Vanessa Davis is a cartoonist living in Santa Rosa. Her first book, Spaniel Rage, is available from Buenaventura press. http://www.buenaventurapress.com/
She is currently hard at work on a book from Drawn and Quarterly.
1. can you describe your drawing routine---how often you draw, how many hour per day---how you break up the day with drawing?
I don't draw every day. I get the most done when I have the day off and I go to a coffee shop, usually if I have a specific project or deadline. Then I will listen to music and work until I'm done, usually a couple of hours. If something is there to distract me--dirty dishes, laundry, or sometimes a social event, I will often put those before drawing.
2. how much revision/editing do you do in you work?
Hardly any, and it's usually as I'm working. Like I'll erase something a bunch of times until I decide to just draw it more cartoony and move on. Often after I've inked something or watercolored over it, I'll see something obvious that I should have fixed.
3. talk about your process---do you write a script or make up the drawing as you go?
I will have a basic script or talking points that I will sketch an outline around. I need to do more scriptwriting. It's hard because I have a tendency to write tons of text if I'm not thinking about the images, or not write enough text if I AM thinking about the images.
4. do you compose the page as a whole or do you focus more on individual panel composition?
I usually think about both, I want each panel to "do" a lot, and I want to fit everything in. I also want things to be readable, and since I don't use panels sometimes I don't succeed in that. I also am afraid of having a "talking heads" thing, so I will change the perspective of a scene panel-by-panel to keep things visually interesting. Sometimes I'm afraid that that's a cheap trick but if it results in a nice-looking page I don't worry about it too much.
5. what tools do you use (please list all)?
Mechanical pencils, usually with a 2B .5 lead. I am lost without my Tuff Stuff eraser. I don't have a particular ink or nib I love that much. I use a Hunt 102 probably, but I also have some larger, fountain-pen style ones too. I don't like anything too thick or thin, and not too springy or rigid. I think my biggest secret tool is this bunch of Reeves black tempera cakes that my aunt gave me back in highschool, in a plastic palette that held them. They are a lot easier to use than ink for inkwash. I also use a couple of different sets of pan watercolors that I got as presents--one big Winsor Newton set my parents got me when I was 16, one small travel W+N set that was my dad's back in the 60s, and a Van Gogh set my uncle bought me a few years ago, that I mostly use when one color gets used up in one of the other sets. Wow, this is boring. I also really am into prismacolor markers and Ph. Martin's condensed watercolors but I never have many of them at a time because they're expensive. OH and I also love all-lead pencils, really soft big ones.
6. what kind(s) of paper do you use?
Usually just whatever watercolor paper I can find, but I like hot press. I was using this hot press watercolor paper from NY Central, and it was really absorbent and made all of my paintings really muted, it was like toilet paper. I also do a lot of work just in my sketchbook, and I have yet to find one I really like. Right now I have been using a Moleskine sketchbook and a Fabriano Venezia book, because they're small, but now I think they're too small.
7. do you read a lot of comics? are you someone who reads comics and then gets ectied to make more comics---or is your passion for making comics not linked to any particular love for other comics?
I don't read a ton of comics. I usually like comics more than I think I will. When I REALLY like a comic, like when I read an issue of Ganges or something, sometimes I feel kind of hopeless because it's so good and complex. But when I read Love & Rockets I want to draw....I don't know, I definitely used to get way more inspired to draw by the work my peers were doing, but I was also living among them and that probably had a lot more to do with it. I usually am the most inspired when I am just casually babbling about some thing or another, and I realize that I inadvertently structured it perfectly and I could easily put it down on paper. I think I started making comics because I had a lot of stories I wanted to share, and creating single images just wasn't letting me get them out clearly enough.
8. do you make comics for a living? if not, how do you support yourself, and how does this relate to your comics making process?
Comics sometimes will supplement my income, but they absolutely do not come near being able to support me. I have a part-time dayjob as an administrative assistant. I used to love it, and it was exactly what I'd been dreaming of doing after working fulltime at a museum magazine in New York, but as I get older I resent having a job I don't care about and then having to come home and start my "real" work.
9. do other artforms often seem more attractive to you?
I miss painting a lot, I love painting. I like to work big. And I still want to do textile design. If I had a garage or a studio I would do both of those things. I also miss editing, not that that's an artform in the strictest sense.
10. what artwork (or artists) do you feel kinship with?
Most of the work in Twisted Sisters had a huge influence on me--mostly Debbie Dreschler, Aline Kominsky, Carol Tyler, and Dame Darcy. Also Julie Doucet was probably my biggest deal when I thought about comics, especially before I started doing them. When I first started making comics and people would look at my stuff and say it reminded them of Lynda Barry--but I hadn't read any Lynda Barry. Now of course I am incredibly flattered when anyone says that.
My dad was a photojournalist and I think I inherited his inclination to observe and to find things funny or absurd. I was also influenced by my mom a lot but I see now that's not really the question.... I think it's hard to differentiate kinship with influence sometimes, because I know that I have a lot of the same artistic goals as say, David Hockney had at one time, but I think I developed them partially through seeing his work, so it's hard to say that's a kinship, it's kind of full of myself to say that. But I like artwork that is decorative, that finds a profundity in small things. I don't like grandiose themes, I kind of think it's cheap unless there's some kind of self-consciousness there, or idiosyncrasy. I can't relate otherwise.
11. is a community of artists important or not important to you?
I think it's very important to me, though I don't know how good it is for me all the time. Sometimes being around it or not being around it can freak me out in the same way. When I first started making comics, living in New York, I fell in with a really inspiring group of people, and it coincided with a time in my life where, developmentally, I realized I didn't have to settle for being friends with people I didn't like or admire. I think when you're young sometimes you don't know that. But so, I was 23 or whatever and hanging out with cartoonists, and they were so smart and funny, but also ambitious and sophisticated, but really in a very modest and understated kind of way. It was just really cool, and everyone was so welcoming. I wanted to be welcoming for people too when I felt like I was part of the community. I think I get freaked out though because it's such a big group now, nationwide, and I can't relate to everyone. But that's okay. Living in an isolated community now, it's important and restorative to still connect with people, though now it's on a more individual basis.
12. what is your parents/family's reaction to your work?
My mom is proud of me, but I think she wants me to have less ambivalent a tone in general. Her best friends all read my book, and I was informed that some of them "got it" and some of them didn't. I don't think my sister reads it.
13, what is more important to you---style or idea?
I think the idea is more important but sometimes style is part of that. I actually think it's important for everything to be a deliberate choice. Every time I've failed, it's because some element was arbitrary. Style without substance is boring, and the same for the other way around.
14. is drawing a pleasure to you or a pain?
Both. Sometimes I find it a huge hindrance to telling a story. I also am really hard on myself and won't let myself just do like, two people talking or big chunks of text.
15. when you meet someone new, do you talk about being an artist right away? do you identify yourself as an artist or something else?
It depends on the person. Usually mentioning that I am a cartoonist leads to uncomfortable questions like, how do I support myself or what magazines can my comics be seen in, and then I really regret it. But when I say I'm an admin assistant people often think I'm boring or a dummy. Basically people are jerks.
16. do you feel at all connected to older comic artists like steve ditko or jack kirby---or does this seem like a foreign world to you?
I'm really not well-versed in a lot of older comics, but I do get more and more familiar with them as time goes by. I don't know how connected I feel to them...I am definitely envious of them. It seemed like back in the olden days it was more common to have a job as like, a staff cartoonist or something. Of course in the olden days you couldn't just get a salary for doing comics about doing your hair or worrying about what your boyfriend thinks of you so I am probably better off now being the whiner that I am.
17. do you ever feel the impulse to not draw comics?
I don't know that I identify myself completely as a cartoonist--that comics will be the perfect artform for me forever. I used to worry about this when I was younger, because I didn't know what "kind of artist" I was, because I changed media a lot. But I realized that my common theme was autobiography, and a narrative, illustrative, and decorative drawing style. Sometimes it freaks me out to hear cartoonists talk judgementally about other cartoonists that "quit" comics or haven't done anything in a really long time, because I haven't put anything out in a long time and I probably won't make comics forever, at least primarily or consistently. And I don't want people to think I'm a loser for that or whatever. I don't like to see myself as part of a movement. In fact, the amount that comics are in the spotlight at the moment really freaks me out, as part of what drew me to comics was how opposite a world it was to the one of fine art. But so I don't think I have the impulse to "quit" as much as I just know there will probably come a time when I won't do it anymore. And I think I'm fine with that but I get freaked out about what others will think. But I will just hopefully be doing something that suits me better at that time and then it won't matter.
18. do you draw from life?
I have a bad visual memory, and I need reference to draw almost everything. But sometimes I realize I'm getting caught up in having something look too realistic and then I just try to shorthand it.
19. do you pencil out comics and then ink? or do you sometimes not pencil?
I always pencil, but I sometimes don't ink.
20. what does your drawing space look like?