If you’ve ever attended art school — or even if you haven’t — it’s time to chuckle along with some of the ups and downs of making it in the art world, and in your own head. Next month, writer/artist Lauren Purje is collecting her comic strips into one volume entitled You Might Be an Artist If…, that promises to look uncomfortably familiar for those of us who spend our days making art. Purje sat down with Comicosity to talk about process and just how true to life her book actually is.
Matt Santori: Congrats on the collection coming from Top Shelf on February 1! How was the transition from publishing one by one to collecting all the strips in sequence? What kind of process did you go through?
Lauren Purje: To be honest, it was kind of a pain. Since I started the strip back in 2012 (and I’m not a very organized person) it was a bit tough to get it all together at first. They were originally made to be seen on the web on a bi-weekly basis, so I was never concerned about having uniform sizes or how they’d work one right after the other.
But, once I sized them all up for the page and put them in chronological order, it was smooth sailing from there on out. At that point I wasn’t sure if anyone would even be interested in publishing them. I was beyond excited to hear back from Top Shelf.
MS: The truth of the book really comes through for me as an art school graduate myself. How is your background informing the strips as you create them?
LP: Not long after I graduated from undergrad I was doing artist assistant jobs and working in a gallery. The same art school cliches exist in the working-artist world. That definitely made an impact.
I draw a lot from what’s happening to me at the time I write them and add real conversations in there sometimes, but the focus is always a broader topic that I think others will be able to relate to as well. A couple strips got me in trouble when people recognized themselves in the, er, not-so-flattering side character’s dialogue.
MS: There seems to be an underlying vulnerability to every sequence that overpowers the stereotype of the art snob or self-obsessed practitioner. How important is that balance for you in depicting the subjects of the strips?
LP: I think all creative people have to be a little self-obsessed just to do the type of work we do. You have to be able to motivate yourself that this stuff matters somehow. But, outside of the studio, being self-absorbed isn’t the most useful trait to have. Personally, it’s important to me to keep that in check. A lot of the strips are meant to knock the wind out of my own inner snob.
MS: Have you come up against any conflict — internal or external — between the idea of high art (which most of your strips convey) and low art (cartooning, comics, etc.)?
LP: In college it was a bit of a struggle to find the right balance, but today I don’t spend much time thinking about the whole high-art/low-art thing. It’s pretty ambiguous where the line is drawn, and it seems only the snobbiest of art snobs really try to argue about it.
If I want to paint, I’ll paint. If I want to draw a comic, I’ll do that. I’m not even sure where one ends and the other begins.
MS: You’re varying between simple line and some ink wash throughout, but maintaining a very streamlined, monotone style for the entire collection. What went into some of the decisions you’re making about style: is it necessity (for newspaper reproduction) or intentional? Both?
LP: The only necessity for me was keeping them legible for the web, since that’s where they were going initially. Any decision past that mostly spawned from my own boredom. After doing a few strips with ink washes I stopped. It didn’t feel like it was adding anything to them. I want to keep them simple. I think that makes them read as more vulnerable and honest.
MS: What do you want non-artists to understand about the labor involved in art as a career — emotional and physical?
LP: I think the hardest thing to explain to non-artists is that art is work. We’re not having fun 100% of the time, not even half of the time (at least I’m not.) The product you see, whether it’s a painting, a comic, a novel, or even a song, takes time, and often years of experience and practice.
It’s nice when anyone appreciates what you make, but sometimes I wish I could show them the landfills full of failures that lead up to that one picture.
Top Shelf Productions is shipping You Might Be an Artist If… to comic shops for arrival on February 1! Call ahead if you want to reserve a copy!