Smash Pages Q&A: Lawrence Lindell

The cartoonist and educator discusses the Kickstarter campaign for his latest project, ‘From Truth with Truth: Kinda a Graphic Memoir.’

Lawrence Lindell is the cartoonist, educator and artist behind comics like Couldn’t Afford Therapy, So I Made This and From Black Boy with Love. In these and other projects, Lindell has found ways to make deeply personal work that manages to be both informative for other people, but also therapeutic for himself. Reading a lot of his comics shows that Lindell has an inventive visual style and has repeatedly found many really striking ways to capture so many mental and emotional states, and convey these feelings to readers.

Right now he’s kickstarting From Truth with Truth: Kinda a Graphic Memoir. Lindell was kind enough to answer a few questions about graduate school, his interest in teaching and his new book, which is being crowdfunded until the end of the month

Just to start, I always like asking people, how did you come to comics?

My parents got divorced when I was 12. As a result we lost our house and moved in with my aunt. Down the street from my aunt’s house was a comic shop. The rest is history. 

So what is From Truth With Truth?

From Truth With Truth is a Graphic Memoir about navigating my identity, my mental health and healing. I dig a bit into my Baptist Upbringing, My first Manic episodes, Depression, Suicide, My connection to comics and music and how I healed after years of trauma and hiding my mental health issues. 

Why is it “Kinda a graphic memoir?”

[laughs] It’s just my sense of humor. It’s because the way I make comics doesn’t always follow what people might think when they hear graphic memoir. I have very specific style and sometimes, that’s not always what folks consider to be a graphic novel.

I’m curious about that reaction, that people might not consider this a graphic novel.

The reaction is actually pretty refreshing. I think because I’m not apologetic about my work and once people let got of expectations, they get to see a thing for what it is. I’ve never been to therapy, but I have met several therapists that use my comics in their therapy sessions. I know several teachers who use my comics in class and folks who work with kids in juvenile dentition centers. 

People can go online and see a number of comics that you’ve made over the years. What made you interested in making a book length project? 

I have made books this length before. The original printing of Couldn’t Afford Therapy, was printed as a perfect bound book (120 pages, Black and White), I was trying to make what you could say is what From Truth With Truth is, but I wasn’t ready. So I decided to only keep the chapter about Mental Health and release that only moving forward. That’s the Couldn’t Afford Therapy that folks know today. The printed version of both is 62 pages, so it’s not a jump to make a project this length. Because I self publish, when I’m touring I usually print the comics in chapters then collect them all into one – for both money reasons and freedom of not having to commit. From Truth With Truth is something I have been trying to make for awhile and things finally aligned for me to do it. Also, because I also teach and I know how hard it can be to get resources to buy comics, I put my comics online mainly for them and folks who simply can not afford to always buy a physical copy. Or digital for that matter.  

Did this project require you to rethink or change the ways that you work? Or was it just a question of being longer? 

No it’s the best thing about being open and honest about the work I make. And how I make my work. I have never made work other than how I want to make it. Most folks take my work for what it is instead of what they think it should be. I have been consistent with how I release and make my comics, so I feel like folks kinda know what they are getting. 

I meant more in terms of your process, the physical production and how you draw. Did any of that change?

I print all of my comics and zines from home, so I am used to planning how the comics is laid out. But for the memoir, because I’m not working on a shoe string budget, I’ve allowed even more space to expand on that. I think the drawing for this book, has been the same. I draw it, ink it, then color it. I do that page by page. I actually don’t like thumb nailing the whole thing out, I need to be able to not have to commit and go with the flow. 

Your work has always been very personal, very raw, but writing a memoir is a different thing and I’m curious about that process. I don’t want to say it’s easy, but it’s much easier to be open about one aspect of your life in a short comic, instead of going much deeper and broader in something like this. 

Honestly, for me it’s the same. I do a lot of workshops, panels and lectures, so I’m very open about my life and what I have been through. So I honestly feel like I’m taking all those mini comics and my panels/lectures and having the 2 meet. 

I first came across your work because of some of the comics you made about mental health and I remember, Couldn’t Afford Therapy So I Made This Comic. I know that just making work and being productive often helps my mental health, but has making these comics been a therapeutic act for you? 

Yes. I wrote and drew that book in real time. I was having a mental breakdown and it’s one thing saying, I have Bipolar and PTSD, but it’s another for people to actually understand what that means and that’s what my comics do. They break down complex and taboo topics like mental health and make it so anyone who is willing to listen can understand. Because of my mania, I am highly prolific. So comics and zines keep my mind busy and help me channel that high energy in a positive direction. 

I also keep thinking about how much effort you put into those comics, not simply writing about your own experiences, but finding ways to convey these different states. I mean just the way you change up style and layout. I have depression and there are pages and ways you’ve conveyed that feeling, those changes, in really striking ways. How much of that is at the forefront of your mind as you’re working and thinking about these ideas? 

So funny that you’ve literally confirmed what I just was talking about. It’s weird because in this memoir I really planned everything to the pages numbers and turns, but usually I try and let it flow freeform and then make adjustments if necessary. I find because I have lived these things and know the way it feels, it’s easy to convey it on the page.

I studied 2d animation in my undergrad and I honestly feel the way I write and draw is as if my comics are 12 minute or 24 minute TV animation episodes. I’ve learned how to pack emotion and information in a few pages and in small amounts of time.  

You’re getting your MFA at California College of the Arts and I’m curious what that experience has been like and how you think it’s helped you shape this book and just your work more generally.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have some extremely supportive professors and peers that encourage exploration and experimentation when it comes to my comics. The one thing about the MFA Comics program is that even though we are a part of CCA, we are honestly our own thing. Matt Silady who is the Chair, has really created a program challenges what can be a comic. On the first day of class he proudly professed “Everything is a comic!” I smirk and thought “You damn right!” I mainly decided to get my MFA to teach in higher education. I’m kinda stubborn when it comes to my work and how I make my work, so sometimes in school things are very institutional and other things are affirming. The thing with comics is there is no right way to make a comic. Some of the things I do in my comics, if looked at from an institutional and comics theory perspective, are No no’s. But I’ve seen the result of how not always following certain things some of us as “trained” artist are taught is the correct way, can still be just as effective and sometimes more important when looked into further. 

Example. I often make comics when I am Manic. When I am manic, I’m not concerned about composition, tangents, spelling, and punctuations. Now of course going back and editing comics can be a good thing, but for the work I do I feel it’s really important that I am able to be raw. So a thing like “apart” and “a part” – In couldn’t afford therapy – I won’t change it. Sometimes grammar and language can be elitist. I know the difference between “a part” and “apart”, but when I wrote it my manic brain doesn’t hear the difference. And I write the way I hear and speak things. It took me so many years to figure that out. That I write the way I speak and hear. For the longest I just thought I was dumb when it came to english, like I wasn’t grasping it. When I hear a part, my brain hears no difference between apart or a part, especially when I am manic. And the manic part of me deserves to be on the page, just as much as my “educated” one. Especially because I KNOW for a fact, that everyone absolutely knows what I am saying rather I write it as apart or a part. If that makes sense. 

So you want to teach, and you see teaching as this extension of your art and what you do now.

I teach now – well I’m on hiatus, kinda, I have been doing guest artist spots at universities and high schools. I used to teach comics and zines to elementary kids, but yes, I’m transitioning into higher education. I think because I do have an education background that teaching through my comics comes natural. It’s not intentional in that I set out to make a comic that teaches explicitly, but it’s just how I view the world. I have Information and if I can help, why wouldn’t I? I know when I finally realized I needed help it wasn’t always available to me. 

So just as a last word, what do you want people to take away from From Truth with Truth, who do you hope finds it, what do people need to know?

From Truth With Truth is the rawest and most personal thing I have made, this far. I don’t think people should back it on Kickstarter because you want to know about my life. Anyone who follows my work, knows about my life to some extent. But, my hope is that it gets in the hands of folks who need it. All ages, All walks of life. Folks who have mental health issues or are going through some of the things I went through. Or folks who love someone who has mental health issues or someone who deals with suicidal thoughts. I especially hope it helps families come together and start taking a deep look at how things like PTSD, Depression and Bipolar work and effect whole communities. I just want to keep making work that heals and is honest. This memoir is that. 

The crowdfunding campaign for From Truth with Truth runs through this month. More information can be found HERE.

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