A Vision for a Better World: An Interview With Cartoonist Maria-Elisa Heg [Hire This Woman]
Hire This Woman is a recurring feature on ComicsAlliance that shines a spotlight on female comics creators, whether they're relative newcomers or experienced pros who are ready to break out. In an overwhelmingly male business, we want to draw your attention to these creators --- and to raise their profile with editors and industry gatekeepers.
Cartoonist Maria-Elisa Heg does a bit of everything, including writing, drawing, coloring, lettering, and singing. She's primarily worked on anthologies, educational comics, and auto-bio comics. She's also co-head of Zinefest Houston. Just like last week's featured person, C.M. Bratton, you can see her in person at the Hire This Woman panel at STAPLE! in Austin, Texas, on March 7th.
ComicsAlliance: What is your preferred form of creative output?
Maria-Elisa Heg: Illustrating and making comics are top on the list, but I also like to sing and pen the occasional haiku! I try to think creatively when organizing art shows and ZFH, attempting to figure out ways to present creative work in new and unusual ways.
CA: Do you work on paper or digitally?
MEH: Okay so, I was drawing garbage Star Trek-derivative comics populated with animal people when I was probably nine and moved on to a comic populated by my favorite video game characters where I was their cruel and capricious creator/master. Those were mechanical pencil (.5 for lifework, .7 for shading, whaddup) on spiral notebooks.
Then when I was maybe 12 my brother bought me a Graphire tablet with his first ever tax return. I had been drawing on oekaki boards with a mouse for about a year by then and once I got that tablet I never looked back. Digital is just more natural to me, and I think my art has evolved around the freedom you have when using digital imaging software.
But a few years ago I realized I had never explored traditional media, [and] started experimenting with watercolor and ink. Since then I've worked to integrate the two practices as much as possible. I want the best of what I do in both media to be a part of my work overall!
CA: What’s your background/training?
MEH: Primarily self-taught, with some technical learning gained along the way from mainly photography courses and a touch of painting.
CA: How would you describe your creative style?
MEH: With client work, I'm prompt and responsive, and I allow my creative flow to be open to their input as well as my own style and vision. With my own work it's often a matter of capitalizing on motivation and fighting the desire to throw my computer and possibly myself into a bonfire. It can come in fits and spurts, or it can come in a long continuous stream. Recently I've been consciously working on improving my consistency in terms of a regular work schedule. Working full time can make it difficult to have the energy to sit down for my own projects after the day is done.
CA: What projects have you worked on in the past? What are you currently working on?
MEH: I put out The Tophat, a collaborative work between Alex Crompton and myself, a couple of years ago. We're working together on a new project, a horror comic for an anthology hopefully to be printed in late 2015 or early 2016. I also did the art for a University of Houston graphic novel writing course taught by writer Mat Johnson. He reached out to me and several other artists to pair their art with students' writing. A pretty good experience! Since then I've contributed to the odd compilation and generally have been putting out autobio comics here and there.
CA: Approximately how long does it take you to create a 20-page issue?
MEH: Well, I haven't yet done a 20-page issue. It's a goal of mine to complete more long-format comics, but the longest I've done is, I believe, 18 pages. I executed that project in graphite on vellum. The drawing process took probably a month and a half to two months, but I'll add on another month for back and forth with the writer and storyboarding. I omit the months I spent in despondent lethargy!
CA: What is your dream project?
MEH: My dream project would be to someday find the balance between moral outrage and the eloquence of restraint and put it into a graphic novel that somehow crystallizes the moment in which I grew up, am growing up, and which crystallizes the world and society we have inherited. It's so vague right now that somehow I feel the maturity of years will in time show me when I can begin (hopefully).
CA: Who are some comic creators that inspire you?
MEH: Stylistically, I'm really loving the Illustrious Alabaster (Mimi and the Wolves) who uses such lovely linework and inks like a beast, Jen with her side scrolling gif-laden webcomic Thunderpaw, Kinoko Evans, because the spontaneity of her hand is The Most Inspiring and also because she's a badass for doing a Gilgamesh comic, and Inés Estrada, who is an incredibly prolific artist and whose comics are equal parts psychedelia, hilarity, and mystic journey.
CA: What are some comics that have inspired you either growing up or as an adult?
MEH: I'm in permanent love with Epileptic by David B. It left me deeply moved both because the art is 100% beyond the pale amazing and because the writing is very, very intimate and personal.
Growing up I was a huge fan of Goscinny and Uderzo's Asterix comics, Don Rosa's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, and the usual spread of one-issue Disney and Looney Tunes comics. When I was in 5th or 6th grade I was introduced by a friend to CLAMP's Magic Knight Rayearth series, quickly followed by Sailor Moon.
The introduction to these comics really opened my eyes to a completely different artistic style and subject than I had ever seen before. The strong and imperfect characters were something I would have probably not seen much of had I kept to the United States superhero comic canon, something I now disparage somewhat due to its persistent problems in terms of art, writing, and hiring practices. I know things are changing from the inside but, from my perspective, I always had the Sailor Scouts to look to as inspiring female heroes, so why bother trying to persuade myself to like DC or Marvel now?
CA: What’s your ideal professional environment?
MEH: A clean, well-lit space with a desk and chair that can accommodate me sitting cross-legged. Privacy, and a certain sense of "this is my space" --- I like shared spaces fine, but it can get hard to get into the zone if you have to clear off someone else's stuff off the work area first. It's good for me if I have a place I can focus and do weird shit like sing and talk to myself and binge watch Hoarders.
CA: What do you most want our readers and industry professionals to know about your work?
MEH: I'm trying to keep my work as honest as I possibly can. I want to work with people who have a vision for a better world!
CA: How can editors and readers keep up with your work and find your contact information?
If there's a woman who you think should be included in a future installment of this feature, drop us a line at comicsalliance-at-gmail-dot-com with “Hire This Woman” in the subject line.