In the second part of our interview with My Brain Hurts creator Liz Baillie, we explore the parallels between the artist’s life that her protagonist Kate, whom the artist readily admits is a thinly-veiled stand-in for herself. The chronological end of the series (which Baillie has recently wrapped up) parallels her own post-high school move from New York to Boston, where, while at school, she first entertained thoughts of pursuing a career as a professional cartoonist.
Oh, and we also talk about the Bouncing Souls a little bit as well, because, well, some things just can’t be helped…
When did it first become clear that comics were something you seriously wanted to pursue—or is it clear?
It is pretty clear, because what happened was, my first year of college, I went to the Art Institute of Boston, for photography—I wasn’t into comics.
So you moved away from New York and then moved back.
Yeah, yeah. Part of the reason I moved away was that I did have a situation with my best friend, toward the end of high school where she got heavily into drugs. I saw a lot people I knew getting into stuff like that, and it became not a cool thing. It’s not easy to break yourself off from people.
Is that person essentially the basis for the best friend in My Brain Hurts?
Kind of. Joey is an amalgam of a couple of people I know. I’ve had a few people say, “Joey is based on me, isn’t he?” you’d be surprised at how many people say that to me.
As if they take some pride in that fact.
One of them who Joey’s physical appearance is based on said, “I saw he and he looks just like me and acts just like me. What’s up with that?” He seemed kind of happy about it. But another one was like, “he’s based on me,” in kind of an angry sort of way.
Yeah. He’s not necessarily the kind of character you want representing you. You don’t want that to be your legacy in the world.
Yeah, not really. I mean, I like Joey, I think he’s fun, but he’s ultimately a tragic figure [laughs].
Are the reasons for ending the book similar to the reasons for your moving to Boston?
Yeah, pretty much. Also part of it was that I grew up in New York, and everyone seems to move to New York. No one seems to move away, and I was sick of the big city life.
But you moved to Boston, not the woods…
Oh, when you grow up in New York and you move to Boston…I moved back for a reason. I hated it there. But part of it was that I moved to Boston with one of my friends who was supposed to go to college with me and the first week because she was having withdraws.
Did the switch from photography to drawing occur around the move from Boston, back to New York?
What happened was, when I graduated from high school, I was still going out with a guy who was in high school and he still lived in New York and I lived in Boston. He like R. Crumb and had a lot of issues of Hate. So I would come home pretty much every week when I was living in Boston [laughs].
To read his comics?
To hang out with him. My excuse was that my thesis project was a photography project on ABC No Rio, which obviously in New York, so I’d have to come home for it. that was my trick that I tricked my mom into. So I came back all the time and would read all of his comics. Eventually I wanted to get into it, because I thought they seemed cool. I asked him what he thought I should read, and he said his friend said that the only comic he’ll read is Eightball.
A pretty safe recommendation.
Yeah. Obviously it worked great. I loved Eightball.
It’s pretty clear that you could draw by this point.
Yeah, I drew comics before that, recreationally, just for fun. Like, we’d be in a bar and I’d be drawing a little doodle of my friend yelling something.
But you weren’t reading comics at that point?
No. I mean, I read them as a kid, but I wasn’t reading them anymore, by the time I was 18, 19.
Like X-Men or…
No. I never really read any of that. When I was a kid, I read Uncle Scrooge and funny animal things and Little Archie—not big Archie, but Little Archie. I was very into Little Archie.
Did you retain any of that Little Archie influence?
Well, actually, Little Archie was an influence. If you notice, a lot of the characters I draw have kind of large heads.
And cowlicks. The way I draw mouths, I copied Little Archie.
Your understanding of anatomy is based on—
Little Archie. Not big Archie. It’s important. They’re kids, so they have big heads and big buck teeth. What’s kind of weird is that they still go on dates and wear bikinis. But I don’t know, I tried big Archie, but I never got into it.
Well, now that you’re an adult…
Now is the time.
Has the Comic of the Month idea been brewing for a while?
Yeah, yeah. I kind of started thinking of it six months ago. I was thinking of interesting ways to distribute comics and not lose money, basically. At first I thought I’d do a comic you’d only get by giving me a donation, and then I thought people would just give me a dollar. I don’t expect people to give me any money. I mean, I should speak—I don’t buy anything. I wait for my friends to buy it, and then I read it. But nevertheless, I had this idea for one comic and I thought it could be a special donation comic. That turned into the idea of a Comic of the Month Club. People would want to be a part of it because it’s a club. It’s not just comics. You can have a membership card and number. People get into that. I know I would if I had money to burn. Coincidentally, not to bring it to the Bouncing Souls—
We were going to get there eventually.
Coincidentally, the Bouncing Souls are doing a song a month in 2009, as well. It’s kind of funny that that happened at the same time. Purely coincidence.
How hard has it been to keep up?
It hasn’t been that hard. I don’t have a job anymore.
You seemed to be dreading it at the beginning.
Yeah. It funny, what happened is I figured out how I would do it, and then I put up in the store on my site something to subscribe in Novemeber. I didn’t think anyone would look at it, but someone bought the first subscription before I announced it. I could back out then. Someone gave me money.
It seems like you did that on purpose, like you wanted someone to push you into it.
Yeah. That’s part of it, too, I know I’ll do it because I have people waiting.
How many at present?
Thirty-two. It’s pretty good. My original hypothesis was, I would be happy if I had five people, because then I’d have $200! That would be pretty cool. It worked out much better than I thought it would. And the year’s barely started. People can still subscribe througought the year, and I expect that some people will wait until I get to a convention.
[Concluded in Part Three]