“We’re Grieving Our Way Of Life”: An Interview With Liz Prince

Right now we’re all anxiety and stressed out about the state of the world, about the state of business, and well, everything. We wanted to check in with people in comics to talk about how they’re doing, ways they’ve found to cope with this situation, and just have a chance to talk. I can only speak for myself, but I appreciated the chance to talk with people and just share about our feelings and what’s stressing us out and our thoughts and concerns about what comes next.

Liz Prince has been making comics and graphic novels for years, with books like Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed, Alone Forever and Tomboy, while also writing comics series like Coady and the Creepies. For years she was making daily comics, and since the pandemic started, she began making them again, which manages to serve multiple purposes as we talked about recently when I spoke with her over Skype during a week that featured warm, spring-like weather and snow. We spoke about the joys of New England weather, politics, capitalism, and trying to be easy on ourselves about work.

To start with possibly the hardest question, how are you doing?

Well, I threw my back out trying to do the Insanity workout last week and so I’ve been alternating between hobbling around and just laying on the couch playing Animal Crossing. Right now I’m in the migraine zone because when the temperature shifts super quickly that’s one of the things that triggers me. So right now I’m dealing with some physical ailments that, knock on wood, have nothing to do with this worldwide pandemic. Emotionally and socially, I’m used to working from home. I’ve been freelance for a decade so that part isn’t that hard for me. My husband and I are used to working from home at the same time. Luckily our house is big enough that we can be far apart from each other – and that’s a good thing. I can’t imagine doing this if we still lived in that one bedroom apartment where I used to have to listen to him watching wrestling through a curtain we put up in the living room. But now we have our own zones. We have three floors so there can be a whole floor between us!

I have been going on walks and meeting up with friends of mine and we’ll stay far apart and walk together. We went to the cemetery on Monday and just walked around. We got to see snapping turtles mating and it was really cool. It looks like they’re wrestling in the water. Now I really love grocery shopping. I truly do enjoy it. One of my favorite things to do when I go to a new city is go to their grocery store and look at the different brands. Now going to the grocery store feels really fraught. When I’m in there I wouldn’t say that I’m panicked, but I’ll forget what I need. It’s one of my favorite activities and I can still do it, but it feels shitty and weird. I’m also doing my quarantine comics that I’ve been posting on Instagram. It’s funny because I just doing a four year long daily comic on Patreon and I was enjoying the freedom from that and then this started and I thought, I need to document this in some way. It feels comforting to be back doing that.

I feel like the running thread of this has been how hard it is to find the mental space to work.

I am supposed to be writing a book right now. That’s always been the hardest or at least the most creatively taxing part of working on comics for me. That project has not gotten any traction in the past month. I think I’m slowly working my way back to a space where I can actually devote mental energy to it, but in a certain way I almost have social fatigue just because of how many people are getting in touch with me on a daily basis. I get way more texts and emails now than I’m used to. Saying I have social fatigue in an era of social distancing is a weird thing to say, but it is a lot. On any given day I’m having a text conversation with like ten people where I’m usually just texting my mom and in a group chat with some friends.

Either what people are doing or how people are doing it has changed. That seems to be the only way most people are getting anything done right now.

I’m trying to be a lot easier on myself on days where it’s just not happening. I’m trying not to tell myself, you’re an idiot, you’re destroying your career. It feels hard sometimes – even when nothing bad is happening in the world – but that feeling on top of everything else is somewhat debilitating. I was listening to a podcast earlier today, This is Uncomfortable, from last week where it was couples talking about co-habitating and their plans changing because of the pandemic. They were talking to this couple that was supposed to be getting married and they couldn’t get their deposit back from the businesses but they were kind of okay with that because they were small businesses. The takeaway was that this woman said, I had this privilege as an American to make plans and assume that they’re going to happen. In a lot of other places with conflicts and civil wars and whatever, you can’t. I was like, okay, that makes a lot of sense. I was planning to finish writing this book by the end of May. Probably not going to happen right now. You would think right now, you can’t leave your house – of course you’re going to write a whole book. But the reality of it is that juggling all the disappointment in the way that our “leadership” has reacted to all this and talking my mom through things. We had these plans and they’re not going to happen right now or they’re not going to happen the way you expect them to.

Was one reason you wanted to get back to making a daily strip just because it’s this sense of accomplishing and finishing something each day?

Yeah. I think that it’s something that has become second nature to me. While I haven’t made any progress writing the book I’m supposed to be writing, it’s easy for me to sit down and be like, what happened today? I took my toads out on the lawn and one of them took a big poop. Okay, I can draw that. In a certain way it normalizes the situation for a lot of people. Not to say, people get comfort from reading my comics, but it feels like I’m giving something to my larger community.

You mentioned everyone is emailing and texting everyone. In talking with other people and other cartoonists what are you talking about?

I’ve been doing a lot of FaceTiming with Alec Longstreth and his two daughters, who are my goddaughters. It makes me incredibly grateful that I don’t have a four year old and a two year old to look after during this time. We were talking and he had to help CCS do a full online class rollout and that was pretty stressful. On his own work, he has this schedule written out for however many months and he said he’s just drawing now, which is perfect. I think that a lot of people have been really feeling that mental block, that exhaustion, and a lot of people are finding time and are actively fighting against that idea that we have to productive every second and monetize our output and if you’re not finding this isolation as a chance to get your great work done then you’re failing. I’ve found comfort that a lot of people are saying, this shit is hard, I just want to watch TV and not think about all this. Like Animal Crossing. I have never played done of those games before where it’s wholesome and you plant flowers and go fishing or whatever, but I broke down and got it last week and it’s just what I needed. I don’t have control over anything here, but I have control over this tiny little island. A lot of other friends of mine feel the same way. We’re all playing this and trying not freak out.

Liz's first custom design in Nintendo's Animal Crossing was Danny Torrance's sweater from The Shining.

Yeah for the past three and a half years we’ve all been anxious and scared and exhausted and now what is this?

It’s almost forced introspection. It was a real big blow to hear that Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race. I’ve been actively trying to spend less time on Twitter. I’m not on Facebook anymore. I’m social media distancing. For me it’s good practice to try and separate my output from my self-worth. That’s an important thing to learn and it’s a balancing act. You don’t want to be using this as a crutch and an excuse but at the same time, we’re in a grieving period. Grieving our collective way of life. We don’t know when that’s going to come back or what it’s going to look like when it does. People need to give themselves the space to feel that and think through it – or escape, if they need to.

We’ve been joking that cartoonists should be interviewed more right now because who else has spent their lives never leaving the house and being isolated?

But it’s so different! I never left my house, but I wasn’t also contemplating the collapse of our global economy and the death of hundreds of thousands of citizens in one fell swoop. [laughs] Different times!

You used to like going to the grocery store and now it’s this anxiety ridden task.

Now I’m silently judging everyone who’s not wearing a mask. [laughs] I hate hand sanitizer, but after doing that I can’t wait to rub it all over my body.

How have the economics of this been for you with bookstores and comic stores closed, conventions shut down.

Diamond isn’t distributing new titles. Fuck Diamond anyway, but like I said, we’re grieving our way of life. My therapist said something to me over video where I was talking about feeling pretty lucky because my income isn’t tied up in any particular brick and mortar location. Thus far my income hasn’t been impacted. Who knows what the ramifications are going to be in the long run. Less books in the long run? Changes in what editors are able to do? But I was talking that there are friends who work in coffeeshops as their job and those places are closed. Will those places be able to reopen? If we have to do this for three more months, what’s going to happen? I have friend who just opened a video/record/book store at the end of last year and now it’s been a month without any sales and they were just starting out. Is that place going to survive? What will all of this look like? I hadn’t been thinking about how it was horrible my friend didn’t have their coffee shop job and my therapist said, will that coffeeshop continue to exist? I went, oh. The positive way to look at it would be, this is the death blow to capitalism. People are going to realize what an inherent value small businesses have. Or it’s capitalism dealing the death blow to us and the only thing  that will exist after this are the Walmarts and Starbucks and McDonalds. [laughs] What brave new world do we get to emerge into?

And as far as brave new world, I don’t know what you had planned for the rest of the year, but none of us know what the rest of the year will bring. And even if we get the all clear, do we want to pack into a crowded room together?

Yeah it’s going to be interesting even after when we get the all clear how comfortable are people? I’ve never been a germaphobe. I feel like I have a pretty strong immune system. I’m always picking stuff off the street or digging through garbage but it’ll be interesting to see just how it changes the social landscape in the long run. But of course those are things it’s not worth spending time thinking about because nobody can predict it. Those are the things that go through your head on a loop. What about this? What about that? My husband and I were supposed to go to Japan. We’re obviously not doing that. [laughs] I was going to go to Italy with my mom. Her mother’s side of the family is from Sicily and since my mom’s mother died in 2016, she’s been wanting to go. We finally found a time to do that and it’s for October but I kind of doubt that’s going to happen now. It’s the plans that maybe aren’t going to happen and you have to be okay with it.

Like you said, we had this way of life and daily life and it’s gone, at least for now.

I’ll tell you who’s very excited about this, my cats. It’s funny now if I leave the house to walk around the block for like twenty minutes they’re like, where did you go? Where were you? We don’t leave now! [laughs]

[laughs] Will that change once the weather changes and you can open the windows?

I was opening the windows earlier this week. It was in the mid to high 50s, so up here people were walking around in shorts and t-shirts. There’s a pond at the end of my street and the other night the frogs started singing so I walked over there and I couldn’t see any but I was listening to them. And then two days later it snowed. [laughs] They’re used to it and will be fine. The snow’s pretty much gone but it was shocking to look outside and see the plow going down the street.