Saturday 19 July 2008

Erika Moen interview

Erika Moen

*Location: Portland, OR. USA

*How would you describe your art? Friendly, bouncy, a little bit vulgar but always good natured.

*Currently working on: Collecting my "DAR" strips (journal comics) into a minicomic for the APE convention in April, coloring chapter one of "Dominion", beginning my first graphic novel (it's porn!) which may possibly be titled "Bojingo" but I'm not sure yet.

*Day job: Lady-of-All-Trades for the animation studio fashionbuddha (

*3 Likes: - My vibrator - Everything about comics (making them, reading them, conventions, fellow fans, etc) - Portland

*3 dislikes: - My partner, Matt, living in England - Fair-weather friends - Being insecure

*Daily inspirations: Colors, coffee shops, interacting with people, bus rides, pretty girls, tattoos, nature, street art, comics and cartoons

*People & artists you admire:
Leslie Levings, Matt Nolan and his family, the other members of Pants Press, Jenn Manley Lee, Linda Medley, Ellen Forney, Christopher Baldwin, Derek Kirk Kim, Jess Fink, Colleen Coover, Anne Moloney, Apnea and Lithium Picnic, Raina Telgemeier, Eleanor Davis, and so many more!

*Favourite album(s) to listen to when working: You know, I'm actually kind of music illiterate- most of the time I really don't know what I'm listening to, since mix CDs are pretty much my sole source of expanding my library. I do enjoy Ella Fitzgerald, Susan McCorkle, and generally ladies singing jazzy, flirty stuff. DON'T LISTEN TO COMEDY ROUTINES WHEN YOU'RE TRYING TO INK. I made that mistake so you guys don't have to.
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This interview took place in March 2007. All images reproduced with thanks to Erika Moen ©
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Hi Erika, how are you? What are you up to at the moment?
Hey! Work is a bit slow right now, so I'm filling this out in the office of fashionbuddha-- which makes me feel a biiiiit guilty but I'm sure I'll get over it. Project-wise I've been dedicating my time to assembling a collection of my journal comics (DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary) into their first minicomic that I'll be selling at the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco next month. It's a little frustrating, because I'm working with comics I've already completed when I feel like I SHOULD be progressing with my first graphic novel, Bojingo. It's going to be a book of short porno stories and sexysilly coloring (I guess I should say "colouring" since this is a UK zine, huh?) book activity things. And then on top of that I'm supposed to be coloring ANOTHER comic that my friends and I did together. It'll all get done eventually, I'm just impatient. Oh, and then there's these postcards and prints I need to draw up for promoting myself and selling online.... sigh!

When did you first get started with art?
Have you always preferred creating cartoons and illustrations over other forms of art? Why is this?

My mom says I've always drawn, but I didn't really GET INTO art until the 8th grade when I was about... 14? Batman: The Animated Series totally blew my mind in terms of its style and I got swept up into its online fandom, specifically the sect of Harley Quinn worshippers. I drew LOTS of fanart of her and posted it online, which led to me creating my own little character (who’s actually going to be appearing in my porno book almost ten years later!) and drawing up comics of all these Batman villains and fan-characters running around. The internet is what really got me drawing. I would get a really positive response to my fanart, so I'd go out and draw even more.
Back when I was a kid though, I was drawing comics-- even if I didn't realize them as such. I've found these booklets of kitty princesses and butterflies that were all speaking through word bubbles and doing shit that makes sense when you're a tiny person. Drawing pinups or landscapes or just... STILL images are really difficult for me because I really NEED to tell a story. Comics is (are?) the most natural form of communication for me. While I enjoy writing dialogue, describing a scene or the way characters are responding to each other is stupidly hard for me-- I just want to SHOW people what I'm seeing in my head. Communicating with others is really why I do art in the first place. I want to talk with people! I want them to see the things I see! I want to relate with others! Creating comics have very effectively accomplished this for me. People just PAY ATTENTION to images combined with words.
Has Jack Chick made it over the ocean to you guys? He's this crazily religious bigot who has the most hateful philosophies: men should dominate women, non-heteros are evil, role playing is satanic, etc. Completely nuts stuff that I would normally ignore-- EXCEPT that he uses comics to express his opinions. Because they're in tiny comics (about the size of my hand), they've become incredibly popular! If he were using plain text to spread his word, nobody would listen. But people just have to look at words and pictures when they're smooshed together. Which is not to imply that he's earning over converts (his comics are sought after because they're just so crazy and entertaining), but then again he IS getting attention from masses of strangers who otherwise wouldn't give him the time of day. That's what really draws me to comics: you can get people who are already closed to your point of view to read your material.

I am aware that you graduated from Pitzer College with a degree in Illustrated Storytelling.
That sounds like such an awesome course. Did you find the experience rewarding? How has that experience shaped your artistic output?
Yeah, I graduated in 2006! Illustrated Storytelling is, of course, a fancy way of saying 'comic books!!!' When I was choosing colleges during my senior year of high school, I decided that being an artist is not a stable career choice and I would not be pursuing it in my "higher education", so I didn't even LOOK at the art departments of the schools. At the end of my first semester at Pitzer I realized that I was going to be an artist, regardless of my common sense. On the upside: Pitzer is very encouraging of its students who want to create their own specialized majors, but on the downside: their art department is.. uh... lacking? I mean, they've GOT one. It's just not as intensive or expansive as I would have preferred. Anyway, I drew up a proposition for my Illustrated Storytelling degree (which was really a mixture of art and English majors) and got it approved with the help of my advisor, Al Wachtel. He was delighted with my proposal and really went to bat for me to get it approved.
My experience at Pitzer was VERY rewarding; it was very much up to me to get the education I wanted out of the resources they had to offer. Nearly every single class let me do a comic for my final project (including math!) which helped me come up with some very unusual books. Now I am looking for a graduate school to get my Masters degree because 1) I really want the intense GOING TO ART SCHOOL experience that Pitzer couldn't really provide, and 2) so I can teach art (preferably comics!) at other colleges.
I just want to SHOW people what I'm seeing in my head. Communicating with others is really why I do art in the first place.

Are you currently still working for an animation company?
I am! My first job out of college was to work as a Production Assistant for LAIKA on the Henry Selick's (of "Nightmare Before Christmas" fame) stop-motion feature film, Coraline. About a month and a half ago I quit after, uh, six+ months there and begun at fashionbuddha, which has already been an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable experience. Mind you, I'm not doing art for either of these studios. Originally I was hoping that working in an animation studio would be my entry-way into being a professional artist, but now I'm pretty content to do the non-art stuff at work and then go home and work on my own projects. Someday I would love to be paid to do comics and illustrations... sigh!

Do you find that your varied artistic skills and techniques are transferable between the mediums in which you work? Is the animation and illustration work comparable?
Weeeell, like I said above, I really don't get to use my artistic experience in the kinds of work I get hired for. It's a bit discouraging, because I identify myself based off of what I am doing and if I'm only employable as a non-art person it makes me insecure that all I'm good for are non-art tasks.
But then again, I'm learning how to work with video at my new job, and that's been a lot of fun.

How does working freelance (creating illustrations and comics for various publications), alongside your day job work out?
Do you find the time to do all that you'd like to do, in terms of creativity and productivity?
Yes! My new job at fashionbuddha is currently part-time, so I spend the rest of my time working on my comics. Plus, the majority of the other employees are also cartoonists, so there's a sense of having a comic community at work. My boss has also encouraged me to learn how to use Illustrator, InDesign, and other artist programs during my down time, so that's really awesome.

You create an online comic diary (D.A.R: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary) which is updated kinda regularly on the Webcomics Nation site. You have said that your journal comics are 'just like all the other ones out there' except that yours are more gay, and contain more farting!
How long have you been aware of other comic journals online, and do you enjoy reading others' comic diaries? Did this inspire your decision to publish this aspect of your work online?
I first became aware of journal comics through Drew Weing's ( in 2002? His is still one of the top best, even though it's stopped running. For the most part I enjoy journal comics as a genre, since I love peeking into other peoples' lives. I really love that you can honestly SEE someone else's experience through their eyes. They create a sense of humanity and community for me; allowing me to poke into their thoughts and relate to them. ...That said, there's a certain type of journal comic that bugs the crap out of me. Those cutesy, super simple ones where they eat a piece of toast and then go to sleep; ones where there's no sense of purpose. Comics that are created with no sense of purpose ON PURPOSE are fine! I just can't stand the stupid ones! That is my logical argument: I DON'T LIKE DUMB COMICS.
As to publishing online: that's not really something I thought about, I put them up online because it didn't even occur to me to put them elsewhere. At the time, the internet was my SOLE source of getting my artwork seen and even now that I publish my minicomics and have comics in some anthologies, the net is still the primary place where people check out my stuff.

How do you choose and remember what you'd like to depict from your day?
Anything that stands out to me during the day is inspiration for comicking, really. I take my sketchbook EVERYWHERE and am constantly scribbling stick figure scripts of my feelings and just the random things I see and hear. Once I was waiting for my bus and watched these two really posh women walking their tiiiiiiiiiny dogs across the street and then they both simultaneously scooped them up and put them in their oversized purses-- I can't explain how, but there was something ridiculously bizarre and absurd about it. After I got on the bus I sat down and started stick figuring it out and when I drew the last panel the girl sitting next to me says 'Hey! That’s just what happened! WASN'T THAT WEIRD??' It was totally rad.

Was it important to you to produce a comic journal online that was different from the majority of others -- And that it featured or represented gay lives and queer culture?
The only thing I was (and am!) hoping to do with my journal comics are relate the funny and universally human moments in my life with other people, I honestly hadn't even thought about how my strip is different from others until you asked! DAR does depict some queer culture since I am a queer lady, but I don't think it shows enough that it can be labelled a GAY COMIC-- especially now that I am dating a person of the opposite sex. Honestly, I wish I could gay it up a bit more.

For you, is the realism of lives (including all that aforementioned farting!) within your comics important to its overall success?
Hehehe, DAR really isn't very successful ;) It has VERY low traffic, which is understandable since I don't stick to a regular updating schedule. The realism/farting is definitely important to its tone and the type of people that enjoy it.

The works of yours that I am most familiar with are your self-published comics and comic-zines. I love how within and through these you have been able to approach and explore such topics as gender boundaries and stereotypes, queer culture, elements of love loss and hurt within relationships, issues of homophobia, sexuality, sensuality, masturbation and lesbian sex. That's quite a rostrum of material! And material that I imagine a broad range of different folks can identify with.
Wow, thank you so much! I'm crazy flattered.

You have spoken in previous interviews about how important it is to you to make comics as a method for social education.
How useful and natural do you personally think comics are as a mode for this sort of communication?
INCREDIBLY SO. I already rambled on about this earlier in the interview (sorry! I'm answering the questions as I come to them), but to summarize: people will read your (unpopular, oppositional, offensive) views if they are conveyed with pictures. Images are a powerful form of communication. I've had several experiences with people telling me they are homophobic (not using that word, naturally) but after reading my comics they actually sympathized with queers for the first time or better understood the difficulties that queer people go through.

When did you first begin self-publishing your comcs, and why did you decide to go down that route (as opposed to/alongside more mainstream publishing)?
Again, it never occurred to me to publish them any other way. Of course, now I'm dying to get them "officially" published, but back around... uh... 2002? 2003? I just wanted to have something to hand out at comic conventions.

Do you find that the personal selling, distribution or trading of your work within the DIY comics and zining "scene" allows you to connect more with, and gain a sense of who your readers and audience are?
The majority of my readers find my work online first and then buy the comics just to support me (which is RAD) but selling my minis at conventions is extra special in that I get to meet people face-to-face. My heart beats extra hard whenever someone comes up to give me any sort of positive feedback. I'm so grateful that anybody relates to or enjoys my stories, because that's the whole reason why I make them in the first place. My art is not done until it's been made available for an audience to see and respond.

I've read that you're a member of Pants Press. Could you explain to me how that evolved, and what you guys do with and within Pants Press.
Back around 2001 we all were posting on the same art forum and became friends through mutual admiration. We were all going to meet up at a convention and one of us suggested putting a minicomic together (which I'd never even heard of before!), soooo we did and gave it out for free to all our favourite artists. By the end of the convention Real Artists were actually ASKING us for the comic before we could offer it! It was pointed out that people wanted a group name so they could talk about us more easily and I suggested 'Pants Press'. We've got a website at
Originally we all gave feedback to each other on our projects and collaborated together and did the occasional group minicomic, but now that we're entering grown-up-ness and getting our careers started we're a group in pretty much name only. Some people have naturally gravitated more towards others and like any group of people there's drama flare-ups and talking shit. I dunno. It used to be really fun when we were in high school, now its more difficult and disappointing. But people know the name! So we still table together at conventions because people know to look for Pants Press.

In terms of collaborating with others, you have also had work featured in many anthologies, including 'Flight', 'True Porn', and 'Unsafe for all Ages'. Do you enjoy the process of contributing to anthologies, and showing your work alongside others as part of a collective venture?
I LOVE collaborations. Love them like you would not believe. I already know the stories and images that are in my head, which is personally bor-ing. But when I get to work off of someone else's ideas? ZING. It really lights me up creatively.

How fun has it been working on so many 'adult' anthologies?
VERY FUN. Growing up I was really sexually repressed (My first kiss was 6th grade. My second? 12th grade) so I've really revelled in discovering how utterly delightful sex and sexuality are. I love drawing naughty pictures and finding fun porno.

One of the comics that you stressed was the most difficult for you to make, and then put on your website for all to see was 'Examining My Racism'. The honesty that you displayed within this comic, and your explanation that you intend for it to examine your own prejudice and forge a better understanding of what you need and intend to address to change within yourself is quite an extreme and exposing, yet important example of comics acting as (personal) education. I think that it would be really useful if more people, and society itself, was more open to externalising institutionalised prejudices as a route towards realisation, education, understanding, and ultimately changing them. Why did you personally decide that it was relevant, and important to publish this comic on your website, despite your personal discomfort?
Like I said earlier, my art is not finished until it has reached an audience-- I HAD to put it online, otherwise it wouldn't be done. It's easy to put up stories that endear you to people, but it's kind of unfair to invite people into your life and only show them the good qualities about you. It didn't feel fair to only put up the 'good' stories about me, it felt misleading. My autobio comics depict ALL aspects of my life, not just the enjoyable stories. I dunno. I have hella 'White Person Guilt' and still feel uncomfortable with that story existing

What other projects would you love to do further down the line – do you have any 'dream projects' that you'd like to achieve?
I want to make my porn comic!! Halfway through this interview my friends suggested a new name for it: Sweetbox. I am totally digging on that, since it's the name of a flower but is also so ripe with mental images. Yeeeeeah. Sweetbox.
There's also a story I have very ROUGHLY laid out about my tattoos, but I don't think I'll get to work on that one for a long while yet. Right now I have to finish all the other comics I'm working on. Oh! And there's this children's story about a duck that swims through the bottom of a pond that I've had in my head for YEARS now. Sigh, I wish there were more hours in the day.
My ultimate goal is to be paid to draw comics. That would be amazing. And validating. I've been told repeatedly by my peers that I don't draw well enough, but comics are what I honestly love. I don't WANT to do anything else.

Thank you so much for interviewing me, Melanie! Holy moly, it took me two days to fill this puppy out.
Good luck with everything!!

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