Interview: Liz Baillie Pt. 1

Categories:  Interviews

After threatening for months to conduct and interview with her for my comics blog, Liz Baillie and I finally settled on a time, just after work on a snow night just after in late-January. As for a location? I suggest a bar, an old favorite just north of Houston st. in Manhattan, only to concede that it, arguably that last punk bar standing on the island, might be a bit too noisy for our needs during happy hour on a Friday night.  I search for the name of a café in the area, but come up short, not much of  experienced coffee drinker myself.

“We could try the Holiday Cocktail Lounge,” she suggests. She had been there a week prior and the place had been suitably quiet, at least so far as east village bars go—and, she adds quickly, “it’s the namesake of a Bouncing Souls record.”

It’s the 12th track off the band third, self-titled album. “I’m staying here where I can get a song free with my drink, to smooth thing’s along. The bartender he looks kind of sauced, but he always knows what’s going down.” It’s snowing lightly outside on St. Mark’s Place.

Inside, said free songs are largely old Bruce Springsteen tracks, as though someone had just hit Play on the boss’s greatest hits. When “Born to Run” starts, the minute the interview ends, Baillie pauses and her eyes light up. It’s the same song, she explains, that customarily blares out of the PA when the Bouncing Souls take the stage at the top of a show.

“Obsession” might be too strong a word, but Baillie is quick to discuss the various locales she’s traveled to see the band, including most recently, in another piece of Jersey band synchronicity, Asbury Park for a handful of dates the month before in the seaside town the boss put on the rock and roll map. And, of course, there’s Sing Along Forever, the one-off followup to her long-running My Brain Hurts, which carried the telling subtitle, “A Love Letter to the Bouncing Souls.”

You’re gonna be at New York Comic Con.

I am gonna be at New York Comic Con.

How do you feel about that?

I feel fine. I don’t have to pay for it.

I ran into you at the show last year. You didn’t seem very happy to be there.

[Laughs] I don’t think I would go if I wasn’t a cartoonist. As a fan, I probably wouldn’t go. There’s not really that much that I’m interested in, there’s some annoying people, the food is overpriced, it’s hard to get to.

You don’t enjoy the spectacle of all of it?

I do. But you know, that’s why there’s Flickr.

Last year you were at the Indie Spinner Rack booth.

Yeah. I’m gonna be there again. I’m not gonna pay a table at that place, because I’m not sure that it’s worth it.

But you find that people still seek you out?

Yeah. But I tell them I’m gonna be there during a specific period of time, and they know to come then. So it’s pretty easy on my part. And I don’t have to sit at a table for three days. That can be really, really draining.

Are these people that you know, generally?

Well, the people that seek me out, generally I know them, not personally, but they’re regulars. They buy everything as it comes out, so I know their names. They’ll send me a message on Myspace or something.

You don’t really do a ton of stuff on the Web.

No.

You’re very print-based. Everything you’ve done has come out in print, in some form or another.

That’s because everything I do is really really long. My small forays into Webcomics have been—not unsuccessful, but just kind of mediocre.

I know you go to a lot of the smaller press shows like MoCCA and SPX, but beyond that, what’s the, sort of, mini-comics underground railroad? How do you get your books out there?

Well, one of the ways is Tony Shenton. Tony Shenton is the sales rep for a lot of mini-comics people, so he gets my books in stores all over the places, far away places that I wouldn’t go myself. Other than that, Myspace, Livejournal—people find out about me through the Internet.

So, despite the fact that you’re not doing a Webcomic with any kind of regularity, the Internet still plays a pretty large role.

Yeah, because I still have a Web presence even though I don’t have a Webcomic.

You’re done with My Brain Hurts.

Yes! I just did a two-page short story, the characters from My Brain Hurts, for Microcosm’s 13-year collection, but that was the last thing.

That’s a weird year to celebrate.

Yeah, I know [laughs]. But that, hopefully, will be the last time I draw those characters. But I could eat those words in five years.

You said that the main thing standing between you and doing a Webcomic is length.

Yeah.

Do you thing your work is going to be a little shorter, now that you’ve finished that book?

No. The only venue I have for shorter stories is the Mini-Comic of the Month Club. So that’s pretty much specifically for short stories that don’t fit anywhere else. But, other than that, the other things I’m working on are all really long.

But in a sense the existence of that program comes out of the fact that you’ve recently finished My Brain Hurts.

Oh yeah. I couldn’t have done that if I was still doing My Brain Hurts.

So these were stories that you were collecting over the years, while you were working on that book?

Or I’d have ideas and I couldn’t do it because I had no place to put it. The shorter stuff I do is usually for an anthology, so either I have something specific to work with or the anthologies tend to be not long enough, because even my short stories tend to be like eight pages, and sometimes it’s only one or two pages. It’s the only way I can do it and have it have a point, instead of just doing it and putting it online for nothing.

About how many pages long was My Brain Hurts?

Uh, well I know both of the collections are going to be about 128 pages each, but it’s maybe 200 pages. There was supplementary stuff.

How did you know when the book was finally over? Was that something that had been clear from the beginning?

Yeah, because it was really my first foray into telling a long story, so I had a formula that I went into with. I decided that was going to be 10 issues, and I wrote out a list of topics that I wanted to cover, and I figured out how to put them in, and squished them into ten issues.

Was ten issues not enough, in terms of what you wanted to tackle?

Well, by the time I got to the tenth issue, I was so sick of it that I couldn’t wait to move on. When I had first started the series, I was a couple of years out of adolescence.

About how old?

Twenty, twenty-one.

That’s a ways out of adolescence.

Not really. You graduate high school when you’re 18. You’re in college for three, four years—five years for me. I was thinking about it as part of the recent past, talking to other people in college and realizing that my experience in high school was different than most other people’s.

That was something that hadn’t occurred to you until you distanced yourself from it?

No. I mean, I knew it while it was happening, but all of my friends were doing the same things as me. But when you look at teen movies, like The Breakfast Club, it’s all suburbia. I kind of fetishized suburbia, a little bit.

Part of the impetus behind the project was this idea that it was a story that not everyone had lived.

Yeah, definitely. I’d have these moments in my early-20s, when I’d see my friends from back in the day, and we’d be telling stories, and it would be like, “man, that shit was fucked up” [laughs]. Older dudes getting with these younger girls and drinking at bars when we were 15. It’s not normal. It was a crazy time.

At what point do you decide not to make it entirely autobiographical?

To do something strictly autobiographical would have, to be perfectly honest, been kind of boring. A lot of interesting things happened around me, and I was there, but not that much of it happened to me. I had supportive, loving parents—I didn’t have crappy parents. I was not totally normal, but I was probably the most prudish, relative to the people I hung out with.

So what’s the clear end of the book?

Well, it’s hard to say, because, in situations like that, when you have an unusual series of experiences in your formative years, unless you move away, they don’t really end. They kind of peter off, or change slowly, and that’s not really much of an end for a book. So I just kind of decided to focus on the friendship of the two main characters, and how it changes, because that was something that came right from my own life. I kind of felt like I was starting to get my shit together and I had these close friends that were like, “whoopee, I live in a box!” and it’s not really cool anymore. It’s not really fun.

[Continued in Part Two]

–Brian Heater

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3 Comments to “Interview: Liz Baillie Pt. 1”

  1. Andy Jewett | February 13th, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    My Brain Hurts was a great series and I was happy to be included as one of the supplementary contributors… interesting characters and an experienced look into the punk scene in NYC. Liz works hard and is a great encouragement/model of what a cartoonist can accomplish, I look forward to checking out her future works.

  2. Mike Cavallaro | February 20th, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    I don’t get the chance to stop by here as often as I’d like, but I’m pleasantly surprised to see this interview series with Liz Baillie.

    Her stripped-down, straight-forward approach harkens back to the 80’s indie gems that breathed long and lasting life into the alternative comics scene in the same way that the bands which inform her aesthetic did for punk rock.

    Liz’s recent “SING ALONG FOREVER” marks the arrival of a future comics notable. Publishers : pay attention!

    Congrats to Liz and to the Daily Crosshatch for shining a spotlight on a truly deserving artist.

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