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 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!

Interview with Comic Writer Kara Barrett

It’s not every day that I stumble upon a comic that 1. has a strong female lead 2. has awesome art 3. involves fighting, superpowers, and other such kick-ass elements. Kara Barrett’s The End Is Totally Nigh gets a little checkmark for each of my qualifications for a throughly enjoyable comic book read. And there’s a lot to learn from Ms. Barrett, who made her dream comic happen through the help of Kickstarter, hired artists, and a ton of hard work. In this interview, she shares her experiences and advice for those looking to get their comics out into the world. (Oh, and check out a preview of the comic here.)

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

The End Is Totally Nigh is one BIG burrito-wrapped apocalypse of awesome filled with hellfire, horseheads, heroes and demons! How’s that?

What is your favorite comic or graphic novel?

My favorite comics right now are Rachel Rising and Saga. But I’m always looking for new titles. You have any recommendations for me? I’ve also backed a few on Kickstarter that I can’t wait to read.

What (or who) inspired you to begin creating comics? Why did you begin writing and creating comics?

I read comics when I was a kid and then stopped. When Buffy went to comics, I picked up a few copies and fell back in love with them. A few years ago I started writing this story in a loose format. I looked at different mediums for my story, and ultimately decided that comics were the way to go. I think they are a great way to put your story into people’s hands.

Tell me about  The End Is Totally Nigh.

The End Is Totally Nigh is a story about a girl with mysterious abilities who is trying to stop the impending apocalypse. She suddenly has the ability to exorcise demons, but it isn’t sure how or why she is able to do this. All she does know is that the demon army is about to rise and Lucifer is going to walk the Earth. It’s up to her and a group of ragtag demon hunters to try make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s a supernatural story filled demon bad guys and plenty of apocalyptic drama. I think readers will really enjoy it.

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

The End Is Totally Nigh playlist? Yes, I’ve got to create that!  I think there’s some country music on that playlist. T-R-O-U-B-L-E and Amarillo by Morning for the main character Jane. And Thunderstruck. That’s a must. I’ll have to ponder on the rest.

Why did you decide to write a comic with a strong female lead? When I began work on my own graphic novel, Fusion, I purposely wanted to break gender stereotypes so prevalent in superhero comics. Were you motivated at all by a similar “feminist” objective?

I definitely wanted strong women in this comic. The End Is Totally Nigh is filled with great female characters who take charge. They are also drawn in a more realistic manner than a lot of what you see in today’s comics. I hope that is a refreshing change for some readers.

You used Kickstarter to fund The End Is Totally Nigh. Would you use Kickstarter again to fund another project? Why did you choose to use Kickstarter in the first place?

I heard about Kickstarter and decided to try it as a last attempt to make this series happen. It was a lot of work but totally worth the effort. I think crowdsourced funding is helping a lot of indie writers get their stories to public. I think that means we can expect a lot more variety in comics and graphic novels. I would definitely try it again and may do so very soon. The End Is Totally Nigh is funded from my own pocket, so I will be in need of an influx of cash soon to keep the series going. 

What was most intimidating about breaking into comics, and what tips would you give others who are hoping to break in as well?

I think I read something recently where someone said, there is no such thing as ‘breaking’ into comics anymore because of sites like Kickstarter. If you have the gumption, you can just go out there and MAKE a comic. I think that’s true. Write a story you believe in, find an artist and get your funding. Anything is possible!

What advice would you give other aspiring comic artists and writers in regards to getting their stuff published? What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?

Self publishing is a lot of work, especially if you are new to the business and no one has ever heard of you. But the upside is that if you self-publish you can keep all of the profit. If you have the time and money to devote to self-publishing, then go for it. Personally, I am juggling full time work, freelance work and writing and promoting this series. My plate is pretty full. I have recently found a small indie publisher willing to help distribute the title. I hope to be able to announce who that is very soon. Once I have more experience I may pitch a new book to a big publisher and see if gets picked up. Ultimately, I think it’s really just a matter of what you have the time and money to accomplish.

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

I really don’t know. This does seem to be a male dominated industry, but that is changing. Kickstarter and sites like that are giving a lot of female writers a chance to create and publish their own projects. That is really exciting. I’m glad to be a part of that.

What is your next project?

I have two in the pipeline. One is a mini series and the other is a one issue horror story. I hope to get the funds to do one or both of them later this year. Right now I’m devoting my energy to getting my series off of the ground and hopefully hitting some cons this year.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

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Comic Books 101—Part Four

Know Your Rights

Sure, writing is an art form, but (and thank goodness!) it does come along with some rights. As a writer, particularly as a comic book writer, you need to be aware of these rights.

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property (IP) is the property that results from an original creative thought. IP includes patents, trademarks, and copyright material. That last one—copyright material—that’s what you as a writer care about. Everything you write is automatically copyrighted, although the U.S. government does give you the option to pay a fee.

Rights to Know—When Working with an Artist

If you need an artist but want to retain all rights to your story, find an artist who will “work for hire.” Work for hire means the artist does her work and you pay her immediately. She takes no rights to your story, so when (and I mean if) someone wants to buy the movie rights, you get all the cash (that is, of course, if you’re not working with a publisher). You can, however, give your artist the right to re-sell original copies of her work (this can really help an artist out!)

PRO: The writer doesn’t give up rights.

CON: Smaller publishers often prefer you submit your work as a creative team, not just as a writer. And teams are more fun, anyway!

If you don’t mind giving up some rights to the artist, you can find an artist who will be a member of your creative team. You and this artist will draft a contract whereby you decide on how rights are delineated.

PRO: Smaller publishers prefer you submit your work as a team. Finding an artist who is with you all the way through to publication means your writing and her art will grow to work better together. Collaboration is a beautiful thing.

CON: The writer gives up some rights to the artist.

Rights to Know—When Working with a Publisher

First Rights—The publisher has the right to be the first to publish your work. And that’s it. After a set period of time, all rights revert back to you the writer, and you’re free to do with your work as you see fit. More specific first rights include First English Rights, First North American Serial Rights, and First Electronic Rights. (Note, however, that many publishers don’t want to see previously published work, so be a bit wary here if you plan on re-publishing your work).

Nonexclusive Reprint Rights—This is a sweet deal for the writer. The publisher has the right to reprint your article even though it’s already been published. Since they bought the rights “nonexclusively,” another publisher can re-print your work.

All Rights—You sell all your rights. Yeah, all of them. That better be some helluva publisher!

Royalty—Okay, this isn’t a right, but it’s a good word to know. It’s your share (usually a percentage given to you after a number of books have sold) of the profits (net or not) of a book. You can also make royalties as a portion of the cover price.



Visit Ms.Comix next Wednesday for updates from Comic Book 101!

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!

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!