What's great about Rina's work is hard to pin down. Two or her recent comics, Doodle Daze and Overwhelming What Not, are some of the best minis around: her storytelling loops around and pulls you by the hand, pointing out exactly where your eye should go. It's skillful cartooning that, on the surface, looks familiar. The drawing could be that of an accomplished New Yorker gag artists doing their 'respectable' longer form work. But once you're pulled into Rina's stories, they move and look back at you in ways that most cartoonists can only hint at. I guess what I always think is best in Rina's work is how she arranges the story...how comics about working, struggling to make art and home life are told in a unique order that makes the voice of the work belong to no one but Rina.
She has an excellent new book out from Sparkplug Comicbooks/Tugboat Press called Whirlwind Wonderland
And here is her blog
1. can you describe your drawing routine---how often you draw, how many hour per day---how you break up the day with drawing?
Usually, I wake up early in the morning, around 5am, and spend about an hour or two before I go to work, trying to draw in my sketchbook for my drawing blog or for work on a comics project. I've been doing that routine for about 3 years now, and it has become pretty automatic that way. Then, I try to draw on the bus to and from my fulltime job. I try to draw again when I come home from work, but this hasn’t worked out ever since I had a baby.
2. how much revision/editing do you do in you work?
I do A LOT. I am never ever satisfied with how things look, never. I have to redo a page about 10 times before I like it. I usually have everything in place but then I wake up in the middle of the night and change everything last minute and usually the results come out a lot better for me. I guess less thinking and more spontaneity helps when I work. Even after my work is published and everything is printed, I’m still not happy with what I’ve done.
3. talk about your process---do you write a script or make up the drawing as you go?
I hate writing scripts, but yes, lately, I have found that writing scripts makes the process go a whole lot faster and way more organized. So, yay for scripts! For the most part though, I come up with a basic theme and kind of make it up as I go along. Sometimes I draw sketches of random things or objects and try to weave a story from them.
My answer to this question also goes hand in hand with the revision question, because as I said, I do a lot of revision till the very end. It also doesn't help that I hate thumb-nailing or penciling. I think everything before inking is a step that puts a weird distance between me and the page. It feels too much like an assembly-line process rather than a true creative experience for me. I don't know if that comes from my painting background where I am used to looking at a blank canvas and just slapping paint down and putting a little color here or there to refine things -- or just plain laziness... or perhaps some ridiculous idealistic notion that drawing a page only in ink and getting it right the first time, or at least all in one time, is the only way to do it.
4. do you compose the page as a whole or do you focus more on individual panel composition?
When I’m drawing a longer story, I find myself focusing more on individual panel composition. I'm not sure why that is because I tend to feel more at home and confident composing the page as a whole, which I tend to do moreso on the daily doodles/strips for my blog. I guess there is less pressure for me to get it right with the doodles, you know, less thinking about tangents and pacing. Drawing the doodles, for me, is like playing in a huge sandbox, or standing in front of a huge blank canvas for me. I feel like I can’t make a mistake with those.
5. what tools do you use (please list all)?
I like pens that I can take with me wherever I go so primarily I use a Papermate flair felt tip pen. I also love to use other felt tips like the Pentel Sigma Sign pen, it's very smooth and creates a nice bold, thick line. I use my Pilot pocket brush pen or the Pentel brush pen for broader strokes or to color bigger spaces of black. Lately, I've gone gaga over this Uni-ball (Mitsubishi) 3-brush pen set, I found at the Kinokinuya stationery store in Japantown. It has a very fine tipped brush pen and a large brush pen with black ink, as well as a gray brush pen. Because I like the portability of those pens, I don't find myself using dip pens a whole lot. However, I've recently been dabbling with a nib pump pen that has a Gillotte 303 nib attached which is fun. So we'll see, maybe I'll start using nibs again. I use Staedler colored pencils and Japanese Sakura crayons for color work. I have started using blue pencil, only because I hate using an eraser. Although, I just found a cute little Pentel mechanical pencil from the Daiso superstore. So I've been using that recently. Basically, if it looks cute, I use it.
6. what kind(s) of paper do you use?
I've been experimenting with so many different kinds of paper to get the right feel with the felt tip pen. Bristol board was too stiff for that.. Then Brian Ralph suggested some paper that was great for felt tip pens or gel pens called Borden & Riley #234 Paris Bleedproof. It's glossier and thinner than bristol, and the felt tip draws smoother and slicker on the page. However, I was using charcoal paper when I drew pages for “Whirlwind Wonderland” to get that nice textured feel that I get from sketchbook paper. For my current project, I'm just using my Fabriano Artist Journal sketchbook and a Gel Pen.
7. do you read a lot of comics? are you someone who reads comics and then gets excited to make more comics---or is your passion for making comics not linked to any particular love for other comics?
I do read a lot of comics and yes, comics totally inspire and motivate me to start work on making my own comics. I'm pretty open to different kind of comics, be it superhero, Sunday funnies, Autobio comics -- even the zombie comics. But I have a special place in my heart for compelling, personal stories like what Lynda Barry, John Porcellino or Chester Brown' draw and write about. Last week, I was taken aback by this touching story by Martin Cendreda in a recent mini-comic that he published. It was just about a walk through his neighborhood with his wife, but it totally took my breath away. I love it when writers make what seems to be the most ordinary event into this wonderful, unforgettable experience. I am also a big fan of the visual goings-on found in Warren Craghead, Marc Bell, Souther Salazar’s comics/artwork. Looking at their stuff is like looking at a detailed treasure map. Other things besides comics of course inspire me, like looking at an amazing work of art on display, reading an interesting article in a magazine, listening to music, watching a great sports game on TV, or having a great conversation or experience can inspire me to get creative.
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?
I do not at the moment make comics for a living. I work full-time in web design and marketing. However a lot of what I do in my fulltime job, I integrate in my comics-making. It gives me a better understanding of the marketing and promotional side of comics, as well as the production/design aspect of creating minicomics - dealing with layouts, electronic files, and print production. Sometimes, it also inspires some of the storytelling I do. HA.
9. do other artforms often seem more attractive to you?
oh totally -- music, dance, theater, painting, you name it -- I am in love with the creative process!
10. what artwork (or artists) do you feel kinship with?
Well, it's really all over the map for me. For example, I love the passion of Italian Renaissance artists, and the energy of Dadaist and the Abstract Expressionist artists. I also love the independence of Mission school artists like Barry McGee. But for a long time, especially when I was starting to paint again, I've had an affinity for the Bay Area Figurative school of artists like David Park, Wayne Thiebault, Diebenkorn. The way they use color, and how they dollop all that paint on a canvas – It just really makes me happy. Also, I’m really moved by the quiet side of photo-realist work, like that of Bob Bechtle and Edward Hopper.
11. is a community of artists important or not important to you?
As much as I like to work independently, and even though being in large groups kind of makes me nervous and self-conscious, I do think it is important to be around a community of artists that is nurturing, motivating and honest, even if it’s just one other person than yourself. I have found with time, however, that you really should not sell yourself or your time short. I mean, you should really spend time with people who inspire you and keep you motivated, rather than put you down all the time.
12. is their a particular line quality/tone that you enjoy seeing in art?
I am really loving the loose style that I see in a lot from French comic artists’stuff like Philippe Dupuy, Johann Sfar, Blutch, especially in their carnets, and Aude Picault, but I also love the seemingly simple but perfect line of John Porcellino or Charles Schulz, and I am always in awe of the monochromatic line art of Jaime Hernandez. When Thien Pham and I interviewed him for our comics podcast, he had told us that sometimes his line changes when his ink nib is starting to get dull and wear down. I can see that in some pages and it actually starts to look like it was done in felt tip! And then I think "Wow, this is the only way my art could come remotely close to Jaime Hernandez's -- looking like it was done in felt tip pen!
13, what is more important to you---style or idea?
I think an idea is more important to me. I think there has to be a reason behind how or why I draw things on the page, why I drew that panel that way or why I wrote this particular story. Sometimes style without substance is just a gimmick, it's just seems like graphic design. Oh, but I guess you mean, having your own "personal style," like how your drawing style is distinguished from another's? I guess, I still say the "idea" is important to me, because I don't think I have a real personal style, but neither did Bruce Connor and he seemed to do okay. But what do I know?
14. is drawing a pleasure to you or a pain?
It's always a pleasure, especially if there is no pressure to meet a deadline.
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?
Hmm, well I never think of myself as an artist, because I never think I'm good enough to be called a real "artist". Maybe you should just call me Ziggy.
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 do feel some sort of connection. I mean, if you showed me a certain comic issue, and asked me if Steve Ditko or Jack Kirby drew the pages, I wouldn't know at all, but I do respect their places in the history of comics-making. I liked how they were still able to bring their own personal brand of storytelling to established superhero characters. When I was a kid, I read a few Marvel and DC comics that my brother had. I wasn’t in love with all the characters (not a Thor fan), but I admired the fantastical storytelling. I really get a thrill hearing comic book fans energetically talk about a certain issue of Marvel or DC, or a Captain America or Spiderman storyline. The enthusiasm when they talk about those things is addictive, just as addictive as seeing a new Eightball issue or a new Love and Rockets. I also love hearing the back-story of the relationship between those two guys and Stan Lee. I mean, who doesn't love that story (gossip)?!?
17. do you ever feel the impulse to not draw comics?
Yes, there are many times when I think taking a break is a great idea for me, especially because I work fulltime and my "free" time is devoted to comics making. Sometimes I wonder if I would be a lot less stressed out if I spent my time relaxing, like watching TV or roller-skating or something, rather than agonizing over the composition of a certain panel or planning on when I’m going to get the next issue done. However each time I decide to quit comics, I can't help but pick up a pen and start drawing again. I guess I can't stop it!
18. do you draw from life?
I do draw from life especially for the daily doodles on my blog. It's also a huge part of the stories that I write and draw about. However, I find myself drawing from memory a lot more because I don't have my sketchbook with me all of the time, and I'm not a big fan of taking pictures for photo-referencing. I think that guessing how something should look like rather than being so pristinely accurate about it adds an interesting point of view to a story too.
19. do you pencil out comics and then ink? or do you sometimes not pencil?
As I said before, I really don't like penciling. I just like to dive in and just ink which is probably a mistake. When I feel a page is overwhelming, I do have to strategize and map it out with pencil. I think my problem with this though is that I tend to mark the page very dark which makes it harder to erase later on. So then I end up using the blue pencil which is fun because it reminds me of chalk for some reason. However, by the time I’ve drawn everything out in blue pencil, I start to realize that the pages look a lot better in just the blue pencil rather than in ink. But of course, the blue pencil won't reproduce, so I'm screwed.
20. what does your drawing space look like?
It used to be a drawing table, but now it's this: