Lale Westvind’s comics seem like they’re drawn in lightning. What you see on the page comes off like an explosion of fire, still imbued with the life of the history of the thing being set ablaze. Over the course of a narrative, like those in the pages of her self-published series Hot Dog Beach or Hyperspeed To Nowhere, that’s the animals and fauna of sci-fi alien landscapes, but on her covers to Best American Comics 2018 or Kramers Ergot 10 it seems like what’s being ignited is the history of comics itself. So much work has struggled to depict movement in as kinetic a fashion as Westvind is able to achieve seemingly effortlessly, but if other action cartoonists strive for clarity, in keeping with the moral surety of their protagonists, confusion remains the default setting for the characters in Westvind’s comics, as if they’re forever waking up to a different reality than where they went to sleep. In Grip, a wordless series newly collected in a single volume by Perfectly Acceptable Press, the world the protagonist awakens to is one in which her mind and body are able to effectively reshape the material conditions around her in accordance to her will. The sensation of power in embodied consciousness surges through Westvind’s pages, electrifying the reader.
Westvind’s personality mirrors the energy of her comics. Gregarious and generous with her time, numerous small press shows have been graced by her presence, often debuting new zines, while keeping one hand working on a sketchbook. Assorted small press anthologies like Future Shock, Secret Prison, Smoke Signal, and Monster have featured her work, while she in turn edited and published two volumes of Chromazoid, a comics anthology that came with a mix of music. Westvind also teaches animation and has made her own shorts, including a music video for the band Lightning Bolt, suggesting the only time she slows down is to put the work in to make something that palpably moves. We recently spoke via Google Hangouts. This interview is edited for clarity.
Brian Nicholson: So you’re born in 1987, in New York, but I don’t know what part of New York.
Lale Westvind: In Harlem. Well actually I was born in the East Village, but then we moved to Harlem that year. We were living in a small apartment, and then we were in Harlem.
So, the city proper.
Yeah, in Manhattan.
And what’s the ethnic background of your family?
My father is Swedish and my mom is Turkish.
Did you ever get to go to any of those places?
I have been very lucky. I’ve been to Sweden once and I’ve been to Turkey a few times. Mostly funerals or weddings. Actually, maybe just weddings.
Did you like those places?
Oh boy. (laughter) Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I think when you visit a place with family and you’re younger, it’s sort of like, it’s that mostly. But yeah, Turkey is beautiful and amazing, and Sweden, it was cold, but I don’t remember that much.
I ask because landscape is such a huge part of your comics.
Oh yeah, yeah, We used to go be in Quebec in the summer, in a cabin I still try to go to every year. That landscape in Grip is very much that forest in the Laurentians.
And the deserts, did you get to explore those later, or is that just drawing?
Yeah, I’ve always liked deserts, that landscape. Mentally, it feels like a place where anything can happen because there’s nothing there, but anything can appear at any time. I don’t know where that came from. Maybe from reading Tintin? Him being in the desert, in Egypt. I actually got to travel to Egypt and to Greece at a very young age. Greece was a trip through my school that was funded by donors to my school. I went to like a special school, a free private school that’s called the Children’s Storefront School that has its own philosophy and that’s a whole thing. It was started by a Belgian poet, he was gay but he wanted to be in the church, but he couldn’t because he was gay or whatever, I have the most privileged upbringing in the sense that I got to travel all over the world, and the trip to Greece was free, and the trip to Egypt was free through my friend’s family, and we went right after there were multiple terrorist attacks on tourists in the nineties, ’96, ’97.
How old were you?
I think I was seven or eight. And my parents were like “Are we nuts?” But it was fine, luckily. So reading that in Tintin, and then being in these places… I’m privileged in all aspects in the entire scope of my life.
Did you read Tintin at the school founded by a Belgian?
There was a nephew of the guy who founded the school. The school is still running but I think now it’s a charter school? And the founder, he was getting older, he was actually kicked out of the school by the board of trustees, and then he went and started another school, that is still running. So he started two schools that are still operating which is very cool. They’re both in Harlem, and his name is Ned O’Gorman. He had access to all this old money wealth and he was able to funnel that into this community which at the time was totally not funded. He started that school in the seventies. His nephew had the Tintin books actually.
Was that one of your classmates?
He was a classmate at the time at that school. I was there til sixth grade. The school actually ended at eighth grade. The school started as a day care and as the students got older they just kept adding grades to it. I don’t know how late it goes now. It was called the Children’s Storefront because it was in a storefront of a building and it’s kind of like that now even. There’s several buildings on this block that are parts of the school, which is cool.
And then you went to a normal high school, or an arts high school?
I went to a private high school in Manhattan for a while. I had a scholarship for a while but then later on my parents were able to pay.
What cartoons did you grow up with?
My father growing up being Swedish was a big fan of Donald Duck. The Swedes at Christmas watch Donald Duck, and there’s a name for it, it’s called Kalle Anka. The high school I went to was a Waldorf school, which is also its own weird thing. It was founded by this guy Rudolph Steiner who was really into Goethe and theosophy. The school had all these art programs which were why I really wanted to go there. I could take oil painting class as an elective and they had some small art stuff here and there like figure drawing. And that’s why I wanted to go there. Because to me it was like going to an arts high school. And at Waldorf schools, they don’t have textbooks, they have lectures and then you make what’s called a Main Lesson book, so there’s all this book-making as part of the curriculum for every course. I kinda feel like that tied in to what I do now, also. Where I’m making a book, I need it to have a cover, a table of contents, you make little title pages. This is the school books, not mine. I never make a table of contents because I always hated that part. But there’s all this creative making as part of the curriculum. Which is awesome, it’s great. It’s like a hippy-dippy thing. There’s schools in Vermont, and I mean they’re all over the world. They were originally for like farmer’s kids? I’m terrible. I have friends who even teach at Waldorf schools now, I should know more about it.
Who are the influences for how you draw women?
I draw women the way that I wish they had been drawn in comic books when I was a kid. I was so envious of the way the men were drawn. Obviously, men’s bodies, women’s bodies, people’s bodies are different but as a girl I was inspired by the way strength was depicted in all the male characters, especially like, for whatever reason, maybe because they’re more androgynous, but I loved the characters if they had an animal head. You know, by having an animal head they’re not obviously male or female.
Give me a for instance.
Like Beast. Beast doesn’t have an animal head but he’s animal like, I remember especially liking when he put on his glasses to read. I just remember I would draw werewolves constantly, I think I got it from cartoons at the time, like Ninja Turtles, I would often draw human bodies with some kind of cat head, like leopard head or tiger head. But they’d also be wearing He-Man type stuff. Our childhoods, you and I, like the action figures and all that stuff was just sort of around. I see the furry stuff now and I’m like “that’s interesting.” It’s kinda cool. I mean, it gets weird obviously with the sexual thing, but I’m like, I get it. If you have an animal head but a human body that would be cool. (laughter) So thought my child mind I guess.
What were the comics you were reading as a kid, and when did you discover alternative comics?
So my father did have a few copies of Zippy and R Crumb and maybe even like a Spain comic, I’m not sure. I thought the R Crumb comics were very interesting but very scary.
How old were you?
Maybe ten or something? I don’t know. They were sort of above his desk. They weren’t hidden. Maybe I was younger. You don’t really make sense, you definitely are aware of the violence when there’s violence, but they’re weird. They’re weird, but the drawings were fascinating. I saw recently, someone pointed out to me a comment on Twitter where somebody had, they were comparing my drawings of women in Grip with R Crumb’s drawings of women. And they were saying it like there was some sinister aspect of that, which I found disappointing and funny. To assume one person’s depiction of strong women in a sexualized manner is, that any depiction of a woman whose strong must be sexual. That in general I take issue with. Any depiction of a woman ever is sexualized, that’s sort of how it’s been historically, so I sort of thrive to counter that a bit. I just don’t want to be a part of that. It tends to undermine all of these other things. There’s so much other stuff.
I remember when the first comic I made in college, it was called Titus And The Cyber Sun. It was this epic, way influenced by Moebius — I saw that for the first time when I was eighteen or nineteen, you may’ve heard, on this crazy trip to California where I did acid for the first time, and I smoked pot for - not the first time, and then this guy we were staying with, who was this German graphic designer or something, he had the giant full-color albums of Moebius and I was just mind blown. So Titus And The Cyber Sun is my attempt at that kind of thing, it’s set in a desert. I made a comic before that called Flesh Gun that is also set in the desert — I was a big fan of Tank Girl, you know, in high school, that was my absolute favorite, again because even though a man made that character and probably is sexualizing that character she still is so super self-sufficient and a total bad-ass, and she’s never in fear of anyone. She was totally my role model. Tank Girl and Pippi Longstocking, who’s Swedish, also. I think my father introduced that to me.
Alright, so in Titus And The Cyber Sun, first, I thought of this male protagonist sort of by default, and I had a teacher, I was making it in Chicago, and she asked “why is this a male protagonist?” and I was like “oh! I don’t know!” I had never even considered that because it was just the default. This has totally changed now, I feel like me even saying that, is I hope so backwards at this point. We’ve come so far in comics just since then just in the variety of stories and storytellers. I think so, I don’t know how you feel about it. That conversation has gotten far past that. So that original protagonist dies through mishaps and then the story just continues with this group of women that are living on this planet and they’re nude, and they’re aggressive. I felt internally like these women. I was always saying in other interviews, yeah, I want to be naked and destroying things all the time. I don’t feel that way anymore. I was frustrated about the caste of the woman in society in their traditional role, and again I think that’s less of an issue now, I hope, I don’t know, I hope we’re moving past that. I always hope the issues I have now will be totally unnecessary and unimportant in five to ten years time. We’ll just feel like “what is she even talking about?” Those angry women, I don’t feel that angry anymore. Angry at the idea women are supposed to be sexy, angry that women are said not to be strong, all that old shitty stuff that hopefully we don’t even have to think about anymore, I was angry about all of that. And then I remember showing the comic — I forgive you — to my dad and the first question he asked — first he said “God, you’re fucking crazy” or something like that, he ended it laughing, like where do you come up with this stuff, and then the second thing he said was “Why are the women so goddamn ugly?” Like the women in the comic. And I was like, “who fucking cares?” That got me heated for a while. It’s just so frustrating. I was so heartbroken. I mean now I can take a different stance. This idea of beauty, you can say it’s subjective, or you can say people are conditioned to see only certain things as beautiful at a certain time, and my dad was definitely that. He grew up right after the war, total boomer, he doesn’t like to waste any food ever, so I got that from him, it’s like a very strict. There were food shortages when he was growing up, he’s just got that in him. His ideas of beauty are absolutely skewed and contorted. They’re a product of his time, and I hope going forward we’re just expanding that infinitely, our idea of beauty. Capitalism has so much to do with that, and selling things to people, you know, making people feel bad so you can sell them whatever. So yeah, bleh! That’s all that. I don’t even remember the question.
I’m not going to ask it again, I’m just going to move on. What would you say are your comedic influences, or what do you think is the funniest thing?
People getting angry is so funny to me. I think I’m a lot better now, but like I said, I was an angry person. I had a very short temper. Everyone in my family, we just were raised to not have manners in my house growing up, and I feel like I’m still learning that. Also, growing up in New York City: terrible manners. I love New Yorkers, I feel so at home there, but I was just saying the other day, I think if I went back to New York City I think I’d fuck up a bunch. Like I’m too slow now, I’m too nice, unless New York City is changing. New York City has its own style of humor, what the Irish say, taking the piss, or whatever. You know, giving somebody shit, just making fun of people, teasing people, but I feel like New Yorkers are realists in this sense that they sense that they understand nobody’s perfect, everybody’s fucked up, and we’re all just trying to get better. That’s a positive way of saying it, you could just say they’re rude assholes, but they’re always willing to help. That type of comedy, it’s like rude and abrasive I guess. What do I think is funny now? I don’t know anymore. I like cartoons. Ren & Stimpy. I don’t know, I don’t smoke pot anymore, things were funnier when I smoked pot. I don’t laugh anymore! I think physical humor is hysterical, and just like total stupidity. I’m a clown, I think. Physical humor, just doing things that are unexpected and weird. Art school is hilarious. When it’s taking itself seriously it’s hilarious, and when it’s not it’s hilarious. Performance art can be very serious, but even when it’s serious it’s still funny. And whatever, I don’t laugh during performances, I’m into getting into the serious mindset, and I can do that, but from another perspective, it’s like what the heck’s going on here. It is. It’s a serious time right now, so nothing’s that funny lately. Now it’s like tragic comedy everywhere, just like “I can’t believe this is happening, we’re so fucked.”
And you went to the School For The Art Institute Of Chicago?
Yeah, it’s a good school. Chicago’s great. At least when I was there, you don’t have to choose a major, and it would be almost impossible if you’re in the Fine Arts Department, you’re forced to scatter your interests, which suited me fine. There were people who transferred simply because they were like “I don’t want to do all that other stuff. I just want to do this one thing” and that didn’t really fit. It was also pass/fail. You could request letter grades if you wanted but in my experience being an art teacher now, or maybe this is just teaching everywhere, but students I think can be, for good reason, can be too obsessed with the grade and then get all caught up in the subjective likes and dislikes of their teacher for whatever the class is and they kind of get muddled. I change my opinion on that all the time though.
From what to what?
The best approach to teaching. I really think it’s up to the individual, I don’t think there’s a perfect method of teaching that will work for everybody. Everybody’s in a different place in their lives, everybody is in a different relationship to why and what they’re doing at a certain school. At least in my method of teaching I try to just give the best for each individual, if possible. Teaching’s a whole other thing.
Are The Hairy Who people an influence?
Yeah I feel like at the time, like going to Chicago at School For The Art Institute, The Hairy Who were just ever-present in a way. You’re looking at their work almost in every class they come up, and also at the museum. Also what’s his name was teaching at the school while I was there. Another thing is [that] they were alumni, but the work was everywhere in the painting department there was an influence. When I went there, there were I think two comics courses but they weren’t pure comics courses. At first I think the only comics related course was a fibers course, which is kinda crazy. So there were faculty who were interested in comics, and there were students who were interested in comics, but they kind of had to convince the administration that was a viable business. There was still that “comics are not fine art, comics are low art” thing. Which is not the case anymore, they have a lot of staff dedicated to comics. My friends like Anya Davidson, Jeremy Tinder who I had as a teacher, are co-teaching a class. Conor Stechschulte is teaching there, other people too I’m forgetting.
I know Molly Colleen O’Connell teaches a History Of Comics course.
That’s right! I wasn’t sure where that was, that job just started.
When did you get a motorcycle?
I rode a motorcycle as a kid, a dirt bike, it was like a 80CC Yamaha that my dad bought from the guy down the road, this is up in Quebec. Basil Green’s son, who still helps us out sometimes. Then I got my permit and rode a motorcycle in high school for a little while, it was a 250 Nighthawk. I don’t think I got my license until 2011 when I went on a cross-country motorcycle trip, but I had been riding motorcycles since I was a kid, and then was like “oh I better make this legal before I go riding around.” Then I got a 1984 Nighthawk 700 which is very cool. And now I have a Kawasaki which I haven’t taken out in a year. I had an accident in 2013 where I broke my wrist. It was a very minor accident, it was totally my fault, but like I’ve ridden and I’ve done cross-country trips since then but now when I get on my bicycle I can count how many people are talking on their phone while they’re driving and it’s just not enticing to get on a motorcycle now, with the way people drive. I don’t want to sell it though. Not yet.
How serious do you take science fiction?
So fucking seriously. Very seriously! Especially speculative fiction! I was going to say “You’d have to be a fucking idiot not to” but you can just be ignorant about it. If you have read the science fiction of the sixties, the fifties even! Especially the sixties and seventies, especially the cyberpunk of the seventies and eighties, add to that whatever’s being written right now! If you have read all of that as I have, and as many people have, you’re standing here now and you’re going “Yeah, of course. Of course!” Because it’s all, you know, speculative fiction if it’s done well, it’s going to lead you to very likely scenarios and possibilities. And you have engineers and you have actual scientists and architects who have a particular type of imagination, when you spur the imagination of the public with things like science fiction and film, and books, that kind of person in the technical group will be spurred to create those things. There’s a reason people are trying to make flying cars still. So following science fiction is like the closest thing you can get, it’s like people are dedicating themselves to the best possible, and the most entertaining, future possibility. It’s fantastic. It’s silly to ignore. Even the stuff that’s not great is exercising your imagination and lets you practice thinking what if things were completely different, and it’s always a mirror of this world.
I feel like one of the things that’s a big influence on your science fiction is ecology of species feeding on one another or having these codependent relationships with one another.
Yeah I never thought of it like that. I have a huge interest in environmentalism and I was doing a lot of research recently on ecological sound building practices and permaculture structural design. I would love to shift towards that career-wise, I’d like to do that without trying to get degrees in that if possible, because I’m kind of weary of that. I relate [to] that stuff more as I have an interest in creation stories of different cultures, how human beings create metaphor and analogy for the systems in operation. I relate that to that stuff I think. Myths where animals and humans are interacting with each other, but I guess that does come from ecology.
I know you like the Popol Vuh a lot. You’ve said that’s one of your favorite books.
Yeah, though I haven’t read it in a long time. I don’t know if I could remember if off the top of my head. In college that stuff was very fresh. I took some courses in high school. There was an interesting course I took in college about analyzing descriptions of the same event by different people from different cultures, the different experiences of reality in the way that was described. I took it as both of these things are real and occurring simultaneously. I’m into seeing multiple viewpoints as much as possible all at once and seeing them as all equal, and adding depth. So stories of creation myths I believe them to be true, all of them.
Do you have any weird psycho-spiritual theories that you feel like people reading your work can either pick up on, or should be aware of, that inform your way of thinking?
I think I do. They’ve changed a bit. Something I do know and believe is very important for everybody and this has nothing to do with… This is just to do with being a human being on planet Earth, given any circumstances, people are able to overcome. The regulation, the awareness, the guidance of one’s thoughts internally is very important to one’s well-being and regulating one’s behavior in the face of various stimuli. And some individuals are subjected to extreme stimuli that makes that extremely difficult. I have a friend who I’m very fond of who works with violent sex offenders and other people that society views as “those people should be shot,” they vent all their violent thoughts against this group because they think that group is lesser than them to such an extreme that they are allowed to do that. Her work is about being compassionate towards this person who society has decided is not worthy of their compassion, and she’s able to help them change their behaviors and understand these dangerous harmful thoughts — thoughts that are harmful to themselves and to others — and she’s able to manage that with them through her empathy and through her compassion.
So that’s an alternative to… In my case, I’m a person who’s had relatively little trauma in comparison to most individuals. I have this position of mental health, and even from that privileged position, I still have to work at this awareness of my inner thoughts so that I can be happy and productive and have behavior that is not going to negatively affect other people. There’s other, you could say psycho-spiritual stuff. My mother has this sort of mysticism thing, customs and rituals and superstitions and habits, which I’m assuming are Turkish, but even the Turkish people come from other nomadic groups, there’s things coming from there that you could call magic or something that I believe in and I find to infinitely interesting and wondrous and strange, and that’s another aspect I guess. But I don’t know. That’s a big thing in the comics, that stuff, that influence.
There’s that thing at the end of the first Hyperspeed To Nowhere, “Remember that you are cosmic and this is the cosmos.”
Yeah, I try to remember that all the time! Because especially in our civilized world surrounded by human-manipulated object-forms, you forget that you’re the same stuff as stars and stardust. We forget that the very fact that we’re alive and breathing is fucking crazy and miraculous. Whether you want to say Darwin or God or whatever, it’s still a giant astounding experience that after a while as we age, we take it more and more for granted. I have a niece now and just watching my niece, the way she’s moving around, it’s like she can’t believe that she’s in a body that can move around, it’s this amazing mechanism she can control with her mind. So there’s that aspect too. See, I forgot, I totally forgot about that. You forget all the time and you have to remember all the time. And the other part that gets a little hocus pocus is ok, believing that you are a part of this cosmic system than you must have some method of influencing this cosmic system or talking with that. If you’re a particle in this system of particles, you must have some way of moving through it or something. Maybe it’s something we’re not aware of, and when you tap into that, yeah. An unfortunate side effect of scientific explanation is it kind of shuts down other possibilities, because you’re like “oh no no no, we got it. When you do this, this happens. So we’re good now, we don’t need to study any further.” But at the root of it, even in science, if you get past what we know about a thing, it’s still just like Holy fuck, this is crazy. Like electricity for instance, is really wild. My partner’s brother was an astrophysicist and is now just really into math, and specifically black holes, and my partner Ash, she’s an electrician, and we’re really into electricity, and then we ask him about it he’s just so into the math level of it that he’s literally conceiving it in a completely different form and shape than we are imagining it. It’s easy to forget though, how crazy and amazing this all is. And if you remember it’s crazy and amazing, you’re like “ok, when I die, it’s OK I guess.”
I forget about that stuff, and when I forget about that stuff I get really depressed. Then I usually call my mom, and she usually, I feel like she does something, like she has a codeword, that she’s able to switch me over and out of… When you’re depressed, everything’s minimized. And then you’re just a skeleton covered in meat. Which of course, you are.
I mean, consciousness in the brain is electrical activity too, right? I’m confused about this.
I think you’re right. I think salt water too is important for conductivity in your brain? Stay hydrated.
Another thing about Hyperspeed To Nowhere, it feels very ecology based, but reading the second one, Return 2 Entropy, towards the end it feels like it’s wrapping up, but then it ends on this note of “to be continued.”
I have so many stories for Hyperspeed To Nowhere 3 but it’s been so long now that I hope I can get back into it.
Do you keep notebooks?
No. I mean, I do keep notebooks but I do counterproductive self-sabotage where I’ll start the notebook from whatever direction, so there’s no chronology to individual notebooks, and then when I’m making notes about comics I’ll do it on loose-leaf pieces of paper, I’ll draw on the fronts and backs of them, but maybe the fourth thing I wrote down is on the second piece of paper, it’s a nightmare. I don’t know why I do that.
It seems like different comics you do you write differently too. I know the Now And Here series are sketchbooks that got composited into zines.
Well the first one was these cast-off drawings from an animation I was working on which still is not finished. Ahh, that’s crazy. But I took these drawings like “oh this is interesting” and made a comic around those. I wanted to show the drawings. They had a weird mystery around them. Then the second book in that story was “ok, I have a four square,” and it was just immediate drawing. Like, “I’m just going to sit down and draw a page.” Or two pages, or whatever and just have these squares so I don’t have to think about that, but I have to do this story. Mainly because I was like “I have to make a comic in however many days, I just have to do it,” that one is interesting too, I like that one. Then they just got more and more like that, for better or for worse. Grip was not made like that, Grip was made more of a conventional way. Now I’m doing this book for Breakdown Press that’s like the sequel to Hax, and Hax was. I just take legal-size paper and fold it in half and just start drawing these pages. I don’t know if it’s even comics anymore. It borrows from comics form. It relies on comics mechanics of sequential images. Your brain does it.
What about all these zines that seem pre-written but also like they might be sketchbook pages where the ideas are generated in putting the book together? Like Double-Head Tour.
Yeah that was made, I just fold paper and just start drawing. I felt like I was getting too tight or I wanted to experiment with how fast comics could be made or how minimal the line could be. Playing around with contour forms and abstraction. That one was really fun. Even putting it together was fun. You tend to get the same kind of story, again and again, I’d like to try and not get that kind of story, but it’s because you’ve got all these random images you end up with a narrative that jumps around a lot, but that’s part of comics too! There’s always these “Meanwhile…” “The next day” blah blah blah, there’s always jumping around like that. It doesn’t feel that jarring in that form. I feel like human beings are really familiar with how fragmented time can be in our experience of it through memories and dreams and everything, so I feel like encountering it in a comic book is not that strange. I mean, people read it and it’s readable. I try to make it readable. Whenever I start I feel like “There’s a perfect story here, I just have to figure it out. If I put the pieces together correctly, it will work.”
How much is improvised in the act of making it and how much is pre-written?
It’s totally dependent on the book. It’s sort of like a dial I turn up and down depending on how much time I have, and how many ideas I have. If I have a really good idea, I’ll probably do more writing on that. If I’m like “I’ve got nothing,” I’m just going to draw a lot and see what comes out of it, and maybe if I get lucky there’ll be an idea that comes out of the drawings and I can start writing for that idea. But sometimes it’s like, I’m just going to put my feet to the fire and last-minute figure it out. I don’t know if it’s physiologically true but it feels like different parts of your mind are, your creative mind towards writing is different than your mind towards stream of consciousness drawing or doodling. It’s intentional versus non-intentional, you can get different things. Especially the more you make work, the more you have to battle with all your former output. Then you start worrying about if it’s good enough, and your whole metric is skewed. You’re comparing it to other work, you’re comparing it to your work, and to get out of that, sometimes randomization helps.
You would have whole zines ready for all these different big shows, and now those aren’t happening.
What a relief!
Do you like working that fast with deadlines? Does it feel like a relief to work at a different pace now?
I did like it a lot. My life was very pared-down. Now I have a relationship, I have two annoying cats, my partner and I bought a house we’re renovating together and that’s a big project. So I have more stuff going on. And teaching too! The longer I teach the more involved I am in teaching. I feel like I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, and a lighter in the middle, for a long time. I think a lot of people felt relief! Which is crazy it took a global pandemic for people to give themselves a break. I know it’s like “oh I’m a cartoonist I’m working so hard” but that’s what was going on, so many people who couldn’t afford a vacation and now they’re forced to. Obviously there are people who are forced to work during this and it’s fucked for them, it’s a mess. It’s almost impossible to celebrate any kind of luck nowadays and not be aware of other people who are not so lucky and feel despair. And protesting and actions, and stuff like that, I have time for that also. But it feels like I didn’t do anything other than comics for like seven years. So, yeah it’s nice. I got to finish up these two books and then we’ll see what happens.
What’s the other book besides Hax 2?
The collection for 2dcloud I have to finish up.
That’s a collection of the zines, right?
Yeah, and I colored three of them. and I’ve got a new 28-page comic in there too, so there’s something new in it.
It seems like there’s a number of places there can be revision in your work. One is in the literal compositing on a computer, where you put drawings done on different pages into a grid.
Sometimes. Whatever it takes.
And now it seems like you’re doing computer lettering now, so it seems like maybe you’re writing it out after the drawing?
Then the color seems like a further revision. But in Yazar And Arkadas there’s a note about it being a draft of “Daughters Of Pain.”
Yeah, and that’s not happening.
Was the idea after you did the comic like “Oh, I’m just going to revise this thing completely?”
That one, I had all these ideas of origin stories for characters that were the Daughters Of Pain. I had all these drawings and sketches that were preparatory. Then I lost interest in that as a project. I have ethical dilemmas around portraying violence I go back and forth about. The Daughters Of Pain were going to be women who were transformed by trauma basically into heroes. It’s sort of a tricky one. I was looking for stories of female heroism in myth and legend, wherever. OK, what does that look like? And it’s about endurance. And I think that’s sort of true. But men endure as well. I’m losing that too, those distinctions. I had hoped when I was a child, and I see it happening now, those distinctions are less and less of a thing and we can… You can get more distinction and you get more universal at the same time. I don’t know what I’m saying. I couldn’t make that book anymore I think. I don’t know. I tend to just do what is fun and enjoyable. The act of cartooning itself is so tedious you really want to have fun with the content I think. At least for me. It’s probably a weakness of mine. “Artistic weakness: Likes to enjoy herself. Self-indulgent!”
In your work, when there’s both men and women in it, it feels looser or more comedic, they’re just running around, and then in Hax or Grip when it’s predominately or almost all women it feels more mythic.
Yeah, there was a desire to make myths about women for a while. And now I’m reobserving that or trying to… I don’t think we’re there yet but… Right now the white man is bearing the brunt of criticism and rightfully so, that’s the position of power for some time but I know and I believe there’ll be a time when we move past that also. Always thinking about the future I guess. I don’t like it when people look at Grip and think “oh this is only about women being powerful” or whatever I’m like OK I guess I’ve failed a little in that regard. But it’s also strange because women have been reading books about men forever and we’re able to cull some universal truths or inspirations from that so people should be able to get that from books that are predominately about women as well, you know? There’s that. That goes for race as well, you know.
Do you feel there’s a shared universe you’re building in all these stories you’re telling?
Yes. Someone asked me that before. Sometimes it’s a shared universe. I don’t know. Sure. But it’s part of our universe too, right? It’s here. I don’t know if I’ve done it in a while. Maybe I think in my head it’s like these books appear in other books as books. There was that idea that Hax was a found book. I don’t really like UPC codes, or I was bummed I had to put the publisher imprint on Grip, even though Perfectly Acceptable Press is a great publisher, because I like the idea of the book remaining as an autonomous object that is totally mysterious. Of course it never is though, that’s silly. I guess it’s this fantasy of books that no one has seen before kind of thing. Like the author has a strange name, and the publisher you’ve never heard of and maybe the symbol for the publisher is this mysterious sigil. I see books like that and it’s fantastic. There’s this publisher called I think Octagon Press that’s very mysterious symbols on the books. They publish a lot of these Ninjitsu books. Books sort of encompassing their own universe already. I don’t know if it’s the same thing exactly but there’s that Borges story of the library and all possible books. That idea, of making books for that library. Making books from other dimensions and trying to imagine that and maybe you transmit that somehow, you channel that.
How big is Grip drawn? Are the pages drawn as full pages?
I can measure them out right now. It’s on legal size paper again but not folded. I like drawing on colored paper, pink is preferred but orange is really nice too, though it’s a pain in the butt to scan. It’s a little bit bigger than 8 1/2 by 11. The pages around the border are 8 by 11 1/2. I don’t know where that size came from. I think it was a comfortable size to draw at.
Rereading all your stuff, basically in chronological order, there’s a few things that make it formally more traditional moving on, but also way more intense. One of them is it seems like you’re inking with a brush more and there’s more spotted blacks.
I haven’t used a nib in a while, but I’m kind of getting into that again, using pens and stuff. A lot of the zines are drawn in pencil. That direct drawing thing, just drawing to see if I could do it, kinda.
Also the colors are more primary colors, yellow red and blue, where earlier there were more salmon colors and purples.
Yeah, that was also when I was into Moebius and looking at the way he colored his pages, which were watercolor or something. Trying to do that digitally if I could.
Did you get into Jack Kirby more recently?
Yeah, way more recently. Because people were like “Oh you must like Jack Kirby” and I was like “who?” But Jack Kirby is so influential that there were things I was looking at that were inspired by Jack Kirby so he made his way in there anyways. My dad was an artist, or is an artist? A painter, a sculptor. His paintings were always in red, blue and yellow. In the eighties I guess. Actually the promo for She’s Gotta Have It, the Spike Lee movie, the original promo for its release is Spike Lee in front of a mural that my father painted. I actually saw it on Netflix. It’s red blue and yellow, with thick black borders and white, and it sort of looks like DuBuffet, another sculptor, if you bring that up to my dad he gets sort of cranky. I think that’s pretty influential. I always think the red blue and yellow is borrowed, I call it artistic inheritance or something. My mom is an artist too, I borrow from her. She has this method of seeing things in blobs of little lines and playing with that. Hard to describe without sounding totally weird but yeah. My dad’s stuff is not influenced by Jack Kirby but it’s a similar vibe of big blocked colors and angles. I think with my dad it’s pop art influence.
My understanding is Austin English asked you to do an article about Victor Moscoso for his magazine. Since that didn’t happen, I thought I’d ask you about that. We can just cover it. The cover to Hot Dog Beach 3 is similar to the cover of Zap Comix 4, where there’s Mister Peanut on the front cover and a penis on the back.
Oh no kidding! I didn’t know that! Is that why? People just explain why they’re asking me. I thought I was doing something original but I also assumed someone had done something similar before. I just did the front cover and was like “shit, what am I going to put on the back cover?” I did the two figures hand-drawn and everything else was photoshopped. Yeah I don’t know anything about Victor Moscoso. I’ve seen a few thumbnails of pages online that were cool but I was like, if I’m going to do this article I have to do all this research. It would’ve been cool if I could get it together. I still don’t know anything about Victor Moscoso.
Reading the Kanibul Ball I was sort of like “Oh this is sort of Jodorowsky-style” because there’s a scene similar to a scene in the Holy Mountain, and when I was talking about ecology earlier I was thinking about how Werner Herzog has this famously unromantic view of nature. Obviously you can come to those conclusions on your own.
I’ve seen those films. I wasn’t thinking of them when I was making that comic, but I can see that. I was super-depressed when I wrote that comic. There’s this interesting thing with the internet. I feel like people live in a village or a town you’d only be exposed to the horrible things that would happen in that town. Like if somebody got kicked in the face by a horse and died, that would be horrible and tragic, and you would see it happening and you would be present and you would be able to get over that with the people. It would be like a real experience. And now, your encountering and engaging with pain and suffering all over the world 24/7 that you’re helpless to fix. It was crushing me, that feeling. I was really focused on the idea that it was the responsibility of individuals to be aware of all suffering simultaneously. This expanding of awareness and empathy I think is happening but I couldn’t handle it. That’s where that idea came from. What would be the method by which humanity could make this step? And putting myself as the protagonist, but as an alcoholic. I don’t think I was an alcoholic at the time, I’m not an alcoholic. I like the Joe Schmoe trope, that like the most important moment in history of all humanity is all relying on this one person, picked at random from the planet, whose life is in complete chaos and they have no control over anything, they’re not doing well, they’re sleeping all day and binge-drinking, and this is the person that is chosen by the intergalactic committee because in their eyes all humans are one being basically, so they’re selected for this ritual of eating pain. I’m sick for it, because we’re just not there yet. That’s what that comic’s about.