Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (or CXC) is a . 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 interview, we talked with Isabella Rotman. Isabella is a cartoonist, illustrator and educator based in Chicago. She’s published a number of excellent comics, including Burn Your Demons and Siren School. She is creating educational comics and illustrations around Sex Education. Two of her educational comics are available for colleges and universities students. Isabella is also an artist in residence for scarleteen.com, an international sex and relationship education website. We spoke with Isabella about her work in comics and how she views comics as an educational tool.
Philippe Leblanc: For those readers who may not be familiar with you and your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Isabella Rotman: Sure! When I think of my work I usually divide it into two categories, educational and narrative. My educational comics include You’re So Sexy When You Aren’t Transmitting STIs and Not On My Watch; The Bystanders’ Hand book for the Prevention of Sexual Violence. Both comics aim to take a difficult subject and make it more approachable through the use of illustrations and (when appropriate) humour. In these books I present the concerns of the queer community as part of the concerns of the general population in the larger issue of sexual health and violence prevention. I also have a few tiny educational comics about plants and other things that interest me. My narrative works are a little bit… weirder. Generally these works come in the form of mini-comics that function as a processing method for my own life and issues. They are half auto-bio and half surreal dream. I hope that when you read them you connect to the guts of the issue, and not the details.
PL: Two of your comics, Burn Your Demons and Run with your Demons, have interesting layouts. Your page is round rather than rectangular or square. I’m wondering why you decide to use a round page for those stories?
IR: I consider both of those comics as examples of my surreal narrative works. In hindsight, I think I made them circles to suggest that the story I’m telling and the issues I’m talking about don’t have a beginning or end. They just go round and round, sometimes better and sometimes worse, but never ending. I also like to give myself limits or rules when I’m drawing a mini-comic, to challenge myself to work within a unique format, and to give the comic a stylistic set of guidelines that makes it cohesive within itself and stand out from other works. I think it’s important to mention that I’m not the first cartoonist to draw circular layouts. Sam Alden did so in his mini-comic The Worm Troll and I’m sure other’s have as well.
PL: Your comic Siren School re-contextualize the story of sirens for a modern age. It’s a comedy about how manipulative sirens must now be to lure idiot men. What inspired you to write this story?
IR:.I don’t think it’s about how manipulative sirens have to be to lure idiot men. Most men are so inclined to explain things to women, without first clarifying if a women has interest in what is being explained or already knows plenty about the topic. The comic is about how easy it would be to lure idiot men. Men are already explaining things left and right without being asked. If a woman brought it up first they’d probably jump right into the sea.
PL: Your main line of work is as a freelance artist and you’ve focused a lot of time on educational comics. Why are you interested in comics as an educational tool?
IR : I think comics are such a great educational tool! To me, comics have a non-pretentious vibe about them that makes people feel much less like they are being lectured at. I often write about difficult or uncomfortable topics, and in order for someone to absorb information about difficult topics they usually have to be comfortable. I use comics, and a dash of humor, to make these topics approachable. I once had the good fortune to collaborate on a study of my comic Not On My Watch with a educational researched named Drew Rizzo at Emory University. He is now studying at UNH. Drew introduced me to the concept of “Entertainment Education”, a strategy I had employed in my comics without knowing the name for it. Entertainment education is “the process of purposely designing and implementing a media message to both entertain and educate, in order to increase audience members’ knowledge about an issue, create favorable attitudes, shift social norms, and change over behavior” (Singhal & Rogers, 1999; 2002) Drew also introduced me to more theories in education that I had held as personal mantras for a long time, not knowing they had been reasearched (but in hindsight, of COURSE they had.) Dual-Coding Theory (DCT) states that “Information Processing and retention (memory) is improved when information is presented in both by text and images, but only when they are co-located, related, and coherent.” (Clark & Paivio, 1991; Sadoski & Paivio, 2012) So you tell me, whats a co-located related, and coherent combination of words and pictures?
Yeah, that’s right.
PL: You’re also an artists in residence for Scarleteen.com. What kind of work do you do with them? Does that allow you the freedom to work on educational comics?
IR: My collaborations with Scarleteen usually involve partnering with a writer to illustration an article that is going up on the site. Often I am collaborating with the founder Heather Corinna, but more and more lately I have been working with Scarleteen volunteers! I love Scarleteen because their non-judgmental, queer, and comprehensive approach to sex education. No question is a bad question, a sense of humor is welcomed, and all topics are approached with responsibility and sensitivity. I’m also Scarleteen’s go-to illustrator, and often do things for them like designing elements for the front page or creating illustrations to be used as gifts to staff.
As for educational comics, I published You’re So Sexy When You Aren’t Transmitting STIs before I started working for Scarleteen, and I would be making educational comics whether I worked for them or not.
You can follow Isabella Rotman’s work on her website. You can find some of her educational comics online or her other comics online which includes Siren School and Burn Your Demons. You can follow her on Tumblr, Instagram or Twitter. You can also buy her work on her online store.