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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Interview with Comic Writer Jeremy Whitley

Yeah, I know, I interviewed a dude. But give this guy a chance! He’s got a lot of interesting things to say about women in comics. First of all, he writes the comic Princeless. The title is pretty self-explanatory, and, if you’re interested, you can read more about the comic in my recent review.

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

 
It’s about a princess who saves herself, rides a dragon, and faces down terrifying monsters with nothing but a sword and her wits.

 

What is your favorite comic or graphic novel?

 
All time, Y: The Last May by Brian K Vaughn and Pia Guerra.  Currently…Batwoman.
 
 
Who is your least favorite author (of any medium and genre)?
 
Is is fair to take Stephenie Meyer?  Should she be off the table as too obvious?  Scott Lobdell goes here for comics, but I feel like that’s phoned in too.  He’s just too awful.
 
 
What is your dream job?
 
Professional writer.  Not of one thing in particular though.  I want to have my own creator owned stuff, but I’d really like to add something to that great superhero mythos as well.  I’d love Marvel to hire me to write a B level female superhero, one of the ones I feel just doesn’t get the stories she deserves.  Storm, Misty Knight, Dust or Ms Marvel.
 
 
What (or who) inspired you to begin creating comics?
 
I’ve always loved comics, but I had not read them in some time while I was actually studying to be a writer.  I stumbled on Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men while hunting down issue 1 of Buffy Season 8 and it reminded me why I loved comics.  From there, I put my head down and went for it.  So…while my dad got me into comics initially, I guess Joss Whedon inspired me to start writing them.  Never thought about it that way. 
 
 
What was the last book you read?
 
I honestly haven’t read many non-graphic books recently (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but the last thing I read was this great new all-ages comic called “The Intrepid Escape Goat” from 3rd World Studios.  It’s kind of an amazing book.
 
 
If your comics had a soundtrack, what songs/artists would it include?
 
“Sister Rosetta” by The Noisettes
“Feeling Good” by Nina Simone
“Creator” by Santi White
Definitely something by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Regina Spektor
 
 
No doubt your comic, Princeless, attempts to break down stereotypical portrayals of women in fairy tales (and comics). What inspired you to create Princeless? Were you ever concerned that writing a strong female lead might deter some readers?
 
I wanted to write this story because at the time I was considering the future and that my wife and I hoped to have a daughter.  I wanted to be able to share my love of comics with her and I wanted to write the sort of story that I would want her to be reading.  I’ve always been incredibly bothered by the princess culture that we push so many girls into. It’s okay for girls to like what they like, but if all they ever know is helplessness, rescue, and subjugation then what are they going to become?  I certainly want more than that for and from my daughter.
 
As for whether having a strong female protaganist would deter people from reading, the thought hadn’t really crossed my mind.  I guess I figure that if strong women bother them than they’re not my audience anyway.  Also, probably not people I want to get to know.
 
 
What advice would you give other aspiring comic artists and (particularly) writers in regards to getting their stuff published?
 
Think.  Work.  Create interesting characters.  Keep putting things out there.  Go to conventions even if you don’t have anything to sell.  Talk to the people who are doing what you want to do.  Make connections and make friends.  Keep going.  If you can’t find anyone to publish your stuff, publish it yourself.  When you have success, it’s going to feel like luck, but remember all the work you put into being lucky and don’t stop working.
 
 
What was most challenging about founding (and managing) Firetower Studios?
 
The most challenging thing about being an Indy comic creator is also the most challenging thing about being an indy comics publisher:  Keeping your head up.  It feels like no one is reading your comic.  To this day I’m certain I’ve spent more money on Firetower than I’ve made and that’s especially tough as a writer where you have less chance to do commission work at conventions and make your table money back.  In fact, I think SPX last year may be the first show where I actually made money…well, if you don’t count what I spent on the hotel and food.
 
 
How do you think the experience of comic creating and publishing differs for men and women (if it does at all)?
 
I’m obviously not an expert at being a woman in comics, but it seems to me that it’s way harder for women.  There’s a fair amount of misogyny in the industry and fanbase, but beyond that, there’s the question.  How will people receive your work once they know you’re female?  Will that effect whether or not they buy your work or hire you for a job.  Then there’ll always be those that insist that you only got the job because they needed a girl who blanks.  I’m very rarely asked what it’s like being a white man who writes comics, but no matter how good female creators are, that’s always going to be a question for them.
 
 
What is your next project?
 
Well, Princeless Book 2 should start making its way out a little later this year, but right now I have my fingers in a lot of other pies.  Firetowerstudios.com puts up new webcomics every weekday and we’ll have two (maybe three) new books coming out this summer.  All of them are written by me and all feature female leads.  That wasn’t a plan, it just happened that way.  “Illegal” which I’m doing with artist Charlie Harper is a book about being an undocumented immigrant in an increasingly monitored and socially stratified future.  It’s an action book, despite that description.  “Skip”, which I’m working on with artist Rich Lombardi, is a more traditional super hero comic, but it follows a superheroine who’s very new to the business and finds herself in the middle of a fight to the death between the forces of good and evil.  Finally, “The Last Fairy Tale” which I’m working on with artist Jason Strutz is a story about a future where magic has devastated the world and the few lone survivors live in magically protected communities.  One girl stumbles on one such community that suffering from a mysterious, but incredibly familiar curse.