Friday, July 14, 2017

Introducing High-Low Intersection: #1: Whit Taylor Interviews Miranda Harmon

Welcome to the first edition of High-Low Intersection, an occasional (and hopefully soon to be regular) feature that will highlight reviews, essays and interviews by other writers about comics, specifically for this site. They will be posted on High-Low's regular blank day (Friday) when they appear. There are so many excellent writers about comics and too few of them have a regular outlet for their work. On to our first feature: artist and writer Whit Taylor interviews up-and-coming cartoonist Miranda Harmon.
Miranda Harmon first caught my attention a few years ago on Tumblr. Her cute, but fierce character design, paired with her relatable one panel comics and autobio stories about feelings and relating to the world, show a young cartoonist with a fearlessness towards tackling the trickier parts of being a human. I recently spoke with her about how she got into comics, her process, and what she’s been up to lately.

  1. What’s your comics origin story? (aka. When and why did you start making comics?)
The first comics I remember making were heavily inspired by Garfield, my first obsession. I was around age 8 or 9, and my main character was named Marie, and she was a blue cat with Powerpuff Girl eyes. She was in love with a cat who was named after a boy from my school who I had a crush on!
I started drawing journal comics when I was in my senior year of high school, and they’re all very embarrassing now. I was introspective in the same way all 17-year-olds are. Then I went to Goucher College and studied fine arts and art history, expecting to go into academia or curatorial studies. While I was there I learned about indie comics.

I went to NYCC in 2011 and met some webcomics people, and it seemed like a good time. Then I went to my first SPX in 2013, and I started to make comics friends through twitter. That sealed the deal for me! I was surprised that I could participate as well as be a fan, and I was so happy to find a community.

Even though I wasn’t published, nobody could stop me from making zines and that was exciting to me. I liked that comics was separate from my academic career, in that way it felt like I had control over this new part of my life. My professors were supportive but didn’t know what to tell me, besides to keep going.

  1. It seems like in the last year or so, your comics have exploded in popularity, especially on Tumblr and Twitter. What do you attribute this to?
In late 2015 I finished a long, sincere journal comic about an experience I had with a podcast. I miscalculated and thought that nobody would care about that comic, but it turns out a lot of people connected to my story. After that I started to get more opportunities and eyes on my work. It feels like I’m oversimplifying but I really do look back on that one comic and the response to it, and I think that was a turning point for me.

I became much more confident about sharing my work after that. I started to believe in myself as an artist. For the first time making a comic made me feel powerful and strong, and I want to keep chasing that feeling forever.  

Whit: Are you referring to Harmontown?

Yep, that’s the one!

  1. Much of your work focuses on your emotional realm, including self-worth, relating the outside world, relationships, and mental health. What has your experience been with sharing this publicly, both for you and others?

When I make quick journal comics in my sketchbook, I try to make every part of the process as easy and fast as possible. Part of that is trying not to worry about any audience reaction. I feel like that way I am able to be more honest.

But when I sit down and spend time making something with more intent, it can be difficult because I don’t want to hurt anyone with my work. In one journal comic, I show myself explaining to a therapist that I feel, “rotten.” After I made this comic and put it online, a friend who almost never reads any comics at all sat me down and, crying, told me I’m not rotten and that she was worried about me. I was surprised because I nearly forgot that when I put a comic online, it can be read by anyone! I still think that when I make something it’s only for me and a handful of my friends to see, but the reality is different.

I haven’t made anything yet about real people in my life hurting each other. That’s something I want to do in the future and something that has the potential to really harm those close to me. I don’t know how to best proceed but I think I’ll have to find a way. Autobio doesn’t need to do the same thing for everyone, and I’ve used it as therapy as well as a way to gain some control over how I am received by the world. Both of those are valid but I think I’m at a point where I’d like to do more.
All of my favorite autobio stories are full of conflict, and I know I can’t keep making stories about just my own feelings about myself forever. If I’m being honest about my life and the stories I want to tell, they will be full of messy relationships and embarrassing, horrible moments. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about work by MariNaomi, where she shares her romantic history. I think those stories are fascinating and have a real impact on people, and I want to work towards sharing my own life like that.  

  1. Your artistic style is really charming! I like how it combines thoughtful character design with simplicity. How did you develop your style?

Thank you! I like to draw quickly and I’ve tried to build a visual shorthand that works for me, and I really think I just copied everything I love to look at.

I fell in love with webcomics in the mid 2000’s! The first webcomic I ever read was called VG Cats by Scott Ramsoomair. It was a comic about video games and the two main characters were anthropomorphic cats. I never play a lot of video games so I didn’t get the jokes, but I remember copying the drawing style when I was 14 and something new clicked. It’s been a long time but I think it’s still there in the way I draw! Is that embarrassing? I can’t tell! Sorry to Scott Ramsoomair if he ever reads this.

Luckily I found a lot of different webcomics and each one felt like a little place I could go, and almost none of them were about video games. I spent a lot of time reading KC Green’s work and I still look at my copy of his book, Anime Club, when I want to draw something important. I was also influenced by the comics of Meredith Gran, Magnolia Porter and Kate Beaton. The Internet was an incredible resource when I was a teenager. There were always new things to learn and I could go look at these artists’ work and study it as long as I wanted to.

The book that most changed the way I draw and think about drawing is Joann Sfar’s The Rabbi’s Cat. I bought it in college and read it over and over. It’s full of all these panels like little chaotic worlds that work perfectly. I’m also in love with Sally Cruikshank’s work. Honestly there are so many great illustrators who I owe a lot to, I could keep listing names for a long time! Especially Tove Jansson.

  1. You recently graduated from SAW (Sequential Artists Workshop). What was your experience like and how has it influenced your comics making?

SAW was really perfect for me! I didn’t go to art school but by the end of my undergrad experience I wished I had. When I graduated from college I knew what I wanted to do and didn’t feel like I had spent any time preparing for it. Luckily I went straight to SAW right after Goucher College. I’m from Florida so it was nice to live close to home.

My classmates who I spent all year with were incredible and from all different ages and experience levels. I learned a lot from them, and we had a good chemistry as a class.

Tom Hart, the main teacher and founder of the school, is a big influence on me. He’s a great cartoonist but also a great person, and it was a big deal for me to watch how working artists actually live. During my year at SAW I was able to think a lot about what kind of person I want to be. I learned that I love being part of a community and I can’t do this alone. I want to be the kind of person who brings people together and helps others. I will never forget that Tom told us once, “The best reason to make comics is to show those fuckers.” I think about that every day and it helps guide my work still.

Gainesville was the last place I lived before I moved to LA, and while I don’t regret moving at all, it’ll always hold a place in my heart. I spent ages 22-24 there and I feel it’s where I finally became a person who I’m proud of.

  1. You recently moved to Los Angeles. How are you liking it?

I love it here more than I thought I could love living anywhere! I’ve never lived in a big city before and I’m excited by how much there is to do and how many people there are. I’m tired all the time because I need to work a lot and I feel like I’m always on, but I can tell that even though I’m not producing as much work as before, I’m thriving.

The other day I was on top of my friend Heather’s roof, the sun was setting and it was cool and windy even though it’s the middle of June. The sunsets here are so unbelievable. I could see Griffith Observatory, and the Hollywood sign, and everything, and I kept asking myself in my head over and over if it was real. I knew I wanted to live here for years, and it was a big jump. I’m lucky to have so many people supporting me.

  1. What are some of your hopes and goals going forward with your comics?

I want to really sit down and work on a longer fictional narrative. I love making autobio work and I don’t want to stop but I want to get better at fiction. I have some ideas and I’m a little afraid to begin, but I know I need to take those steps! I think I’ve gotten away with doing what comes easy for me for a long time. There’s nothing wrong with easy but I want to stretch more and get stronger in other areas.

  1. What comics are you reading right now?

Currently I’m reading Ariol, the Three Donkeys by Emmanuel Guilbert and Marc Boutavant, and Spaniel Rage by Vanessa Davis. I love Vanessa Davis’ work, I am very inspired by the way she draws and records her life. I also just read through all of Octopus Pie by Meredith Gran again because it ended. Octopus Pie is my favorite comic ever made, I can’t stop thinking about it!

  1. Do you have any upcoming projects you can share with us?

Not really! In the past year, I’ve been focused on moving and surviving. Unfortunately, I’ve pushed my personal comics work to the back for a little bit, but I feel like I’m finally stable enough to get back on that horse. I’d like to make a new minicomic before OC zine fest in August. I’m thinking it’ll be about a monster who goes to an important business lunch and messes everything up. I’ve also working on a couple of webcomic ideas that I’d like to get started before too long, and I have a picture book idea that I’m developing. And of course there’s also always journal comics I want to make, I really want to document this time in my life as best as I can because I want to remember it and process it fully.

  1. What advice would you give to fans of your work who are looking to make their own comics?

People should come before work if you can help it. When you’re making friends, find your peers instead of chasing down your heroes. Keep reminding everyone that you exist by making comics and showing up. It can feel lonely at first but in my experience people respond to sincerity and kindness. Really listen and get to know people and draw from your own experiences when you make comics.

I would also say that it’s not the worst thing in the world to make a bad drawing! It can be intimidating because when you put something out on the Internet, there’s the potential for a lot of people to look at it. But don’t let that scare you away from making things. Everyone at some point has looked back on old work and felt embarrassed. The best thing I made a year ago makes me cringe to look at now and I’m prepared for that to always be the case!

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