Smash Pages Q&A: Carta Monir

The creator of ‘RIPMOM’ and ‘Secure Connect’ discusses her process, the micropress Diskette Press, her upcoming graphic novel and more.

Carta Monir has been making a series of comics for years. Many people likely know her work in Polygon and Zeal, where she’s made comics about Hitman and Lara Croft. But it’s her more personal stories that have really solidified her place as a major talent.

In work like RIPMOM and Secure Connect, she explores questions of identity and the technology in thoughtful and nuanced ways that are rarely acknowledged in public conversations about the internet.

I first noticed her work when RIPMOM was published in Critical Chips 2 in 2017. The short comic is presented as taking place through a computer interface, in a way that seemed interesting in the way it broke apart our behaviors and feelings in complicated and emotional moments, but becomes this deeply person and emotional journey by the end.

Monir is also one of the people behind Diskette Press, and I reached out to ask her a few questions about her work and what’s she working on right now. You can find her on Twitter and on Patreon.

How did you come to comics?

I’ve been interested in comics since I was a kid! I feel like I’ve talked about this in more than a couple interviews, but I was the kind of kid who would make comics for homework. It’s just something I’ve always enjoyed doing, and found a lot of freedom and self-expression in. I can’t think of any one specific point where I decided that I wanted to make comics professionally. Maybe in college? I co-founded a student comics magazine, and remember getting really really into it then.

Starting with Breathe Not, and I know you’d made comics before, but that’s the start of the work where I think you found your voice. Maybe you don’t think of it in those terms, but I am curious about that process of making comics for a while and trying to experiment and figure out what you wanted to do and how.

Breathe Not was definitely some of the first comics that felt dangerous. Not many people have seen that zine – when I have visitors I’ll sometimes show it to them as “the secret Carta Monir comics that will never be reprinted.” For those who are unfamiliar, Breathe Not was a zine I made shortly before coming out, all about a then-still-fresh abusive relationship. I was really terrified of my ex, still, but all the comics I’d tried to make up to that point were really obtuse. Phoebe Gloeckner was the one who told me that I needed to be more straightforward – I think she used the word “claustrophobic” to describe my work up to that point, which I think was fair. So Breathe Not was my response to her criticism – extremely straightforward, plain comics that I drew as I went along, without penciling or planning. I still consider that book a success in some ways, but it’s so deeply connected to my old, pre-transition life and identity that I don’t feel very connected to it anymore.

Is that how you typically work? Or like to work?

No. Normally my process is to draw thumbs and then do a round or two of edits before drawing the final pages. I like to rough out my stories so that I can read them. It gives me a better sense of pacing and how it’ll be received.

You’ve made a number of comics that are about identity, but they’re very much about personal and online identity and the ways that they overlap and diverge. Or maybe the ways that online spaces allow us to vocalize aspects of our identities?

I’ve definitely talked about this some, but the simplest answer is that the internet and computers were one of my only escapes growing up. They’re how I learned about pop culture, talked to my friends and felt like I had any level of autonomy. I think computers are really useful tools for telling a reader about a character – there’s a universal interface that people already understand. I’m making use of metaphors that are already in people’s minds. I don’t have to do a lot of work, for example, to compare computer files and human memories. People get that connection kind of intuitively.

RIPMOM is heartbreaking and just incredible, but that is about that questions of identities and how we think about them and how we consider and process and express our feelings

I’m really proud of RIPMOM. I think it represents the kind of comic I’d like to be making more than almost anything else right now. I feel like I got closer to the ideal Carta Monir comic with that one – lots of visual metaphor, interesting layouts, interface stuff… but also without sacrificing readability the way I did in Secure Connect.

You’ve made a number of video game comics like Lara Croft Was My Family and Stealth Mechanic, which I feel like really hit a lot of people, and I think about as related to these same ideas about technology and identity, even if they don’t exactly line up.

Yeah, those comics are kind of different, mostly because they’re made as freelance jobs for websites where the format and editorial direction is less up to me. You can still definitely see the things I’m thinking about, but they aren’t as wild or ambitious as something like Secure Connect or RIPMOM.

Reading a bunch of your comics for this, I keep thinking about how you make these comics and depicting the interfaces, it dates the work in a strange way. 

I draw a kind of stylized Windows 3.1/95 interface because that’s what I grew up with, and I think it reads as “computer” to people without needing to get more specific. Even though it’s clearly based on an older filesystem, I think it works because I’m sort of alluding to the arcane or mystical feeling of early computer systems, where it really felt like if you just did the right thing in the right order, you could make literally anything happen.

What has it been like making personal work and trying to deal with your own experiences, and be fair to others. Or not to fair to others, depending on the circumstances. But to use elements of your life in a way that you feel isn’t unfair or exploitative or others.

I think the person who stands to get maddest at my comics is my dad. I talk to my brother a lot – we’re on good terms, and he’s someone I consult with a lot to make sure I’m not misremembering something. My mom is dead, obviously, which just leaves my dad. We’re not in contact. I do try to be “fair” as much as possible. That means talking earnestly about things that happened, but also not painting him as anything less than a complicated person, which he is. I have a responsibility not to turn my life into something really cut and dry – I’m not Candide, right? I’m not this innocent victim wandering through sad thing after sad thing, it’s more complicated than that. So I’m always conscious about the way I talk about others, especially when I’m putting words in their mouth.

I know that you’re working on a graphic novel, I Want To Be Evil. What can you say about it?

It’s happening! Haha, it’s been slow going. Working on such a difficult book, about such painful things that happened in my life… it’s just slower than I thought it would be. I cry more than I draw. But it’s happening, slowly. It’ll be really good, I hope. I think. Just keep your eyes out for more news once I’ve… drawn… more.

So what is Diskette Press?

Diskette is a micropress run out of my living room! We have a Risograph GR3770 and some other professional print equipment jammed in here, and thirteen color drums. It’s wild. Carolyn Nowak and I co-operate the press (although it’s mostly been me so far), and my friend Renée is my print assistant. We’re working hard on putting out interesting work by young, marginalized artists. You can see what we’re up to on our website, diskettepress.com!

What do you want to do with Diskette? You’ve self-publish a lot, but you’ve also worked with 2d, with Youth in Decline. In relation to other publishers and editors, and the kinds of creative communities you are trying to be build and be a part of, what do you hope to make it?  

Diskette, in its current form, exists to print my work and also to promote artists who I don’t think are getting enough attention. I’m also hoping that we’ll be a go-to for people looking for quality risograph printing. We’re a micropress for sure – I’m still working with Youth in Decline for bigger stuff – but it’s nice to be able to print a run of zines whenever I want to. I feel very lucky to be able to do that now!!

So what are you working on now? What’s taking up your time?

Mostly Diskette! I’m working on I Want To Be Evil and doing a lot of work getting Diskette up and running. I’m learning so much more about risograph hardware than I ever thought I would! But it’s really fun.

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