The TCAF Interviews – Alabaster Pizzo on Sequential Comics, Colours & Online Reviews

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The Toronto Comic Arts Festival is one of the most influential and important comic book event in North America. It’s mission is to “promote the creators of comic books in their broad and diverse voices, for the betterment of the medium of comics”. In the spirit of this mission, the Comics Beat has conducted a series of interview with some of the phenomenal cartoonists in attendance at this year’s festival. The Comics Beat will be releasing a series of interview with cartoonist in attendance. We hope that these interviews will improve our understanding of these creators voices, techniques, interests and influences.

Alabaster Pizzo’s comics first came into my radar when a friend of mine loaned me a copy of Mimi and the Wolves. I liked the style of this black and white comic and later discovered her coloured work with the superb Hellbound Lifestyle. Her approach to colour is fascinating and I was eager to chat with her about it. She graciously took the time to talk with about her other comics as well as her quirky project of illustrating online reviews.

Philippe Leblanc: For those readers who may not be familiar with you and your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Alabaster Pizzo:  I’m 29 and I live in New York City.

PL: You make comics, but you’re also a freelance illustrator. Do you prefer doing single illustration or do your prefer sequential comics work?

AP: I like doing both. It’s all kind of the same to me. I try to put my own style into everything I do, including interior decorating and the clothes I wear. Even single images can contain a lot of narrative. Making comics is more challenging, though, because you play the role of both artist and writer, but that makes it more rewarding.

PL:. You’ve been working on Mimi and the wolves for a few years. How does it differ from your other comics work? Or how have your comic work evolved since you started this series.

AP:. I started Mimi almost 6 years when I was a very different artist and very different person. It’s very loosely autobiographical, and the events I’m turning into this fairy-tale epic by now feel like they happened a lifetime ago. I’ve also mellowed out a lot since then and don’t feel as much of a need to romanticize and publicize my own “struggles.” Luckily, it’s very metaphoric, so at this time I don’t mind just writing a good long story with dynamic characters. At the core it’s about the different kinds of relationships people have with one another and I still want that to come across, so I’m still putting a lot of energy into it. Plus, I’m only about halfway through! Since it was the first project I felt really good about, it feels nice to come back to working on it after a hiatus. Stylistically, it pulls a lot from Moomin and Sailor Moon, influences from my younger years, but important to me none the less.

PL: You’ve done a fantastic comic called Hellbound Lifestyle with Kaleigh Forsyth that was published by Retrofit comics last year. I really liked how you managed to create a deeply affecting comic with what is essentially the misadventures and random notes from a woman’s phone. How did you and Kaeleigh approached this comic?

AP: Kaeleigh is a very smart and funny person. She’s a better writer than me for sure. I was stuck on a comic once and told her to send the last list she’d made for herself to me so I could turn it into a comic. I got a LOT of traction, so we did a few more, and when Retrofit approached me looking to do a book, I pitched the concept of doing a bunch of comics based on Kaeleigh’s real notes. She sent me a couple hundred files of journals, lists, text conversations, screen shots, one that just said “Hat gags” with no context. Aside from minor edits for space, the only thing I changed were the dates. I made it seem like it was “a year in the life” although the book doesn’t really go anywhere. It was fun to flesh out the notes with images, to make her the unreliable narrator, and it was fun to catapult her into the comics community, of which she was previously only a spectator. I’m not sure if everyone who’s read the book is aware that it’s all real and she’s a real person.

PL: I really like how you use colour in your work. Apart from Ralphie and Jeannie, you normally use bright bold colours. Can you tell us how you approach colour in your work?

AP:  It’s funny you say that – I actually went back and re-did the colors for Ralphie and Jeanie for the print version. I thought they were too pastel! I was really afraid to use color for a long time, but now I love it. I love to pick a super-limited palate, just a few colors, then figuring out how to give a scene depth and realism from that.

Original Version (as seen on Vice)
Final version (Print version)

PL: I’m deeply enamored with your Ruler comics and I want to know everything about it. You’ve essentially made comics based solely on customer reviews of a cheap wooden ruler. How did you come up with this idea? Why rulers? Why did you pick those reviews to illustrate?

AP: That was another brainchild of Kaeleigh’s- she spent a day or so picking reviews off the Staples website to show me just because they were so insane and funny, and afterwards I decided to turn my favorites into comics. I only did a few (it was a stop-gap project), but there were hundreds and I could have gone on forever. We chose to do only rulers in an attempt to demonstrate the incredibly large breadth of reviews for a 12-inch piece of wood, but we could haven also easily done this project with erasers, tape dispensers, pencils… a lot of people have a lot to say about very mundane objects. Kaeleigh recently wrote a piece https://theawl.com/se%C3%B1or-frogs-is-better-than-the-wonders-of-the-world-465ef8c92835 comparing negative Google reviews of World Heritage sites to positive reviews of a Señor Frog’s in Florida.

PL: Do you leave reviews of every product you purchase now?

AP: Never! That’s what’s so bewildering about those reviews. In all my life, no extremely good or extremely bad experience with a product or a place has moved me to take the time to write a review. I guess that’s not the case for many, many other people.

PL: You’ve done a weekly comic for Vice called Ralphie and Jeannie. It’s comedy about these two characters having hilarious life experiences. How did you like the challenge of making weekly comics?

AP: Oh wow, it was really intense, about 40-50 hours of work every week. And not just labor, I had to think of a new story and flesh it out every 7 days. I’d finish one I loved, see it go up on the site, enjoy it, but then right away I’d have to get back to work on the next one. But in the end it was a great experience. I had 50 pages of work after 14 weeks. I think it forced me to think faster. It also gave me an excuse to quit my day job, and SOMEHOW I still haven’t had to get another one.

You can follow Alabaster’s work on her website, on Instagram and on Twitter. You can read her hilarious Ruler Comics here. You can find Ralphie and Jeannie on Vice. You can find Hellbound LifestyleRalphie & Jeannie and Mimi and the Wolves on her shop

Come meet her at TCAF in the Wowee Zonk zone. She’s looking forward to laughing with you!