Maré Odomo is a young Seattle-based cartoonist who’s just released their largest work to date, Late Bloomer from Retrofit and Big Planet Comics. Like many people, I first encountered Maré through their strip about Ash from Pokémon, the adorable and heartbreaking Letters to an Absent Father. From there, I followed their development through their PDF titled <3, their strips for Vice, and the Risograph-printed Internet Comics #1 and #2 for Retrofit. With soft graphite and mixed media drawings, Maré captures the feeling of memory more for me than almost any other artist I’ve seen. I spoke with Maré by email about teenhood, John Porcellino, and dreams.
ANNIE MOK: The title Late Bloomer recalls adolescence, and your work as a whole has a searching quality that I relate to being or feeling like a teen. What’s your current relationship with adolescence or with being a “late bloomer,” if you feel yourself to be one?
MARÉ ODOMO: Hi Annie, thanks for having me!
The title is a lot of things. It's supposed to be a little silly and romantic. Romantic in the sense that it's, I don't know, irrational. But I’m serious about it. I’m a late bloomer. That’s me. I still feel like a teen sometimes. “Searching” is a good word. There are definitely still people I’m searching for.
It's also funny because have I *actually* bloomed?? Who decides these things? I am definitely a late bloomer. I feel like my life and career are just starting.
I'm 27 right now, I mention it in the book. It's my first book (as opposed to zines and minicomics) and it took me this long for it to come out. Like the book itself took over a year. A year and a half maybe? But also, you know, my entire life.
Maybe it's supposed to sound a little guilty too. Like, "Sorry I'm late!" I'm like always late for stuff. It’s just who I am. I like the flower theme too. I wasn't going to include any flowers in the book itself until I ended up adding a spread later on. The "Whatever!!!!" page, near the back.
The working title was 64pgs and it was only supposed to be a 64 page zine. It ended up a little over a hundred because “100” is a better number, but then I couldn't call it 64pgs anymore lol. I mean I could’ve, but I didn’t want to have that conversation with everyone. “Why is it called 64pgs when it’s 100 pages…?”
MOK: This tiny book feels intimate, and it sports a subtitle of “comics/poetry.” It feels to me like an artists’ edition a little more than a traditional small press comic. The sparse cover layout and yellow and black remind me of Blaise Larmee’s Young Lions, another comic done in sparse graphite. What was the inspiration and/or driving force for the format of the book?
ODOMO: Blaise’s work was what pushed me into pencil comics. Like in early/mid 2010? Blaise and Aidan Koch. I was still in art school, right about to graduate, and very unsure about what kind of comics I wanted to make. This is also when I started drawing my Pokémon fancomics. I was trying a lot of different things and the pencil stuff is what stuck.
Like I said, the book was supposed to a 64 page zine. Like nice and fat, but still pocket-sized. I think 16 pages was the maximum amount of paper I could realistically staple together by myself. But then Box Brown asked me if I wanted to print something through Retrofit and I decided to use what I had for the zine so far. But then it turned into something bigger and different. Like, suddenly it was a BOOK and shit got more high-stakes.
It was always supposed to be intimate, though. I want my next book to be a lot fatter but still like… small, probably. I don’t know about pocket-size. But I wanted this one to be something you could put in your back pocket.
I added “comics / poetry” as a subtitle because it helps sell the book. You’re like “oh, I get it”. Or, “oh it’s poetry so I don’t care”.
MOK: As we talked about in our conversation in Comics Workbook #9, the intimacy in your work enacts boundaries. (Cartoonist Laura Knetzger blurbed that the comics are “Searching and sincere, yet guarded.”) In your seriesInternet Comics, the narrator of that work says “don’t @ me,” and here in this book, the narrator says, “I don’t care right now” and “If I see you, I will walk away.” Who are these narrators? Are they wholly you or a combination of fictionalized elements?
ODOMO: All of the narrators are me. Or versions of myself. They could be anybody but they’re actually me. They’re not anyone else. Those pages are more about the person or people I’m addressing. In Internet Comics, I’m talking about like… having privacy. Or like agency. Like, treat me like a person instead of someone who makes memes for you to reblog. I’m not here for anyone to be like “oh this comic is literally about me” because it’s not. It’s about me, because who else is going to make comics about people like me?
“I don’t care right now” is… I don’t know, exactly what it sounds like. I didn’t really care about that page, I just knew I wanted to say those words. That page is kind of like “I can do whatever I want and I choose to do this.”
The “If I see you” page is about burned bridges and like all the people that screw you over or whatever and try to be friends or forget it ever happened. I’m not going to forget, I’m not going to fight you about it, but I’m not going to be your friend either.
MOK: This book relies on cross-outs and erasures even more than Internet Comics did. What do these refusals mean to you at this point in time? How has your process changed through the Internet Comics series to this work? This book seems almost like a spiritual sequel.
ODOMO: I don’t know about relying on cross-outs and stuff. I think they give everything a kind of rushed feeling, but there are still pages and drawings that are labored over. You can tell that I’m spending time on it, not that that like… instantly validates my work. The scribbles are part of my visual language, it’s another layer, it says something.
When I build my pages up, it makes more sense to just scratch things out or paint over them, rather than trying to make everything look immaculate. Very few drawings come out looking perfect right away. I have to erase and cover stuff up just to make it all work. Plus I like the dirtiness of my pages, the texture and stuff. I want someone to look at my comics and be like “I could do that.” or like “I can adopt elements of this language for my own benefit”.
MOK: The confrontational, sincere tone reminds me of a lot of writers and artists, among them Frank O’Hara, Cathy G. Johnson, Ed Ruscha, Jane Mai (who also blurbed the book), and Basquiat. Were there particular influences you were drawing from as you developed this work?
ODOMO: I’ve never read O’Hara, don’t know Ruscha’s stuff that well, besides his photography. I’m just starting to get into poetry, haha. I like Taylor Mead a lot, I just got into him. He’s really funny but super insightful and timeless. Someone on a podcast, um, “We Should Be Friends”, said I reminded them of Jenny Holzer, who I didn’t know about until this year, haha.
Basquiat was definitely someone I thought about while I was working on this book. I have a book of his paintings but he’s not someone I consider an influence. He’s like over there and I’m over here. I need to listen to his rap again though. I love Cathy’s work. I don’t know Cathy that well though??
Jane Mai had another blurb for my book and I totally forgot what it was but it was not as silly as the one I picked. I love Jane Mai. Jane Mai is one of the best cartoonists / artists right now. She’s so powerful.
To, like, actually answer your question though:
John Porcellino is maybe the most obvious influence. There’s one page in this book, the one about hopping a fence and going to a 7-Eleven, and it’s like 99% John P. and 1% me. It’s kind of just how it came out. The way he talks about like nature and the cities and small towns and music and everything, he’s great. I consider him one of The Great American Cartoonists.
Who else do I like…? I don’t know. I think it’s all just… rap, these days. I wanted to write… hooks, essentially. The next book will be bars. I wanted like… imagery to be built up in the words, supported by the pictures, like a music video, but not necessarily related. Sometimes you have something to say and you just need an attractive or interesting image to bring people in.
I’m listening to Schoolboy Q right now because his LP just dropped. I wish I kept a list of all the stuff I listened to. But it’d be like Chance, Kanye, Future, Drake, Young Thug, Isaiah Rashad, Kilo Kish, Anderson .Paak, Gita, Kali Uchis a little bit, oh and MC Paul Barman. What else… um, Cardi B. Vince Staples. Carly Rae Jepsen. Damn, yeah CRJ. Especially that Rostam joint, “Warm Blood”. Earl Sweatshirt. Those are my writing influences right now, I guess. I haven’t been reading much.
MOK: Is there a particular message or emotion that you want to elicit in the reader with this book?
ODOMO: Haha, sadness I guess??? Uhhh. No that’s not right. I want to make people want to draw. I feel like even if someone sees my book and they’re like “dude I could make a better book than this” then that’s fine with me. My favorite drawings are the ones that make you want to draw. Or words that make you want to write or whatever.
That’s some meme shit. I basically make memes.
MOK: There are many side and ¾ back views of you, but as usual, there aren’t really any direct views of your face. Like the withholding in the text, what does it mean to you to sort of withhold your gaze from the viewer?
ODOMO: I didn’t want to draw my face a million times. And everyone is like “god, cartoonists are just so in love with their own faces and love the sound of their own voice”. Well so what? Fuck you. I’m still drawing myself and making it about ME, but like trying to keep it visually interesting and not too same-y.
Backs of heads are like… allowing a little bit of intimacy between me and the reader / viewer but like… stopping them before they get too close. I’m setting the boundaries. For me, the back of the head view is like… there’s a person standing there and you want to reach out to them, but you can’t.
The withholding thing… that’s fun too, haha. That’s more in my writing than my drawings. I love scratching something out and making it so no one will ever be able to read it. I started using paint, too, so there’s like sometimes an entire pages that I end up covering up and wiping out. It’s my book, I can withhold what I want. I can have blank pages if I want. I like the way it looks.
There’s also that playfulness in scratching stuff out that I think makes it approachable. Like, it’s okay to make mistakes. Like I don’t take myself tooooo seriously, but also I do. I take myself super seriously.
I’m putting myself out there, you know? Being vulnerable and I’m trying to communicate something but, yeah, guarded. It’s like dating. I want people to fall in love with me and give me money.
Maybe that isn’t like dating.
MOK: Part of the Ed Ruscha comparison is the way text plays out in the book. In one panel, a figure holds the “a” in “sad” with chopsticks at a restaurant. In the next page, the word “NOTHING” comes out of cig smoke. It brings a magical realist tone to the story to me. What’s your relationship to language, and the ways that language is subverted or troubled in the book?
ODOMO: My relationship to language?? Cripes. Uh. I like it?
With comics specifically, too many people just type onto a page and I’m like WHAT ARE YOU DOING???? Or they scribble their words and you have to squint to read it. In my own work, I want my lettering to fit into the rest of my visual vocabulary. And I want my words to be effective and clear, even if the message is vague. I want my words to have WEIGHT and be part of the drawing itself.
It’s fun. It’s part of what makes comics unique, that everything can be done by one person and it’s all 2-D and flat and text just floats around.
I don’t know if I subvert language. I’m… using it. I don’t even know what that means. I guess I’m trying to subvert something. People’s perceptions of what comics can be. I want my comics to be comics, not movies. I want my drawings to look like drawings.
I’m not interested in like the graphic novel format. I’m more of a comics memoirist or essayist or poet and that’s a bigger distinction than I think people realize, than I realized. I don’t want to, like, write a “story”. That’s just not for me.
MOK: Late Bloomer includes fully-scanned sketchbook spreads along with more traditional comics pages. How was the sequencing developed?
ODOMO: The sequencing in the book is deliberate. I wanted to start out with kind of… not sad stuff, then it gets sad, and then there’s a bunch of drawings of birds, and then it’s kind of jokey and then it just ends. I think I’m still too close to it. I think it reads better backwards, so I don’t know why I did it the way I did.
There are early pages I made that I always knew I wanted towards the end, and late pages that I designed for the beginning. The bird pages are in what I consider the “middle” but they’re pretty far back. It’s weird how a narrative comes out of the book. To me, it reads like I’m coming out of a depression funk but it’s more like… all of this kind of thing just happens at once.