Interviewed by Amy Souza
I’m told you are debuting a one-night-only comic at Gridlords and that it will never be published. What was your impetus for this sort of presentation? Can you give us a hint of what we’ll see?
Some comics I make with a big goal in mind, some comics I make just for fun, with no intention of publishing them or sharing them with more than a couple friends. This is one of the comics I made for fun because I had a personal story I wanted to draw about. I’m never going to publish it because it makes fun of my family a bit and I don’t want it floating around to ruin every Christmas for the rest of my life.
You’ve got a Kickstarter going on right now to create a new history comic with Dill Pickle Club. Can you tell me a little bit about that comic and the timeframe for creating it?
This is a really exciting comic! I hope we get enough generous people to donate, despite the fact that I’m terrible at asking for money. It’s a nonfiction comic about the life of Oregon Governor Tom McCall and how he dealt with a massive anti-war protest in 1970 in the most bizarre way: By throwing a state-funded music festival 30 miles outside Portland, to keep all the activists occupied and totally high for the weekend the protest was supposed to happen. It sounds like I’m making this up, but I’m not. Lots of people only moved to Oregon in the past couple years and haven’t yet learned the history of the place where they live, so even big figures like Tom McCall and major events—like the political tensions of 1970—are unknown to a lot of locals. This strange and important piece of history will be told in a special one-off comic drawn by artist Daniel Duford, who’s even doing a series of woodcuts to illustrate the story. You can learn more about the project (and donate to get a copy!) at the Kickstarter site.
How do you work with Dill Pickle Club and the cartoonists? Do you pitch story ideas? Do you collaborate with artists or work separately? What’s your favorite aspect of making history comics?
In 2009, I came up with the idea to do a series of small comics about Oregon history. I was originally going to write and draw them all myself, but then Portland arts nonprofit the Dill Pickle Club saw my first issue—about Lone Fir Cemetery—and offered to publish the series. Working with them made the project more professional than I ever could have done on my own. With the Dill Pickle Club, we came up with the idea for the ten stories the series would cover and then I asked some of my favorite Portland artists who I thought would be excited about the project to draw a comic for far less money than their talent is worth. There are two things I love about this project. First: Writing a script, then handing it over to an artist who turns my story into something completely different—an actually fun, engaging book. Trusting the artists I collaborated with and encouraging them to take creative control of the scripts paid off in the form of artwork whose imaginative quality always took me by surprise. Second: Many people have told me that they enjoyed reading the comics. It’s great to create something people love to read and hold.
Are you from Oregon? You seem to have such a passion for this place; just wondering where that stems from.
I’m not from Oregon, I grew up in a small town in Southern California and first came to Portland as a teenager to work as a science camp counselor for OMSI. I loved the city then and I still love it now. I’m interested in Oregon history because I’m interested in all history—I like to learn a lot about the places where I live: how they work, what was here before me, and how they got to be the way they are today.
You work as a journalist and also have a passion for comics and zines. How did you get into journalism, and how long have you been making comics and zines?
I’m one of those rare people who’s still on Plan A for their life. I’ve wanted to be a journalist ever since I was a kid. I published a few issues of a family newspaper in second grade—I remember one story was about a family scandal: “Dad makes pancakes for dinner!”—and I thought the best job in the world would be writing for the New York Times magazine. I work a lot, but it doesn’t feel like work because I don’t dread it. Being a reporter is an excellent excuse to be curious. I’ve been doing comics ever since I was a little kid, too. My older brother was into drawing, so he and I would make up characters and draw stories all the time. My characters were mostly my dogs as superheroes. Dogs wearing capes! I still think that’s a good idea. I’m not sure why most people stop drawing when they get older, but I never did. I DID throw away all my Tintin T-shirts in junior high because they attracted too much teasing, but I always had a great group of friends who thought it was cool that I drew comics that I’d photocopy for them. I didn’t hear the word “zine” until college. I thought I invented the medium.
Anyway, I love writing stories and publishing them. I rarely write or draw anything that I don’t share with at least a couple people. Whether it’s a photocopied comic that I mail to a dozen friends or an article that is published for an audience of 40,000, I think it comes from that impulse to share.
Did you go to journalism school?
I did not. I graduated in 2008 from Grinnell College, which is like Reed, but in Iowa. I majored in history, which is like journalism for dead people. I’ve never gone to journalism school because I don’t want to deal with the debt and I like learning by doing. Also, like I said, I’m curious about everything. Liberal arts colleges are great for people who like to learn about most things and don’t want to be boxed in by a single subject.
Do you consider yourself a journalist-cartoonist hybrid? Who do you see as your colleagues in the genre of journalism comics? (I suppose that follow-up question only applies if you see yourself this way!)
I like telling some stories in prose and some stories in comics, I think the only difference is the audience and the goal of the work, really. I don’t think I have any colleagues in comics because I feel like everyone who makes comics is better than me. But several Portlanders do work similar to the history comics series: Sascha Krader, Khris Soden, Emi Gennis. There are a handful of excellent comics journalists that I know of and probably a lot that I don’t: Susie Cagle, Matt Bors, Sarah Glidden.
Who are your biggest influences?
I have no idea. I’m making this all up as I go along.
Tell me about the book you’re writing. What led you to the topic and to take on such a big project? Do you have a publisher, or do you plan to self-publish?
I’m working on a nontraditional guide to relationships called Sex from Scratch. Most relationship books are terrible, they’re goal-oriented: How to Snag a Man and Get Married! My friends and I are often talking about relationships, but there are not many books out there that approach relationships in a relevant way. Sex from Scratch is based on a year’s worth of interviews with people who’ve learned what works and what doesn’t in all different types of monogamous and nonmonogamous relationships, all pulled together with a modern, feminist, sex-positive focus. It’s being published by Microcosm, due out in spring of 2014.
I’m dying to hear about your trailer/office. What gave you the idea? Is it claustrophobic?
MY TRAILER GOT TOWED!! So sad. I live in a really tiny house with my boyfriend. Our house is the size of most peoples’ kitchens. It’s like living on a boat. So for about a year, a friend parked his vintage trailer outside and we used it as an office. It had a little table, a little bed, a little sink, and a bunch of typewriters. But I guess my neighbors finally got sick of it taking up space, because it got a tow warning.
I hear you also work in the secret writer’s room at Central Library. What’s it like working there?
Sarah Mirk will be reading Saturday January 26, 8pm at The Waypost, 3120 N. Williams Ave. Check out her blog! — GRIDLORDS