Monday, August 22, 2016

Liana Finck

I remember feeling a bit perturbed when I first came across Liana’s Instagram account. Her comics were somehow reflecting all the emotions and thoughts running through my head, moment to moment. She posts regularly enough (several times a day) that this was possible, and it felt as if she was siphoning them straight from my brain. The way she deciphers relationships, anxiety, turning 30, etc. is unsettling, but relatable. And it’s oddly comforting.

Liana writes comics and other such things for the New Yorker. I had a hard time finding these works, but a lot her stuff is available on her Instagram. I also had the pleasure of sitting down* with Liana a few weeks ago.

WorryArt A lot your comics seem to revolve around failed relationships and hopelessly searching for love. Mark Twain said something about writing about what you know. What do you know of these things?  [please feel free to describe in a picture]

LianaFinck I think I have (had?) low self-esteem, and I didn't have enough real friends till the past few years, and one of the symptoms of this has been that I've gotten myself into some not great relationships. I'm much better now. Another of the symptoms of low self-esteem, for me, has been writer's block... I am afraid of saying the wrong thing, revealing something unforgivable about myself. Something changed last year. I started to turn my inward sadness into outward anger. It had to do with being in a relationship that finally kind of pushed me to my limit, and with reading Elena Ferrante, and with publishing a book and feeling better about myself.

WA On love and relationships, you write about these personal experiences unabashedly. Do you find it cathartic? And do you worry about certain people reading them (i.e. past lovers)?

LF Oh yes I find it cathartic. I really don't do it to anyone who doesn't deserve it, and I try not to share anything personal. I keep it universal. I know it's a bit mean. But God, I've suffered so much in silence, and I know a lot of women do, and I think I'm helping these women. The minute something is out in the open, it loses its power. My mom and some of my friends have saved me from abusive relationships and other bad situations by telling me it's not OK to be treated a certain way - I feel like they've saved my life. Many times. I feel like this is my way of paying it forward. I care a little about hurting past lovers, but I hope the good I'm doing outweighs the bad. I'm a little worried about someone coming after me - but honestly I'm much less worried now than I was when I kept silent about stalkers and such.

WA  Mr Neutral seems to be a reoccurring character. Who is he? What is he after? And do you have other recurring characters?

LF I make recurring characters out of people who were really cruel to me. I think I want to turn them into lovable sillies, to help myself make peace with them. I've only done this twice: to Mr. Neutral, who was - I don't even know the words to describe him. A bad boyfriend. And to my sixth grade Torah teacher. Such exquisite joy in this. But I don't do it often. My other recurring character is "me," the kind of shapeless long-haired blond woman. Looks-wise she is actually based on my last dog, Sophie. A yellow lab. A rambunctious innocent. I've wanted to make an "everywoman" character for awhile - it's so much easier to make an "Everyman" -- more history, less hair... So that lady "I" character is that. The idea of an "everyperson" does make me a bit uncomfortable. I know, for example, that I am not speaking as much to black women, or older women, with my young-looking white-looking protagonist. As a woman, I know what it feels like to constantly adjust your inner voice to fit "universals."

WA What is one of your comics you feel is probably the the most underrated (e.g. an inside joke with yourself) and why?

LF I am often surprised by which ones people seem to like and which ones they don't get. But I think I trust editors and audiences better than I trust myself. I'm too close to judge. I can't remember any off the top of my head. I forget them all right away. And I definitely forget which were "popular." I do this to prevent stage fright.

WA  We've been messaging for a while now. Have you ever written a comic inspired by our relationship?

LF No, I'm really nice to everyone I haven't dated. Notice that I don't write anything about my family, and only write about friends in the context of "making and cancelling plans." Also you've been really nice, and I usually only write about stuff that bothers me.

WA What was your first cartoon published in the New Yorker? What was that experience like?

LF Slinkies climbing upstairs to spawn. I was excited and cocky about it. There was a lot of lore about how impossible it is to have a cartoon accepted. It isn't that hard - you just have to persevere. The main thing I learned was how to not be shattered by rejection. To take it as "we like this but not enough, come back and try again" rather than "we hate your guts and are alarmed by your presence."

WA When did you first begin writing comics?

LF I started drawing when I was ten months old. I was ahead of my age in drawing as a kid, and it shaped me. I think it's partly a blessing and partly a curse. I miss the freedom I felt when I drew when I was young. I wrote comics periodically and always got embarrassed and threw them away. I decided I wanted to be a comics artist when I was sixteen, but when I realized the free art college I wanted to go to didn't accept comics artists I did a 360 and rebranded myself as a highbrow painter. It fucked me up. Not only did my inner voice start to sound male - it also started to sound like 1895. I wanted to be Cezanne. I'm glad I did. I'm glad I don't anymore.

WA One of the things I like to do when I read your comics is understand your process. For instance, your comic of the banana peel hanging on the hook rack at the entrance of an apartment with the caption "Oh great, there's a banana at the party", how did that come about, step by step? Maybe this isn't the best example to draw from, if you have others where the process is more exciting, can you let me know plz, thx.

LF The banana peel was a rejected New Yorker cartoon. I usually come up with ideas for New Yorker cartoons on a train, or in a tree, or walking on the beach - somewhere where I can space out. Banana peel jokes are pretty standard; I'd been trying for awhile to pitch cartoons about bananas slipping on their own skins, or nagging each other to put away their skins so other people wouldn't slip... Those were pretty sanctimonious, boring cartoons but I like this one.

WA Do you make comics for a living? Is that a rude question to ask?

LF Yes I do. I started out supporting myself with grants--I won a Fulbright, then a Six Points Fellowship (Jewish), and those took care of my first three years after college. Then I had a book out and lived partly on book talk fees, partly on freelance design work. The next year I lived mostly on what I earned from New Yorker cartoons, and a NYFA grant. It's not a stable lifestyle. I probably I wouldn't have gone straight to freelance if I didn't have supportive, semi-wealthy parents who would have helped me out if I'd gotten into trouble. On the other hand, I don't think I ever really wanted to be a freelancer. I was extremely shy and weird and also pretty anxious (I think a symptom of being weird and knowing it) until my mid-twenties, and I was very worried that no one would want to hire me, and that I'd have panic attacks at work if someone did hire me. I cried at school a lot. I'm not so weird anymore.

WA  Which (comic) artist(s) would you say shapes your work the most?

Roz Chast
George Herriman
Ed Steed
Gabrielle Bell
Saul Steinberg
R Crumb
William Steig
Maira Kalman
Ruppert and Mulot
Eddie Campbell

WA  Dogs or cats?

LF Be still my heart.
Dogs because I grew up with them and am allergic to cats.
But I love cats the way you can only love something from a distance.
I relate as a cat-like dog.