Smash Pages Q&A: Liz Suburbia

The creator of ‘Sacred Heart’ discusses her latest project, ‘Egg Cream,’ as well as her first exposure to comics, the way she works and serialization.

Liz Suburbia has been making comics for years in her zine series Cyanide Milkshake, and Sacred Heart, which was collected into a single volume and published by Fantagraphics in 2015. Suburbia’s new project is Egg Cream. An annual comic published by Czap Books and Silver Sprocket, it will feature not just the sequel to Sacred Heart but new comics and illustrations from Suburbia as well.

Egg Cream is completely accessible for those who have never read Scared Heart, set 10 years after the events of that book and told in a different manner than that book. This first chapter explains some of the questions that were never answered in the first volume, and add a few more than we’ll no doubt learn more about in future issues. Suburbia talked about this larger story she’s telling, the way she works and serialization.

I always like to ask people, how did you come to comics?

I was really into newspaper strips from an early age – Bloom County, Fox Trot, Garfield, Calvin & Hobbes. And my dad’s cartoon-a-day Far Side calendars. I read a few floppies here and there when I got older, like a few issues of The Tick at this other kid’s house, and for awhile there I would walk to the PX on post and read X-Force every month without buying it because I didn’t think my parents would be happy about me reading it. I was introduced to zines and webcomics my senior year of high school by Kevin Czap and their brother Matt, and started reading stuff like Hellboy and Love & Rockets not long after that. After college I got a job at a really well-stocked comic shop for a few years. So like, a slowly-accelerating growth of influences over the course of a shortish lifetime. [laughs]

Egg Cream is a sequel to Sacred Heart. For people who didn’t read or forgot – the collection came out in 2015 – do you want to give a “previously in Sacred Heart” wrapup?

Sure! Sacred Heart followed a couple of months in the lives of a neighborhood of teenagers living with no adult supervision. Where the adults went is a mystery to the reader, though the characters kind of obliquely allude to it from time to time. Over the course of the story, the main character, Ben, grapples with her relationship with her troubled sister, and with the changing nature of her friendship with her best bud Otto, and how these things are affecting her mental health. A big tragedy affects the whole group at the end, and the absence of adults is briefly explained. I know that’s all very vague but if you want to know more, buy the book! I need new socks!

So what is Egg Cream?

Egg Cream is sort of a refinement of the concept I had with my zine series, Cyanide Milkshake. The idea is that every year or so I’ll release a little book full of my own comics: one-offs, gags, experiments, and serialized work like the new Sacred Heart material. It’ll always be around 60-70 pages and we’ll always try to keep the price nice and low.

Did you always plan to make a sequel, or continue this story? And how do you think of it? Do you consider them separate self-contained works, or what?

Yeah, Sacred Heart formed pretty quickly as a very long-term idea with a story that takes place on a very long timeline. At this point I’m planning for four volumes, with the last one starting when my main character is about 80 years old. I don’t really think of them as self-contained, even though there will be big time jumps between them- the new story in Egg Cream takes place ten years after the end of the first book. But I really like long-running, soapy, character-based storytelling where everybody ages in real time, and that maybe isn’t super rewarding for the casual reader. But that’s okay, I can do other stuff for the casual readers. Sacred Heart is kind of my baby – it’s the story I’ve been given to tell, for better or for worse.

When Sacred Heart came out you talked about how it started as just a few characters and short comics, and over time you started to deal with these bigger questions like why the adults left. As you’ve been working on this story, has there been a similar process of the story expanding and changing as you’ve worked on it?

Definitely. The way I write, usually the end and the beginning of the story will come to me first, and then I have to do the work of filling out everything in between and making the journey from point A to point B feel as natural and plausible as possible. Putting the meat in the sandwich. It can be frustrating to work as slowly as I do – maybe as much for my readers as it is for me – but it does give me a chance to sit on all these meaty middle points for awhile and then revisit them to see which ones are still working for the story and which ones aren’t by the time I actually have to start drawing it.

It’s interesting to hear you say that because of course that’s not how you told the story in Sacred Heart. And in Egg Cream you’re structuring the story differently than in Sacred Heart. Was one of the things you wanted to do in this story is change how you told the story? What did you want to do differently or try in this chapter of the story?

Well, beginning-end-middle is how I tell the story to myself, and how I write it down in my notebook before polishing it into a final script, but it’s not super readable that way. [laughs] Although now that you mention it, maybe I’ll try constructing a finished comic that way someday. That could be fun. The Sacred Heart installment in Egg Cream #1 is definitely a little different than what came before, though in future stories it will go back to a more naturalistic, lifelike kind of narrative. I think the TV documentary framing device felt right because I wanted the readers to have a little distance from the characters before plunging back into their daily lives and inner thoughts and feelings. It’s been 10 years since the last time we saw them, and I still want the ending of the first full book to pack a punch going backwards and forwards, so the idea of like the unseen glass of a TV screen keeping us at arm’s length from them is a good chance to give a little bit of a breather while dropping a huge amount of information. I feel like I’m not doing a very good job of explaining this! I’m more of an intuitive writer than a precise one, so when it’s feels right to have bits like this, or like the dog POV chapter in the last book, to break up the rhythm of the story. I just go with it.

Sacred Heart started as a webcomic and why did you want to serialize the story? What do you like about working this way?

I only serialize out of impatience. [laughs] If I didn’t, the wait between my releases would be so long that people would probably forget all about me!

Specifically you’re working Czap Books and Silver Sprocket, and why did you want to serialize in this way?

Both of those publishers are run by friends, and at this point in my life the chance to work with friends on this stuff is just such a gift. It’s what makes it feel worthwhile, because my friends are who I’m making these things for, who I always have in mind while I’m writing and drawing. Kevin Czap is my best friend, we’ve known each other half our lives now and they’re the coolest person I know – getting to be a part of the Czap Books pantheon, which as a body of works is such a beautiful reflection of Kevin’s tastes and beliefs and passions, is really humbling and wonderful for me. Avi, who runs Silver Sprocket, came in to help us with distribution, and is someone I admire so much and am super inspired by. Their enthusiasm for weird shit and new ideas, and their really resistant attitude towards business as usual under capitalism, makes wanting to work with them a no-brainer for me. Egg Cream was formulated as a more manageable way for me to produce work around everything else I have to get done in my life, but honestly without these people to work with on it I probably wouldn’t have bothered to keep making comics at all.

There’s more in the comic than just that story, do you want to say a little about what else is in Egg Cream?

There’s some little one- or two-pagers, more illustrations than actual comics, that I guess you could call “mood pieces.” They do fit in with the larger narrative of Sacred Heart, but in a way that’s not going to tie in directly until much further down the line. I originally had like a 5-page comic in the middle where I directly addressed the reader as myself and described what all Egg Cream was and what to expect, but we decided to scrap it, because over-explaining myself is a bad habit! That’s what interviews are for. The other big comic in there is just like a series of my dreams over the course of a few months. I know a lot of people think there’s nothing more boring than hearing about other people’s dreams but they can go screw, this is my book and I’m ALWAYS interested in hearing other people’s dreams and telling them mine, because I’m really nosy about other people’s inner lives.

So how often can we look forward to a new Egg Cream?

Hopefully about once a year, though we’ll see how that goes. I have a full-time day job that takes up a lot of my energy, and life in general never stops happening either.

You joked when we talked in 2015 that all your comics were about punks and dogs. Do you feel that’s changed?

Oh sure. My comics are still about punks and dogs, but now they’re about sex and the afterlife too. That’s growth!

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