Interview with Marie D’Abreo
by Travis Hedge Coke
Marie D’Abreo’s comics are an amazing mix of humanistic art and intelligent writing, but the term, mix, may not be accurate. The writing and art are not interlocked, but simultaneously understood as we read. I was completely taken with Beautiful, the first in a now three book series, and immediately had to seek out all of her work I could find.
Travis Hedge Coke: What can we look forward to, from you?
Marie D’Abreo: For 2020, I’m planning to either publish a graphic novel memoir or a children’s picture book. If I’m lucky I might end up with both. The memoir will be a departure for me as I’m used to writing fiction, so I have a lot to learn there, but it’s taking shape gradually. The picture book is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and I’ve written and sketched out many kids’ stories over the years. I think the story’s coming together now though, as well as the characters. It’ll likely have a darker feel, a graphic novel/pen and ink feel. I’m also hoping to do more animation. But, on the other hand, I may need three of me to get all this done in a single year!
Hedge Coke: Doing memoir, how are you balancing the effects people had on your life, positive and otherwise, without upsetting anyone or revealing too much outside yourself?
D’Abreo: It’s something I’ve thought about and that’s one of the challenges of working on a memoir. It helps that one of the main characters in my book has passed away, and I intend to be as sensitive as possible about any other characters in the story too. Also, I think it’s important to depict multi-dimensional characters rather than good/bad ones. Other than that, the main focus for this book will be on myself and my experiences around a particular theme and timeframe. As I work on it, I hope to be aware that it’s about my own interpretations of events and honoring my story – and not about portraying some kind of objective truth.
Hedge Coke: Do you script your comics work before you begin to draw?
D’Abreo: Yes, I do more writing than drawing in the beginning and continue this process throughout the creation of the book. I write out the guts of the scenes, action and dialogue so that in the end it resembles more of a screenplay, but with little doodles. However it’s all very messy, full of changes and scribbles, and is most likely incomprehensible to anyone else.
Hedge Coke: What are your favorite tools to work with?
D’Abreo: I love working with pencil, dip pen, acrylic ink washes, and India ink on Bristol vellum paper. I then scan in my drawings and use Photoshop to do clean-up, shading and layouts. The final product ends up in InDesign.
Hedge Coke: Does your mind/heart go into different modes depending on the medium you’re working in? Does one medium make you more emotional to do, than another? More introspective or outwardly aware?
D’Abreo: I love computers and all the technological tools that help produce the end product, but pen, brush and paper are definitely more expressive for me. They feel closest to a direct link from heart to hand to image. There’s a totally different feel to hand-drawn work, whether it’s illustration or animation. Digital art can be very beautiful but a bit too perfect. I enjoy the happy accidents and splatters that become part of and influence a piece. Painting with ink gets right to the emotions for me, opening up a dreamlike channel in which the unconscious becomes conscious in the process.
Hedge Coke: How do you deal with someone really misunderstanding your work?
D’Abreo: If I’m talking to someone in person then it’s easier to just have a conversation about it and try and be as clear as I can about the intention. I can also learn from them so that I can hopefully be clearer the next time around, with the next book.
If it’s someone who’s responding to my work online, say in a negative review, I don’t feel the need to do anything. I understand that people have their reactions to all kinds of art and they are free to have their own interpretation of it, to like or dislike it. From my own experience I can love something and feel I really “get it”, but then revisit the same book, or movie, or piece of music some years later and have a totally different response to it. I just don’t resonate.
I think the opposite can also be said. If it doesn’t ring true for me now, it might later. It’s all so subjective and contextual. With my own work, I don’t necessarily need to be understood, even though I hope to make certain ideas come across. Once a piece is out there in the world, it’s up to the viewer — it belongs to them, in a way.
Hedge Coke: What’s the last thing you did, in your work, that surprised you?
D’Abreo: When the creative channel opens up it means there’s a lot of room for surprises. Even if I have a clear idea of what I’m working on upfront, every time I meet that blank page (literally, since I mostly still work on paper) I’m never entirely sure what’s going to come out. I’m not a huge storyboarder — I leave a lot up to whatever’s going to happen in the flow of each moment while working. Then, when I look back at anything I’ve created there’s a feeling that I have no idea who did that! I think that’s because we don’t really know where creativity comes from, how ideas arise, or what they’ll evolve into. The creative process is a mysterious thing.
Hedge Coke: What non-comics entertainment/art are you enjoying?
D’Abreo: I’ve been revisiting the world of 2D animation, exploring new software, as well as going old-school by helping out with some stop-motion animation. Animation is something I started out doing in college, so it’s really fun to play with some of this stuff again. I’ve also been getting back to playing cello after a few years away from it. Playing music with others is one of my greatest joys, and challenges.
Hedge Coke: Who do you enjoy in comics right now? Current or older work you’re looking at again?
D’Abreo: I’ve got a few comics on my list right now that explore mental health issues and psychology. Marbles by Ellen Forney, Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green, Commute by Erin Williams, and RX by Rachel Lindsay.
Hedge Coke: Do you have advice for the audience, in how to engage with pros and with each other?
D’Abreo: A lot of people go to conventions. I used to as well. Social media is a great place too, of course. I find other authors are quite responsive when you reach out and if they have time are willing to answer questions, share their experience or even meet up. Book readings are also a great way to connect afterwards with fellow writers.
Recently, I started mentoring a 13-year-old for her class project, about creating a graphic novel. I’m glad the family asked me: it helps me look more deeply at my own process and it feels good to pass along anything I’ve learned that may be helpful. So, don’t be shy — just ask them. “Pros” are just people.
Hedge Coke: Do you like doing in-person appearances or signings?
D’Abreo: Yes! It’s a great way to meet fellow artists and comic-book fans of all kinds.
Hedge Coke: Is there anything you know now, about comics, that you wish you’d known when you started?
D’Abreo: I’m just glad I didn’t know how much work goes into it all, or I may never have started to begin with! Before I work on a book, I tend to stay away from reading or looking at other comic books, unless they’re far outside my genre. I prefer to start with a clean slate, an empty(ish) mind, and hopefully that lends itself to some originality. What I didn’t know before I started was how much comic books would explode onto the market. I’m very glad to know that more girls are reading comics, more women are creating them, and there are more graphic novels on the market than ever.
Interview with Marie D’Abreo
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