Joelle Monique is covering CALA all this week! Today she interviews MariNomi! Read more below.
Tell us about your latest work. Where did the inspiration come from?
I’ll talk about my mini, Dirty Produce, which is the very last thing I did. It’s a tiny booklet of erotic fruit and vegetables originally painted onto Post-it notes. Each mini has about 50 hand-painted accents, kind of like Thomas Kinkaid but without the sweatshops. For the accents I used clear and sparkly and scented pens. For example, a bead of sweat on a pervy orange’s brow and butthole have clear gel accents, so they pop out at you a little.
I came up with the idea while making Post-it art for the annual Giant Robot Post-it art show (which is on the same weekend as CALA). The first one I made was a banana having sexy thoughts about a peach, which was a metaphor for interracial attraction (as a mixed-race person, all my relationships are interracial). From there, my brain just kept thinking about other sexy fruit and vegetable scenarios, so I let it pour out of me. When the internet responded favorably to my dirty little drawings, I decided to turn it into a mini, sort of a high-fiber version of a Tijuana bible.
This isn’t my first foray into sexy fruit. In 2004 or so I did a series of paintings and collages involving livestock with female human bodies in erotic poses, with melons and papayas for genitals. I’ve always loved those, although they didn’t get much of an audience. They were too raunchy to hang anywhere, and I think they only ever were shown at a whiskey bar in San Francisco and at Rumpus Headquarters, also in SF.
What makes CALA different from other conventions?
Los Angeles really seems to be becoming quite the comics mecca these days, and CALA reflects it. It’s a small show, so it’s strongly curated to showcase the most active cartoonists around, many of them quite established. I just now looked at the roster, and I feel so honored to be a part of it!
If this is your second year at CALA tell us about last years experience and what brought you back. If this is your first year, what are you most excited about?
This is my second year. I was really impressed by how focused the first CALA was on independent comics. It wasn’t filled with t-shirt designers, crafters and cosplayers like many of the other cons I’ve attended. It’s refreshing to be at a con that’s all about the thing I’m there for, you know?
What will you be selling at CALA?
I’ll be debuting Dirty Produce, plus selling a bunch of handmade comics, as well as my two books, the graphic memoirs Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume and Dragon’s Breath and Other True Stories. If I can maneuver the space on the table, I might put out some prints too, but really it’s all about the comics!
Who are some of your biggest influences, creatively?
Going way back, it was Mary Fleener’s and Ariel Bordeaux’s work that transformed me from a comics reader into a creator. I loved their stories and I wanted to join in on the fun. Lately I’ve been very inspired by the writing of Cheryl Strayed (her work is so honest and compassionate, which is something I strive for) and the cartooning techniques of Carol Tyler and Brecht Evens. My friend Yumi Sakugawa’s comics have also had an impact on me recently. Her work is so complicated without being confusing or pretentious. I’ll be sitting next to her at CALA.
I love your minimalist page layouts. How much pre-planning goes into the layouts for your comics?
So much pre-planning! Most of my sparse panels originally started out as much more complex images, with borders and backgrounds and maybe more words and ideas. But they got pared down as I narrowed my focus and fleshed out the message of each story. With each edit, I chop off a lot of waste until I’m left with the bare essentials.
What would you like fans to know about you as an artist?
Something that has happened to me in the art world (I used to make my living as a painter) was that my fans got attached to something I was doing–a theme or a style–then felt betrayed when I moved on to the next thing. I’m always a little worried that the same thing will happen with fans of my comics. Like, maybe someone will enjoy my comics about relationships, then complain when I go onto another subject. But it’s boring to do the same thing for years and years and years!
As a writer, an artist, and even as a human I constantly try to learn and evolve into a better person.
I understand that probably no one will like all the work I do, but I hope my fans will have patience with me as I try to grow, and maybe even grow with me a little. Because making art, although often a solitary endeavor, can really feel like being part of something bigger, a community of readers and thinkers and creators. I guess what I want them to know about me is that I value their opinions, but that I plan on growing, on making mistakes, of doing a bunch of things that they probably won’t like all of, but I hope they like some of.
Talk about your journey to becoming a comic creator.
Pretty much the moment I got the bug, I was obsessively drawing out my first comic. After I had a handful of them, I went to a convention (APE 1997, I think it was) and sought out an anthology to submit to. I got my first comic published in Action Girl Comics, and then soon after, I started self-publishing my own comic, Estrus Comics. To this day, I still enjoy self-publishing, although I also have books traditionally published. I also got a bit into web comics around 2011, as a means to promote my first book when it came out.
Did you have a formal education or were you self-taught? Is one better than another?
I dropped out of high school, then later quit college. Every time I try to take a class I’m reminded that I don’t do well in that setting. I get bored and resentful when people try to steer my learning, so clearly that’s not for me. But everyone is different! Lots of people can use that direction and focus, because it’s hard to do that on your own. Personally, I learn better when I strike out on my own. I would never tell anyone to quit school or anything, just because it worked out in my case.
The downside of not going to school is that occasionally I don’t know something that everyone else was taught in, say, chemistry. The upside is that I got to learn what was important to me.
Occasionally I mentor MFA students who want help creating their comics memoir. I work with them as kind of a guide, letting them vent about their frustrations and obstacles, then offer anecdotes about how I overcame similar situations. Although I didn’t get much from teachers (with a couple exceptions), I think I would’ve enjoyed having a mentor like myself to help me get focused. If I had, I might have finished my first book a lot sooner.
What other kinds of art do you create? Does that factor into your comics work at all?
I paint in gouache and acrylic and watercolors; I write essays and fiction, short and long work; I do freelance work as a video game writer, often localizing Japanese video games; I’ve made collages and mixed media installation-like work; I animated a music video and trailers for a couple of my comics. I made a short film in college that to this day I’m still proud of.
I believe that everything I do affects everything else I do, so yes, it all totally affects how I approach making comics. The storyboard for my college film project was probably technically my first comic.
You tend to work solo, would you ever consider working with another artist or writer? Explain.
I’ve collaborated in the past, to varying degrees of success. My first collaboration was a fantastic experience, my second was not so much. But I know that it can be very good or very bad, depending on the chemistry and whether or not your visions are aligned.
The older I get, though, the less I’m inclined to want to play with others. I love being around people, but I’m possessive about my projects and get irritated when people don’t hold up their side of things. So yeah, collaboration isn’t really for me, although maybe I’ll change my tune someday when I get sick of telling my own stories.
In Leaving Home you draw yourself older than in the following story Unreasonable Demands, Part 1. Did you feel smaller when you moved or bigger with the friend’s you’d known your entire life? Was there a reason for the difference in character design?
Yes! When I drew these comics, I didn’t know they would one day appear side by side in a book, so I wasn’t worried about consistency and I just drew it how I felt it. In Unreasonable Demands, Part 1, I did feel more vulnerable than before, so it makes sense that my character appears smaller and weaker. It’s a case of memoir reflecting my insides, not what others might see.
What was the selection process like for Dragon’s Breath? How did you choose which stories to tell?
Many of the stories originally appeared in the series Smoke in Your Eyes on the Rumpus (Paul Madonna, the comics editor, helped me develop a theme based on all the stories I wanted to tell). When I decided to put it all in a book, I chose to accompany those stories with others I had that fit the thoughtful, slightly morbid tone of the web comic. I have a ton more comics that didn’t make the cut, ones that were too goofy or whimsical, or stories where the art didn’t fit. The process was very deliberate.
Why share such personal stories with the world?
For the same reason I overshare with my friends in real life. For connection. To tell a funny story. To start a conversation.
If you could write in any fantasy world (Harry Potter, Avatar, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, ext), which would you, work in and why? [This is a personal favorite question. I realize many independent artists aren’t interested in bigger properties, so feel free to skip if you’d like.]
This probably isn’t the answer you’re looking for, but I’d love to write an episode for the TV show Master of None. It’s a good show with a great heart, but the dialogue needs help, and the protagonist needs an edge. I would have so much fun with it.
What tools do you use to create your comic and why?
I’ve been doing this for almost twenty years, so my technique has been refined to accommodate all of my neuroses. As such, I now use a different piece of paper for penciling than I do for inking. I do this in order to make the original drawings less precious, so I can crumple them or spill tea on them and not freak out. My standard go-tos are graph paper (for penciling–the lines have made lettering a delight), various-sized pencils and erasers, a light box, bleed-proof paper and various brush pens and fine markers. Sometimes watercolors, gouache and white ink. And then of course a computer and scanner.
When you’re having a difficult time creating what do you do to help you push through?
Drinking tea helps. Having multiple projects to work on helps, too. If I hit a wall with one project, I put it down and go to another until I get the inspiration back.
One thing that always gets my creativity going, whether I want it to or not, is a solitary six-hour drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back. Especially if I listen to music instead of podcasts, my brain will fill with ideas. When I set out for a long drive, I’m always excited about the epiphanies that will ultimately follow.
Do you have any new projects on the horizon? What should fans be looking out for? Where can they find you online?
My next book, Turning Japanese, is coming out with 2d cloud in May 2016. Turning Japanese is a comics memoir about trying to connect with my heritage by working at Japanese hostess bars. Find me online at marinaomi.com
Joelle’s heart belongs to Chicago but she’s living in Los Angeles attempting to make a life as a freelance writer. She’s the co-creator of web comic Harsh Mellow on Tumblr. She’s an avid fan of period dramas over three hours long and full glasses of wine. She can usually be found in between the pages of a comic-book or under a coffee spigot.