Smash Pages Q&A: gg

The creator of ‘I’m Not Here’ discusses ‘Constantly,’ her latest book from Koyama Press.

Since discovering gg’s comics a few years ago, I keep revisiting them. More than simply her work itself, I find her attitude and approach toward her work something that I strive for in my own life. She continues to work in a way that seeks to find the best approach, the best way to tell a particular story, and using the work not to capture or express her own feelings, but the work allows her to find a calmness in her own life. And she maintains a detachment from how it gets received. The work must be what it needs to be.

The way she described her process sounds so much to me like how many poets have talked about their work. When reading her work, one is often reminded of poetry, perhaps because she is less interested in plot and narrative, and more concerned with other elements like tone and feeling — in her new book, especially.

Since I spoke with gg in 2017, she’s been posting work extensively on Patreon and Instagram and just came out with a new book from Koyama Press, Constantly. We emailed recently about the book, poetry and how her process changed for this project.

How do you describe Constantly?

I just think of it as a short meditation on bad feelings.

I always think about each work that we make as being a response to the previous one. After you finished I’m Not Here, were you thinking about what you wanted to do next or do differently?

I don’t know if it was anything as specific as thinking about a direct response to I’m Not Here. Maybe the only thing was to try a different mode of storytelling. One of the things I was really trying to do with I’m Not Here was to convey a specific mood or atmosphere. I think I managed to do it there but, in some ways, having a plot also distracted from that goal a bit. So with Constantly, I wanted to be less plot heavy and just tried to make something that was more evocative.

Did working without a plot and focusing more on mood and feeling mean that you had to think differently about how the images were in conversation with each other? 

I think I tried to focus on keeping the images all in the same feeling. I find that when working with more of a plot, there can be images that don’t have to necessarily resonate in any particular way – they just have to move the plot in a very utilitarian manner. There are probably some images that ended up in Constantly that are more utilitarian in this sense than others but I tried to cut a lot of that out.

Related to that, were you thinking about utilizing as few images as possible? I mean, most pages are single images and then you never have more than three panels. Or was it more a question of the choice to convey this frozen stillness?

As I was developing it, I realized that I wanted a very quiet atmosphere to make it all work. To me, pages with lots of panels immediately read as noisy because so much is happening and your eyes are moving around all over the place. So I guess it’s both of the points you mentioned – using as few images as possible in order to achieve stillness.

Did your process change at all with this book?

In terms of constructing the story, I think my process stayed mostly the same. But then, my process is always evolving to fit the needs of what I’m trying to achieve. It’s a bit difficult to remember how exactly everything came together since it’s been so long since I finished Constantly and even longer since I finished I’m Not Here. I don’t work in a manner that leaves much behind in terms of research, sketches or notes. If I looked through my diaries during those times, I’m sure the entries for both periods would just be full of doubt and anxiety. The biggest change in the process was probably that I drew Constantly entirely on my iPad instead of on a Cintiq.

Did the story change as you worked on it?

The story did change pretty early on in the project. After I drew the first few pages (which looked totally different than what they look like in the final book) I had to step back and re-evaluate everything because it just didn’t feel right. Going back to my earlier answer about plot – the original idea for Constantly was much more like I’m Not Here. It was somewhat more plot driven. But then I felt like I was just retreading the same ground. I decided in the end to go in a totally different direction and started over again.

I ask because the story has such a deliberate pace, and I imagine you spent a lot of time working out the right order, finding the right juxtapositions and work out the timeline, working on the lists that appear.

The way I put it together was all still very intuitive. The nice thing about working on the iPad was that the form factor is similar to the final book – as opposed to working tethered to a computer. Maybe that had something to do with how the pages came together. Because I held it in my hands, I could feel how the pages juxtaposed with each other as I was working. I could more naturally swipe back and forth between pages rather than feeling like I was opening a computer document.

How much time did you spend on the lists, and how they should read and the order they appear?

The lists were also intuitive. I was mostly just concentrating on the sounds or the “music” of the words and lines and having them match or complement the overall feeling of the whole book. I just kept repeating things in my head until it sounded right to me, sort of like how some lyrics or rhymes just sound naturally correct. Both the images and the words were being constructed at the same time so they were informing each other as I went.

You’ve mentioned before about working all digitally. How do you think that helps you achieve what you’re attempting to do?

I think working digitally lets me get things down faster. I do a lot of erasing and redrawing – not unlike how I repeat things in my head until they sound right – and working digitally lets me do that much faster than with traditional pen and paper. I also feel less precious about drawing digitally because I know I can keep erasing and reworking things infinitely. On paper, I always feel way too much pressure to make the right lines the first time because there is only a limited amount of times you can erase stuff on paper before you wear a hole right through it. That pressure is enough to dissuade me from even beginning in the first place. Also, because a lot of things come to me when I’m not expecting it, I want to jump into work immediately and not have to deal with the sluggishness of getting all my physical materials together. I feel like working digitally is like having your workspace always set up in a perfect state waiting and all I have to do is focus on the work at hand.

Now as someone with depression, I read Constantly and went, “I get this.” Which may or may not have been the response you were looking for.

I didn’t really think about how people would respond to Constantly. I was just having a really rough time in my own life and looking for ways to deal with it. Making things has always been a way for me to do that. Like maybe I can make things easier to manage if I put them in boxes and leave it over there. Maybe it’s easier if I can shrink them down to a cartoon that I can manipulate. But I’m glad it resonates with others in some way. I try not to be programmatic about what my comics should do/say or how they should be received. 

This is your second book you’ve made with Koyama Press. How has the experience been?

Working with Koyama Press and Annie has been a dream. I’m sad that the press is closing down, but I’m happy that it’s for a good reason – ie. Annie getting more time back for herself. Annie is just such an amazing and generous person that she deserves all the time for her happiness.

I’ve been asked in the past about working with KP is like, and I still feel the same way – it was seamless. I always felt like I had full control over whatever I wanted to do which is all I could ever ask for. Even when I wanted to do things that maybe didn’t make the most business sense for book sales. The press would leave me to my own devices but would also be there to support me in all the areas that I needed support in. I’m going to miss it a lot!

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