The Road to Emitown: Emi Lenox’s Adorable Diary Comic Hits Print [33-Page Preview]
This week Image Comics released Emitown, a 400-page collection that includes over a year of the autobiographical webcomic by artist Emi Lenox, a former intern at Top Shelf Comix and Periscope Studio. Emi's daily diary comics have a strong manga influence, a bent towards humor, and a special sweetness and charm that make the tribulations of her life seem endearing even when they're frustrating or sad.
ComicsAlliance's Laura Hudson sat down with Emi (who is throwing a release party at Floating World in Portland this evening) to talk about the debut of her first graphic novel, how she made the jump from webcomics to print, and why she thinks the "rules" about breaking into comics need to go out the window. And after the interview, check out a 33-page preview of Emitown!
ComicsAlliance: The first story I heard about you was actually from Jeff Parker, about how you showed up at Periscope as an intern but you didn't tell them you could draw – you actually told them you couldn't draw. And it was only later when they saw your work that they realized you were an artist.
Emi Lenox: I think I'm like most self-deprecating artists, and I got sidetracked with drawing in my life for a few years. That's actually why I started Emitown, as a personal journal that I didn't intend to put online. It was just for me to draw in every day to recount the day. I showed it to Top Shelf and Periscope when I was about five months in.
CA: When you showed them, were you hoping to steer it towards publication?
EL: No, god no. I was more like, "don't look at my work!" [laughs] I remember Paul Tobin looking over my shoulder and saying, "Hey! You can draw!" while I was trying to hide it. I've gotten a lot better about that since, though. It was also my personal journal, originally, and not something I was drawing for people to see.
CA: With autobiographical comics I can imagine sharing your work is more difficult, because it's your personal life on the page.
EL: It is. I can't help but feel narcissistic having something all about me. A lot of the older stuff that I'd originally shown people is not really online. It was very personal, in the first sketchbook. But that's why I have all those weird [visual] metaphors to show personal relationship stuff now... And that makes it more fun to draw the comic too, because I get to think of interesting different way to illustrate feelings that I'm struggling with.
CA: What's the book going to cover? Is there going to be new content in the book that wasn't on the web?
EL: It's going to cover [my work] right after I started using the brush pen, because if I'm going to put out my first graphic novel, I'm not going to put out stuff I'm not proud of. I wish it was more like what I have now, but then again I'm always going to hate what I drew before and love what I'm doing now.
It'll be the comics from May of 2009 to April 2010, and I'm going to have a page explaining faces of Emitown, the cast, and an outro reflecting on the year. And I'm going to have chapter dividers so it'll be more like a book, and I'm also going to list all the songs for the lyrics I use in there – it's almost like a mixtape of the songs that affected me during those times. I think I'm cheerful in person, but I really do like depressing songs. I just feel like that's my way of releasing things: listening to terribly sad music and drawing. I remember I drew something really sad in high school and my mom saw it and she thought I was suicidal. [laughs] She was like, "Emi, are you ok?" This is just my way of processing things.
CA: Is it weird to see such personal stories collected in a book, or does it feel natural?
EL: It was weird at first. I think I thought about it for a good two minutes before putting it online. There was an internal debate about putting that stuff up there, but what really made me decide was that I personally really other people's personal work, like Craig Thompson, and the honesty and the brushwork he has in his comics. That's my favorite. So I'd feel hypocritical not to do that for someone else. I think it feels good to be able to relate that I'm not the only one having these feelings or issues. So I just put it up, but I didn't think it would go anywhere. But now Image is publishing it, which is frightening on this whole other level... All of this is happening so fast, I feel like my brain is going to explode. [laughs] Every day I feel so lucky that the universe aligned in just the right way, and I'm the luckiest b*tch on Earth. Hopefully I'm going to be able to go part-time [at my day job], and then I'll be able to focus on it even more.
I also felt so lucky to work at Top Shelf because I met Jeff Lemire, and he became my mentor and told me that he wanted to help me get somewhere. He's given me so much advice about where to go and what to do... He's blown up recently too, and I was asking him, "When does the anxiety go away?" And he was like, "never." [laughs]
CA: People promote webcomics as a good way to get to print, but obviously there are other steps in between. How did you get from initially putting your work up online to getting your own Image book?
EL: I was just so damn lucky, I swear to God. It was online for about a year, and it was the only thing I've ever put online like that. I really do believe it's partly who you know and also putting in the effort. When I hear people say, "I don't have time!" I think, "eff you, I didn't have time." I still work a 40 hour [a week] job at a data entry company that has nothing to do with comics! I literally have maybe four hours when I get home from work where I can do comics stuff.
CA: And you want to have a life too.
EL: Yeah, I mean what would you write about if you didn't go out and do things? ...I almost feel like drawing Emitown it makes me want to go do things. Because some days I won't have anything to draw about, and I actively know this, so I'm actually more willing to do things I might not have done two years ago... For the most part, I try to keep the mentality that it's my diary and to draw in there what I would draw if no one was reading it, aside from the relationship stuff.
CA: That can be really hard on the internet, with all the instant reactions you can get on places like Twitter. If you express something someone doesn't like, your feedback is immediate, and eventually it can be hard not to say things that you don't think are going to be received positively. Because even though it's personal, it's also public.
EL: Doesn't that make you angry, to know that it's controlling what you want to say?
CA: I think it's just an issue you have to deal with at a certain level of visibility – how much of yourself you're willing to give, and how much you're willing to deal with how people react to that.
EL: I feel very lucky that I haven't gotten a lot of pushback. All that matters to me right now is satisfying me, and I hope that I keep that. That's why it started, at least this specific comic... But yeah, people ask me what I did to break into comics, and my answer is, "Do what you want!" [laughs] I guess that doesn't work for everyone, but it was successful for me. I go online and see all these rules about what you need to do to have a successful comic. And I can understand how those can be helpful, but from my perspective, I'm like, "Why are there all these rules?" You should put your heart on the paper, and that's what should matter. I guess you can do that while following the "rules," but to me it still seems like it fences you in. I don't think anybody should have to be shushed. It doesn't matter if you're doing comics or glassblown art or paintings. You should just do whatever the hell you want, and some people are going to like it, and some people aren't. But it's you, and it's what you wanted to put there.
CA: One of the things I love most about comics is the fact that just about everyone who is involved in the industry is there because they love comics so goddamn much.
EL: I've lost friends because of comics. There are people I don't see anymore because our lifestyles have changed, because after work I work on my comics and I don't have as much time as I used to. But this is what I love doing, and that was the risk that I took. There was a time when it was really painful and really hard, but if you love something you just do it.
Check out a 33-page preview of Emitown: