color separation separately. Each page is really like four pieces of paper where there's one that's the inks, and another that's color pencil, and another that's POSCA paint markers, and then another that's Photoshop color added in. It was really just figuring out how to use a ton of stuff all at the same time.
So Girl in the World came out, and then the pandemic happened, right? Was this [holds up PeePee PooPoo #69] your pandemic project?
Yeah! Girl in the World came out in 2019, which is when I graduated college. And then the pandemic started the following year. I got really burnt out at the start of the pandemic because I was honestly freaked out and majorly depressed. I didn't make work for a year and a half. Then I started thinking about making stuff again, and then I started working on PeePee PooPoo. I put out-- is that the first edition that you have right there?
I think it is! It’s from SPX.
My girlfriend Lily is a screen printer, and I have a Risograph. We were like, "Let's just make something that we can make at home." I had like a bunch of leftover paper that I got for free from the print shop in college. People would always leave reams of paper behind at the shop when the semester was over, and I would always just take it because I knew I would use it eventually. So I had a big stack of paper. And Lily was the in-house screen printer for a graphic design company, so it was easy to screenprint anything we wanted. We had the paper, we had the ways to print it.
I started drawing and I was like, "perfect." A 24-page, 28-page comic. That's really fun. It just seemed like a doable project. Then we started printing. I was like, "I can just print a thousand of these." Unfortunately, it ended up being kind of an annoying amount to have to staple together, but I didn't really have any other shit going on besides my day job at Quimby’s [a Chicago bookstore specializing in small press works]. So we printed a thousand of them for super-cheap.
Can I ask about the title?
[Laughs] Yeah. What's the question?
I don't know! Why PeePee PooPoo?
Oh, I just thought it’d be funny to say. You know?
Then you won an Ignatz Award, right?
When I first started working on it, I didn't think that that was going to happen. I just wanted to make a silly little comic. I was just playing around. It was the height of the peepee poopoo memes. I just thought I'd be dumb. That's how I feel when I think of classic alternative comix-with-an-X-type comix, they're all named like Squirt or Piss or Shit, you know? I thought it'd be pretty in line with that.
And then you're in a room and somebody says, "And the winner is PeePee PooPoo." And the Ignatz is literally a brick. They handed you a brick.
Yeah. It's a brick from Home Depot or Lowe’s. [Laughter]
What was that whole scene like for you?
Oh, it was just funny. It was nominated twice, so I got to hear people say it twice. I got to hear Cathy Johnson say it, and then I got to hear Bianca Xunise say it. They put a French accent on it. I don't know. I was having a silly little day.
So you've done two issues now. Numbers 69 and 420 respectively.
Each of the covers you've done, one is a Robert Crumb homage, and the other one is a Dan Clowes homage. Were those two big influences on you or--
Daniel Clowes is for sure. Robert Crumb, not so much. You can take things from people sometimes.
Sure. I mean, there's a long history of it in alternative comics.
I feel like both of them do [pastiche] a lot in their work, you know? I figured that makes sense.
Looking at your work, I wouldn't have pegged Robert Crumb. I would've said Peter Bagge, for sure. Have you ever read his work?
Not at all.
[Laughs] I take that back then.
I really haven't. He's one of the only of those guys whose work I really haven't looked at that much. I sold a collection of his once at work. I flipped through it and I was like, "Nice collection."
I could definitely see you getting into Peter Bagge, especially his earlier stuff. I'm surprised that you never came across that, it felt like an influence.
His comics that I've seen and sold, I feel like they were all from a really similar time to a lot of the people whose work I am purposefully referencing.
Yeah, for sure.
That would make total sense to just assume. I don't know. The next issue of PeePee PooPoo-- spoiler alert, it's coming out in November, and it's done. The cover is going to be a reference to the first issue of Wimmen's Comix. That's going to be fun.
And what number is that going to be?
It's going to be 80085.
You're running out of number puns.
I think I got some good ones on the list.
Do you just have a list of number puns ready to go?
Yeah. The best number joke is that the very last issue is just going to be the actual number that it is.
Sure. So like, 13 or whatever you’re up to?
Yes. I think it might be six or seven, based on how it goes.
A lot of PeePee PooPoo feels like I’m seeing scribbles in the margins of your school notebooks. Right down to your frequent use of the Cool S. Is that intentional?
I just think it’s fun to draw. [Laughs]
It was just announced that you're working on a full-size graphic novel, right? For Drawn & Quarterly?
Can you say anything about that?
I think so. I kind of have my next three years fully planned work-wise unless I break my arm or something, and then stuff will just get pushed back. But I'm going to be putting out the PeePee PooPoo series while I work on this book that's going to come out in 2026.
And is that going to be similar to Girl in the World, in that it's free-flowing, or are you going for a straight narrative this time?
It's gonna be a narrative.
How's that going for you?
It's really exciting. I've been writing down little stuff for it over the past year or so. I have a lot of jokes planned, and certain scenes that I want to put in there. But I'm really sitting down with it now that I finished the next PeePee PooPoo, and I'm able to start really storyboarding it out. I like to script everything before I draw it for the most part. I've got 60 pages of it written, but I need to write more.
How big do you think it's going to get?
I think it's going to be around 200 pages. It might be 180 or it might be 220, but that's what I see for it right now.
So that'll be by far your longest published work.
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Definitely, the longest cohesive story that I've ever tried to write. I'm pretty excited. I've been practicing for a while, so I feel like even just working on the PeePee PooPoo series while I work on the book is good writing practice for writing something longer. Got to get the endurance up or whatever. [Laughs]
You're going to be at SPX this year?
I think so, yes. I think I'm going to split a table with my friend Gabe, actually. He got offered one. I've never gotten into the lottery, so I'm like, "Why not?" I have a good time at SPX, especially now that I know more people in comics.
SPX is a nice happy home for alternative comics. Do you go to any other shows?
Yeah, I do. I love CAKE. I’m Chicago-biased. CAKE this year was really incredible. They did a really good job organizing it. It was its first one back since the start of the pandemic. I think that everyone who worked on that did a really good job. It was the biggest turnout they ever had, and they got it in a big new venue. Everyone was really spaced out. It felt like the least claustrophobic I've ever felt at a show, which was good. I've had a really good time the two times I've been to TCAF. I went for the first time in 2019, and I went this year. I really enjoy TCAF. I did Autoptic this past year in Minneapolis - that's like, I think, an every-other-year type show. That was fun. But I also just like Minneapolis. I like going to shows where I like the city where they're in, with the exception of SPX.
You're talking to me in Maryland. SPX is like 15 minutes from here.
Nice. [Laughter] But you're not, like, living in Bethesda.
No, no, not actually in Bethesda. Close though.
You're safe for the most part.
While we’re having this conversation right now, much of the industry is on their way to San Diego. Is that not your scene, necessarily?
I don't know, going with Silver Sprocket could be nice. I really like everybody who works for them and [they’re] tabling and stuff. Even if it's something as (maybe) painful-sounding as Comic-Con, I'm sure it would be great with them. People who read cape comics do read stuff from Sprocket, so it could be a good way to get to know how the other half lives or something. [Laughs]
Have you been to Comic-Con or anything?
Oh, yeah. But it's been a long time. I went for my day job [with the gaming studio Gearbox] a couple of times. This would've been 2006 or 2007.
That sounds like it would be a fun time to go, though.
It was pretty fun. I went to a party where I bumped into Ray Harryhausen. I got more drunk that night than I've ever been in my entire life. It was a good time.
That sounds nice. I feel like with how stuff is right now with Diamond and DC and Marvel, everyone is on edge out there. 2007, that sounds like a nice time.
I know it got super-huge. I never went to any of those. I did go to New York Comic Con in 2010, 2011, something like that. That was stupid huge, hideously huge. It was already big when I went, but I can't even imagine how big San Diego got.
I can't imagine either. I'm saying a prayer for the whole Sprocket staff who's out there next weekend. Hope they have a lot of energy drinks...
My friend's sister goes to school in San Diego. It's like graduation or something, and their parents were like, "Let's all go." Then they were like, "Why is it so expensive? It's not usually like this, right? San Diego isn’t this expensive?" They were like, "Because it's Comic-Con."
It's cool that your day job's in video games. I just started working on a visual novel with my friend.
That's cool, is that a thing you've had any interest in doing, or is it just like you were just approached and, "Here. I have this idea, can you illustrate it for me?"
I kind of had the idea.
I don't know. He's really good at coding and music. And we have been talking about making a video game together at some point. Then the pandemic hit, so it got super put on pause.
Meredith Gran has crossed over from comics to video games and back again.
Sick. Yeah, totally. I like playing video games, so I feel like it'd be fun to make one.
Do you play a lot of those visual novel type games?
Not too many, but I’ve really enjoyed the ones I have. My collaborator Dan has played a ton of them. I mostly play farming simulators.
You said the idea came from you. Is it more of a straight narrative, or like, a dating sim, or...?
It’s a dating simulator called Too Cute to Kill, where you are at risk of being assassinated by six hot girls. The only way to survive is for them to find you too cute to kill. It’s in the beginning stages but hopefully in a year we’ll have a playable demo.
I think so.
Was your family encouraging of this whole thing?
Yeah, for the most part. My mom's excited about me making comics even when she doesn't really “get” them.
Were they accepting of you going to art school to begin with?
Yeah. I went to a public performing arts middle and high school, so it wasn't a shock to them that I would go to an arts college. I feel like they've had a long time to just accept it.
Recently, I've been like, jeez, I have to do something that my mom can tell her friends about in a way that they understand. Because they're not going to know what an Ignatz Award is. They don't know what Silver Sprocket is. So I gotta start sending pitches to magazines or something.
That’s new for you. Is that something you want to pursue?
I was just wondering about what I could do and be in that my mom would recognize. My mom can be like, "Caroline is doing great. She’s in a magazine.” And I can be like, "Yep," and a book with Drawn & Quarterly.
But that'll be sold in bookstores and stuff, right?
Yes. It'll be at Barnes & Noble, which is another thing.
That seems like something they can point to.
That's what I'm hoping.