LIZ PRINCE WON'T DRAW YOUR @#$&!
Liz Prince creates comics that are personal, snarky and endearing. Her recent book, Delayed Replays is now out on Top Shelf, and we recently sat down to talk about comics, wetting the bed, relationships, and what she probably won't draw.
MN: What's your new book called?
LP: It's called Delayed Replays. It's a collection of three-panel comic strips that I've been posting on my blog for the past couple of years.
MN: And what was the title of your first book?
LP: My first book was called Will You Still Love Me If I Wet The Bed? and it was a collection of short, one-page comics about my relationship with my then-boyfriend.
MN: Your "then-boyfriend"... so it's not going on anymore?
LP: No. I guess you and I haven't talked in a while. (laughs)
MN: When I think of your comics, I think of them as very DIY...
LP: Yeah, I'm like Fugazi.
MN: Can you talk about how you got started, what your motivation was? How did you start making the work and getting it out?
LP: Gosh, it's so hard to remember now. Basically, I've always known that I wanted to draw comics. When I was in third grade I thought I wanted to be an animator, but then I found out how much work actually goes into that, so I said "fuck that." I decided to devote my attention to comics.
Back then I was reading things like Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge and the Disney comics, things like that. So the stuff I was drawing back then, up through high school, was all cutesy characters that had adventures and things like that. I don't remember exactly when I was introduced to my first auto-bio comic, I think it was probably around ninth or tenth grade. Then I realized that I could draw comics about myself, which is what I was really interested in talking about anyway. So from then on I started doing these autobiographical comics that would be published in zines and some newspapers around Santa Fe. That was basically my portfolio to get into art school at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.
Shortly after that, I started making my own mini-comics and going to conventions. I was selling them to comic book stores that sold things like self-published mini-comics that were just Xeroxed.
MN: I was teaching at the Museum School at that time, and I remember you just showing up and dropping this stuff like a bomb. Suddenly, everybody was saying "Have you seen the latest Liz Prince comic?"...
LP: That's right, because Kristilyn Stevenson, who was another student there at the time -- I think she was a fourth-year when I was a first-year -- she and her friends had done this comic for the animation room called, I guess "B113 Comics" which was the room number. So, when I started school there, we started doing that comic together. At first it was just basically her and I, just photocopying work every week, or every other week, and leaving it outside the animation room. But then we started making it more like an anthology, where other people who went to the school would submit. We would photocopy it for free, stealing copies with the department code and putting it out there.
MN: Can you describe the comics a little? What is the work like? What is the style, what are you interested in? What's the meta-narrative?
LP: Oh, "meta-narrative." No one told me I was going to have to use art terms!
Well, they are mindless minutia of my everyday life, that I project onto everyone else. The drawing style is a little sketchy, a lot of times with Will You Still Love Me and with the strips that are in Delayed Replays, they are definitely less finished work. Just pen on paper, no real planning. With Will You Still Love Me If I Wet The Bed, that actually began as a sketchbook for comics that I eventually wanted to flesh out, and put real time into drawing.
I think I was in two artist book classes at the time, and to consolidate my projects I was using that sketchbook as the project for both of them. People thought that the sketchy, unfinished nature of the art lent itself to the story... it became kind of formalist in a way. It helps the "narrative" -- use quotation marks around the "narrative" because it's not really one continuous narrative, but each strip paints part of the bigger picture.
MN: When I think of the comics, specifically their style, the surface reading would be that they are almost just simplistic line drawings. But, then you spend some time with them, and there is a lot more complexity there that only reveals itself when you spend some time with the strips. In the same way that you put quotation marks around the "narrative," there's a "bigger picture" there that only reveals itself when you spend some quality time with a bunch of strips that don't seem like they're going anywhere.
LP: Basically, I think that the way I've started thinking about it more recently is that I was trying to get away from the short strip. I was trying to get rid of the format, and work on longer graphic novels. But I keep coming back to it, so I kind of consider myself my own historian now. It's like I'm leaving myself notes to remember my own past by, because otherwise why would I remember the time when I was drinking a juice box in the library and some girl laughed at me? I probably wouldn't, but I drew a comic about it so now everyone knows what a bitch that girl is.
MN: You get your vengeance out in comics!
LP: No, not usually. Sometimes.
MN: Let's fast-forward a little bit. Was your first book on Top Shelf?
LP: Yep, both books have been on Top Shelf.
I had initially created a mini-comic version of Will You Still Love Me If I Wet The Bed, which was not the title of it yet. It didn't have a title, it was just this forty-page mini-comic that I had made. I had printed inkjet vellum for the covers, and I had sewn it onto card stock. I tried to make it stand out from other mini-comics that I had seen before. I was selling them at stores and I had actually gone on tour with Kevin [Micka]'s band Animal Hospital, and I was selling comics at the shows and it was going really well. I guess people didn't expect to see comics at rock shows and were, surprisingly, buying them.
So, when I got back from that tour I had emails from the people that I had sold them to, and from the stores I had sold them to, saying they had sold out right away. People said "Oh, I want to give this to a friend of mine. Can I buy another copy?" But it took so long to sew the cover on and to photocopy more, so I sent it to Top Shelf and Highwater Books -- this was right before Highwater announced that they were bankrupt and that they weren't going to be a publishing company anymore. So I didn't hear back from them, but Top Shelf got back to me right away and said they were interested in doing a book.
MN: I know that other cities have active zine culture, Chicago for example. Is there a zine culture here in Boston?
LP: There is a zine culture, I am actually not a part of it. There are things like, well there was a Boston Zine Fair a couple months ago that I didn't table at. It was at AIB, and I heard it was great. For some reason I never hear about these shows until they are happening.
MN: So, Will You Still Love Me If I Wet The Bed? -- where did the title come from?
LP: I'm pretty bad at titling my work, it's something that has always given me a lot of anxiety. The original mini-comic version didn't have a title, it was just called "A Comic by Liz Prince," but that wouldn't really work for Top Shelf so I had to come up with a title and I basically just named it after one of the strips in the book where I ask Kevin if he would still love me if I wet the bed when we were laying in bed. Which, actually, has become a kind of commonality. I get a lot of emails from people saying "It's like you're looking into my life! I say that all the time!" and I get a lot of emails from people that say "I DID wet the bed!" which is not the point, because I actually haven't ever wet the bed.
MN: Let's talk about Delayed Replays. What is the focus, are you doing more storytelling with this one?
LP: Well, it's all three-panel strips that don't really have a focus, whereas Will You Still Love Me was just about me and Kevin, these are about anything I feel like talking about. So, me with my cat or being at work, being on the bus really angry... things like that. I don't think the narrative is more cohesive because it goes in all different directions, but I think that the two are companion books. Everything you ever wanted to know about Liz Prince but were afraid to ask.
MN: How do you feel about having your artwork and your life so intertwined? What about this notion that your audience knows all these personal things about you?
LP: I guess I have a higher threshold of what I find embarrassing than other people, but obviously if there are things I don't want other people to know, I just don't talk about them. I think that sometimes people make the mistake of assuming that I am a certain type of person, because if you're just reading my comics your only getting one side of me. It's like I get to build up my own legend however I want to.
MN: Do you find yourself changing your life to be more interesting for the comics? Is there some feedback from the comics into the Liz Prince day-to-day presence?
LP: No. Only once or twice that I can actually conjure have I ever done anything because I thought "This would make a funny comic." Most of the time, what will happen is that if something shitty happens to me, I think "Well, at least I can draw a comic about it," but I hardly ever manipulate a situation to make it comic-worthy. I do have some friends who are like "I'm gonna say this now! Will that be in the comic?" and, well, probably not.
MN: Are there people who walk around you on eggshells because they don't want to be in the comic?
LP: If someone doesn't want to be in the comic, no one has directly expressed that to me yet. There were things I drew comics about in Will You Still Love Me If I Wet The Bed that Kevin said "I'd prefer if this wasn't a comic." So some of that stuff got cut. For some of the things it was an easier fix, like "Hey, can you have me wearing pants in this one?" So, alright, I won't draw your dick, that's fine.
MN: That's nice of you.
LP: Liz Prince, I won't draw your dick!
[Note: The full, unedited version of this interview will appear on the Bad At Sports podcast in the near future. We will post an update when it comes out. In the unedited version, Prince and Nash talk more about comic artists in Boston, the Miracle5, greeting card clichés, cats and much more.]
All images are courtesy of the artist.