I am so thrilled to announce that my art (originals of Living In The Now) will be hanging on the walls of the gorgeous gallery Garner Narrative in Louisville, KY!
Living in the Now
interview by Angie Reed Garner
ANGIE REED GARNER: What is your formal education?
TATIANA GILL: I have a B.A. in graphic art and literature from the Evergreen State College.
ANGIE REED GARNER: Are you self-taught as a cartoonist?
TATIANA GILL: I am self-taught, I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. My brother and I drew comics, which inspired my mom to make an autobiographical comic of her own, which was a huge influence on me. Over the years I have taken art classes and drawing classes, as well as gotten advice from other cartoonists, and read thousands of comics and graphic novels. My biggest teacher was drawing every day through childhood through college, and after a long pause in my adulthood, returning to the daily practice in my late 30s.
ANGIE REED GARNER: How did you come to the practice of a daily diary comic? Who were your early readers or supporters, how did they find you and how did you find them?
TATIANA GILL: The practice came about because I was recovering from alcoholism, and having a very hard time with it. So per the recommendation of therapists, self help books, and wise friends, I was trying to live in the moment and be present in my actual experiences – not dwelling in my memories, hopes and fears. I had gone 3 years without a drink and was drawing autobio comics of my wild drinking stories, all the while fighting deep cravings to start drinking again. I realized that I was dwelling on the past by drawing so many comics about my past, something I couldn’t afford to do at that point in my recovery. So I started making a comic about my day to day experiences, which at the time I considered bland and boring, to show myself and my readers how much better my life was in recovery compared to the wild drinking comics – that although living in recovery didn’t make an exciting narrative, there was beauty, grace and comfort in the slow, steady unfolding of living moment by moment.
My early readers of Living in the Now were my friends and acquaintances on Facebook. I already had a bit of a following of my comics and art on there, and it grew as I shared the daily comics on Facebook and ‘tagged’ anyone who appeared in the comic of that day. It was a great way to get attention and reach new audiences of my friends’ friends. Now that I’m up to over 430 episodes, I have stopped tagging people – I was dominating friends’ FB feeds with a comic that was becoming more about my personal struggles, so I scaled the sharing back to my artist page. I still share my comic on various other online platforms like flickr, reddit, tumblr, and my webcomic site http://comixxen.com. My readership and feedback volume is smaller now, but due to the personal nature of the comic, I’m okay with that. Several of my friends are avid supporters of both the comic itself and how much the daily journal drawing process helps me.
ANGIE REED GARNER: Has the daily practice affected how you see your day, your life, your body, your relationships?
TATIANA GILL: It has affected all of the above. I will jot down the day’s events in pencil after nearly every day, but most often will refine and ink several at once. Looking at a few days at a time I will suddenly realize a pattern. Perhaps I’ve gotten upset or had a panic attack every night that week, or I’ve been spending all my time online, or I see a blatant omission from the events of the week, throwing into relief that there’s something I’m avoiding or not being honest with myself about.
I waver between drawing myself in a traditional comic style and being honest with how I see myself – I try to draw my belly popping out, or my double chin, when that’s what I’ve been seeing in the mirror or dwelling on. There is something cathartic about coming clean to the public that I have a big belly or a double chin, even if I won’t post photos exposing as much, or draw them on myself consistently. One thing I’m consistently dishonest about in my drawings is how low my breasts hang without a bra, which I go without a good portion of my time at home. I’m just not ready to draw that or let everyone know, much as I don’t draw myself going to the bathroom.
ANGIE REED GARNER: Is the daily comic then primarily about self-honesty, meditation, both, more, something completely different?
TATIANA GILL: All of the above. It started in part as an effort to continue my recovery and process in a healthy way, but I didn’t try going to AA and doing the steps until I had already been drawing this comic for a couple months. I got to step 10 officially about 4 months ago. I find traditional mediation offers a clarity drawing this comic does not, but it provides many similar benefits: self reflection, a birds-eye-view of my state of existence, seeing habits, patterns and events I was not previously aware of. During turmoil I find a certain peace in the methodical ritual of creating the comic. It’s also been a big help in feeling productive and like I have a job to do every day, rain or shine. I may have had a lot of failings and disappointments in reaching goals the past few years, but I did draw hundreds of pages of comics – no matter how hurried or sloppy they are, that’s a big deal to me. It’s something I have control of no matter what else happens in my life.
ANGIE REED GARNER: How do you decide what about your life can become public, and what needs to stay private? Or is it more a matter of figuring out how you can share about the most sensitive stuff– finding a way?
TATIANA GILL: My rule of thumb is to be as honest as I can about my own inner landscape, without throwing other people under the bus or telling their story for them. That can be difficult when my opinion of someone else is consuming my thoughts, or there’s something in my partners life affecting both our lives. In the case of the latter, I’ll talk to him first about what he’s comfortable with me sharing, and edit accordingly. I think the comic might be more about what I think of other people, and my struggles in being less judgmental, if it was entirely private and I wasn’t sharing it online. But then, without sharing it online and getting encouragement and feedback, I might not be motivated to stick with it. Plus, by keeping it less about other people and more about myself, I am given more real estate to focus on my own issues and my mood, instead of what I assigned as a trigger for that mood.
ANGIE REED GARNER: Previously you wrote, “These diary comics depict the intensity of rage and despair I feel some days.” What happens to that rage and despair when you draw your daily comic?
TATIANA GILL: The rage and despair has often lessened by the time I draw the comic, but not always. It always helps me process my emotions to draw them out, and burns off some steam as well. By visualizing them I also become more aware of them, sometimes finding them easier to deal with after having a better idea of what they might look like.
ANGIE REED GARNER: Influences? Anyone you particularly relate to as an artist? As a cartoonist?
TATIANA GILL: My big influences for drawing a daily diary comic are Ben Snakepit, who draws a 3 panel comic for every day of his life from 2001-on. In 2004 I consumed many years worth of his comics in a few weeks, and was really moved by how patterns emerged, and how even the simplest storytelling, done one day at a time over years, can create a much larger story and subtext. Another cartoonist whose daily journal comics I was aware of, and read a small portion of, was James Kochalka. Reading “Marbles” by Ellen Forney, a long time heroine, was also a big influence on being honest about my process of working on my mental health. Since doing my own daily diary comic, I’ve become aware of many other cartoonists doing similar work. Autobiographical artists I relate to currently are Gabrielle Bell, Erika Moen, Julia Wertz, RubyEtc, Summer Pierre, Allie Brosh and Mike Dawson. My biggest lifetime influences in cartooning are Herge (Tintin), Dan Decarlo (Archie Comics), Jaime Hernandez (Love and Rockets), Dori Seda, Alison Bechdel, Phoebe Gloeckner, Mary Fleener, Roberta Gregory, Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Ellen Forney. Another form of art I admire and relate to is guerrilla art and street art, from big names like Bansky to Seattle’s own Starheadboy. The classic artists I most relate to are ones who depict their mental or physical illness, such as Frida Kahlo and my favorite, Van Gogh.