Edit to add (09/02/2008): A few years ago I interviewed Jeremy Dennis (who appears with Ellen Lindner in the anthology Whores of Mensa) for ace comics magazine Redeye. I thought that it was worth mentioning that the original transcript for Jeremy's interview can be found here. It's very long and rambles all over the place. Enjoy.
Now, back to Ellen's interview:
Please tell us a little about your art education and about your work outside of comics. I understand that you work as an illustrator and also exhibit in galleries.
Until a few years ago my art education consisted mostly of figure drawing. I studied art history for my undergraduate degree…my university in the States, Smith College, was fantastic, but the studio art department was very traditional, and trying to work comics into my coursework was always a struggle. This was a fairly ironic state of affairs, considering that I chose my school because the town where it was located, Northampton, Massachusetts, had such an amazing comics scene. At the time it housed the Words and Pictures Museum of Sequential Art, where a lot of cool local artists worked as support staff. I became a volunteer there as soon as possible after arriving.
While at Smith I studied in Paris for one year, where I discovered the European comics scene . I also did my first complete mini-comic, an adaptation of Christine de Pizan's proto-feminist The City of Ladies into comics form. When I left university and moved to New York City, I started taking classes at the School of the Visual Arts, where the staff include American indie cartoonists like Nick Bertozzi, Matt Madden, Jason Little and Jessica Abel. At some point I took the somewhat radical advice of an elder comics statesman and quit my job, moving to a suburb of Philadelphia so I could do comics full-time. I started hanging out at the annual Angouleme festival, where I met my husband.
We decided I'd move to England, where I applied to Camberwell College … I studied for one intense year under Janet Woolley, the head of MA illustration there, and met cool folk like awesome illustrator Sarah McIntyre. I often feel uncomfortable putting my comics pages up on a wall – to me, they're works in progress, always – but I love creating new work for gallery shows, especially stuff like painting or model making which isn't part of my day-to-day routine. Most of my gallery work has been at an amazing place in Queens, New York, called Flux Factory….the people who run Flux come up with really mad concepts for shows and then devote every waking hour until the opening to insuring that they are amazing. The last one, NYNYNY, involved artists from all over the world re-imagining the five boroughs of New York City in a million different media (including fabric and ice cream, though thankfully not in the same piece!).
I made a cartoon billboard, telling the story of my great-aunt coming to New York in the thirties in a series of advertisements. I can't wait to see the catalogue…. I do work as an illustrator, but strangely most of my paid 'illustration' work has been doing comics projects of various kinds. I have done a lot of educational comics for children, which is great because I get to use my art history background quite a bit; I definitely know my way around a library. I just this week finished a 120 page book on the American civil rights movement, drawn from a script by a university professor in the US. It was a really great project – I love drawing the fifties, and it's an important story to keep telling to new generations. That'll be out from Aladdin Paperbacks in the States in July, as part of a series called Turning Points.
How did you get into comics, both as a reader and a creator?
Growing up in the New York City suburbs, the boys in my class at school were big fans of mainstream comics, stuff like Viper, Punisher, Wolverine….they used to hang out in the back of the class and obsessively re-draw the characters. Basically, they were the first people I ever encountered who wanted to be artists – they probably looked silly to adults, but I admired their artistic fervour!
Anyhow, I started to buy comics, and fell totally in love with the X-Men and Wolverine. (Even these days I'll occasionally meet another person who loved Marc Silvestri's artwork and nerd out. But it's unfortunately quite rare!) From there I followed the fairly predictable path of becoming a teenager, deciding Marvel was crap, getting into Sandman and Tank Girl…still two of my all-time favorites. Now I've evened out…I like the best of everything, mainstream stuff like Y The Last Man and indie stuff like Gabrielle Bell's comics, or Dan Zettwoch, who, in my opinion, has one of the most rewarding artist's blogs on the internet!
Please tell us about your work in progress, Undertow.
Undertow is the graphic novel I'm currently serializing on Web Comics Nation. It's the story of a young girl growing up in the 1950's in Brooklyn. The heroine, Rhonda, has problems – her mother is an alcoholic, and so Rhonda thinks that's how you solve problems, by drinking them away. She's dealing with the death of a friend, and a crush she has on a seemingly unattainable guy, and she does some really foolish things. In the end, though, she figures things out – I promise! It's inspired by the films of Fellini and Godard, people who thought that you could have a good time even when things were crashing down around you. That image of Anna Karina dancing in the bar in Her Life to Live, or Guilietta Masina at the end of The Nights of Cabiria, smiling despite everything that's happened, being swindled in such a cruel way…that's so powerful. People who know me well know that I've been working on Undertow forever, redrawing, changing the ending….it's become this organic thing. I always meant it to be a learning project, so I've taken a lot of time to get feedback and make changes accordingly. But with online serialization, the end is swiftly approaching…stay tuned!
(Go to part two of this interview)