2020 has been a difficult year for everyone. The Comics Beat usually runs a series of interviews with cartoonists attending the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, but due to travel restrictions and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, TCAF was cancelled. In the spirit of TCAF, one of the most influential and important comic book events in North America, and its mission to “promote the creators of comic books in their broad and diverse voices, for the betterment of the medium of comics,” The Beat has conducted a series of interviews with some of the phenomenal cartoonists that were due to attend this year’s festival. We hope that these interviews will improve our understanding of these creators’ voices, techniques, interests and influences.
Our first interview is with Alberta cartoonist Courtney Loberg. Here we discuss her current comic series We Don’t Go Through the Angelgrass, watercolour, poetry comics and surviving in uncertain times.
Philippe Leblanc: For our readers who might not know who Courtney Loberg is. Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
Courtney Loberg: I’m a comic artist, I live in Edmonton. I’ve been doing comics since about 2012 and We don’t go through the Angelgrass is my third book. My work is usually based in a prairie setting and it’s kind of surreal, like a sort of folk tale inspired comics. I am also a writer. I write a lot of poetry and I use a lot of poetic techniques for writing my comics.
PL: Before we talk about your work, I wanted to ask you, how has the quarantine, social distancing period for you?
Loberg: The first month was rough. I think I was just very anxious all the time. I didn’t know what to do with myself because I work at a library and we all got laid off when the pandemic social distancing measures ramped up. I’ve been home for two months now, but in the second month I found my groove. It’s actually quite lucky because I get to work on my comic all day, every day. I’m trying to appreciate that. I can go for walks in the Creek Valley by my house. And so yeah, I feel like I’ve gotten used to it basically.
Leblanc: It’s a very weird situation for everybody involved and we all try to make the best of it. Were you debuting any books at TCAF this year?
Loberg: Yes, I was debuting the first volume of We don’t go through the Angelgrass, the first 75 pages or so. It’s available now, it’s in my store so I’ve been shipping it out to people. I was scheduled to go to TCAF and the Prairie Comics Festival as well for the launch of the comic.
Leblanc: You mentioned that you do poetry on top of also doing comics. Your biography and I found that you do poetry comics, though some of it is more akin to fantasy and fiction, but that poetic aspect comes through in your comics work, even if it’s not necessarily poetry comics. How are you using poetry techniques as part of your work?
Loberg: I guess the first thing I do, before I write a script or anything is I write out in prose basically what is going to happen in the pages. I think that the biggest techniques from poetry that I use, and I think it’s really well suited to comics because poetry is such a distillation of either a moment or an image, is to kind of condense the ideas in as smallest possible a package as I can. I feel like comics do that very well, because you have to convey so much narrative, settings, characters and emotion in such a small format. A lot happens on each panel.
When I’m done writing the prose for the script, I usually try to write it as a poem. And then it’s a process of figuring out what needs to be in the script or not. A lot of visual stuff doesn’t need to be in there since it gets translated into the images.
Leblanc: Poetry and comics do distill things into smaller chunks. You have to take longer thoughts and ideas and condense them in a panel or a sentence. You’ve been doing poetry comics for quite some time. I’ve noticed that you’ve made some contribution to Inkbrick and other magazines. Most of those poetry comics are shorter. You’ve also been doing longer narrative, I’m thinking of My Favourite Girl that I Never See was a longer work and We don’t go through the Angelgrass. How do you approach those longer work? Do you find that you approach work the same way when do those longer stories?
Loberg: For “my favourite girl that I never see,” that was a story I wrote when I was in grad school, so that was more like a prose piece that I directly turned into a graphic novel. So for that one, I feel like the process was different because it was coming at it with a prose-like narrative sensibilities. We don’t go through the Angelgrass I’m writing as I go so I feel like that’s a lot closer to the poetry practice. I’m kind of writing each scene, each part as its own poem before I turn it into a comic.
Leblanc: You started serializing We don’t go through the Angelgrass in 2019. It’s the story of the small town where angel grass grows on the edge of it. Anyone venturing in it disappears. Cornflower, your main character, has a friend who disappeared this way. She decides to “investigate.” Can you tell us a little bit more about how this series came about?
Loberg: I got the idea a few years ago. I think I was working in an office job and I was a little bit depressed and I wasn’t really making comics, but I did the Inktober challenge for the first time that year. And so I just really got me back into, like drawing and kind of creating new characters. And I made a couple drawings during that batch of actually like what turned out to be cornflower and some of the other characters. I just drew them and was interested in them and I kind of just let my imagination go wild. For this project, I really wanted to basically just do whatever I wanted. Not that I haven’t done that before, but I feel like coming from art school, writing assignments, and a writing degree, this felt more personal and interesting to explore. I think I’ve often been self-conscious about whether the work I do is not interesting enough or it’s trite or things like that. But for this one, I just really wanted to delve into things that I was really interested in. I really like manga, vampires, old Western movies, horror. I just wanted to do something that was purely based on my interests.
Leblanc: You mentioned that your previous graphic novel was planned, written and laid out in advance. For We don’t go through the Angelgrass I’m sensing you’re using a much more free-flowing approach. Do you have a longer plan for the series? How do new ideas that come to you over time get incorporated into it?
Loberg: My first graphic novel was closer to an actual narrative. And I haven’t gotten there yet with Angel Grass. I do know where the story is going, but I don’t always know all the details about how it’s going to get there. So it’s kind of a bit of both. I have plot points and things I know are going to happen, it’s loosely mapped out, but I don’t know exactly how they come to be yet.
Leblanc: Do you have an idea how long this series will be?
Loberg: I think it’s probably going to end up being about 300 pages, so probably four volumes when it’s all done hopefully. I don’t know, maybe I’ll put those into a bigger collection at some point. I’m not sure yet.
Leblanc: I like what you’re doing with the watercolour. It has a lot of depth to everything. You use it to make some interesting illustrations. One in particular that struck me was the woods where you added these dots of light browns that are meant to look like dead leaves. Tell me a little bit more about your watercolour process.
Loberg: I love watercolour. I used it in the last book. I’ve always worked with traditional media. I just don’t really want have to do digital work right now. It’s a lot faster, but I really enjoy working with pens, pencils and paintbrushes. I pencil the pages out and then I work the lines with a brush and China ink. Then after that, I lay down the watercolour. It comes together nicely. Also, I haven’t had the patience to learn how to working digitally yet. It’s a whole new skill set.
Leblanc: What can we do to support you during this quarantine?
Leblanc: What do you want readers to take with them after reading your book?
Loberg: My biggest hope, I think, or the best response, is that somebody reads it and they feel they’ve been truly immersed in another world and they’ve connected with the characters and the place that I’ve created. That’s the best I can hope for. There’s hopefully some themes in the story to underline about, like self-acceptance, and I hope it’s encouraging people to accept who they are.
Go visit Courtney’s website, go read We don’t go through the Angelgrass on webtoons, follow her on Twitter, and contribute to her patreon and buy her comics.
We’ll see you next week with more installments of the TCAF Interviews 2020.