Macabre Nonfiction: An Interview with Cartoonist Emi Gennis [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 and art professor Emi Gennis often self-publishes her work, including the minicomic Spaz!, and has also published work on The Nib. Her focus is primarily nonfiction as told through comics, and she writes, draws, colors, and letters her own work.
ComicsAlliance: What is your preferred form of creative output?
Emi Gennis: I don’t know if I have a preferred creative output exactly because I tend to think of comics-making holistically, rather than as compartmentalized. That said, I think my favorite part of the process is probably inking. There’s a meditative quality to going over lines in ink, and I can really lose myself in it. I also really enjoy creating title lettering, for the same reason.
CA: Do you work on paper or digitally? Why?
EG: I start my work by pencilling and inking on paper, and then transition into digital to add color and do some edits. I still do some of my editing traditionally, though, with whiteout and occasional paste-up corrections. There's something really intimate about working on paper, and I enjoy the process of making an actual, physical thing.
CA: What’s your background/training?
EG: I went to the University of Chicago for undergrad, and double-majored in Art History and Visual Art. For my Visual Art major I was actually doing collage at the time and my work wasn’t really narrative, but for my Art History major I had to write a thesis paper and chose to write about comics. I ended up reading a ton of comics history and theory, and about visual systems of language and narrative art, and I guess I just got sort of obsessed and never looked back. Then I went to the Savannah College of Art & Design and got an MFA in Sequential Art, and after that was fortunate enough to get an internship at Periscope Studio. I learned a ton at Periscope just being around a bunch of professional cartoonists and seeing how they worked, from both a creative and business standpoint. That was really rewarding.
CA: How would you describe your creative style?
EG: My body of work is almost entirely nonfiction, and my subject matter definitely tends towards the macabre. I'm especially drawn to stories that are simultaneously humorous and incredibly sad. I think my dark sense of humor shows through a lot in my narrative style. Visually, my work is characterized by clean lines and simplified, cartooned imagery.
CA: What projects have you worked on in the past? What are you currently working on?
EG: For a long time I was working on a series of short stories that were inspired by entries on the Wikipedia List of Unusual Deaths, many of which were collected in my Spaz! minicomic series and/or appeared in various anthologies. Recently I've been making journalism comics exploring pseudoscientific topics, the first of which investigates the modern practice of trepanation and was published on The Nib. I'm also currently in the process of drawing an autobiographical story about grief that I'm hoping to publish as a minicomic and debut at TCAF this year.
CA: Approximately how long does it take you to create a 20-page issue?
EG: It varies so much from project to project. A lot of it depends on how much research is involved. For many of my historical or journalism comics, I end up spending so much time doing research before I even get to the scripting phase. It also depends a lot on timing. I teach full-time during the school year, and my progress tends to be pretty abysmal around midterms and finals. Over the summer and winter breaks, though, I have a ton of unstructured time and can work much faster, completing a project in a few weeks that might take months when school is in session.
CA: What is your dream project?
EG: A big, long-form comic on some historical true crime topic. I'm hesitant to use the term "graphic novel" because the word novel implies fiction, but basically a graphic novel.
CA: Who are some comic creators that inspire you?
EG: So many! Joe Sacco immediately comes to mind. I just love the balance he strikes between cartooniness and realism. His work is so well researched and thorough, but also incredibly heartfelt and human. It’s excellent as journalism and it’s excellent purely as visual art, and I really aspire to that. I’m also a huge fan of Nate Powell’s work; his inks are always so expressive and I think he does a really fantastic job of using word balloons in a way that mimics conversational speech patterns. Recently, I read Eleanor Davis’ book How To Be Happy and was completely moved by it. She has such a strong voice in her designs and color palettes. I’ve been trying to utilize color more in my work lately. I’ve also been working to refine my approach to narrative pacing, and especially looking for new strategies for building tension. Emily Carroll is so skilled at building tension in her work, and I’ve been really inspired by her horror comics.
CA: What are some comics that have inspired you either growing up or as an adult?
EG: When I was a kid, my parents put all the comics in the house on the bottom shelf of the bookcase in the hallway next to my bedroom. I remember sitting on the floor next to that bookcase reading comics for what seemed like hours. There were collections of Edward Gorey’s work, and Charles Addams, both of which have had a huge influence on my work and general personal aesthetic. There were collections of comic strips like Calvin & Hobbes and Bloom County, too, which I loved.
I also remember a family member giving me a copy of Maus when I was young, maybe too young to read something like that; I had nightmares about Nazis hauling my family away for weeks after reading it. It was completely different than any other comic I had read at the time, and I think that had a profound effect on the way I thought about comics and what they could do.
CA: What’s your ideal professional environment?
EG: I've found that I work best from my home studio. My drafting table is huge and gives me lots of room to sprawl out my pages and tools. Lots of natural light, an internet connection, and a good audiobook are a must.
CA: What do you most want our readers and industry professionals to know about your work?
EG: I'm always looking for true stories that showcase the tenacious foolhardiness of human beings. The more ridiculous, the more unbelievable, the better. I generally seek out subject matter with some visual element that will lend itself to striking imagery, but I'm also always up for a challenge.
CA: How can editors and readers keep up with your work and find your contact information?
EG: My portfolio, blog, and contact info can be found at emigennis.com. I’m pretty active on social media, too: you can find me on Twitter (@imemi), Tumblr (emigennis), and Facebook (/emigenniscomics).
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.