Feature photo by Robin Roemer.
I think by this point we all know how great Jasika Nicole is, right? We’ve talked about how she makes us cry with her acting, how she’s great at twitter, how she’s so stylish that we want to dress like her and how she’s one of the most critterish people on earth. But did you also know that in addition to doing all those things and giving a really great interview, she also makes some really incredible comics?
Right now, you can head over to her website and check out nearly a dozen gorgeous comics on topics ranging from relationships between queer women to Jasika’s own childhood to an imagined scenario where Kanye West himself visits Jasika and her wife for a little casual hangout time. Since she’s one of our special guests at A-Camp this year, I thought it would be a great idea to talk to her about her comics, where she gets inspiration from and where she sees these stories going in the future.
Okay, first of all, your comics are great, but it’s not your only talent. You draw these great comics, you’re an amazing actress, you also do great voice acting and you’re a terrifically talented clothing and furniture maker. How are you such a talented person?
THANK YOU! What a lovely compliment! This is an interesting question because I am kind of going through this phase of breaking down my idea of “talent” right now. I DO think that I have some talents, and I feel thankful for them, but in general I feel like the presiding quality in my life isn’t an excess of talent, but rather an excess of patience. The performance aspects of my life are rooted in a certain amount of talent, as is my visual art/illustration, but the DIY stuff that I do (sewing and building and deodorant making and gluten free baking and shoe making, etc.) aren’t talents I was born with, they are just things I was interested in learning about, so I tried them, and failed at them. But I didn’t stop starting over. If I know that someone else has had success at something, there is little to persuade me that I won’t also be successful at it, even if it doesn’t happen the first try (or second. Or third. Or fourth). DIY projects are all about following directions, and I understand that this is a skill not everyone has, particularly people who might have learning disabilities. So I hesitate to say things like “ANYONE CAN DO THIS, you just have to TRY!” cause that can be pretty ableist and unrealistic.
I do however think that learning how to be patient with oneself is a really important skill to have, regardless of where you exist on the do-it-yourself spectrum, and I think we often stop learning how to do things when they don’t yield positive results immediately. If we give ourselves a little more time, a little more room for failing without criticism, we might find we have a lot more “talents” than we ever gave ourselves credit for. But even my patience has it’s limits. I have tried time and time again to get into painting, and I just hate it. I want to be decent at it, I want to create things that I am proud of, but it doesn’t come easily to me, I don’t understand it, and I get frustrated with myself and the artform. After years of trying and failing to complete a canvas I was satisfied with, I just thought to myself “hmm…maybe painting isn’t my medium,” and then I stopped trying to force it.
Now that I think about it, even that required a certain amount of patience with myself. And it’s really weird for me to even recognize this ability of mine, because patience is not a quality that follows me in ALL aspects of my life. I can have a heated discussion with someone and obsess about it for months, obsess about what I said, whether I was right or wrong, how I could have said what I said differently, how this will impact our relationship, whether or not I need to let it go or bring it up with the person again. I can be really hard on myself sometimes. But I can work on knitting a complicated lace pattern and mess it up and start it all over 7 times without getting overly frustrated with myself. I just take deep breaths and keep reminding myself that I will figure it out eventually. Which I always do. You can’t put a time limit on learning, whether it’s a new skill or a thought process. I just have to figure out how to apply this to OTHER aspects of my life.
So, how did you first get into doing comics? Do you have favorite comics or creators? What are you inspired by when you make comics?
The first comics I ever read were the Preacher series — my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) likes graphic novels and she loaned them to me to read and I loved them. But it wasn’t til I read Fun Home by Alison Bechdel a short time later that I felt super inspired to try making my own comics. I had been in a rut with my artwork for a while. I loved drawing, but I wasn’t sure where I was going with it- I wanted to do more than just sketch and doodle the same stuff all the time.
Reading Fun Home was like someone turning on the lights for me. I immediately bought a book called “How To Make Comics,” went to (the now defunct) Pearl Paints and got all the tools I needed, and I just started drawing. My first comic was drawn on regular 8.5 x 11 printer paper, and now I draw all my stuff on a Wacom tablet. I’m not a professional comic artist or anything but even I have been able to witness a lot of growth in my work over the past 9 years.
The comics about your family, like “Crayons” and “Sedi” are really, really great. What do you like about making comics about your family?
I think writing comics about my family is a way for me to process difficult things I have experienced in my life. Maybe it’s a step in the therapeutic process where I put everything down on paper. Drawing a story out is kind of like reliving the same moments again and again, and in a weird way, each time I do it, it feels a little less strong. It kind of has this bizarre adverse affect with me (the creator) and the reader, because by the time I write and draw out a story, it has a little less power over me, but it seems to heighten the feelings that the reader has about the story.
You’re also really great at doing sort of slice-of-life comics that are really weird and funny, like “808 at 212”, “Morning” and “Revlon.” How do you balance such a great sense of relatability and realism with such a great sense of humor?
That feels so good to hear, cause I feel like my comics are really only interesting and funny to me and maybe the people who know me. When someone I don’t know says that they read my comics and they like them, I’m always like “Seriously?!”. When I started making comics, I was only telling stories from my experience, cause that was easy for me- talking about my life doesn’t feel like making art, it just feels like breathing. My wife would always say that she thought I had a unique perspective and that mine was a voice that didn’t get heard very often in the realm of comics/graphic novels, so she encouraged me to keep writing and drawing them even when I was sure that nobody would “get” them.
I think a part of me has always wanted to be a writer, but I don’t have any formal training in it, so it always felt like I wasn’t legit — like, just because I tell these stories about my life doesn’t make me a writer, it just made me good at telling the truth about my feelings. Which is weird because there are plenty of people in the world who write about their lives and who have no “formal training” who I consider to be incredibly gifted writers. It’s my own shit to figure out.
So anyways, “808 at 212” was the first time I tried my hand at fiction. I didn’t think of it as fiction at the time, which is why it probably blurs the line between reality and fantasy so much — I’ve gotten a few comments from people who think that it’s a true story (it is not!). After that comic was done, I kept coming back to this fictional story in my head about two girls, and I couldn’t stop thinking about. It went through SO many iterations, but it eventually it settled into the first 3 installments of “Closetalkers.”
That’s a great transition! I love all your standalone comics, but “Closetalkers” really stands out to me. Can you tell me a little bit about what inspired it?
The inspiration for “Closetalkers” is SOOO bizarre, and the final result is incredibly different from the idea that started it. I was saying before that it had many iterations before it I settled on a story, and I like that because it feels like such an organic thing to do as a writer, to have an idea and let it morph and transgress into lots of different forms.
The story was initially inspired by a queer friend of mine, and it started to involve all these other elements that were dramatic and intense, but eventually I realized that the seed of the story I was so interested in exploring was much less complicated than all that. The story was really about two girls discovering their love for one another. I think back on a few of my friendships with girls when I was younger, and how I could be possessive and obsessive and over-the-moon about them. I recognize those feelings now as infatuation, but at the time, I didn’t understand my feelings about them in those terms. So Closetalkers for me is an exploration of the kind of relationship between two girls where one of them is very slowly coming to understand that she might have some pretty deep feelings of love for her friend, while the other has always known she had those feelings and she has just suppressed them for years.
I’m really excited to see where “Closetalkers” goes, and especially to see how Mercy and Jane’s relationship changes and grows. When are you going to make more Closetalkers comics?
I try to only work on my hobbies/creative projects when I feel inspired to do so, because I don’t ever want to force myself to work on something I consider to be a purely fun experience. My creative space feels sacred to me, and I don’t ever want to turn it into something that feels demanding or commodified. I know a lot of people argue that great work isn’t achieved merely by waiting for inspiration to hit, which I totally agree with, but I guess my reality is that I am not at all interested in creating great work. If great work comes out of the stuff I do for fun, then YAY, but I would be just as satisfied making my little comics for myself even if no one else read them or were interested in them.
So that is the reason it takes so long for me churn out more chapters of the story — for the past couple of years I have been REALLY excited about sewing clothing, and that has taken up pretty much all of my free time. So I just run with it. I try not to feel guilty about it or pressure myself into something else. Of late though, I have been thinking about “Closetalkers” a lot. I have a whole trajectory for the storyline scribbled down into a notebook somewhere, so it’s just a matter of writing the dialogue, thumbnailing everything, and then drawing it out.
I think it would be really cool to take a 2 week retreat somewhere quiet just to concentrate on “Closetalkers,” but I don’t know when that would happen. I do plan on bringing my pencil and my sketchbook up with me to camp though so I can get a little bit of work done. The thumbnailing is what requires the most time and concentration on my part, so if I could get some of that finished during my time there, I will be way ahead of the curve.
Do you think you ever plan on making a book of your comics? Or making a full-length graphic novel? I know if you did, a ton of people (including me) would buy it!
I think that “Closetalkers” has the potential to be a graphic novel, and I have definitely considered printing up some of my comics in little books to sell when I sign at Comic Cons. But I feel like I need to have a lot more work under my belt to do that, and that would require more dedication on my part to working on “Closetalkers” (and even reviving High Yella Magic) more consistently. Maybe I will get to that point in the future, which would be cool. But for now, that’s just not where I am.
I think I have these strong feelings about my creative spaces being contained and not shared with others comes from a time when performing and dancing and acting were such fun things for me when I was younger. Now I have made a career out of those things, and they don’t carry the same kind of carefree-ness and excitement they once did. They are a business now. I am not complaining — I feel lucky to be able to make a living off of something that brings me joy. But I can’t deny that my relationships with performance has shifted. And that’s why I am so uninterested in selling the clothes I make or actively trying to find a publisher for my comics. I don’t want everything I do to be molded into something I try to make money off of- not every talent is meant for consumption.
I am not saying that wont ever happen, cause I will certainly do what I need to do to survive and take care of my family. But at least for right now, I like having hobbies that remain just that- hobbies. With that said, I still appreciate so very much the compliments and encouragement that people give me about my work. Just being acknowledged can mean the world sometimes.
New Releases (6/3/15)
Bravest Warriors #33 (Boom!)
Angel and Faith Season 10 #15 (Dark Horse)
Red Sonja: Vulture’s Circle #5 (Dynamite)
Swords of Sorrow #2 (Dynamite)
X-Files Season 10 #25 (Dynamite)
The Wicked + The Divine #11 (Image)
Princess Leia #4 (Marvel)
Secret Wars #3 (Marvel)
Spider-Woman #8 (Marvel)
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #6 (Marvel)
Years of Future Past #1 (Marvel)
Welcome to Drawn to Comics! From diary comics to superheroes, from webcomics to graphic novels – this is where we’ll be taking a look at comics by, featuring and for queer ladies. So whether you love to look at detailed personal accounts of other people’s lives, explore new and creative worlds, or you just love to see hot ladies in spandex, we’ve got something for you.
If you have a comic that you’d like to see me review, you can email me at mey [at] autostraddle [dot] com