In honor of Secret Acres’ release of the first-ever P.S. Comics collection, we sat down with Bay Area artist Minty Lewis to discuss the pretension of Italian fascism, the difficulty of drawing beaches, and why no one cares about the arm lengths of fruit.
Were you doing graphic design before you started making your comics?
I started making comics in 2003 and I started studying graphic design a couple of years before that.
Did studying graphic design lead you down that path?
No, the first comic I actually made was because my boyfriend ad the time—not Damien [Jay, Lewis’s husband], a different one. He was doing something for the SPX anthology, and he said, “you should do it, too.” I said, “okay,” and I made a comic. Mine got in and his didn’t. I got some good feedback from that. I didn’t really set out to make comics. One thing led to another. I like getting feedback and knowing that people are responding to my stuff. I really like graphic design, but most of the graphic design stuff isn’t stuff that I feel that passionately about. A lot of the same skills go into comics, but you put a lot more of yourself into them, so it’s a little more creatively rewarding than graphic design.
Were you doing any sort of writing before that?
No, not really.
The way you described it, it seems that, in terms of making a comic, storytelling is foremost.
I think it’s something that I’ve always been really interested in. I’ve always read a lot of books and I’ve been interested in comics, but I think it me a lot time to not be intimidated by the act of actually producing stories myself. When I went to college, I took a lot of art classes, and I don’t think I put that much of myself into anything I did, because I was always intimated by the seriousness of it. once I started making comics, it was a way to make art and have it be more personal. It could be funny and I didn’t have to go to class and be critique.
Are the stories in this book based on events that have happened to you?
No, not necessarily. Bits and pieces are stories I’ve heard and sometimes they’re things that have happened to me and my friends or things that I’ve observed, but they don’t usually happen in the order I write them in. usually the actual story in the comics is made up.
But they do feel personal on some level?
Yeah. I can put my personality into them—that’s what I mean when I say that I put myself in them. I don’t mean that they’re autobiographical. When I was trying to make art in college, the things I was trying to be academic about were things that I don’t think were in-line with my personality. I wrote my thesis in college about fascism in Italian drama, and I’m not actually that interested in that.
That would make a great comic.
Yeah, I know! I feel like I align more with Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. But it took me a long time to grow out of an academic approach to storytelling and making art. I don’t think that that kind of thing really suits me.
The stories all feel pretty real, despite the fact that they’re mostly played out by dogs and fruit. Why not just fill the roles with people?
I didn’t really make that a conscious decision either. The first ever comic that I made that I actually thought about was a Fruit Pals comic. At that point it was because it was a lot easier to draw fruit than people, because no one was going to say, “Apple’s arms aren’t that long.” I think it’s more effective when they’re fruit for people to focus on the dialog and what’s going on, rather than trying to identify who this person is and what they’re doing there and what clothes they’re wearing and what kind of haircut they have. I think it makes it kind of more universal when they’re fruit and dogs. I also feel like it makes it a little more ridiculous, because I don’t intend to have my comics be that serious. I feel like a lot of people come away feeling like they’re depressing or mean spirited, so I think it makes the tone a little lighter and faster.
Do you get that feedback a lot? That the strips are “mean spirited?”
Yes. Some people think they’re funny and charming. I guess there are two sides to them. But I’ve heard a few people say that they felt really down after reading my comics. Somebody Twittered and said that they had nightmares about mean spirited fruit after reading them.
Does that kind of feedback affect your work?
I don’t know. I think it must in some way. It’s not like I sit down and think about writing something that’s not mean spirited. I mean, I try not to be mean spirited, but I can’t help it! It just keeps happening that way. Or depressing. I don’t feel depressed or mean in my normal life, but I can’t stop writing stories that end up that way.
So you don’t want to sit down and write, say, a romantic comedy with fruit?
I feel like I could. Donuts for Lunch—that’s kind of a romantic comedy. But there’s always a depressing or awkward side to it.
Now that the book is here, do you feel as you’ve closed a chapter on P.S. Comics?
Yeah, I think I want to try something longer. I’m actually working on something right now that I’ll write and Damien, my husband, will draw. He’s a very good artist—and he’s agreed to this, this isn’t just my idea. The story’s about terriers and there’s a little bit of interior design involved in it. I’m imagining Damien drawing it, which is opening up a lot of possibilities as far as things that I would avoid because I didn’t want to draw them.
In terms of their being too complicated?
In terms of things like beaches. Damien struggles with writing more than I do, so I think it could be a good marriage of the minds for us.