Interview with Comic Artist & Writer Sarah Becan

In the cold, dark basement of an abandoned building, I first met Sarah Becan. Christmas lights occasionally pierced the darkness like little fairies. Various rugs of unusual origin lay scattered across the expansive concrete floor. Sarah smiled at me through the dim. She was lively and open and (happily for me) was willing to chat about her colorful creations spread across the table.  Was I dreaming? Well, no. I met Sarah Becan at Chicago’s Book Expo, where she had a table selling and promoting her comics and where I was attempting to convince visitors that postmodernism isn’t something to be afraid of (I was manning the &Now Books table, if you’re interested). Sarah and I were lucky (that’s sarcasm) enough to have been placed in the dark, cold basement of the second building hosting the Expo. And that is how I ran into Sarah in a fittingly dream-like way. Read her interview below to learn why dreams are so significant to Sara’s comics. You can buy her comics here, learn more about the creator here, and read some comics here.

Convince us, in one sentence, that your comics are awesome.

I’m not sure I can convince you, but I will say that although there is an absence of mathematical proof for it, my comics are indeed pretty awesome. You’ll just have to trust me on that.

What is your favorite comic or graphic novel?

Oh, there’s no way I’d ever be able to pick just one. I’ll give you a handful of graphic novels that have really moved or influenced me, though. Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi. Cages, by Dave McKean. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli. These are just a few of the ones that made me cry, or changed how I saw the world, the ones that are treasures on my shelves.

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

My grandfather had a great collection of Walt Kelly and Crockett Johnson comics, so I grew up with a strong affection for comics. I was always drawing them for school papers and things, but in college someone gave me a copy of Spiegelman’s Maus, and I knew I wanted comics to be my principle art and storytelling format.

How do you generate ideas for new comics?

When I was in high school I wrote a fan letter to Lynda Barry, and she sent me the sweetest handwritten postcard back. I had asked her if she had any advice for someone who wanted to make comics, and she said: “The best advice I can give you is to write and draw only about what you TRULY care about.” Most of my comics come from some level of autobiography, powerful experiences or emotions that I have that I really just want to share with people. Even the fictional comics are at their core, autobiographical in some way.

What is your creative process? Do you have any unique rituals you perform before writing? Do you have to write in a particular place with a particular atmosphere?

I really don’t have much of a ritual. Most of my ideas, connecting and brainstorming happen while I’m doing other things, so I always try to have pen and paper handy in case something hits. I write at home in front of the television, I write at work while waiting for large image files to save or render, I figure out plot points while I’m riding my bike. I’m a little more consistent when I’m drawing or inking – my favorite is to ink while watching lots and lots of Law & Order.

What sparked your inspiration for Shuteye?

Mostly, it was my own dreams. Of the six stories in Shuteye, three of them are based directly on dreams that I had, and one is based on a dream my brother had. They were really powerful dreams that stuck with me for days. I knew I wanted to do a series of short comics about dreams, and then I had the idea to make each story the dream of a character in the next story, and it just all kind of came together.

Could you share you experience starting Shortpants Press? What was most challenging about starting a small press?

I’m actually phasing out Shortpants Press, and I don’t plan to be operating as a small press in the future. The most challenging thing I found – and the reason why I’m stopping – was how incredibly hard it was to be a small press and ALSO making my own comics. To really do a good job of being a small press publisher, even for minicomics, it has to be a full time job, you really have to really devote yourself to it. It’s tough, it’s time-consuming, it can be pretty unrewarding, it’s a labor of love. I was never really a proper small press anyway – I just knew a lot of really talented artists who didn’t have the materials, equipment, or know-how to make their own minicomics, and I wanted to help them share their art with people. I work in graphic design, so I have lots of experience working with art programs, picking out paper stocks, working with different printing processes, talking to printers, things like that. I was really happy to be able to help people with that stuff, but the more I did that, the less time and energy I had to devote to my own comics, and I had to really think about what my priorities were going to be.

What advice would you give other aspiring comic artists and writers in regards to finding a publisher?

The best advice I can give anyone is: don’t wait to find a publisher. Make your comics now. Share them with people now. Put them on the internet, print them yourself and sell them to comics shops on consignment, and do conventions. The more comics you make, the better you will get at making them, and – more importantly – you will build an audience. Publishers will be a lot more interested in your work if you already have a built-in audience. But of course by that time, you might be used to making your own books, and in most cases, you’ll actually make a lot more money self-publishing than you ever will getting published.

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

I’ve never had the experience of creating comics as a man, so I have nothing to compare it to. I can only speak to the experience of creating comics as a Sarah Becan.

What is your next project?

My next project is a story about my grandparents, who lived through a massive and deadly storm in Wichita Falls in the late 1970s. It was going to be a minicomic, but as I was writing and revising it, it kept getting longer and longer, so it’ll probably end up being a decent-sized graphic novel. The script is just about finished – once Shuteye is done I’ll be able to start thumbnailing it. And I’ll probably serialize it online before I collect it into a print edition.

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