Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (or CXC) is a four day festival in Columbus, Ohio celebrating the work of cartoonists and providing chances to learn more about the medium. It’s mission is “to provide an international showcase for the best of cartoon art in all its forms, including comics, animation, editorial cartoons, newspaper strips, and beyond, in a city that is a growing center of importance to comics and cartooning. We also focus on helping the next generation of young cartooning talent develop thriving careers that invigorate the industry for years to come.” In the spirit of this mission, the Comics Beat has conducted a series of interviews with some of the phenomenal cartoonists in attendance at this year’s Cartoon Crossroads Columbus. We hope that these interviews will improve our understanding of these creators voices, techniques, interests and influences as well as provide a platform for comics enthusiasts to discover new artists and challenge their conceptions of comics.
In this CXC interview, we talked with Marnie Galloway. Marnie is a cartoonist & illustrator working in Chicago, Illinois. She has recently published In the Sounds and Seas, a collection of her three part series of the same name. I had read the first part of that series back in 2015 in a quaint restaurant in St. Johns, Newfoundland and it struck me as very powerful piece of comic book poetry. I’ve followed her work ever since and was struck by one her comics she recently published called Particle/Wave, a reversible story of estrangement, coming to term with loss and pain that felt surprisingly real. I’ve had the pleasure of talking with Marnie about those comics as well as how parenting has affected her work and work schedule.
Philippe Leblanc: For those readers who may not be familiar with you and your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
MG: Sure! I am a 32 year old cartoonist and illustrator living in Chicago. I mostly write fiction comics, and I experiment with book structure, wordlessness, and poetics. One of the things I love most about making comics is that the interdisciplinary nature of the medium enables pretty wild experimentation with physical, narrative and visual forms. Last year my first graphic novel, In the Sounds and Seas, was published by One Peace Books, collected from a self-published, Xeric Award winning series. I also recently made Particle/Wave, published by So What Press, and Burrow, self-published with support of the Pulitzer Arts Foundation.
PL: I remember reading an interview you did a few years and how you said that you were never moved by a comic book as much as a real book. Has that changed since?
MG: I’m grateful for the opportunity to correct the record on this question! First, comics are real books; I think in the interview you’re referencing, I was talking about comics vs literary fiction, written prose without an interdependence on images. I was an avid reader of fiction growing up and discovered the breadth and depth of comics relatively late, in my mid-20s. I was less widely read in comics than prose when I said that. I absolutely have been moved deeply by comics! Panther by Brecht Evens haunts me like a nightmare, and I can’t think about certain passages without getting literally, physically nauseated. Viewotron 2 by Sam Sharpe moved me to tears when I first read it a few years ago on my lunch break from work, and I couldn’t concentrate for the rest of the afternoon. Edie Fake’s Gaylord Phoenix is life-giving electricity in book form. I don’t think I’ve laughed as hard at anything in recent years as Jessica Campbell’s Hot or Not: 20th Century Male Artists. Eleanor Davis’s How to Be Happy and her new You and a Bike and the Road are works of narrative & emotional genius. I could easily go on!
All of that said, I still find myself looking to poetry and literary fiction for nourishment and inspiration more often than comics. I think that’s the point I was trying to make in the other interview you reference. I still don’t have a good answer for why that is, though. It might be as simple as the amount of time it takes to read; even a hundreds-of-pages-long comic can be read in a single sitting, and a comparably long novel can take days or weeks. You’re living in the space of the novel longer than the comic, so there’s more time for the tendrils of the story to dig in deep. That doesn’t feel like the whole truth of the matter, though. Who knows!
PL: You recently became a mother (Congratulations!). What did becoming a mother changed for you in terms of how you look at art? Has it changed how you approached your projects from a creative standpoint?
MG: Thank you for the congratulations, and for the thoughtful question! So: in my comics, I think a lot about embodiment, especially how identity transformations are viscerally embodied. For instance, in my book In the Sounds and Seas, world creation is an act of vomiting (/singing) animals. The protagonist physically bonds her body to her project by braiding her hair into the rigging of a ship. There is no language in the book; all communication happens with the characters’ bodies. In Burrow, a sleep-deprived new mother uses physical totems from her past and present to reconstitute a new body/self. The body as a site of manifesting emotional and intellectual change is central to the stories I’m interested in telling, at least so far.
With that context, pregnancy and childbirth were *fascinating*—I loved being pregnant, as unpleasant as it often was. It was an existential GOLDMINE. For 3/4 of a year I was slightly plural, and then in an act of physical strength and endurance and pain, I made a new human. My body did that. I recently had a miscarriage; my body is now also a place where not-life happens. This is literally the stuff of life and death, and it’s also deeply mundane—that tension is really interesting. If anything, my experiences in motherhood have doubled down the centrality of the questions I was already asking. So much of life happens on a small, intimate, daily scale, alone in ourselves or in raw intimacy with another person, even (and especially) the most profound moments of change.
PL: Your patreon page helps you to afford a daycare provider. Parenting is a full-time job with a child at home. How have you managed to adapt to the time constraint this causes on your ability to create?
MG: Oof, yeah. I almost didn’t frame my Patreon towards the goal of offsetting the cost of childcare, but some friends, other women in comics, encouraged transparency about the financial burden of childcare as an act of public awareness. That America doesn’t have deeply subsidized, affordable childcare or legally guaranteed parental leave is a shameful disgrace. My now-18-month-old son just started daycare earlier this month, which stretches our family budget to the edge of breaking, and that’s even with my partner working a solidly professional job. It’s stressful, but I needed to get back to work for my mental health as much as for income.
Before he started daycare I was a full-time Alpha Parent at home with him, and spent evenings and weekends (when my husband was home) doing freelance illustration work and trying to also make comics. In my son’s first 9 months of life, my first graphic novel In the Sounds and Seas (which I had been working on for 5 years, but finished while pregnant) was published and debuted at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, Particle/Wave was published, and I wrote, illustrated and self-published Burrow and put together an accompanying performance for the kick-off event at last year’s St Louis Small Press Expo. It was a brutally exhausting period; I burned out and crashed hard afterward, and only now, almost a year later, am I getting back to my inkwell. I couldn’t have done any of it without the full support of my partner, and a radical community of generous friends who volunteered afternoons and evenings of childcare and emotional support.
PL: When reading one of your latest comic Particle/Wave, I was struck by how well your protagonist reacts to the reappearance and disappearance of her brother. It paralleled in many ways my experience with a family member who suffers from substance abuse problem. How my family developed its own internal coping mechanism for that. How did you manage to distill this kind of experience for your comic and what made you want to tackle this subject?
MG: I am so sorry to hear that you felt kinship with that story. Particle/Wave is a memoir. That was a true story, a representative fragment of my estranged relationship with my beloved, lost little brother. Estrangement is a hard story to tell, literally a storytelling problem, because there is no resolution—that is the whole problem, that is the whole heartbreak. To try to grieve and give myself resolution I created a small ritual to say goodbye, but the ritual was impeded by absence, which was frustrating and also deeply appropriate. The story ends in the middle of the book, which the reader then flips over to read from the other direction, which you can then flip over and re-read the estrangement story. That it could be read over and over by returning to the center was another way to manifest the feeling of not being resolved.
PL: Particle/Wave is essentially two stories in one reversible comics. Why did you want to use this format to tell this story?
MG: I had the idea for that structure a couple of years ago, writing a project proposal for an artist residency that I didn’t end up getting. I later stumbled upon the document and it felt like the right time to revisit the idea: the two stories I wanted to tell shifted and developed quickly and organically. Both stories are deeply personal, about grief & identity & family & the moon, that collide on a shared center spread. They are thematically connected and the content of one informs the other, but they stand independently. That was an interesting narrative puzzle to solve. I like not knowing which story a reader is going to encounter first; I like not knowing which side bookstores will display as the front.
PL: You were involved in organizing CAKE, the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo from 2013 to 2016. Is this something you wish to be involved in again in the future? What do you think was your biggest takeaway from participating in the organization of this festival?
MG: I love CAKE and I’m so proud of the work we all did when I was an organizer! In my tenure there we established CAKE as a nonprofit, instituted the Cupcake Award (a microgrant & mentorship program for emerging artists), partnered with Transit Residency and the Chicago Publishers Resource Center (CHIPRC) to offer a week-long artist residency, and put on 3 pretty spectacular festivals. As much as I loved being a part of CAKE, the intensity of the time demands of a volunteer organizer isn’t compatible anymore with my work & life. Plus, I think it’s important for the health of any organization to get new voices and perspectives into the core leadership. It was deeply humbling to be a part of creating CAKE for those years; the North American independent comics community is exploding with new ideas and modes of expression through the medium of comics, and Chicago is home to a particularly vibrant community of cartoonists. I left every meeting wanting to work harder to become a better artist.
PL: Do you have any new comics or material you’re bringing to CXC? If so, can you tell us a little bit more about them/it?
MG: Sadly, no! Best laid plans got sidelined by a summer gone sideways. This is my first time exhibiting at CXC, though, so in a way it’s all new!
PL: What do you want readers to take with them once they’ve finished reading your comics?
MG: What a huge question! I make comics as a way of thinking about how people live. I aspire to write stories that are compassionate and raw and true. If a reader finishes reading a comic I have made feeling a little more open, I am satisfied.
You can follow Marnie Galloway’s work on her website, or follow her on Twitter, Instagram or subscribe to her newsletter. You can also buy her work on her online store. You can support her on Patreon as well
Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improves Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie and art comics at night and write about them for the Comics Beat.