“I Need To Go Down Every Avenue That’s Available”: The Leah Hayes Interview

I’m fascinated by artists who seem restless and impatient, with seemingly endless irons in the fire at any given time. My fascination turns into admiration when those projects are all unique, when their ambition matches their scope, when changing lanes and risk-taking is imperative to their work. Leah Hayes is one of those rare artists.

Hayes, as you’ll find in this interview, is a multi-tasker: editorial illustrator; adjunct professor; graphic novelist; music producer; mother; and, as of this month, children’s book author. Her first book, 2005’s Holy Moly, was drawn completely during classes at art school while Hayes was experimenting with round faces and winding typography, wrangling with her personal style. More of a sketchbook than a comic, it was submitted on a lark to Fantagraphics, who published it as a mock composition notebook; her relationship with said publisher continues to this day. Funeral of the Heart (2008) was Hayes’s next book, a complete departure both tonally and visually, with tragically surreal microfiction accompanied by scratchboard illustrations. Then came 2015’s Not Funny Ha-Ha, subtitled “A Handbook for Something Hard,” where Hayes delicately created what might be the essential graphic novel on abortion, her character designs adeptly suited to take on the heavy-hearted subject matter. During this time, Hayes was also a participant on the memorable early '00s New York music scene, producing and writing in collaboration with pop star firebrands and Grammy winners such as Azealia Banks and Lil Wayne.

I Touched the Sun is Hayes’s debut children’s book, started right after the birth of her first child and published by Enchanted Lion earlier this month. The story, like all of Hayes’s work, finds the balance between loneliness and optimism, lovingly transcending the kid lit “anything is possible!” trope. Two days after she gave the commencement speech to the graduates of Parsons School of Design, and a few days before the release of her new book, we spoke on the phone.

-RJ Casey

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RJ CASEY: You just got back from giving a big speech.

LEAH HAYES: Yeah, I got asked to speak at the graduation commencement at Parsons, which is where I actually went to school. It was me talking in front of all of the graduating class of 2023. It was intimidating, but when I sort of wrapped my mind around it-- I teach undergraduate seniors as my “side job” and have taught for many years, so when I realized I was basically talking to the same age group that I always lecture to, it kind of quelled the fear. It was really cool.

What was your big advice for the graduates?

Well… [Laughs] I was trying to wrap my speech around something not very cliché, but it ended up being focused on taking risks. I focused on my trajectory because they wanted me to talk about my career path. Much of my career has been taking these really weird, giant risks that other people might not have done or were stupid to do, but they worked out. And how lots of people took risks on me as well. That was the theme - if you take lots of risks and try not to care about rejection, people will take risks on you. That kind of thing.

Was it received well?

I got some emails right away from students, but I remember from my graduation that you can’t wait for the speakers to be done because you just want to get out of there. [Laughter] There were a lot of students sitting in their caps and gowns just blinking at me. They just wanted their diploma, but maybe I was projecting because I felt that way. It was cool and definitely a highlight of my career.

Let’s go back before your time at Parsons. In my research I couldn’t pinpoint where you were from originally.

I’m from Massachusetts. I actually live now in a town on an island next to the town I grew up in. That was really not expected. I grew up in Newburyport, Massachusetts, but I lived in New York for forever, then lived in LA, lived in Paris briefly. I lived in all these places and never thought I’d come back to this area, but my husband and I came for a visit and we found this little beach house on an island and we ended up buying it, then having kids. I teach in Boston now at Lesley University, and it’s about 30 minutes outside of Boston.

How would you describe your childhood?

I had a wonderful childhood. That’s part of the reason we gravitated back here and ultimately wanted to raise kids here. It’s very beautiful here. It’s woodsy and also right on the ocean. I grew up in the woods. I have super-sweet, interesting parents. They’re still around and live really close to us.

What made them interesting?

They’re both amazing artists. I grew up with so many illustrations and comics around me, and I think that’s why I ended up being an illustrator. My dad, especially, is obsessed with comics. They’re also both pretty musical. My mom’s a professional violinist. There was lots of music and art in our house. My dad is retired now, but he was an ER doctor and had this crazy library of illustrations. His office was full of art books and Society of Illustrators Annuals.

You were deep in it at a young age then.

Yeah. And lots of comics. He was super into EC Comics. I was probably too young to be looking at those gnarly EC Comics. I was totally obsessed with comics from an early age.

Were there any particular artists that made an immediate impact on you?

Edward Gorey. I couldn’t get enough of the weird, dark, creepy linework. I loved Egon Schiele. The old-school EC Vault of Horror comics. My dad had really beautiful Vault of Horror collections. But there were all those big hardcover Society of Illustrators Annuals. I didn’t know what that place was, but I saw those amazing books and they blew me away. I think that’s when I decided I wanted to be an illustrator. When I learned it was an actual place and it was in New York City, that’s when I decided I needed to move there and be close to it.

Wow! [Laughter] I assume you’ve been inside now.

Yeah! And to make it full circle, my first children’s book is coming out in a couple of weeks and the first event in my tour is at the Society of Illustrators. The launch party and first book signing will be there. That will be really special.

Are your parents very excited about that event?

Oh my gosh. Both my parents are coming, which is nice because they don’t come to New York very often. The whole family’s coming. They were very supportive. My parents were doctors and classical musicians - they are type-A brained and mathematical people in some ways, but they secretly harbored this crazy love for drawing and illustration, but they never pursued it for themselves necessarily. I was worried my whole life they’d be bummed I wasn’t a doctor, but they’ve become the total opposite. They’re super-proud because they’re experiencing stuff they didn’t explore, through me. It’s nice for them, I think.

Did you feel that pressure to be a doctor or something like that when you were a kid though?

My dad was pretty grumpy at times that I wasn’t the best math student. And that’s an understatement. He was patient, but was like, “Why don’t you focus more on these things?” I was a fine student, but I was way more into the arts.

And you grew up with a twin sister too.

An identical twin, yeah. She’s also a wonderful artist, but probably has a little bit more of my dad’s side of the brain. She’s always had the straighter trajectory in terms of jobs. She’s really good at getting amazing 9-5 powerful jobs, and I was always the crazy art person. [Laughs] But she’s a wonderful artist and is now one of the senior art directors at Berklee College of Music in this area.

How was it growing up with an identical twin?

People ask me that and all I can say is that it was great. I don’t know anything else. It was having this built-in best friend. Later in life, we clashed a little bit more, but in childhood, we were super friends. We now live like 10 minutes from each other and talk to each other 20 times a day. [Laughter] We’re very close.

When did you start drawing? Do you have a recollection of when you started or when you first tried to take it a little more seriously?

I don’t really remember. I’ve always drawn and was able to draw. When you’re young, teachers and parents kind of love to categorize a little bit. “You’re the writer. You’re the artist.” From so early on, people always said, “Here’s the artist.” I guess I wanted that. It’s always been part of my identity. If there was like a Halloween dance in fourth grade, they would be like, “Leah is going to draw all the posters,” and I would do it.

What did your drawings look like when you were a child?

I was very interested in classical drawing. One of the many books my dad had was about Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings, and I was very interested in becoming a skilled realism artist. I could draw well and I really wanted that to be my thing. I was into classical crosshatching--

A lot of figure work?

Tons of figure drawing. I honed all these skills and prided myself on being a realistic drawer and painter, but when I hit college, I saw all these incredible styles. Other students had these really interesting personal styles that had nothing to do with being a classical artist. It blew my mind and made me go, “Oh, crap! I can draw really well, but I don’t have a personal style.” I had this existential crisis. “I thought I knew what it was to be an artist!” I was very obsessed with finding a personal style. I do remember a pivotal moment where I was given an assignment in college and I went home and decided to draw sort of “badly.” I needed to stop worrying about people knowing that I-- I wasn’t going to show off that I could draw in this assignment. It was so scary for me to do, but I handed it in and the teacher loved it. It gave me confidence to not always have to prove that I was showing off my skill every time. It was a cool moment.

Sketch from 2021.

The reason I started down this road of questions about your early drawings is because there is something uniquely childlike in your current depictions of trees and houses, and they are some of my favorite drawings of yours. The slight slant of the walls and the thin smoke bubble that comes out of the chimney - but now I know you didn’t draw that way at all as a child. How do you achieve your texture in your drawings? Are those graphite pencils?

Yeah. I’m so lazy and basic about that stuff. [Laughs] I teach at an art school and they really encourage students and the teachers to buy all these expensive pencils and stuff. I’m like, “You guys, whatever pencils you want. Whatever pens you want.” I love those cheapo yellow mechanical pencils you have to throw out when they’re out of lead. You can’t even refill them. I love BIC pens. Most of my early work was all done in black BIC pens. I did a book for Fantagraphics that was all in scratchboard, and got really into scratchboard for a while. After that book was done, I thought, “I don’t think I’m going to do scratchboard anymore. Back to pencils and pens.” [Laughter] It was so laborious.

In an older interview you said something like you never developed a fear of rejection as a child.


That’s helped you out?

I still have that, I think. I feel like it’s absent in my body for some reason. As a young person, I just had this-- it wasn’t even confidence. From early on, I thought, “Nobody knows me yet. I have no name. Nobody knows my work. If I get rejected, who am I hurting?” That was my mentality. It allowed me to throw a lot of things against the wall. At that point I was in New York City, and New York is endless. “If I get rejected from the New York Times one day, I’m not famous enough for them to blacklist me.” I figured that no one cares, and it’s kind of cool that no one cares. It made me feel--

But now that you’ve developed your career and your name, has that mentality carried over?

Not at much as you’d think. [Laughs] Not so much. The only time it really felt funny and I had to push through it and had to sit myself down a few times was this very last experience when I tried to get my children’s book picked up. I sent it to a bunch of different people. I think I sent it to nine different publishers, and it got rejected by all except Enchanted Lion. With the first three rejections or so, I was like, “Hey, wait a minute!” I was late enough in my career and I had a New York Times bestselling book. “This will be easy,” I thought. But all the comments I got back from the publishers were right and totally legit. But, ultimately, that was a really good experience because it helped me rework it and send it out again, where it eventually got picked up. But getting nine rejections in two days - I was like, “This is what it feels like.” But I had to keep going. It would be really weird and sad and unhealthy if I had some sort of bizarre career where every single thing I put out there was accepted. I wouldn’t ever want that or be that kind of person or artist who had that life.

It would be easy, though.

Yeah, I guess. It’s super-good to be humbled. It is good to be rejected and feel it. It’s good to look at your work through other people’s eyes and it’s good to read bad reviews. I hate it when authors say they don’t read their bad reviews. I try to read all the bad ones.

What? Why?

It doesn’t mean you accept all of it, because some people say things right off the bat where you can tell it’s not even related to sanity. But there have been some negative reviews that have taught me a ton about what I should do next time, and what I could have done better and stuff. It’s a version of the whole “It’s always good to be always learning” kind of thing.

In two of your books, there’s a person mentioned in the dedication or the Thank Yous named Bubba. Who is that?

Bubba was my grandmother. She was really close to us and was a super-amazing lady. I’m Jewish and “bubbie” is the word for grandmother, but for some reason when we were kids we messed it up and called her Bubba. Everyone thought that was cute, so that was her name after that. She was amazing. I think I inherited a lot of personality traits from her. She was unafraid of rejection, and when she wanted something she’d go for it. She was a very influential person in my life and a very sweet woman. She died right around the time that I put out Funeral of the Heart, maybe?

That was around 2008.

Yeah, I think that’s when she died. Or the year before, when I was drawing that book. I put her in the dedication when I wrote Not Funny Ha-Ha because it’s really about women, in so many ways, and she was a huge, strong figure in my life.


Other than proximity to the Society of Illustrators, why did you choose to go to Parsons?

It’s funny, because Parsons asked me to mention this in my speech too. I can tell you the true answer, but I felt weird - I didn’t particularly care if I went to Parsons or any of the other New York schools. I was obsessed with going to New York. My mom and grandmother are from New York and we’d go when I was a kid, and it was the center of everything in my mind. I had to be as close to the center as possible. I applied to SVA, Pratt, Parsons, Cooper Union. I got into Pratt but I said no, because it was in Brooklyn. [Laughs] I had to be in Manhattan. I was blind to any other options.

This was early 2000s?

1999. It hurts to say that.

Was moving to New York everything you hoped it would be?

Oh my gosh, yeah. It was a wild ride. Going to college in New York City-- I’m sort of surprised parents let their kids go to college in New York City. You’re dropped off there and there’s the dorm and campus, but what you don’t realize is that you go to your classes then exit the building and you’re just another person in New York City. It was so fun and so crazy. I spent all my time going to shows and art openings. The thing I loved about Parsons was how close everything was. I immediately researched where the New York Times offices were and Time magazine. This was back in the day where you had to physically bring a portfolio around. You couldn’t email anything. You had to drop them off in the mailroom and wait until the next week. I was doing that on my lunch break at school. I was utilizing the city because it was very exciting to me that everything was so close.

Knocking on these doors at age 18, 19, 20?

Yeah! The first New York Times job I got was from Steven Guarnaccia. He’s a really wonderful illustrator and has written a lot of children’s books. He was an art director, and I think I just wore him down because I dropped my portfolio off so many times. I think I was a sophomore in college and he called me. He said, “We have this tiny, little spot for you.” It was the smallest illustration--

Do you remember what it was?

I remember what the subject was. It must have been in the front. It was like 1 inch by 2 inches and I got like $100. But he gave me the job, and I was ecstatic. I immediately put that in my portfolio and that opened up doors to other jobs. Once that’s in your portfolio, people pay more attention to you. I’m very grateful for him because he didn’t even know who I was, you know? And my portfolio was horrible! In retrospect, it had a lot of poor, not-great work. [Laughs]

New York Times illustration from 2014.

What kind of student were you in college?

Well… The irony-- I don’t even know if I should put this in the interview, but the big irony of me talking at Parsons is that I didn’t graduate. I never got a diploma. [Laughs] I didn’t complete one of my classes because I was running around all of New York trying to get work. Basically, when I got to Parsons, I thought school was a setting for me to go get work. I was an ok student, but I kind of blew it the last year. My parents are still not super-happy about this, but it hasn’t affected my life very much. [Casey laughs] I was missing two credits, I think. They let me walk at the graduation ceremony, but they didn’t give me a diploma. I technically don’t have a diploma and never graduated. But while I was at Parsons, I wrote my first graphic novel for Fantagraphics. I literally drew it under the table during class.

Was this due to you being impatient? You had your foot out the door.

Yeah! Now I teach college students, and I used to tell this story and kind of laugh about it. It’s a little funny, especially on Thursday when I was speaking to all the graduating students. I didn’t mention this then, by the way. [Casey laughs] They still have no idea that I didn’t graduate. I mean, the people that invited me to speak don’t have any idea. Anyway, now I teach college and I’m also a parent, so I understand how much college costs and I do feel like it’s stupid. I should have finished what I started.

It seems like your ambition level was through the roof.

It was. That was great, but on occasion I think if that were my kid now, I’d sit them down. I drew this book during my junior year and this answers your question - I wasn’t considered a great student, really. I was very distracted and was getting work. I was in the New York Times a bunch at this time, and was getting consistent illustration work. An agent had picked me up and that felt very fancy. But I was still in college! I was writing this graphic novel and I sent it to Fantagraphics, then at the end of senior year they finally called me about 10 months later and said they wanted to publish it. It was very exciting, and then I “graduated” - meaning I left Parsons.

That same year, I think, I got a call from Parsons asking me to teach there. A part-time adjunct position. [Casey laughs] I had never taught and didn’t have a teaching degree, obviously. I was like, “Where is this coming from? Why?” In my mind, they weren’t happy with me. They never mentioned the not-graduating thing, and when I asked “Why?” they said, “You have this publication with Fantagraphics.” It was another ironic thing. It was like, “Do you guys know that I drew that in your class and was literally getting yelled at for doing that?” Stuff worked out.

During all this time you were also making music too.

Yeah, I was in my own band and other bands.

How did you find all this time? Just the benefits of being young?

Now I would say it’s because I didn’t have children. [Laughter] Now that I know what that’s like. I wasn’t a person who never slept or anything and [I] didn’t do drugs. All my friends were artists and musicians. I had a long-time partner that was an incredible musician, and we played music together. I would draw during the day and play music in the evening. It was just my life.

Hayes playing music in New York City, circa early 2000s.

The New York music scene then was insane.

Oh my gosh, I know. I know.

Are you familiar with the current nostalgia and discourse about that scene that’s come about the last couple years?

Yes, I am. And I feel like such a dork when I talk to people about that time, because I always end up being like, “I was there when… [Laughter] Me and Kyp Malone [of TV on the Radio] were drawing in cafes and playing with…” I could get so name-droppy, but when you lived in Williamsburg in the early 2000s and played music, your life was just like that.

Name-drop away!

I played shows with everyone where I was opening or they were opening for me, with every band that came out of Brooklyn. TV on the Radio, I sang on their record [2006's Return to Cookie Mountain]. We played with The Strokes really early on. The Moldy Peaches were our friends.

Have you read that Meet Me in the Bathroom book?

I haven’t read that, but I really want to. I started really getting my music career going—I don’t know if I should call it that—playing SideWalk Cafe. We would play every night with Kimya Dawson and Regina Spektor. It was a wild time, but felt normal. I feel like such a weirdo now because people talk about it. I’m also always like, “I lived on Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg for $500 a month.” I feel like this ancient person whenever I talk like that. But it was really fun, and you could feel that there was some sort of movement going on. It was very exciting.

Being in that scene was a musical version of how I felt about art at that time too. I was just always so excited and putting myself out there all the time. I was playing shows all the time and met lots of people - then, years later, those things can lead to other things. Some of the connections I made there in Brooklyn at the time have come back in my life 20 years later. That’s true for both art and music for me. If you put yourself in certain scenes, you can benefit in ways you don’t really expect.

Were you aware that it was a “scene” at the time? Did you feel part of it?

I mean, I did and we were aware of it, but I don’t know. I wanted to be like-- so, one of my dearest friends is this woman named Sharon Van Etten--

She’s great!

Yeah, she’s how I met my husband actually. She’s one of my oldest friends from that time. She was friends with my husband, Peter, and we met like 15 years later at a Sharon Van Etten show in LA. But in terms of the scene, we would all be playing together in this mish-mash - she opened for me a bunch of times, and I opened for her. I had these apartment parties where all these musicians came and played in my house. They became really popular at one point. Nobody really knew who was going to go off into the stratosphere. In fact, as is often the case, there were bands that were so amazing, that killed every other band, but no one ever picked them up or they didn’t go anywhere. And then there were other bands where you were like, “Really?” [Laughter] But Sharon was one of those people where when we met-- it was at the side of the road at a gas station with our friend Kyp, when we were going to play a show together. I saw her play that night at this weird bar and I was like, “Oh my god, this is an unusual person. She has an unusual talent that is once in a lifetime.”

Was this when you were with Scary Mansion?

Yeah, that’s the name I was going under during that time.

Page from Holy Moly, 2005.


You submitted your notebook to Fantagraphics. Did you just send it in the mail to their office?

Ugh, yeah, it was really stupid. I sent the one and only original copy in the mail.

You sent the actual notebook?

Yeah. [Casey laughs] It was really dumb. It was so stupid. This is where ambition and stupidity coincide. Now when I talk to my students I tell them to never do that.

Have you been to the office?

Yeah, I’ve only been there once. It was really sweet. They published my first two books and I finally got myself over there. It was so nice and I felt very welcomed.

I was going to say that you’re lucky that your notebook was found under piles of things everywhere. [Laughter]

This is a thing that I think is really incredible about Fantagraphics because not every publisher does this, but Gary [Groth] told me later—and I actually saw this in real-time—that he would actually read things that people submitted. I saw young students come up to the Fantagraphics table at comic-cons and hand him things, and he would really read them. He told me that Holy Moly was in some sort of slush pile and an intern put it aside and it eventually made its way up to his desk or Eric Reynolds’s desk. It takes some good eyes, I think, even if it’s an intern, at first, caring enough. But I sense Gary and Eric have a lot of integrity and read a lot of different comics.

I used to work at Fantagraphics and read the majority of submissions when they first came in for years. Holy Moly became almost like an urban legend. People would ask about blind submissions and if they ever got accepted, and the initial answer would always be like, “No, not really, but the Leah Hayes book…”

No way!

It was a huge outlier that everyone talked about.

Now I do remember, years later, I saw Eric in San Diego when Not Funny Ha-Ha came out. He did say something like, “There’s only two blind submissions we ever took in 10 or 15 years, and yours was one of them.” [Laughs]

I think there were like two when I was there for six years, but before that it was just yours for years. Was that book published as-is? Was is really just scans of your sketchbook, or were pages pulled here and there and moved around and edited?

The “composition notebook” cover is actually drawn in pen, but the lines on the inside pages were really there and it was my real notebook. I was in a class at Parsons called “Professional Practices” or something—it was about how to become a professional illustrator—and it was the one I flunked out of, essentially. I drew the book during that class. [Laughs] I don’t know if there’s a lesson here. If I ever tell my students this story I never know if I should say, “Don’t listen to me and just doodle in class.” [Casey laughs] But those are the actual pages.

I was rereading that book and at first I thought, “These are fun drawings. There are exercises in typography and short scenes very much made by a young artist.” But the more I read it, the more biting it became in some places.

I hear you. I find it too painful for me to read now.


It was my raw brain. I had a lot of Jewish guilt going on at that time. [Laughs] When I see that book, I also see how it was made by a young person. I see things in word bubbles that were really intense concerns for me at the time. “Why were you worried so much about these things?” I didn’t particularly feel like I was a tortured person at that time in my life, but I do think that there were some themes that hung me up a lot. If I could just tell my 22-year old self to chill out. It’s kind of painful in that way.

Page from Holy Moly, 2005.

One that made me laugh is when a character tells another, “Your work reminds me of Leonardo da Vinci as well as Shepard Fairey, like, combined.”

I forgot about that. [Laughter]

That must have been something overheard at art school, right?

That was regarding my torture about trying to find my personal style. I came into Parsons excited to impress people with my realistic renderings and cross-hatched horses, you know? I realized that there were other styles, and I was really battling with that. That entire book, in a sense, was post-finding-a-personal-style because those figures are distorted and weird-looking. I still like to have, every once in a while, realism come back into my work. It is kind of where my heart lies still.

I see that in the faces that you draw. You typically draw faces in two different ways. One has the small, subtle features with the pinprick eyes and large, round faces. The other way is very detailed and features crosshatched - shadowy features and eyes. Do you make that choice before you put the characters on the page?

Those are definitely choices. It’s a nice question because my answer loops into the children’s book I just wrote pretty heavily. I always could draw realistically and love crosshatching, but I felt I had these two sides of my art and always had to choose one or the other. When I finally broke into this more cartoony, simplistic style, I was really excited. But then I thought, “What do I do with this child who was able to draw so well realistically that I just abandoned?” To be honest, I was getting way more work as an illustrator with the simplistic style. I never felt like I could do them both and I never felt like it would make any sense. When I went to go write this children’s book--

They’re both there.

Spread from I Touched the Sun, 2023.

Yeah, and that was really intentional. I felt moved to write a children’s book right after I had a child. I was like, “You know what? I just want to do exactly what I want.” I sketched out ideas that were only in the realism style and only in my other style, and I was trying to choose. “Which would be good for a children’s book?” Then I was like, “You know what? I fucking just want to write one with both of them in.” [Casey laughs] I hadn’t seen that done, really. But I thought, “What if I didn’t explain it? What would happen?” I just did it and tried to do it with intention. “If I just put them both on the page, maybe no one will question it.” Lo and behold, no one did. Even with all those rejections I got, no one was commenting on that aspect. I ultimately asked the publisher, Enchanted Lion, like a year into the editing process, “By the way, just curious, did you guys ever wonder why they were two different styles?” The editor just said, “No, we just thought it was an intentional choice.” In a way, that was a private triumph for me. I combined them and realized no one else really cared about that.

You’re referring to the child with the small eyes, and the parents and sibling have the more realistic faces.

Yeah. I was simply thinking that this might be my one shot to ever write a children’s book, and I wanted to make it as meaningful to me as possible. I wanted to show these two things, and I’ve never, ever done them on the same page. Nobody seems to get upset by it. [Laughs.]

You’re able to create such a heaviness with your line when drawing people’s faces. I mean “heaviness” like world-weary, you know? Are you well-versed in old Looney Tunes cartoons at all?

Oh, yeah.

You know how they had that recurring Peter Lorre character?

Yeah, definitely.

It was a frame of reference for me when trying to think about how you design and draw your faces.

That’s awesome. [Laughter] That’s nice, thank you. I was always obsessed with Peanuts and the idea that the child’s perspective would be like a simpler drawing. Then an adult person in a book would be more complicated. But, growing up I was obsessed with [Bill] Plympton and really detailed drawing. This might be aging me so much, but I was really into Brad Holland when I was a kid. Those people could just render.


Funeral of the Heart came out in 2008. We already mentioned your brief transition to working with scratchboard, but why did you decide to go that route for this book?

Someone gave me some scratchboard, I think, and was like, “Here, try this,” and I just loved it so much. At that moment I was right about to jump in and pitch another book to Fantagraphics. I said, “I’ll do it in scratchboard.” I thought it was a cool idea and, at the time—and I didn’t do very much research—it felt like there weren’t very many books out in scratchboard. Then years later I discovered Thomas Ott. I went, “Oh! Not only were there scratchboard graphic novels, but they were published by Fantagraphics.” [Laughs] And he became like a god to me. I love him.

He’s otherworldly.

Yeah, but I didn’t know he existed until after I had already completed my book. I just thought it was a really cool medium, but it was time-consuming for sure. It did dictate the setup of the book a little bit. I had this desire to write these short stories and illustrate them. They aren’t traditional paneled comics, I guess.

You’ve yet to use panels in any of your books.

I know! Oh, I’ve tried. Trust me. I have so many books and projects sitting on my desk that I’ve gotten many, many, many pages in, and they’ve been either abandoned or set aside. So many of them have panels. I yearn to be a panel-comic-person and I just don’t think I have the stamina for it. All this work that I’ve started with panels and have gotten kind of far into, I think is some of my best work - but it feels so overwhelming. When I see the visual storytelling happening in my head, I don’t naturally do it with panels. When I’ve attempted it, it always feels fun at first, but then it gets really hard. I’m still trying-- there’s two books that I have that I’m really excited about, that I’m almost done with. They’re more paneled. [Laughter] They aren’t fully traditional, but there are a lot of panels. I’m really excited about them, but it’s so hard. I have to push myself because it’s not natural for me at all.

It’s not a necessity. You don’t have to have panels.

I know, I know. I set out thinking, “This story would make so much sense as a sort of traditional graphic novel,” and I’m still inspired by those types of books. I’ll read like one Gabrielle Bell book, and I’m like, “I have to write all my thoughts out in panels.” Then I sit down to do it and it doesn’t flow that way. But you’re right, I don’t have to. I’ve started a couple cool projects that are paneled, and then I look at them and I’m like, “Aw shit, I’ve got to finish these.” [Laughter] There’s two sitting on my desk that I’m really pumped about and I want to get through them.

How do you think your work changed between Holy Moly and Funeral of the Heart? There’s the obvious tonal shift--

I think I was probably trying to be more mature, I guess. Holy Moly, in my mind, was jokey, even though it seems kind of sad now. I’m not sure how to answer that. I was so honored that Fantagraphics published Holy Moly and it blew my mind. It felt like this incredible opportunity that doesn’t come very often, and they were so nice and supportive. They gave me the impression that, “Yeah, you published one with us, so we’re open to any ideas you have in the future, whenever you want.” That doesn’t come along every day. For Funeral of the Heart, I felt a little more pressure to create this sort of very impressive-looking book or whatever, which is part of why I wanted to do scratchboard too.

Is all your lettering in that book in scratchboard as well?

Hell no! I thought about doing that for two seconds, but then I was like, “I’m going to buy a white pen right now.” The title pages are, but the text is not. Even using a white pen was really hard. I had these special white pens that I loved to use, and then the store I bought them from ran out of them. They weren’t going to restock them and it became this big problem. [Laughter]

You had to find them somewhere else?

This was before the days of Amazon. I remember going to Queens to find these special pens.

How important is lettering to you? It seems like each book, you put a lot of thought into lettering, typography, where the text is placed on the page.

It’s really important. I think that’s been the through-line for my style for my whole life. Despite all my searching to find how I wanted to draw figures and stuff, I’ve always done characteristic, stylized lettering. It’s from my early influences where I was really obsessed with Edward Gorey and people who did hand-lettering. I’ve been drawn to it forever.

Have you always been attracted to the sort of fantastical, slow-burn gothic stories like the ones in this book too?

Yeah, I think I have. I think two out of the four books I’ve written are directly from dreams. I think about dreams a lot, and this new book I’m working on is actually all about dreams, and is called Dream Score.

Are you someone who journals their dreams after you wake up?

I used to, but this child affliction that I have… [Laughter]

Yeah, I guess you have to sleep to dream.

I’m very fascinated by dreams. I have very vivid dreams, and I feel this urge to understand them visually. I’m not just talking about when you have a dream and you’re like, “What did that mean?” I have this urge to understand why storytelling is so powerful in our brains, even during sleep. Humans are a race of storytellers, and I talk about this a lot when I teach. We instinctively need to be telling stories. That’s how we’ve survived. I think that it’s so crazy and weird and beautiful that we continue to tell stories in our sleep. I think about this a lot, and get a lot of inspiration from dreams.

From Funeral of the Heart, 2008.

Speaking of inspirations, was “The Hair” in this book about you having an identical twin?

Oh yeah, definitely. My relationship with my twin is very positive and super-fun, for the most part. I’ve played with the idea of darkness involving twins, but it’s not like a reflection on my real life. Being a twin is weird and cool, and that story is commenting on it. It’s so normal for me, and then I forget that it’s strange for other people.

“The Change” was the scariest story for me in that book.

That was really scary for me too. It was really sad, and was about something real that happened. It was a sad story.

Can you elaborate on that at all?

It was about a friend of mine and some sad things that happened to him. I don’t know if I want to get into it - I think I told it in the book a little bit how it was.

I found it striking how you depicted someone losing touch with their humanity so abruptly. The one page where the man is holding the duck over his shoulder - I thought that was the most effective and haunting image in that book.

Thank you. There were a couple of stores in that book that I was drawing from conversations or experiences with friends. To go back to your earlier question, Holy Moly was this internal twentysomething “Here’s my brain.” Naturally, I thought people wanted to hear what my brain had to say. But for Funeral, I was trying to branch out and pull from different experiences and stories that I had. They’re not all literal, but there’s a lot in all those stories that is real in some way. A lot of darkness.

From Funeral of the Heart, 2008.

Do you feel like you have a special ability to tap into melancholy?

I don’t know if it’s a special ability, but I do it all the time. It’s funny - I feel like my dad is always asking me this question. I don’t come off as a sad person. In fact, I’m usually the opposite. But I’ve always been drawn to darkness - in art, in music. My dad always used to be like, “Why are your songs so sad?” [Casey laughs] “Why won’t you write a song that’s happy?” I can’t even imagine writing a song that’s happy! It doesn’t mean that I’m a sad person, but there’s so much-- I don’t even know how to describe it. There’s endlessly more options when you’re upset. Art for me has never been the place I go to to get out my happiness. When I feel really happy, I project it onto the people I’m with, and I want to be around people and do things. Art and music is for when I’m brooding about something. It’s more of an internal thing, and me needing to express the brooding. There are songs like “Here Comes the Sun” or whatever - how the hell do people write songs like that? I’ve never once woken up and been like, “It’s such a beautiful day that I’m going to write a song about it!” [Casey laughs] I don’t feel like that means I’m a depressive person. I get so much enjoyment and fun from writing sad songs or drawing those types of stories.

I will say, writing the children’s book was a cool and a humbling experience. Not to say there aren’t children’s books that tackle darkness—in fact, those are the best kind of children’s books—but when I went to go write it I was feeling very overwhelmed with happiness about my son, who I just had at the time. I did feel very happy, and it was the first time I felt like I could express so much hope and optimism with my drawings. In fact, it was my publisher who pushed me to add a part about darkness. It was in the editing process and we were getting near the end. My editor was like, “You know? I feel like it skips too quickly to the end. If you’re talking about light and the sun, I think it’d be really good to show the opposite and address darkness.” And I was like, “Of course!” Children can handle that, and children feel darkness and get scared, and don’t always know why.


My question about melancholy obviously can work for your music career as well. Where did the name Scary Mansion come from?

Dreams - the theme of my life. I have—still to this day and many nights a week—vivid dreams of being in dark, big houses. I remember trying to think of a name for this group that I was starting, and was like, “We could call it Scary Mansion. I have dreams about scary mansions all the time.” They aren’t even horrible dreams, but I’ll just find myself in a big, fancy house at night. I’ll be trying to get upstairs then I’ll wander around downstairs. Architecture and houses are a huge part of my dreams all the time, still.

Have you looked into what that means?

No. [Laughter] I probably should.

Scary Mansion band photo, circa early 2000s.

This question might be too much to digest, but do you feel like your Scary Mansion project was way ahead of its time?

That’s very nice of you to even suggest. [Laughs]

There’s so much music coming out right now that’s airy, atmospheric and eerie. You had that sound down 15 years ago.

I know what you’re saying in the sense that I hear stuff now, and I do understand. Not that I did that personally, because I was not the only person making girl vocals on top of distorted weirdness--

But it’s very popular right now.

Yeah, I know it is, but I wasn’t the only one making that kind of music. For me, Will Oldham and Cat Power were my gods. I wanted to be, like, the female Will Oldham, and for a time, I really tried to do that. Then I realized I just wanted to write weirder, sad songs without being so esoteric about it. I know what you mean though. There was a transition to that sort of sad-core girl vocals over electronic production and it seemed like there was no end to it. I remember when we were all living in Brooklyn, that was starting to happen a little bit - there was more electronic production and synth added to everything. It felt kind of fresh and new at the time, but then it went crazy and was everywhere.

Were you ever tempted to go all in and put all your eggs in one basket with either music or illustration?

That’s a great question, because I was never tempted to go all in with music. This is going to sound really weird, and I hope it doesn’t come off as a weird thing to say, but I felt very special about art. I felt that there was a uniqueness that I felt confident in myself about. I felt some uniqueness about music and feel very confident about my music writing skills, but it didn’t feel like I was a Sharon Van Etten. I wasn’t a once-in-a-generation voice, you know? There are people who you can tell that they have something special that you can’t deny. I didn’t feel like I was that person, and I knew my place a little bit more with music. I thought that if I had that attitude about music it would be helpful, because I did see a lot of people who put everything into their music basket and who were really disappointed. Not because they weren’t good, but because the music industry is just brutal. I had a nice niche for myself with illustration. I didn’t want to lose that. It was also a funny anecdote that I was a musician and an illustrator when people found out.

The only time I took a risk on music in a serious way was when I moved to LA. That was because I had been in New York for 15 years and had started writing and working on production more. I was producing all these hip-hop songs and singing on them, but I was like, “I’m not going to make a hip-hop album,” so I was just doing them for fun and saving them in folders on my computer. I had no intention of ever showing anyone, but I finally did for some friends who are in the music industry. They said I should show them to a publishing company called Heavy Duty. I showed them and they liked them, and said I should write songs for other artists. So I started doing that. It became clear that all the songwriting craziness would have to happen in LA, and I had just gone through a breakup. I had nothing to lose, so I moved to LA. I moved there signed to this company with the intention that I would be a songwriter as my job.

Is that how your collaboration with Lil Wayne came about?

Yes. LA had the highest highs and lowest lows for me. I was there single and in my early 30s, which was not what I sort of intended for my life. I was a little heartbroken, but it forced me to work really hard when I was there. Yeah, so I made connections that I never thought possible and some incredible experiences. But it was a lonely time too, for sure.

How does producing work? Did you do a lot of work in the studio for Lil Wayne or any of the other people you wrote songs for?

No, and I say that grumpily. So many song sessions—and it’s been like this for years or even decades—are piecemealed together. I did some in-person sessions with some big artists, but--

Who were those artists?

I don’t think I’m supposed to say any names. I’ll leave it a mystery. [Laughter] This sounds so stupid and I don’t care about this, but they do. A lot of people don’t like to have it known that they use songwriters. It’s so stupid.

Anyway, in Lil Wayne’s case - I would write songs and they would be sent to the artist, and some people would be so big that they have their own producers fly out to LA to work with a songwriter. Then the producer would fly back and bring the song back to the artist. It happened like that with Lil Wayne. He was in Florida most of the time, and his producer flew to LA to do a bunch of sessions with people, and I was one of them. I co-produced that track, and I still do work with his producer. We write together occasionally. The highlight of that long day and night was that it was my birthday. We were working late into the night on the song, and I was recording vocals, so I had headphones on and was in a sound booth. At midnight, cutting into my headphones as I was about to start the track, I hear all of Lil Wayne’s producers sing “Happy Birthday” to me directly into my ears. It was this magical moment. That was a highlight of my life, because ever since high school I’ve been listening to Lil Wayne. I would say Will Oldham, Cat Power, Lil Wayne and Lightnin’ Hopkins were my musical heroes.

We did a bunch of sessions, then they sent him a bunch of tracks. He chose which ones he wanted to use, and one of them was mine. I had sung the chorus as a scratch vocal. Sometimes as a writer you do that, then they’ll get another singer to come in. But he liked my vocals, and when I got the call they said, “He’s going to use your song and going with your vocals.” It was so cool.

Do you compartmentalize your music and your cartooning? There doesn’t seem to be a lot of crossover.

Yeah, there’s not a lot. I do kind of compartmentalize. It’s not like I won’t do them in the same week or whatever, but there was a time in LA where I was pushing aside illustration a tiny bit. I was focusing a little bit more on music because I had to. But that’s also where I wrote Not Funny Ha-Ha. There was a weird time where I was going to these music industry parties and being introduced to people as a songwriter and a musician. I would talk to someone and tell them, “Oh yeah, I’m also an illustrator and I have comic books out and I’m writing this abortion graphic novel…” The weirdest party one-liner. [Casey laughs] I guess that hasn’t changed. But my music and drawings have never really merged. I don’t know how they would. I don’t mind. It’s fun.

It’s fun to live in separate worlds?

I guess so. I don’t even know how I’d combine them. The closest it’s come is that at one point—and this has been put on hold—a studio bought Not Funny Ha-Ha and optioned it to turn it into a TV series. It fell apart, unfortunately, because the studio dissolved halfway through, which was a bummer. When I got that opportunity, I was going to be a director and producer on the project, and I was writing these episodes that were going to be animated. They asked me, “Do you also want to be in charge of the music?” It never got far enough in development where I started writing the music, but that would have been the ultimate merging.

Page from Not Funny Ha-Ha, 2015.


I think a strength of this book is that it’s so easy to understand and follow. Was it difficult to write something so matter-of-factly, but try to make it universal too?

It was difficult to write in general. I don’t hide the fact that it was based on some experiences I’ve had. I’ve had multiple abortions in my life, and I had never-- to have one abortion is one thing, where you kind of don’t always process it right away. To have more than one, I feel, is a whole other thing. That has happened earlier in my life and it took me a bunch of years to finally say, “I think I’m going to process this now through a book.” That’s what I originally set out to do. It was hard because I was revisiting some times that I went through--

Why did you choose to make it more universally comprehensive rather than autobio?

Mmm. Well, I think because I was so… that’s a great question. I think I was ready to talk about it, but I wasn’t ready to say “I.” I wasn’t ready to first-person it. Not because I had shame about it, but because I almost had a kind of defiance. I think because I’ve had more than one, also, I felt like there is judgment in the world already about anyone getting an abortion, unfortunately, and if you have more than one, I feel like there’s extra judgment. It was a weird pre-defiance, maybe? Like, “I’m going to set out to write a book that’s not even addressing whether you should or shouldn’t. It will go straight to the helping people part. It will go straight for the comforting friend vibe.” I wanted it to be like, “I don’t care why or how many or whatever circumstances, but you’re going to have one, so let’s do this.”

Did that require a lot of drafts or editing to get the right tone?

No, I don’t think so. Fantagraphics was so lovely about this book. I sent them this proposal that was like, “This might be coming from out of nowhere.” I had written these weird, flowy, bizarre fiction and illustration books, and now I was sending them a really intense book. Not only did I have my own experiences personally, but by that time in my life, I had helped a couple people-- taken a couple of friends to clinics to have their abortions. I thought I could add a comforting voice to this. Again, I wasn’t even talking about the shame that exists that people try to put on other people for the decision itself, but after you decide, there’s all these other levels of stress and shame that are put on people afterwards. That’s what the title was intending to convey.

How did you land on that title?

This is still true to this day, where I feel like there is no definitive peace—at least in my experience—that you ever come to about having an abortion. I think lots of people feel 100% sure that it was the right decision, and I do feel that way too. It’s a really intense thing to do, yet it had to be done. It’s neither sad nor happy. That’s why I chose that title - you could say that it’s a funny thing that happened in my life, but it’s not funny either, you know? That’s what I settled on, because that’s how I felt about it and still feel about it, I guess. Although now it’s taken such an intense, dark turn in the country.

Was all the art done in pencil?

Yes, it was done in pencil and was drawn on yellow-ish paper. The yellow pages were really intentional because I had this vision where I always knew that I wanted this book to be helpful. I even thought of it as being in the self-help or women’s health sections of bookstores. I wanted it to be this neutral color, and not a pink book or something that was like “for women,” or whatever. I wanted a neutral color, but also a vibrant color, so if someone wanted to find it in a bookstore, but didn’t want to ask or draw attention to themselves, they could find it really easily. That’s an idea I had at the time, but I don’t know - it seems ridiculous now because I think there are a lot of yellow books. [Laughs]

The minimal coloring in the book—the splotching here and there—was that done with a physical tool or a digital effect?

I smudged with my finger, then colored the smudge digitally. They were mechanical pencils and smudge really easily. I would turn some of those smudges pink or orange or whatever.

Page from Not Funny Ha-Ha, 2015.

Reading the book again, there was a part that I had forgotten and it really stopped me in my tracks. There is a page of just ginger ale and crackers. On the next page, you just drew a single cracker there. I found it very poignant, but I couldn’t figure out what brought out those emotions for me. What was your decision behind the page? You don’t devote entire pages to single images like that often.

Mmm, yeah.

Am I looking too deeply into that spread?

No. [Laughs] I think there are a lot of moments that I tried to have in the book that are just like the title - there is no answer to this, there is no road to go down where you discover the answer to whether this was ultimately… again, I’m not talking about right or wrong.

You do mention in the book how lonely it can be, and I guess that cracker sitting there was a perfect little encapsulation of that.

A medical abortion feels really lonely because you’re going through all this stuff in your house. You may or may not have someone there, but you can only experience it in your own body. It feels like you are the only person on Earth going through this - it feels like that, but obviously millions of women are doing this too. But being in a clinic setting is also weirdly lonely, although you’re together with more people. I remember sitting there and I was terrified in some ways and felt alone. You’re not allowed to have anyone come in with you, so you’re sitting with all these strangers. You’re all wearing the same hospital gown and little booties. You’re stripped away of indications about class and age and you’re just all these bodies together. In that way, there was a togetherness, but nobody, in my experience, was really chatting with each other. So many people go through this, but when it’s your own body and you’re going through it, you do feel like you’re the only one.

Page from Not Funny Ha-Ha, 2015.

There is a water tower motif in this book.

Oh, yes. I love water towers.

Ok. I was going to ask you what the significance was, or was it some kind of symbolism that I was missing?

No, they’re just there because I love them. They’re so beautiful. They have this nostalgia surrounding them now because they’re being dismantled all over. They were the only source of water for buildings and apartments forever, but they aren’t super-efficient, so they’re being taken down. In some places I’ve heard that the way they’re taking them down is by exploding them, which is totally insane. People can have water tower exploding parties on their roof. [Casey laughs] So I’ve heard - I’ve never witnessed that. I love them and I think they represented my time in New York and Brooklyn because they were everywhere. I think it’s fun to draw them too.

It seems like this book came out right before the tenor of the country changed completely. Did that affect the promotion or the tour of the book at all?

It came out in 2015. There were definitely some rumblings, but I think if it had come out last year or something, it would have been a different story. To my knowledge, it didn’t affect the tour, but there was more preparation, so to speak, with Fantagraphics. This is sort of embarrassing now thinking about it, but I remember the week before the book came out I was talking to a dear friend, and he was saying, “I think this is going to cause a lot of controversy. Maybe you should think about having a bodyguard when you go to San Diego Comic-Con.” I was like, “Really? You think so?”

Was that seriously considered?

When we were talking about it, I was totally freaked out and believed him. I went, “Yeah, I’ll look into it,” but I never did. [Laughter] It came out and immediately received a bunch of reviews that “got” it. I tried hard to have the book be more or less politically neutral, and in a lot of higher-profile reviews, that was front and center. I wasn’t getting the death threats, which I thought I might. There was one article on a right-wing website that referred to me as a Nazi. It was like, “Leah Hayes, a Nazi, has written a book.” [Laughter] Then I realized, reading further, that they had not read the book.

Of course!

They had just seen the title and read a blurb about what the book was about. I think even in the article, the author admitted that they hadn’t read it personally. [Casey laughs] It was crystal-clear that they hadn’t read it. That was the only really negative review that I read - I’m sure there are more.

When you toured the book and did signings, I assume a lot of people came up to you and told you their personal stories.

Oh, yeah.

Was that a lot to handle?

Yeah, it was so moving. I still get people writing to me and telling me their stories and relating to the book. The thing I appreciate the most as a result of writing that book is that a therapist told me she keeps it in her office for people to read. That’s a very simple gesture, but that’s almost what I hoped would happen with it. I tried to actively go down that road, and was in talks with Planned Parenthood many times about seeing if they could use it internally. We got far down the Planned Parenthood avenues in a lot of ways. They had a sort of secret involvement when we were planning on turning it into a TV series. I say “secret” because Planned Parenthood is actually involved in lots of film and TV stuff, but they can’t use their name on any projects. They have these support roles that are like silent - they were involved silently in our development too.

You recently wrote, “Never in my wildest nightmares did I expect that the project I’m proudest about in my life would be in danger of becoming obsolete.”

It’s really dark and it’s really sad. Especially since the release of this book, my whole idea of its usefulness in the world would be to help and direct people toward steps they could take to have an abortion. The fact that it would become an interesting artifact of another time is really sad. It’s just a terrible nightmare.

I’m constantly thinking about how to explain the world to my kids when they are more aware of what’s happening, which will be sooner rather than later, I think.

Yeah, I understand that. I used to feel like I could help by giving the book to people if they were in a place pre-decision making, during, or after. I hoped that it would be comforting during all three of those situations. I think it’s unfortunate now that I don’t think it would have a similar impact. I feel conflicted about it. I’ve been talking to Fantagraphics about what we do with this. We have this book - do we promote it more now? Do we do a sequel? I feel this weight since I’ve contributed in some way—a small way—into this national conversation, and now all these things are jeopardy. What do I do with this artifact? I don’t know the answer right now.

Spread from I Touched the Sun, 2023.


People have started to ask me a little, “What’s the deal with you going from an abortion book to a children’s book?” Part of the answer is that I take a long time to write books. [Casey laughs] I’m not prolific - I’m not one of those people. All of these things happened in my life between Not Funny and this children’s book.

You moved. Had two kids. What else happened? [Laughs]

I got married. That was cool. [Laughter] I made a decision to move away from LA, which was heading in a direction that started super-fun, but was becoming dark. I was talking to you about some of the fun things I got to do in the music industry, but it has an annoying dark side. I know it’s no surprise, but there’s misogyny and low-paying work. I didn’t move there in my 20s, you know? I moved there as a 32-year old. I wanted to go there and hit it hard and maybe achieve a couple of my goals, but not string myself out for years doing it. I knew it was time to leave.

How has your work changed since becoming a mother?

It just takes a hell of a lot longer. I have a warped perspective. I will complain about how slow I am getting a book out, and people will say, “What are you talking about? It took me 10 years to make one thing when I had kids.” I’m the kind of person who will get mad at myself if I don’t make stuff consistently, but I have to remind myself I made some human beings. Being a mother is the most amazing job I’ve ever had and informed so much of my work in some ways.

How so?

It’s made me understand that doing things at a different pace is totally acceptable. I think that when you’re an artist, and especially when you are younger, you’re consumed with your own shit all the time. I don’t mean that you’re a selfish person, but there’s a lot of ruminating on your projects, how to promote them, this and that. Having a kid was so great because it forces you to not think about yourself. You can’t think about yourself for massive parts of your day - sometimes even 24 hours some days where you can’t think about your own stupid shit. You’re forced to think about these other things.

There is a lot of ego death there.

It’s so great. Viscerally, I feel the difference between what it’s like to be a human being who has been forced to not think about themselves versus-- this sounds like I’m getting into territory where I’m saying there’s some “club” that parents are in and non-parents aren’t in. [Casey laughs] I really hate that. I just know that I can feel a difference and recognize how it’s changed me and forced me not to stress and ruminate about myself. I love that change.

It also informed how I wrote this children’s book. I always saw children’s books through this artistic lens; then having a child and really thinking about how he would read it was totally a game-changer.

Did you know you wanted to create a children’s book right away after becoming a parent? Or was it a response to having to read tons of children’s books?

I think I’ve always been very inspired by children’s books. I was telling you about sitting in my dad’s office reading all those illustration books, but children’s books were also huge parts of our lives. He collected children’s books, in a way. I thought of children’s book writing as a serious form of writing. But, sure, it got to the point where I was sitting there every night-- my son loves to read. He’s been a huge reader. He’s 4, so doesn’t actually read it, but he’s obsessed with books. I was sitting there every day and every night poring over these books with him, and maybe it was a little bit of an ego thing, but I was like, “You know, I’m an illustrator…”

“I could do better than this!” [Laughter]

I didn’t think “better,” but I wanted to try it! I had this instinct in my career where if I haven’t tried something yet, I’m like, “I’ve got to do that.” That was part of it. I needed to do the EGOT of being an illustrator. [Laughs] I need to go down every avenue that’s available as an illustrator.

Spread from I Touched the Sun, 2023.

What materials did you use to get those vibrant colors in this new book? Is that marker?

It’s actually colored pencil, which is funny because historically I’ve always hated colored pencils. I’ve disliked them my whole life. I think my husband gave me some, and one day I decided to draw with them, and I was like, “Whoa! Such rich color.” I was totally sold on them after that.

You’re going to start touring I Touched the Sun in the next couple of weeks.

It’s exciting. I will say that this editing process with Enchanted Lion was really amazing, and it was a long one in the sense that I had a second kid at that point. It was hard to sit down and do everything at once. They have a lot of integrity and are very meticulous. It was really hands-on and cool. It was a long process and now is the fun part.

Kids are going to make up your entire audience this time.

I know, I know. My kids too. My kids are coming on tour with me.

What’s next after the tour?

After the tour is over I have to complete two or three books that I have half-finished sitting on my desk. Right now, I’m working with my husband on a film that he’s writing and I’m doing the visuals for. We’re storyboarding it, and that’s really cool. I have a YA novel about dreams that I was telling you about earlier. I really want to pitch that one to Fantagraphics - I’m so excited about it. Then I have another graphic novel that I started that’s in earlier stages. I have an idea for another children’s book too.

Holy cow, that’s a lot of stuff.

Yeah. [Laughter]

I was talking with a friend yesterday and was telling him that I’d be interviewing you. I told him that you have books that run the gamut of funny doodles to gothic stories to the quintessential graphic novel guidebook on abortion. You were also in the New York music scene and collaborated with Lil Wayne and Azealia Banks. He goes, “Oh, so she’s a professional cool person.” [Laughter]

That’s very nice. You can quote that in this interview. It’s fun to have different chapters in your life, if you’re lucky enough to.