Marisa Acocella Marchetto’s name might be most familiar as a cartoonist for the New Yorker or as the author of the acclaimed graphic memoir Cancer Vixen. Her newly released graphic novel Ann Tenna tells the story of Ann Tenna, an influential gossip columnist who because of a freak accident meets her higher cosmic self. Faced with the choices she’s made in her life and how they’ve affected her humanity and her place in the world, she is challenged to live with positive intention and change her life for the better.
At San Diego Comic-Con 2015 Marisa was kind enough to share some time with The Beat and provide additional insight to Ann Tenna.
Victor Van Scoit: In transitioning from working on Cancer Vixen to Ann Tenna, even though Cancer Vixen was personal and a real life experience, looking at Ann Tenna it seems there’s still some personal things involved in there.
Marisa Acocella Marchetto: I guess for me. The whole thing about Ann being in the world of fashion and gossip, it’s a fun world but it can also be kind of dangerous because you can say the wrong thing or I think there’s a lot of, for me—the whole thing about karma played out. Kind of like you are who you transmit.
VVS: It also seems like there’s more than one idea at work in Ann Tenna. Identity, pop culture, and I know mindfulness is a big thing in the cultural environment right now. In the book there’s a certain mindfulness in finding what your purpose is and what you’re really about.
MAM: That is a lot of what this book is about. I think because I had this life threatening diagnosis it really made me think about what it was I was doing with my life—who I was, what I wanted to become—it made me sort of be more conscious of my actions and who I wanted to be around. Basically what kind of imprint I wanted to leave once I actually left the planet. I thought a lot about that. And that experience—having your expiration date extended, made me sort of think about and inform Ann Tenna.
VVS: It’s funny though because, especially when I think about how mindfulness is portrayed, it’s about being calm, taking stock, and going through a process. But the pace of Ann Tenna, the book itself is a little bit more frenetic in art, style, and pace. Was that a conscious choice as a different way to approach mindfulness?
MAM: First of all I don’t think Zen. I guess I sort of vibrate on a different plane. And you know what? For me, my higher self would be saying “What do you think you’re doing with your life?” I think about potential and who you want to be, and who you should be and what you should be doing. I would think that that person, or my higher self, would be saying “ Are you crazy? Is that what you really want to be doing with your life?” Those are the conversations I have with myself.
VVS: The idea of how can you approach what you’re doing with some integrity. Ann is a voice and has a large following, but asking the question of how can she do it with more integrity?
MAM: I definitely feel that that is an aspect of Ann Tenna and definitely where I am as an artist. I think about the intention of what it is I’m trying to say. Not just trying to get something out there, but what kind of impact it will leave. Like that whole scene [in the book], the father of quantum physics says something like, “You’re reality is conscious. The mind is the matrix of all matter.” Your reality is consciousness of all thought.
VVS: One of the things I enjoyed in the other plane is that you bring in a few cameos from a fashion, design, and science standpoint. Did you do much research on those people? Were they always feeding your own personal trip?
MAM: I did research but in the creative process it’s sort of like—if you let things happen or ingest, and try and pay attention to the signs—I sort of put that in the book. I had my antenna up when I was drawing.
VVS: That’s cool because normally in another medium you have to worry if they’re alive, or if you have access to these people. Here you can leverage your imagination and draw them into existence. You can have those imaginary conversations.
MAM: Those were really fun to do. To have Coco Channel come in and say that’s she’s redesigning the pearly gates. Or when Gianni Versace is doing Liz Taylor’s dress for the Golden Galaxy awards.
VVS: Exactly. And if there is an afterlife or another plane of existence you can kind of expect those people to not stop doing what they’re passionate about. Post Cancer Vixen, is that the key learning you took away and applied to this book?
MAM: Definitely. 100%. I mean I’m sure Oscar de la Renta is now designing dresses but he’s using the fabric of the universe.
VVS: That plays really well with the concept of particlization in the book. It’s almost like manifesting your reality.
MAM: There’s a lot of it.
VVS: What do you hope that people take away from this regarding manifesting their own reality? Cautionary tale? Something to learn from?
MAM: I see it also as a hopeful tale too. It’s a story about your potential. Everybody has got a super version. You’ve got a Super Victor, and I have a Super Marisa. Do you want to realize that potential and do you want to listen to that voice? That higher consciousness voice that will guide you. Or do you want to just go on your little way and your reality will be unconsciousness of thought? That is definitely something that was in my mind when I was writing this.
VVS: Who is this book for?
MAM: I would like it to reach a very wide audience. I think anybody who—there’s a spiritual quotient here, there’s a fashion quotient, there’s a gossip quotient here. There’s a lot of different tentacles.
VVS: The gossip quotient. There’s a real nice satire going on. Is that your own personal reflection or experience?
MAM: I’m definitely conscious of the negative side of gossip. And I try not to do it. You know when you’re talking and the words are coming out of your mouth and you just want to put them back in? I do think about what you transmit and I’m much more conscious of that now. Especially in this electronic age.
VVS: Speaking of this electronic age—how do you show and sell the book while still maintaining who you are? Maintaining who you are without doing something that doesn’t make you happy?
MAM: Oh this makes me happy! Because I feel like this is still part of the writing process. You did the work. It’s like giving birth. Writing is like—you’re pregnant, you’re pregnant, you’re pregnant. Now it’s like it’s coming out and then you’ve got to make sure it grows up to be as healthy as possible.
VVS: That perfect. I’m smiling and laughing because it takes me to the beginning of Ann Tenna where there’s a literal birthing of Ann Tenna.
MAM: Yeah that’s so funny. I didn’t even think about that.
VVS: This is fiction yet isn’t any less personal that Cancer Vixen. Did you have to draw a line between your life inspiring or influencing too much?
MAM: I was just really thinking about the story. I use this whole experience to inform the book. I was just trying to think of a way to make the story as compelling as possible and move it forward and make it fun. If I thought it was fun, and I liked it, then I was hoping everyone else would too.
Marisa Acocella Marchetto is a cartoonist for The New Yorker whose work has appeared in The New York Times; Glamour; and O, The Oprah Magazine, among other publications. She is also the author of Cancer Vixen (Knopf), and Just Who the Hell Is She Anyway? (Crown). Ann Tenna (Knopf) is available now.