Interview with Comic Creator Amara Leipzig

Amara Leipzig is a comic book artist and student studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Amara’s work is characterized by a simple yet vibrant use of texture and white space. Her depiction of the human form is haunting, and the content of her work is at times provocative (and always compelling). Amara has self published several comics, including “Yizkor,” a tale inspired by her grandmother’s experience during WWII.  Amara’s comics are for sale at Quimby’s Bookstore in Chicago. She has recently illustrated a book entitled How Many More Questions? You can read a synopsis of the book here and view sample pages here.  Visit her website  to check out  more samples of her work.

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

When I ask my friends about the strengths of my work, they say that my comics tap into fairly universal human emotion in a way that allows people of many ages, groups, and genders to connect with the condition of my characters. This is definitely what I’m working towards so I hope it to be true!

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

My oldest friend, Josh Grapes, used to write comics that I would draw when we were like 7. I don’t think we ever finished one and I stopped making comics for “serious art” like painting. It was probably watching a good friend, Susan Sarandon, make an incredible comic a couple of years ago that started me at it again. (check out artbysusansarandon.wordpress.com and you will not be disappointed!!!)

 What is your favorite comic or graphic novel?

Hands down, “Abandoned Cars” by Tim Lane. I’m a sucker for the American Dream. But “Curses” by Kevin Huizenga, “Against Pain” by Ron Rege Jr and “Sleepwalk and Other Stories” by Adrian Tomine all deserve a tied second.

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

Podcasts because that’s all I listen to while I’m drawing and inking. Often, when I’m done with a comic and I read through it, at different parts I’m hit with the emotional reaction I had to whatever story I was listening to on Radiolab or the Moth or whatever at the time.

For others though, maybe A Silver Mt Zion or some Tim Hecker?

Tell me more about “Yizkor.” I read the sample pages online and found them compelling and somewhat haunting.

During WWII, my grandfather was weatherman for the air force. He travelled around the States, and wherever the government sent him, my grandmother decided to pack up her bags and follow. “Yizkor” is the story of her experiences through the war mirrored by my relationship with her. When I wrote the comic, I was the same age she was at this time. Yizkor is a special memorial service in the Jewish faith that is only said on three or four days every year. I hoped that this comic would act as a memorial to my grandmother’s experiences and losses that so many of that generation shared.

What is your dream job?

A long string of really different kinds of experiences. I’d like to be an educational therapist, an art or physics teacher, a master printer, a published writer and cartoonist, a tutor, and many other things throughout my life. I realize that each of these professions take a lifetime to master and so I would probably also be happy doing just one.

How has being a Chicagoan affected your writing? Are their any neighborhoods in Chicago that have had a particular effect on you or have played a role in your creative process?

I moved to Chicago just about three years ago. Growing up in a secular Jewish family in the thick of Los Angeles is probably what has influenced me the most thus far. But in terms of Chicago, the shitty weather continually motivates me to find interesting activities to partake of inside, where there is heat. And a good cafe where I can do work is necessary. Swim Cafe, the Bourgeois Pig, Noble Tree and Nothin’ Less are favorites. All of the great libraries, museums, galleries, print shops, and small bookstores make for an inspired environment I could only try in vain to find in a city like LA.

 What advice would you give other aspiring comic artists and writers in regards to getting their stuff published?

In the beginning, the point is to get your work out into the world so that people can find it. This means that breaking even is much more important than creating a profit, no matter how much time you spent actually producing the books. You will have to compromise on your perfect choice of binding or print quality or paperweight for the sake of being able to make a larger edition. People will forget you if they don’t have a way to find you again. That’s why it’s awesome that making a blog is free and participating in expos and fests is generally cheap. These are at least all things that I tell myself.

What I’ve seen that stops my friends is the fear of being good enough and the fear of the technology at their disposal. You can’t get better if you don’t make something! Honestly, just put your pencil to a piece of paper and start. Making three panels of a comic that will never be finished is way better than having the perfect story exist in your mind only. And having pages and pages of god awful comics is better too. Because it’s a beginning. If you want, you really only have to show the end product to yourself. Never let the fear of a xerox machine stop you because self publishing is your best friend. Don’t be afraid to ask how to use them but most importantly spend some time getting to know the machines around you and you will be rewarded.

 What is your next project?

For the past couple months, I’ve been working on a story about a girl who lives all alone in the wilderness. Around her, she can see ruins of structures that could have been built by humans but she’s never seen another person nor does she know how she’s happened to exist in this place. The comic follows her growing up and making the sense of the world around her. It’s still very much in it’s beginning stages but is starting to look like it will be a much longer beast than I’m used to that will probably take me quite awhile. I’m trying to get myself to start writing in chronological order so that I can put out a first issue within the next four-ish months so keep an eye out!

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Comic Books 101 – Part Two

Another cold Chicago morning, I was sitting once again in my comic book writing class. The professor continually emphasized that in comics, words are never more important than images. That’s a tough thing to hear if you’re a creative writing major, but it’s the honest truth. Comics are, after all, a graphic medium.

Great art can save a mediocre script. Yet a brilliant script never saved bad art. That’s why for our final project, we’re required to convince an artist to draw the first six pages of our script. And it’s scaring the hell out of most of us. What if I can’t find an artist? What if my artist bails last minute? What if the art is terrible?

But this is the nature of comic writing and also what makes it unique. In typical prose, what you write is what you get. The writer (editor notwithstanding) almost exclusively controls the end product of her writing. But in comics, what you write may not be what the art actually becomes. What you write (besides dialog and captions) isn’t actually read by your audience. Sounds like a writer’s worst nightmare!

Yet, comic book writing is great in its own ways. Comic books force writers to think in a new way, to collaborate with an individual(s) they may not even know. It’s exciting, actually, if you think about it. Great things come from collaboration. Comic books are proof that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Besides learning this humbling insight into comic book writing, in my second comic book writing class, I learned:

The Rule of 35- in any panel, you must have no more than 35 words.

GGA means “good girl art.” This I might want to avoid.

Avoid writing “talking heads.” Utilize the comic book medium and create movement and action that works sequentially from panel to panel.

Original art is usually drawn on 11 by 17 inch paper.

90% of everything is crap. That includes your writing.

Take some time to email some comic creators. They actually might respond.

Don’t tell your story through captions. Captions are useful for irony (contrasting with what is shown in the panel) or to establish time and place.

The job of the last panel is to compel readers to turn the page.

Self-publishing is totally legitimate.

Check back next week to discover what I’ll learn next!