Q&A with cartoonist Ellen Forney
Cartoonist Ellen Forney, who has created comics for clients such as the New York Times and LA Weekly, came to Towson to teach students how to develop their own comic art.
Forney also spoke about her collaboration with Sherman Alexie on his novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and her own upcoming book “Marbles.”
The Towerlight: What inspired you to become a cartoonist?
Ellen Forney: I’ve always loved to draw. I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember. I love to write and tell stories, and that all comes together in comics. I think that comics are a really dynamic integration of all those things and it’s a really unique form of literature that way.
TL: Has comic art always been a dream of yours?
EF: It’s funny. I used to say that I really didn’t get into it until I became a professional cartoonist in my early 20s. Then my brother heard me say that at some point and he said, ‘No, Ellen, do you remember that comic that you did for Tina in high school?’ And then I found some letters that I had written to a friend of mine when I was 12 that included a lot of comics. So I think that I’ve had that sensibility and that way of storytelling really within me, almost in my subconscious, before I realized that that was part of my way of expressing myself.
TL: What inspired “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian?”
EF: That was Sherman’s idea. It’s autobiographical fiction, and it’s very closely based off his own life.The one big part of it that was not part of his life is that he was not a cartoonist. But Sherman loves comics, and I know Sherman. So he approached me to ask if I would be the main character’s aspect of that personality. So I collaborated with Sherman. Some of his suggestions, some of my own input, stuff that we came up with together. It’s really rare that I collaborate. I do my own work. I write and draw, pretty exclusively. I’m very choosy about if I’m going to collaborate with someone else. I have a lot of respect for Sherman, and so it was a big learning experience and really fun.
TL: How long did this whole process take?
EF: It took years, maybe three or four. To tell you the truth, I’m not really sure. There was a period in the middle that Sherman had a bit of a writing block. He wrote another novel in the meantime, and then got back to it. So it was on-again off-again for several years.
TL: So what is the process like when creating your own comic?
EF: It depends on what it is. It takes a long time. I’m working on my own graphic novel right now for Penguin Books, and that’s taken several years. I’m heading into the final stretch now, and it’s due at the end of the year. It’ll be out fall 2012. It’s called “Marbles,” and it’s autobiographical.
TL: Do you have any advice for aspiring cartoonists?
EF: Have fun and work a lot. For people who are really interested in becoming professionals, it seems like the best way to break in is to set up a blog or join in some other online anthology or collection. For anyone who’s interested in comics, just practice and keep reading. Other cartoonists that are out there are your best teachers.
— Compiled by Megan Flannery