Smash Pages Q&A: Ariel Bordeaux

The creator of ‘Deep Girl’ and ‘No Love Lost’ discusses her latest autobiographical comics, which she has been posting daily to Facebook.

Ariel Bordeaux began making in comics in the 1990s, and quickly established herself as a powerful voice with her own artistic style. Her minicomic Deep Girl, which was collected 2013, is one of the standout zines from that era, autobiographical, funny, feminist, with a memorable energy in the writing and art. She went on to make the comic No Love Lost. She contributed to Bizarro Comics, Measles, Stuck in the Middle and other anthologies. She and her husband Rick Altergott made the five-issue comic series Raisin Pie, which was published by Fantagraphics. In more recent years she’s been making fine art and working on a graphic novel.

Earlier this year, Bordeaux started posting daily comics on her Facebook page. They were simple, mostly four-panel comics that Bordeaux drew in pencil and then photographed, but they were also thoughtful, funny, surprising, and beautifully done in the way that only a masterful artist is able to work simply and quickly. We’re friends because we know a number of people in common and after reading through a number of her comics, I reached out to see if she might be willing to talk about the project, making comics and related topics.

You drew comics for Hourly Comics Day this year. Had you done this before?

No. Not at all. My friend and mentee Anna Sellheim, who I got to know when she chose me as her advisor at the Center for Cartoon Studies, was doing Hourly Comics Day. In one of her strips she mentioned me and wished that I would do more comics and texted it to me. I happened to be home with my son who was sick and I felt weirdly motivated by that. Okay, I’ll accept the challenge. [laughs] It was already noon by the time I got the text and she said, just write down a bunch of notes and draw the comics later, so I did them all later that night and the next day.

Was doing that different from how you had typically made comics?

In a way. I had done exercises like that before but actually capturing something that’s going on in an hour was different. I liked the immediacy of that. Usually I tend to write about something that happened quite a while ago. I haven’t done daily comics like this ever really.

Every once in a while I get self conscious about it. I could make this better if I could give it some time. It’s usually late in the evening by the time I get around to it and I’m usually tired. I feel like I’m always short cutting and being lazy and they’re going to come out really dumb – but the act of doing it has this cool cumulative effect, like any journaling does.

After Anna challenged you like that, what made you start doing them daily?

It was just after that unfortunately my son got really sick. I was at home with him for a few days before we realized that he had a ruptured appendix. He had to be rushed into surgery, and I was in the hospital with him for a week. It was an intensely scary and overwhelming experience.

Having done that hourly comics thing just a couple days earlier, and finding myself with a lot of sitting around time in the hospital – it just felt right. Just a way to process it I guess. I stopped for a few days when Eddie was home recovering, but then realized there was something really nice about that process, of not just doing the comic but putting it out there daily that I liked. I wanted to continue that.

So you’re drawing them at night after work?

When everything is done, I’m like, okay, I have another hour before I’m thoroughly wiped. Either I’m trying to pick out interesting or significant moments of the day or I just try to focus in on stuff. [laughs] That’s not a very eloquent answer. I’m not very good at articulating on the spot. I think that’s one of the reasons I like to write comics. It’s a way to formulate my thoughts in a way that I’m not able to do when speaking.

Making them every day is immediate, but the act of doing it forces you to have some distance as opposed to typing out whatever is in your head.

I think there is something like a protective barrier where I’m communicating pretty directly with people, but I can also be a little oblique and protect myself from overexposure or being too vulnerable. I don’t know.

And you’re just drawing them in pencil on paper and then scanning them without inking?

Yes, I’m just using pencil. I’m just taking cell phones photos at the moment. We don’t have a great scanner set up at home, but I would like to be scanning. I think that would come out a little nicer but it’s just time. I don’t use the computer at home all that much.

As you’ve been doing this, are you thinking about these comics during the day, or are you mostly just making them in the evening as this almost spontaneous thing?

I am trying to motivate myself to carry a sketchbook around so that maybe I would be jotting down ideas. Occasionally I jot down ideas. Usually I start by drawing those four panels and then just wait for something to bubble up. Sometimes something strikes me, “oh that might make it into the comic”, but I rarely feel like I have a moment to even think about that.

Is that how you’ve usually worked on comics over the years? Or is this process something different for you?

I would do a lot more writing and stick figure kind of layouts. I never had the patience to do careful layouts. Ordinarily I would be filling a notebook full of ideas before I would try to draw anything. I guess what’s nice about doing this in a more immediate way is it’s allowing me to loosen up a bit. I typically get scared of drawing if I go without drawing for a long time. The many, many times I haven’t drawn for a long period of time I start thinking that I hate drawing, I only like writing. [laughs] Then once I start drawing again and remove myself from “is it good or does it suck?” then I can have fun with it. The process of doing these in pencil and having a few people respond to them has been really freeing. I never mastered the pen and I feel like I never will. I have this struggle with it. Sometimes I enjoy it. I started doing gouache painted comics and I enjoy being able to bring color into things.

You’ve posted comics and artwork over the years, but the last comic of yours that some people might have seen was Raisin Pie. What kind of work have you been doing in recent years?

In 2010 I was feeling like I had this book in me that I really wanted to do so I enrolled in CCS as a distance learner. I still have that as an unfinished pile of graphic novel pages. I keep fantasizing about ways that I can carve out time and really pull that project together. It needs a little more work. Another big project was a painting series called “Gluttony”, which is eight paintings with each painting illustrating a letter, spelling out ‘gluttony’, exhibited in a show called “Beasts of Burden”.

Is that book Clutter? You’ve mentioned that a few times as something you were working on.

Yes. I feel like I need to dive back into the project and pull it together a little more. I just have a hard time carving out literal space and mental space to get that done.

So what is your plan with the diary comics? Do you have a plan? Or are you just going to keep doing them until you get bored?

[laughs] Good question. I don’t have a real goal with them. I would like to publish them in minicomic form maybe. I’m just working and enjoying the process and enjoying the fact that I’m keeping some sort of daily art practice going. A big struggle I’ve had in the past is I just couldn’t trust myself. I always had lots of ideas and things that I wanted to do and I’m constantly jumping from one idea to another. I have a very poor record for following through, which is probably part of why I can’t seem to finish this book. Right now there’s something magical about the process of just having one thing that I’m doing daily.

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