Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thirty Under Thirty #5: Juliacks

Rob interviews the cartoonist Juliacks, the latest subject in the "30 Under 30" series of interviews, wherein an emerging cartoonist is profiled. I just profiled Juliacks at length, and I find both her training as an artist and point of view to be quite distinctive. She's the rare artist who approaches a problem from many different angles and is comfortable working in a number of different media in order to fully wrap her mind around an idea.

I. Formative Years

CLOUGH: Where did you grow up? Were/are your parents of an artistic bent?

JULIACKS: I moved around a bit growing up and lived in Los Angeles, Munich Germany, and New Jersey. My parents are not artists but they are creative in their own ways. They have shaped me in their zeal for knowledge and interest in multifarious stories while also being seemingly fearless.

CLOUGH: What effect, if any, did moving around a lot have on you as both a person and formative artist?

JULIACKS: I adapt to different settings and people somewhat easily. I'm attracted to people who seem unapproachable. I like challenges. I absorb places and people and also do not necessarily feel attached to one place. Sometimes I feel like a transient but I think I will eventually find a place that fits. Maybe not.

CLOUGH: When did you first start drawing?

JULIACKS: I remember drawing a collaborative fingerpainting with some kids in German kindergarten.

CLOUGH: Were your parents supportive of art as an activity?

JULIACKS: I think I always loved to draw but was definitely encouraged and supported by my parents, although I didn't always agree with their opinions. My father actually collected S. Clay Wilson and R. Crumb back in the day but my mother made him throw away those comics because she was afraid my siblings and I would discover them.

CLOUGH: Did you draw with your parents, friends, and/or siblings?

JULIACKS: I think that I mostly drew with friends. I had one friend in particular with whom I would make silly drawings. I always liked drawing games like the exquisite corpse and things like that.

CLOUGH: Do you approach each page knowing exactly what you're planning to do, or do you approach it as an improvisational exercise at times?

JULIACKS: Lately I've been planning out each page. The text determines what the page will look like.

CLOUGH: When did you first start drawing comics?

JULIACKS: I was drawn to comics in high school and started making ones with a very silly bent like transgendered robots that find love with my friend Alice Crackel. I didn't feel confident about my own writing skills until college.

CLOUGH: It's interesting that you were more confident as an artist than as a writer. How do you perceive yourself now--as an artist who writes, a writer who draws, or do you now perceive no difference between the two?

JULIACKS: They are both equally important but I do find writing extremely challenging whereas art is more of an intuitive impulse, but still hard. In turn, I think of myself as both...but still lean more toward art because it comes more naturally.

CLOUGH: I know you went to Carnegie Mellon. Did you study art there? Why did you choose to go to a liberal arts school as opposed to an art institute?

JULIACKS: I went to Carnegie Mellon University because I wanted to be in a University setting where I could take humanities courses. Specifically I went there for this special degree called the Bachelor of Humanities and Arts which is an integrative arts and humanities degree. My concentrations were art and creative writing. The art school was based in conceptual thinking determining the method and medium of execution. This was great for me as I was able to explore my stories with all the freedom I wanted.

CLOUGH: How did this program enable you to become a more confident writer?

JULIACKS: Well the School of Humanities at Carnegie Mellon housed one of the first departments of creative writing in the country. This department is special because there aren't any graduate students which means that if you are a dedicated and enthusiastic writer you can have wonderful mentors with small workshops. My mentors were especially Hilary Masters, and also Jane McCafferty, Jane Bernstein, and Sharon Dilworth.

CLOUGH: How long have you been reading comics?

JULIACKS: I started as a kid but was never zealous just about comics. I've always been a bookworm. What is it about the form that inspired you to want to make them yourself? In high school I started reading comics by R. Crumb (my friend's Dad didn't throw them out) and Daniel Clowes and loved how raw and personal and graphically tactile they were. There is and was something exciting about them in the reading experience. I like how comics are a combination of many different forms of thinking. Reading and drawing comics when you are really involved makes you think on many different levels: visually, metaphorically, character but also image, icon and symbols, repetition and meter.

CLOUGH: It's interesting that you touch on repetition & meter and later reference John Hankiewicz. Do you see comics as, among other things, a form of poetry?

JULIACKS: I guess when I'm approaching the work I'm looking at the text which I have written which is sometimes written with poetic language. I think the experience of reading comics can be similar to reading poetry because of all the different visual and written elements both in sight and imagination that are happening at the same time.

CLOUGH: Is the act of drawing pleasurable for you, or a chore? Do you draw from life and/or keep a sketchbook?

JULIACKS: I love to draw. Drawing a comic is very challenging for me and each time I start I think that I am relearning how to draw. I used to draw from life and keep a sketchbook but not lately, I keep notebooks for ideas and composition concepts. I tend to draw on papers that are within my reach, I have many notebooks but not one sketchbook. I like to draw when listening to others speak.

CLOUGH: Why is that? Is it something about the rhythm of speech that makes you want to draw ?

JULIACKS: I like having an auditory distraction while drawing. As opposed to the rhythm of the speech, I like listening to other's ideas and stories while engaged with my own work. For some reason it helps me focus.

II. The Working Process

CLOUGH: Unlike most cartoonists, performance is as much a part an expression of your themes is the page itself. What is it about performance art that compels you to do it? Do you value either the page or performance above each other, or do you regard them equally?

JULIACKS: Both mediums are important to my personality and artistic process. Making comics is a solitary, reflective and meditative pursuit, which I am used to doing independently, while performance artworks are collaborative, social, relational, and energetic forces bringing together many people to participate and view live art! I regard them as equally challenging and dynamic and they suit my personality of being an introverted extrovert.

CLOUGH: The way you use text in your comics makes it very much part of the illustration; you focus on making the text illustrative on its own. Why do you do this?

JULIACKS: The way we read images can be interpreted in the same way that we read text. Making text illustrative is another method to tell the story and I find it evocative to think and work within that idea.

CLOUGH: Your pages tend to be crammed full: details, panels, decorative designs, solid blacks. Is this just your intuitive way of composing a page or is this a more deliberate strategy?

JULIACKS: Well, in a general sense I think artwork that is full of details makes you look longer and possibly see the picture differently each time you look at it. I like work with layers, showing subtlety and expression. Especially in regards to the book Swell which has certain pages that are intensely dense, the strategy for the first part: Open Faced Sandwich was to contain one scene on one page. This effect would not only impact the emotional presence I was portraying in the story but also show how the character's mind was fragmented and changing with memories and events. The borders on each page are also significant in terms of telling the story for the same reason.

CLOUGH: Your comics have what I call an immersive quality to them, in that the reader is dunked into a character's experience on their own terms. What do you hope your readers get from your comics, and do you feel that your work demands that readers approach your work on its own terms?

JULIACKS: My hope is to portray an engaging story that provokes the reader to be lifted into another world like any other storyteller. When I set out to make comics my mindset isn't to be demanding necessarily. When I am making work I want to be interested in what I am making, so I go slowly in order to become immersed in the page myself. I want the pages to be captivating images so that I am satisfied, otherwise it's a bad day.

CLOUGH: You've done a number of comics collaborations, and of course your performances are often collaborative as well. What is it that you like about working with other artists?

JULIACKS: Other artists have fascinating ideas and perspectives. Collaborations are challenging in that there is always compromise but usually the energy and motivation level is amped up so that you can achieve things you wouldn't otherwise on your own. In addition, besides being stimulated by others' ideas and expertise I like having an outside perspective on the worlds I have created where I am subjective and sometimes unaware of the effects of what I am making. Collaborators can clue you into that outside objective view in an insightful way.

Currently I'm collaborating with director Kathleen Amshoff on the final performance of Swell to coincide with the publishing of either the full book or the third part. We aim to work across disciplines as a means of finding new, transformative languages of performance by making a site-specific, multimedia, interactive performance intertwining the narrative of *Swell *with private rituals in which the audience is invited to participate.

CLOUGH: Your comic with Austin English is simultaneously dense and playful. What were setting out to accomplish with that story?

JULIACKS: That comic was a playful drawing jam where we were having fun just drawing together. I think that later on we could do a more extensive collaboration where the writing and the drawings are more planned out. It would be interesting to see the results.

CLOUGH: How are your collaborations with Matthew Thurber and Olga Volozova different, and why did you want to work with each artist?

JULIACKS: Well, the collaboration with Olga was actually Dylan Williams' (Sparkplug Comics) idea, which I immediately embraced because I thought that she was an interesting artist and I am always up for a challenge. Over the course of this book we have gotten to know one another and it has been a really different way of making a comic for me.
The Matthew Thurber collaboration has yet to be finalized and I'm not sure when it will be finished. That collaboration also comes out of a drawing jam kind of thing where one person starts drawing something and then passes it on to the next person and they build upon it. The one we hope to work on, "The Opera" will hopefully one day be completed. The hope is that each page will be a song and may come with an operatic CD. Who knows?

CLOUGH: What do you get out of these experiences that you don't get working on your own?

JULIACKS: In addition, besides being stimulated by other people's ideas and expertise I like having an outside perspective on the worlds I have created where I am subjective and sometimes unaware of the effects of what I am making. Collaborators can clue you into that outside objective view in an understanding way.

CLOUGH: In what ways do you prefer working on your own?

JULIACKS: I love the freedom to pursue what I want and how I want it. Sometimes it is fun to be in control especially if I have an idea that I want to execute and know that I want to do it in a certain way.

III. The Themes

CLOUGH: A number of the same themes to tend crop up in your comics. I'd like to get your take on why each one of them is important to you as an artist.

JULIACKS: These themes you have selected are large and reflective of different fascinations, life experiences, fears and social causes. I think that many of these themes are relevant to society today and I try to process my own experiences in fictional terms. I feel that in some cases I would like to keep a personal distance between myself and the work. All of these themes are tied together...

CLOUGH: Is there a reason why you prefer not to work in a more explicitly autobiographical manner?

JULIACKS: A couple of reasons: One is that I am not really interested in that genre because it has been produced in so many different forms of comics already. I'm more excited about what you can do with a narrative by constructing characters, a story and a world. Second is that I'm not interested in that kind of exposure and I'd rather process my experiences through writing fiction and sometimes leave them behind altogether by entering someone else's mind.

1. Grief/grieving:

Things I am interested in related to grief and grieving: Repression, death awareness. Today there are adverse reactions: death denial, alienation and shame. How do we process these mourning movements today in a world that doesn't stop to recognize or have satisfactory methods of dealing with this particular form of madness?

2. Mental illness: Fear mongering. The easy lapses. How easy? The inner monologue. The provocations. Alienation. Isolation and the mind. Crazy. How and what is crazy? What is functional? HYSTERIA. Related to aging, the more alone, the more on the fringes--- the more willing to make and think without fear and without logic.

3. Aging. Where do we go physically and mentally? How often do we lose? How many do we love? What if we are alone?
Aging and the search for identity are related in their confusion, their
place in society, and their desire for more.

4. The search for identity, especially as a teenager is the foundation of self. Exploration. Self awareness. Raging.

5. Memory. Our black hole. Where we can get lost. How we define ourselves. How we process our experience. The degradation. The idealization. The abstraction. The loose bits.
Also: neuroscience: the way we tell a story reflects our inner psychological state.

CLOUGH: Can you explain how the latter plays out in your comics?

JULIACKS: The scientific ideas of neuroscience influence my performance installations more than my comics except for now with the book I'm working on Rock That Never Sleeps which features stories about the effects of memory as it wanes. These ideas fascinate me as do the people who are affected by neurological disorders. I like combining these ideas with fiction, although doing this will reflect a probably inaccurate representation of the idea as the scholar propagated.

6. The creative urge. A means to an end. Where does the compulsion to make art come from? For some people art comes out of a need to create. I realize that in a secular world, art-making fills the gap once occupied by community rituals and religion; I am interested in art as a therapeutic process-both its viewing and its creation.

CLOUGH: Do you find that first creating and then later viewing your own art is therapeutic for you?

JULIACKS: Creating work is helpful for synthesizing past experiences and in that way can be cathartic. Viewing my own work at a later date is not.

CLOUGH: What do you feel when you look at your own comics and performances later on?

JULIACKS: It depends on how much distance I have from the work. I usually do not get the response from my own work that I seek out in others, just because I'm too subjective.

IV. Other Questions

CLOUGH: As someone who has been part of both the comics world and the art world, how would you compare the two?

JULIACKS: The concerns of both worlds on the surface seem very different. This question is hard because both groups are so diverse formally and in ideas that I find it hard to grapple with specifics. The art world feels a lot bigger to me, but that may be because the levels of access are different than within comics which is much more accessible. I feel more of a sense of freedom when I think in terms of "art." than in "comics." but then again I feel free in comics to do anything because the medium has tons to explore and expand upon.

CLOUGH: Why do you feel more freedom in "art" as opposed to "comics"--is it the form of comics itself (and perhaps its history) that is limiting, or is it something else?

JULIACKS: I'm not really sure. I think it's related to my personal art school background that pushed students to make experimental individualized work and educated us within a broad spectrum. When I am at conventions there seems to be a dialogue that is contentious about the place of art comics within the tradition of comics and things that herald traditional forms, which isn't bad, but is not as free feeling to me. My view about these terms will probably change because they are based on how I feel today.............and it's all in my head. There aren't rules in comics like anything else.

CLOUGH: Is there a sense of community in either that has been important to you?

JULIACKS: I really loved my art school community that was always encouraging and promoted art creating as a form of research. My professors and fellow students were inspiring in that many had a singular vision but were accepting of other's flights of fancy. I've enjoyed starting to be a part of the comics community where I can have a dialogue with another artist on a few levels and interests. I remember my first Small Press Expo was so exciting to meet so many people who were as into comics as me and who made such sweet work.

CLOUGH: Are you currently able to make a living as a cartoonist/artist?

JULIACKS: Nope, but I am teaching comics and art to kids, so something halfway in between?

CLOUGH: What's the art scene like for you in Los Angeles?

JULIACKS: Well, I have just arrived and still am trying to find my bearings. I need more time for exploring the city and finding my way. Right now I'm not very engaged, but I'm sure it will get easier as time goes by.

CLOUGH: What comics are you currently reading?

JULIACKS: I just read Theo Ellsworth's Capacity and really want the international anthology Glomp, which features work by cartoonists that are portraying comics three dimensionally.

CLOUGH: Whose cartoonists' work do you find most inspiring, and which cartoonists have had the greatest influence on you?

JULIACKS: I always find this question hard because there are different elements that have grabbed me. I love the nuance of Chris Ware, the sincerity and moments of Austin English, the craftmanship of the Closed Caption Comics Crew and Chris Cornwell, the depth of the Codex Serafini, often I'm inspired by other works of art that seem to grasp what I strive for as well. This theater group Back to Back Theater in Australia made this piece, "Small Metal Objects" which was so amazing. and this artist, Eija-Liisa Ahtila makes incredible film art representing the inner workings of the mind in physical form. Language is important to me. I love comics by John Hankiewicz and Paper Rad for that reason. I love books and characters. Mostly, I'm ignorant and need to read, see and hear more and that is why I can't properly answer this question.

CLOUGH: SWELL, in my opinion, is your most ambitious work as a cartoonist. What was the inspiration for this story, and do you perceive yourself as doing something different in this work as opposed to your past comics? How do you feel you've evolved as a cartoonist in the past three or four years?

JULIACKS: This story began as a seedling in the fall of 2007 with the original plot and character founded. Later, while studying abroad in Australia, I lost a close friend from High School. This was a shocking experience for me filled with guilt, regret and assailing grief. I felt alienated and put these emotions into the story I had already structured. At the same time I began studying fiction that played with perspective and time like the author Marguerite Duras and looked back upon old favorites such as Hubert Selby Jr.'s "Last Exit to Brooklyn."

In terms of my evolution, I guess I'm still searching for what I am supposed to be. I still want more from myself. I want Swell when it's all said and done to live up to something unreal but something that I can't escape now. My friend Ben Powell who died kind of challenged me when I was 18 writing, "Where is a comic book that comes down screaming from the sky like a comic book should, full fucks, and lands in yer lap, ignites itself on your general area, and takes off, runnin' into you, the greatest superhero of all, so good it's better than cream dreams of the New Yorker, a super comic man to undermine J. Kavalos and separate Teaneck from the North American Continent. It puts me in contact with a comic to destroy the fucking green areas on the earth and the mold." So hopefully one day I will find it and make it. but i probably won't.

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