Interview with Comic Artist Isabella Rotman

“Convince us, in one sentence, that your comics are awesome,” I asked Isabella Rotman, a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a self-published comic book artist. Her response, “I am told my line quality is ‘seductive.'” Well, I’m convinced. If you are, too, read on for an interview with Isabella, whose  beautiful (and somewhat provocative) work can be found here and here.

What is your favorite comic or graphic novel?

It’s a toss up between Black Hole, Habibi, and Big Questions.

Who is your least favorite author (of any medium and genre)?

Good Question. It would probably be that dude who wrote Boys Club. Seriously guys, it’s not that funny.

What is your dream job?

DREAM JOB? Oh god, which one. I would like to be a taxidermist for a major Natural History Museum. (I bet you didn’t see that one coming.) I would also like to build dioramas for said museum, and get paid to do scientific illustrations, maybe for the museum, maybe for field guides. I would like to be a published author of graphic novels, and perhaps be involved with my own publishing company for cartoonists. Who the hell knows, there are so many exciting options, and all of them very obscure and hard to arrive upon.

What (or who) inspired you to begin creating comics?

Black Hole by Charles Burns. I was always into drawing and I was always into writing, and I thought, ‘I should just combine these things and do comics’. So I bought a bunch of Spiderman and CatWoman(my childhood comic book crushes) but these were lacking severely in both the writing and art departments. It was something of a Peggy Lee ‘is this all there is?’ moment. So I gave up on the idea for a few years, until high school my boyfriend of the time discovered Black Hole, and showed it to me, and I thought ‘Sweet Jesus, this is what I want to do.’

What was the last book you read? 

The Instructions by Adam Levin. (So good.)

If your comics had a soundtrack, what songs/artists would it include?

That would differ from comic to comic. Animal Sex would naturally need to be accompanied by 70’s or 80’s theme porn music, Boom – Chica – wa – wa, or maybe Take a Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed. I always associated it with this line from The Joker by Steve Miller, “I really like your peaches wanna shake your tree,” but not all Steve Miller music, just that line.

For Eyes Shut, All the World is Green by Tom Waits. If you don’t know the song you should find it and listen to it right now.

How do you generate ideas for new comics?

Who knows? I don’t. Sometimes it’s a long labor intensive forced process and usually when it is like that it’s not that good. The best ones tend to just sort of come to you because that is what you need to be doing at the time, but sometimes nothing is coming to you and you just kind of need to synthesize something in your mind, and its hard. When it’s like that, its really hard.

What is your creative process? Is it self-taught or has your experience at SAIC proved to be applicable to comic creating?

My creative process is not really a set thing, and sometimes it works but most of the time it doesn’t, so I don’t really know how to talk about it. A lot of my teachers and mentors have helped me a lot. (Shout out to Christa Donner, Surabhi Ghosh, Peggy Macnamara, and Paul Brunsvold). I find it is best to be doing a lot of things at once, so that you are never too close or bogged down in any one idea, and to make time for things other than work. If you are just trying to force this one idea out of your head all the time, and not having any grand life experiences, then after a while you are just singing the blues about singing the blues.

Your animal sex comics are…well, I’ve never seen anything like them. Can you tell us more about your inspiration for drawing comics accompanied by sex facts about animals? 

Funny story! I was supposed to do a short ‘response comic’ for Jeremy Tinder’s Comics and Self Publishing class, and I had chosen to respond to ________ I Want You. So I’m thinking about this comic, and I decided to boil it down to its simplest parts, which turned out to be animals, sex, and humor. I’m thinking ‘okay, I’ll just do a short little fact thing about animal mating habits, because I know a disgusting amount of information about it and it will be silly and fun and good for a giggle.’ So Animal Sex was going to be this tiny assignment for class, but then a huge blizzard hit Chicago. You remember the one, February 2011. I was snowed into my basement apartment for about 3 days with only the Internet to entertain me, and the first issue of Animal Sex just sort of happened. Really, I had nothing else to do. And then it was something of a hit, so I made another, and now I’m going to make a third, and there you go. I guess you could say Animal Sex was something of a love child between the Internet and having too much time on my hands. 

Of your own comics, which one did you enjoy creating the most and why? 

Eyes Shut is my best comic and the comic that I am most proud of. That being said, making it wasn’t much fun at all, so I would need to go with either of the Animal Sex comics as far as enjoying the process.

How do you go about self-publishing your work?  How do you promote your own work?

Self-publishing is an incredibly annoying but satisfying process. Mostly what I do involves drawing everything, scanning the pages, doing a bunch of crap to them in Photoshop, and trying to arrange files to print them double-sided on school copiers. Then the copier unavoidably will run out of paper or ink or jam or simply stop working without telling me why. So I’ll go to a different school printer and try to print them there and it will be the night before the deadline and I will invariably end up having a breakdown next to probably the third printer I have attempted to print on and calling my Mom. Eventually everything gets printed and copied and folded and stapled and I will bring them to Quimby’s and Chicago Comics and sell them at Zinefest or places like Zinefest. Lately I have decided to need to put more effort into promoting my things, make bigger editions, send them to comic book stores outside of Chicago, ect. I have a tumblr and a website, and these are good as far as making announcements go, if anyone actually follows me. Sometimes I feel like I’m talking to empty cyber space.

It’s good to find other people who make comics that you admire, put on your big girls pants, and ask them to trade with you. Or just give them free comic books. I have met so many talented and amazing cartoonists at SAIC, I feel lucky to be in the same room with them.

What advice would you give other aspiring comic artists and writers in regards to self-publishing?

Buy an extended reach stapler. Print in black and white, it’s cheaper. Make sure your covers are super eye catching. Usually I either write SEX really big on the cover or draw some girl on girl action, which has been very successful for me so far, but you know, bright colors work too.

How do you think the experience of comic creating and publishing differs for women (if it does at all)?

I don’t think it does. Everyone is all like “The comics industry is dominated by men!” but maybe there just aren’t that many super genius female cartoonists. I don’t think anyone is trying to get in the way of female cartoonists, and if they are, I have yet to meet them. In fact, I find that some people seem even more receptive to my more blatantly sexual work because I am a girl, which is funny, and kinda strange, and maybe a little bit sexist.

What is your next project?

I’m actually taking a little time off from comics and from Chicago. I’m spending the second semester of my junior year of college doing a program called SEA semester. I’ll be spending a month and a half in Woods Hole MA taking classes in oceanography and mariners studies, and then getting on a sailboat in Key West and sailing around the Caribbean being part of the crew of the sailboat and doing my own scientific research project. So there won’t be much time for comics there, but I do plan on making a third Animal Sex comic, and binding all three of them together, along with other related material, and submitting the whole thing to the xeric grant this February. So let’s hope that works out!

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