Interview: Vanessa Davis Pt. 2

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Vanessa Davis is right, people do seem to be down on autobiography in indie comics these days. Of course such opinions didn’t her to put an end to her popular strips, though it did cause her a bit of pause while working on the material for her new book, Make Me a Woman.

In this second part of this interview, we discuss the power and importance of autobio and the ways in which comics are better than fine art.

[Part One]

You mentioned the importance of feedback. When most of your work is drawn from life experience, how does feedback affect what you do?

I’ve always responded really well to positive feedback [laughs]. My last book came out a long time ago. I spent a lot of years not knowing when my next one would come out. I didn’t always know that this moment would come.

At some point you thought that you might not have another book?

No, it just seemed like it was never going to happen.

Were you working on it, that whole time?

Yeah, I was working on all of these anthology stories. I’d have a five page story that I would be working on for a few months, but it was never enough to put together and make into anything substantial. So, I wasn’t always in this really confident place, about my work.

There was a lot of press about autobio that was coming out. And I’d encountered a lot of other cartoonists who had weird opinions about autobio comics. And I got really sensitive about it, because people were talking about autobio comics being a crutch, or being necessarily easier to write than fiction.

I’ve heard that some teachers in comics courses make a point to push students away from autobio, because it seems to be first-gear for a lot of people.

There’s that idea. But for me, that’s what I’ve always been into. So I got a really big chip on my shoulder about it. I don’t agree with that. There’s a lot of bad autobiog out there…

There’s a lot of bad non-autobio, too.

Right, exactly. I think that autobio is hard. It’s really, really hard. I was talking to another cartoonist about this, once. She has a really visually imaginative style. She said it would never occur to her to do autobio. It’s not her mode at all. For her it would be hard—just as hard as it would be for me to approach comics the way she does, which is in this very fantastic, fictional way.

First of all, it’s ‘what is your nature?’ Second of all, if you are an autobio cartoonist, there are a lot of things that you have to wrestle with that you don’t even have to think about in fiction. If you’re writing about real people in your life, I think there’s a lot of soul searching that you’ve should do as an autobio cartoonist—you should be doing that in your life as a person, anyway, but when you’re putting that down on paper, you’re not just feeling it yourself.

I think that autobio is hard. During this period of time, I got so worked up that all of these people had negative opinions about autobio, but I got really self-conscious about my work. But I was talking to Tom Devlin about it, and he said, “all of the most famous [indie] comics that have sold millions of copies are autobio. And people like it, whether they say it or not. That’s what you do. Just do it.”

If that’s your comfort zone, do you think it’s important to challenge yourself and work against that?

I think it’s good as an exercise to think about doing things in another way, but at a certain point—when you’re just going into photography, it’s import to try different lenses and light and subject matter. But when you decide that you’re a fashion photographer…

You don’t want to go to Yosemite.

It’s not that you don’t—going to Yosemite would prove a challenge that would most likely be valuable, so I’m not going to say that I’m not going to do anything else, but I have to do—I feel like there’s still a lot of challenge in autobio. It’s not like I feel that it’s my comfort zone and I can just sing it like words out of my mouth. It’s still very challenging.

Do you think that the interaction that you have with fans at [SPX] is inherently more personal because of the personal nature of your work?

Sometimes. A lot of times I’ve met people through my comics who are just like me.

What does “like you” entail?

People with similar concerns, similar types of personalities, similar backgrounds. In that way, it’s this filtered way of expressing yourself. Sarah [Morean] from your Website wrote something like that in a review that she wrote about me. Sometimes it’s superficial, but sometimes it’s very deep, so that’s been a very personal way to connect to people through comics.

But other times, they’re like, “oh, I like it,” and you’re like, “thanks.” There’s that disconnect again.

A lot of people probably assume that they know you though, right?

I don’t know. Some people say that, but they don’t [laughs]. Or maybe they do know me better… But what I like is when people feel that they know me—even the people who aren’t just like me, it opens people up to talk to me.

It makes you more approachable.

Yeah, maybe. But part of what drew me into comics is the accessibility and the potential to communicate with so many people and maybe get that communication back. So that’s a very gratifying form of feedback.

That communication usually comes through events like [SPX]?

Here or just meeting people through e-mail or just throughout life. Like you meet someone at a party and it seems like you get along with them and then you take a look at their Website. Stuff like that.

It seems like it would be harder to reach so many people while starting out in fine art.

Well, I think that the fine art world isn’t really about reaching a lot of people, from what I’ve seen.

It’s a little snobby.

It’s not that it’s just snobby, it’s exclusive and pointless. I have a really negative opinion of the fine art world. It seems like you have to go to school just to learn how to speak a particular language to even be considered. It just seems really conservative and old fashioned. It seemed stodgy and commercial and old fashioned

[Continued in Part Three]

–Brian Heater