Reading Frenzy ~ An Independent Press Emporium

Interview with comic artist Aaron Renier

February 12, 2011:

Aaron Renier is the graphic novelist behind Spiral-Bound and illustrator of numerous publications, filled with whimsy, humor and charm. Now toting his newest illustrious adventure The Unsinkable Walker Bean, I chatted with Renier about daily routines, past comic loves and how different cities affect his pen. The release party for The Unsinkable Walker Bean happens this Saturday at Reading Frenzy!

Anika Sabin

AS: I heard you've got a pretty strict regiment, with alarms and daily deadlines--when did you realize you worked well with this kind of itinerary? How long have you worked this way?

AR: It's funny, I TRY to work that way, but I really don't. It's a daily chore for me to stay on task. The key to a good work day for me is to do whatever it takes to make it fun to draw that day. If it means going to a coffee shop and listening to some music, or sitting at my table and listening to NPR... or going to some other quiet spot to try and focus. I have a tremendous ability to get side tracked... and I've only recently realized that it's what seems novel that keeps me interested. So I try to change it up, and reward myself for staying interested. I've tried modeling a regiment after my friend Alec Longstreth's regiment. But everybody is different, and you just need to figure out how you work best, and most importantly what keeps you happy. 

AS:  What has been a main inspiration? Or what initially pushed you into comics?

AR: My best friend David Coyle's parents were really into Calvin and Hobbes when I was growing up, and I remember thinking it was so cool that adults would love comics. Later on I realized my dad really liked the Far Side. My parents didn't live together, but when I was at my mother's I would cut out Far Side comics for him. Sometimes I didn't get why they were funny, but I thought I'd let him figure out if they were funny. It was around that time that in my sketchbooks I tried to write and draw my own Far Side comics. They were not very good, and mostly were strange references to T.V. commercials on at the time. 

AS: What comes first--narrative plot or comic vision?

AR: I have no idea. I guess the vision? I struggle with writing, but I love coming up with ideas. I think I'm getting better as a writer, but it is most definitely the images that pop into my head first. I come up with scene after scene, and eventually they weave themselves together. 

AS: You've moved around a lot-how would you compare the different comic artist communities?

AR: Well I've lived in Milwaukee, Portland, Brooklyn, and now Chicago. I love moving, but I think the midwest will eventually be my home again. (I know I will leave Chicago soon, but I'll be back, I know) They are all so different, but all so amazing. Portland to me was a huge relief. I had just graduated from art school, and I didn't know where to go with myself. I knew I wanted to be an artist, but my sense of community was shattered after graduation. When I became a part of the artist community in Portland I felt at home. My good friend Craig Thompson was a constant source of inspiration, and good clean competition. I wanted to be as good as he was... but along the way I really started to discover who I was. I think it's important to have artist friends. 

I was getting a little restless, and I wanted to be somewhere... grittier. So I had the opportunity to move to Brooklyn and I took it. It was one of the best decisions of my life. I love New York so much. The artist community there is just as amazing as Portland, but it is also very different. I became a part of a comic drawing group called AWP, and we met pretty regularly. Each person in the group was amazing, and became a friend to me like Craig is. They were supportive and challenging at the same time. 

Now that I'm in Chicago I'm a part of a new drawing group called Trubble Club. We work collaboratively on comics together, and it's a group I hope to be a part of through the next few years. For as long as it exists I hope. They are a new comic family for me. 

That is one thing I really love about cartoonists. I have met my share of illustrators, and they are always nice and welcoming... but most of the time I feel there is an air of secrecy when it comes to methods or getting jobs. Cartoonists couldn't care less about their trade secrets in my opinion. If someone wants to know how to do something, or how to write a funny joke, or how to structure a plot, cartoonists come to help. I know I can't speak for all cartoonists out there... but everyone is working on THEIR stories, so as much guidance as they could share, there never is a threat of someone copying you to a degree they make you irrelevant. Comics are a great place t be yourself, and these communities are so important. 

AS: Has your environment, that is the cities you've inhabited, changed the way you approach storytelling? 

AR: Sure. I see my book Spiral-Bound as being a very Portland comic. That sense of community with those characters comes directly from how I felt about the people in Portland. I would go to a Sunday brunch called Gracies while I was there, that place, along with the studio I had are big parts of that world. Landmarks in Portland are all over that book. For my new book, Walker Bean, New York just felt so big, and I think that big feeling really changed my approach, it made me try to dream up a bigger world. Chicago will definitely have a hand in this new book. I love this city. 

AS: How did you decide to publish with First Second? 

AR: I first had a publishing deal with another publisher, but that went very sour after two editors left, and then no one came to my rescue. I was in editorial limbo. It took a while to leave that publisher, and get things ironed out with First Second, but I knew they eventually would take Walker on as theirs. I was becoming friends with the editor Mark Siegel at conventions... and I knew I'd have a good home there.

AS: Could you perhaps give any advice to beginning cartoonists who are just starting to consider publishing their own comic?

AR: My advice to beginning cartoonists is to self publish as much as possible. Try to get your work out there in the exact way you see it being. Go to conventions and trade your comics with cartoonists you meet. Become a part of that community. If you enjoy drawing comics, and you can't think of what else you would possibly do, I truly believe you'll do fine.