In this third part of our interview with the You’ll Never Know artist, we discuss Carol Tyler’s career as an art teacher, her teenage Beatles-obsessed diary, “inventing” comics, and how Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary changed her her life.
How long have you been teaching sequential art?
Since, like, ’05 or ’06.
Were you teaching art more broadly before that?
Yes. I’ve been teaching regular school since 1994. I taught first graders, and literacy was my forte. So, I taught reading and worked with kids that didn’t have English spoken at home. I would be reading a story to my students, and it would mention the Empire State Building. I would look around the room and think, ‘these kids are from Tonga—they don’t know what the Empire State Building is.’ So I’d have to explain that before we could finish the story. I loved teaching elementary school. And I was a sub—I have to say that right up front for any teachers out there. No, I do not have a teaching credential, because I took art in school.
I did museum displays for five years and got laid off, and then I went into teaching. I love teaching. I love the day I became “Ms. Tyler” to the students. And they look up to me as the authority. I know everything. I can solve their problems [laughs]. I love that. I love the teacher role and helping them to understand whatever it is.
In a perfect world, would you be an artist full-time?
Yeah. I’m trying. I mean, I love teaching. I’m not trying to be egotistical or boastful or anything, but at a certain point in your life, you go, “I’m really good at what I do.” And I know that 4,499 of those 5,000 people might go, “oh, she can’t draw. Once in a while I enjoy what she’s doing.” But this is the best I can come up with, and I think it’s okay. And I want to do more, because I like it. It would work if I had some money!
I imagine that part of the reason it takes three years to complete a book is the fact that you’re teaching on the side.
I’m teaching because I have to have money! Because comics have never made me money. Maybe I’m not good enough! But no, I’m using the 53 colors and I’m dipping the pen and I’m drawing everything by hand, and I don’t trace photographs. I mean, I have to go look at tanks and then draw them. It’s all handmade.
Was it easier when you were working on short stories?
Well, I had to knock them out between homework packets and making supper and kids, and I never had—Justin’s a wonderful guy, but I’m the parent for that child. He did his thing, but kids want their mommies.
Is it easier as far as setting goals, though? Writing and completing something in weeks or months versus years?
I’m already four years into it. So I’m almost done. I’m getting there [laughs]. I already have the next project, good to go!
Do you prefer to have these short term goals, versus something that’s going to take you the better part of the decade?
I think that would make me crazy, wouldn’t you be crazy? If someone sat you down and said, “you have to spend six years on areally long story that a lot of people aren’t going to look at [laughs].” I thought I could knock it out really quickly. That’s not case. But that’s not really stopping me, or anything. It’s just that, if it takes another six months to make this nicer, sweeter, and more wonderful, I want to. At first I thought I could get it all out in one package. I had it ready. But I’m not person who can write a script and then go illustrate it. I’m intuitive and I’m intuiting my way into this huge subject matter that hits me like a rock. There’s times when I can’t work because it makes me cry.
Because it’s too personal?
It’s just sad, you know? When somebody has to pick up dead people. Death, dying, sadness, loss. Why did I get stuck with these topics? Who better to interpret that life?
Is the next book going to be a little lighter?
It’s about seeing The Beatles in 1965.
I found my teenage girl journal. What a nerd! I kept a handwritten journal about the week before I went to see The Beatles. It’s sweet. It’s awesome. And I’m going to be releasing that as a book, because it’s funny. It’s just wonderful. Going shopping to get my outfit for the Beatle concert [laughs]. And what I pick out is so spazzy, you know? It was perfect for 1965.
Was it important to do something light, after taking such a large, painful subject?
Something faster! Yeah. It’s all written. I wrote it all with a red pen, in my best handwriting. So all I have to do is throw in a couple of illustrations. It’s only about 15 pages long, or something like that. so it will be kind of small, but it will be a lark, compared to trudging through Europe in 1944.
What do you think is going to happen in book two?
Well, after this conversation, I think it’s going to get a lot heavier in two.
But it’s good! When I showed it to my sister, she went, “oh! That’s good!” I don’t know…
Do you show them to your husband?
He’s kind of pissed off at me. He doesn’t like the way I depicted him.
He of all people should understand, right?
He’s not exactly happy. He’s been a good sport about it, but he’s the bad guy—he and Hitler are the bad guys.
That’s pretty bad company.
I said, “Justin, you’re going to advance the story later. You carry a big message.” But now, he’s supportive. And you’ve got to give it to him. That Binky reprint is unbelievable. Unbelievable. And that’s how I got started in this, you know. I read Binky Brown, and I thought, “wow, I’ve got to meet this guy.” Because I’m Catholic, and I was raised in Chicago in the 50s, and a lot of what clicked for me was that I knew the Chicago level and the Catholic thing.
So, when I went to San Francisco a couple of years later, he was like, “oh my gosh, we’re from Chicago!” There was…that thing. I liked what he did, and I had started doing comics just before I saw Binky. So it hit my lap at just the right time.
Out in Chicago?
No, I was in graduate school in Syracuse, NY, and I was doing paintings, but I was starting to make them into panels—sequences and stuff. Because I always wanted to say more than a single panel. So I was painting this things, and somebody said, “well, why don’t you make some real panel art?” and handed me Binky and some of the other stuff.
So comics, as such, weren’t something that occurred to during your early panel work.
Well, yeah. The paintings were me trying to interpret things, and I had to move away—I didn’t want to do it anymore in one panel.
You sort of invented comics on your own terms.
Yeah, and it before I knew anything. I did many of those, and then someone showed me comic books. Binky was comics. What I was doing was…art. I didn’t have words, but I was breaking down action, in sequence. But this was everything—the narrator, the characters, the balloons. The whole vernacular of comics was there. And from there, it turned into meeting Art Spiegelman and all of the other underground cartoonists, because I went to California.
I’m not from the underground. I was a painter, who, at age 28 or 29, discovered, because of art, the comics thing.
[Concluded in Part Four.]