February 20, 2019

"I Try To Find The Funny In Everything:" -- Rob Clough interviews NOVEMBER GARCIA

November Garcia is one of the freshest and funniest voice in autobiographical comics. While she's skilled at playing up her wacky escapades with her husband Roy, the joke-generating machine that is her mom and her initial insecurity in approaching the indy comics community, the reality is that she is one of the most skilled humorists in comics. After several misfires earlier in her career, she's in a groove right now that's seen her published by Hic & Hoc, PEN America, and Popula. She won the Dash Grant from Short Run Seattle. Her most recent work saw her emerge as a fully-formed voice, yet she's worked hard to improve at aspects of her craft that she's been dissatisfied with. That said, she emerged with a powerful sense of honesty and authenticity in her comedic voice. She's fearless in tackling difficult subjects, using certain deflective and self-deprecatory techniques to prevent her comics from becoming maudlin. She has a way of boiling down anecdotes to their humorous essence in a way that doesn't feel stilted or fake. Her figure drawing is rubbery and expressive. Garcia's mixture of enthusiasm and glee for the things she loves and visceral disgust for the things she doesn't comes across vividly on the page. In this interview, we'll examine Garcia's roots and provide critical context for her work.

Family and Background

Rob Clough: Where were you born and raised? How old are you?

November Garcia: I was born and raised in a little suburb in Manila, Philippines. We call them “villages” here. They’re just suburbs, not like huts or anything like that. My elementary school and high school were in that same village, and all my friends lived in that same village. So I never had a reason to leave the village. 

I’m now 41 and am proud to say that many moons ago I escaped the village to a magical city 6,963 miles away for 13 years. I have since moved back… to a different village.

RC: Did you grow up reading comics? Did you have friends with whom you read comics?

NG: As a child, I grew up reading Archie, Garfield, and Peanuts. The usual hits, because that’s all we could get over here. I found a photo where I was reading Woody Woodpecker and am proud of that. Every kid growing up in the ‘80s here pretty much read the same comics.

In my teens, I would buy comics from Tower Records when my family went on holiday in the US. That’s when I got into Sandman and Tank Girl. Yeah, yeah, I know, quit laughing.

RC: Did you grow up drawing? Did you draw with others, like siblings and friends?

NG: I always drew. I’d make up stories in my head and just draw them out nonsensically. My dad was the president of an ad agency, and his desk always had a stack of newsprint and a cup of sharpened pencils––that was my favorite place in the world to draw. At home, I’d whine: “Mom, I’m booooored! Can I have a pencil and paper?”.

I actually made a lot of teen drama comics with dogs as the characters (maybe an Archie influence). I recently unearthed some “ads” I drew as inserts, like dogs selling toilet paper. I really loved dogs. 

My two sisters were more into ballet, piano, Barbies, and drawing fashion dresses. I’m the son that my dad never had.

RC: What was your childhood like? In what ways does it inform your work now?

NG: Honestly, I was a spoiled brat, being the baby of the family. (I was a... er... surprise/blessing having been born 6 years after my second sister). I rebelled a lot in my teens and beyond—and coming from a decent family, I couldn’t understand what my problem was. Today, after living on my own in a major American city, I realize that it was the repression and the monotony and the “sheep mentality” all around me. I was itching for more but didn’t know what, exactly.

RC: Your mom is one of your go-to characters in Malarkey. She even contacts you with complaints after reading some of your strips. What does she think of you putting her in your strips in general? Has she been supportive of your career as a cartoonist?

NG: She only gets mad when I write about Jesus, drinking, or drugs. Otherwise, she’s fine with it (although sometimes she’ll say the quintessential “Don’t make a comic about this!”). My parents have always supported my creative endeavors. Being a creative person himself, my dad always said, “Thank God none of you girls became boring doctors or lawyers!”. He probably regrets that now, though.

The mom comics actually began as a Christmas gift to my dad. I did a dad book full of strips about him and had it printed professionally. He loved it, so the next year, I made him a mom book. There are a lot of gems in that one which I wished I had put in Malarkey but they all live somewhere in the Tumblr and on my dad’s coffee table.

RC: Do you plan to do strips about your dad in the future? He's conspicuous by his absence in your current work.

NG: I would if he did something funny –– my mom just keeps stealing the show. There are definitely memories worth making strips about. Maybe I’ll look through that dad book I made to see if there’s something there.

RC: Did you study art in high school or college?

NG: Our high school here is like elementary school in the sense that you don’t get to choose subjects. And you’re in the same damn classroom all day. So I just had the generic art classes in high school where you make a dumb collage or something.

I was kind of a burnout, so I didn’t get into the best (and only) art college here. They had a talent test where, if you passed, it would supersede your failure of what is the equivalent of the SATs in the States. I also failed the talent test, so I guess I was a really bad artist. I ended up going to my “back-up” college, which I’d previously vowed that I would never attend — but my mom forced me to take the entrance exam anyway: “In case you end up with no school!”. When I needed to declare a major, I checked the box for “advertising” only because my cousin did.

As I mentioned earlier, I grew up privileged, and, after college, I convinced my dad to send me to art school in San Francisco. I chose the school solely on the location and turned down his offer to send me to London or New York. I dropped out after one year because I eloped with a guy I met at that art school. Poor dad.

But I returned in my late 20s with a vengeance, determined to finish what I started. I switched to a program that had Graphic Design classes, which saved my life and got me out of the pet care industry. 

Early Days

RC: You've written that you started doing comics in your early twenties and even submitted them to various publishers. What were those comics like?

NG: I was going through my psychedelic phase, so they were these awful comics with a character named Bean who had misadventures in an incense and peppermints world. It had no words and was pure “eye candy” with swirls, heavy stippling, wild patterns, and bendy trees. 

I was so delusional that when I bought my first Frank comic by Jim Woodring, I proclaimed “Great! Now the world will think I’m copying this guy!”

I only ever submitted my comics to ONE publisher: Fantagraphics. Haha! And when they sent their rejection letter, I had the gall to email Peter Bagge for his opinion as to why. I asked, “Is it the art or the writing?” and he said “Both”.

Yes, I had huge balls and nothing resembling a clue back then.

RC: You've listed Peter Bagge as one of your earliest influences. What other cartoonists were formative for your work?

NG: Robert Crumb, Jim Woodring, Roberta Gregory. I only discovered them when I got to San Francisco. My ex was into comics too (he got me into Crumb) and tried to get me into Angry Youth Comix and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac but those didn’t stick.

RC: You note Bagge as an influence, yet your recent work is autobiographical. Have you ever considered doing humorous fiction?

NG: I guess I cite him as a huge influence because I’m so invested in his characters, especially the HATE series and The Bradleys. I can’t even count how many times I’ve re-read that series. I know my work looks nothing like his, like I’m horrible at feathering, which he does a lot of. But I love his art and writing.

I wish I could do humorous fiction but I don’t think my writing skills are good enough. I stick with the “write what you know” approach, and even then, it’s a struggle. The material comes easily, but autobio can be so self-serving ... I constantly have to find ways to avoid navel-gazing. The question “Why should anyone give a shit?” always helps.

RC: Did you quit comics for any period of time after that? If so, for how long? What led to your quitting?   

NG: As I entered my late 20s, I didn’t exactly quit — I just did it more sporadically. I got a corporate job and spent most of my spare time feeding my “tattoo artist” phase. Roy was friends with a bunch of tattooers. He bought all this tattoo equipment and we’d practice on pigskin. I thought this would be my new “out”... just waltz into a shop and say “Hey dudes, check out my awesome portfolio.” I call it “Fantagraphics Submission Delusion: Part Two”.

I actually enjoyed making the designs but all that machinery and hullabaloo was just not in the cards for me.

During this time, I did make a comic series called “Catholic Girls” about my high school experiences and it went viral in Manila. There were heated debates in the comments section of my blog. My drawing was horrible and I used computer lettering so just don’t google it. (But I bet you will! Argh)

RC: You know that I had to. It reads like a more labored version of what you do now, with lots more cross-hatching and such, but it's still the same voice. Have you thought about revisiting and revising this material?

NG: Perhaps. I touched a bit on it in my PEN America comic but I’m open to doing some vignettes. It’s just hard for me to remember a lot of things from that time and I rely a lot on my friends’ memories from high school. I probably blocked out a lot of it from trauma.

RC: How old were you when you moved from the Philippines to the US? What was that transition like?

NG: I didn’t graduate with an art degree so I couldn’t apply for a Masters. I got a second degree instead, so at 23, I was the oldest person in my dorm. 

I arrived in San Francisco with too much confidence ... I thought I was so cool because I was one of the “edgiest” people in my village, haha! There was definitely a learning curve, culturally. Simple things like having to walk up and talk to strangers to make friends (people aren’t as forward in Manila). I also did a lot of naive things because I was used to being in a safe bubble where you couldn’t get into any serious trouble. My ignorance literally almost landed me in prison (a possible future comic and also, sorry mom and dad), mugged, sexually harassed, or beat up. I’m a fast learner though, so I assimilated quickly.

RC: That sounds like an entire book's worth of experiences. Any plans to write about that soon?

NG: I always wanted to do a strip about the close call with ending up in jail, but it’s so heavy and loaded with dark events. I have to figure out how to do it in my writing style, keeping it light. The same goes for the sexual harassment ... I just don’t see any way of writing about that without being heavy. I wrote about some of the other stuff in Foggy Notions, like being held at gunpoint, the black eye, etc. so I probably won’t do another book of San Francisco-specific experiences. 

Foggy Notions

Published by Hic and Hoc, Foggy Notions is Garcia's second comic but her official debut. It's a departure from her self-published work in that it's a series of interrelated, longer-form vignettes about her time living in San Francisco. While not gag-oriented, it's still funny because Garcia focuses on the weird, the inappropriate and the extreme--and that's just with regard to her own behavior. "My First Black Eye" is the prototypical Garcia story, as a woman on a bus tries to steal her phone and punches Garcia in the face. A black eye in her case was a serious thing, given that she's almost blind in the eye that wasn't punched. The mix of outrageousness and anxiety gives the piece tense energy and sets the tone for the rest of the book. 

"Everlast" may be about a homeless person she and Roy saw all the time, but it's also a walking tour of San Francisco that sets the stage for documenting a city that was about to be forever altered by gentrification. Here we see Garcia's difficulty with backgrounds inhibiting the story a bit because it doesn't give the reader enough of the unique aspects of the city. However, her cartooning with regard to people is excellent, especially with regard to facial expressions, body language and figures interacting in space. 

RC: Foggy Notions was your first comic released by a publisher, correct? Other than Malarkey, did you self-publish any comics before this?

NG: No, in fact, Malarkey just came into existence because my publisher asked me if I had anything lying around that he could give away at SPX. So I compiled a bunch of comics from my Tumblr into a zine and mailed them to him. That’s the first comic you ever read from me too!

RC: Matt Moses handed it to me and talked you up, but it was remarkably assured work considering it was your first go. How long you had been doing comics on Tumblr at that time?

NG: I was posting comics here and there on my blog for years but was only posting on Tumblr for a few months. They weren’t very good, but after Matt took me under his wing he gave me good advice [about cartoonists to emulate.] That really helped me approach comics in a more mature way going forward and I also made them more frequently. Those are the strips that went into that first Malarkey.  

RC: How did you come to work with Matt Moses of Hic andHoc?

NG: In 2015, my website was down so I started a Tumblr account and posted a bunch of comics on there. I saw Hic and Hoc in my network and they had a submissions button, so I sent two awful strips which were rejected. I had just gotten over the blighted ovum incident and the comics were very dark. Thankfully, this at least got me on Matt’s radar and he must have seen some potential in other stuff I posted after that. Eventually, he contacted me about trying something out.

RC: Foggy Notions is different from most of your self-published work. While it's funny, the stories are longer and are all set during your time living in San Francisco. Was this part of your pitch, or was this something that Matt wanted?

NG: Matt wanted something cohesive so I pitched a couple of themes and we settled on the San Francisco stories. I really enjoy longer narrative writing and Malarkey is more of my “release” from that ... just stuff for laughs and fun in between the serious work. I’ve been meaning to do more narrative stuff like Rookie Moves. My comics on PEN America and Popula that came out recently are reflective of what I want to do next.

RC: How long was it after you left San Francisco that you wrote these comics? Were you aware that you were documenting a city that no longer exists?

NG: I had just moved back to the Philippines when I started writing those, probably 3 years in. I always knew I had some stories to tell and that things were changing, especially after I moved. I just didn’t know the extent and the quickness of how the city was changing during the period that I was writing the comics from here.

RC: "Everlast" is a story whose central gag relies on a homeless man wearing an Everlast jacket. It also serves as a walking tour of San Francisco. Was it important for you to give the reader a strong sense of the city's flavor during the course of the comic?

NG: I didn’t really overthink it. It was just another part of my life living there and a running joke between me and Roy (other people in the neighborhood knew him too, like the guy who does my tattoos and Roy’s friend who owns a vintage clothing store). 

It was the first story I pitched to Matt because it was the most mundane storyline, and I wanted to prove that I could write beyond pure spectacle. Today, I do regret not having shown more of my neighborhood for that comic, but my skills back then were very limited.
RC: Do you feel that writing about the "pure spectacle" aspects of your life is somehow cheating as a creator, like it's an easy shortcut?

NG: If the story of spectacle is one hell of a story, then I’m all for writing about it. I only think it’s cheating if you rely on spectacle alone to write all your stories. Gabrielle Bell is a master storyteller in my opinion because she could literally be watching paint dry and write an amazing story about that.

RC: As an author, you have an interesting relationship with the excesses of your own behavior. You seem to walk a line between worried about it and playing it up for laughs. Are there past stories that you read and cringe at, or is it all just fodder for good storytelling?

NG: I definitely cringe at past stories, especially from Malarkey #2 when I was going through a tough time. I try to avoid whiney autobio. But that’s where I was at at the time so that’s what I wrote about. In Malarkey #3, there are practically no substance abuse stories (not that I’m saying they didn’t happen, yuk! yuk!).

I’ve always had an impulsive and addictive personality, which is not a good combination, but at the same time I’m reasonable enough to remain a “functioning adult”. So there’s that conundrum of not really having a serious problem — by cutting it off right at the limit. 

Let’s change the subject, haha!

RC: Okay. How did you develop your lettering style? Your letter size is bigger than most cartoonists, and you use interesting loops in places.

NG: I’ve always had horrible handwriting, so I have no idea where that came from. I do remember that in school, my friends would crack up at how neat my handwriting was when I had to write out visual presentations.

As they say, “Lettering is Drawing” so that probably explains that. I do hate that my lettering is so huge and I’ve been trying to adjust it, but it’s really hard for me.


Garcia has self-published three issues of Malarkey, a mostly single-page gag series, each issue more accomplished than the last. While her future lies in the sort of 8-10 page longer-form vignettes she's doing for her most recent publishers, her shorter work is well-designed and sharply observed. Garcia introduces us to her hilarious and formidable mother in this comic, who is a font of bizarre and often inappropriate observations. Garcia also introduces the reader to "My Weepy Ex," a hilarious running segment built on sad-sack humor. Malarkey also features Garcia fearlessly discussing darker and more intimate topics, like a close relative dying, her struggles with drinking, and whether or not to try to have a baby. A comic where she punches someone in the chest because "they don't know who John Porcellino is" works on a number of levels, but its sharp comic timing is illustrative of Garcia's skill. 

RC: Malarkey #1 preceded Foggy Notions, and some of the segments felt like you had been working on variations of them for a long time. For example, your "My Weepy Ex" stories have run in every issue. Was this the first time you published these stories? How long had you been waiting to tell those stories, especially since your level of detailed recall is remarkable?

NG: I’ve always had these stories in my head but never drew them out until Malarkey. I really did have an ex who cried a lot and I’d tell Roy all these ridiculously funny yet heartbreaking true stories about him. He’s a really nice guy and I felt bad, so I planned to kill the character when it came to Malarkey #3. However, my deadline was fast approaching and I already had those stories, so I just said “screw it” and put them in.

RC: One thing that's interesting about your comics is that you never shy away from difficult or unpleasant topics, yet you tend to talk around them. For example, the comic where you got a D and C after a "ghost embryo" focused more on you cleaning up a mess, overall discomfort, and your meal afterward. Is this a deliberate strategy? 

NG: I try to find the funny in every situation, so that’s why I focused on those moments. I do want to make a longer story about what happened to me, but I’ll need to spend extra time on the writing. I don’t want it to be just a chronological narration of events because there are so many layers surrounding what happened. And of course, it needs to have humor.

RC: Along those lines, you have a strip in here where the "you" of 2015 lectures the coming "you" of 2016, telling her to lay off of drinking. I've never seen a cartoonist simultaneously revel in their love of drinking and yet have total awareness that this may not be a good idea. How do you work this balance out in your comics?

NG: I try not to be direct or literal (if I can help it) when it comes to telling a story or even the comics where it’s my thoughts or inner monologues. Like if I started that comic by saying “Back in 2015, I drank a lot. This was because this happened, blah blah”, it would be boring to me. Or like when Roy’s Auntie Franny died, I chose one significant moment instead of starting with “We found out that Auntie Franny had cancer so we went to visit her and this happened, etc. etc.”

RC: Your mother is a fascinating character because she's a total weirdo (example: her stories of playing with frogs and spiders as a child) who likes to keep up public appearances. How much of this is exaggerated? Is it impossible to resist using her attitudes as comedic fodder, especially since you couldn't care less about discussing things like tampons in public?

NG: My mom is a fountain of material because she has absolutely no filter. When I have writer’s block, I just go hang out with her and take notes. She’s seriously a riot, and none of my comics about her are exaggerated. In fact, sometimes I have to tone her down and omit, er, unsavory perspectives.

RC: "The Story Of You" is a hilarious comic, both in terms of conception (pun intended) and execution. In it, you compare creating a comic to having a kid, down to all of the most inconvenient and rewarding aspects of being a parent. Did this one appear fully formed in your head, or was getting it on paper a struggle?

NG: I already had it all in my head. I guess it started from me joking “Whelp, the kid thing didn’t happen so I ended up having a comic instead.”

In Malarkey #2, Garcia introduces color into her strips, mostly on a spot basis. While not an essential ingredient, it serves to heighten the expressiveness of her work. Her skill in panel composition makes the use of color a pleasing bonus because she has a way of making even talking heads comics look dynamic. She changes character poses and expressions on a panel-to-panel basis, creating smoother transitions and a sense that the conversation on the page is a dynamic one and not just words on the page. She also has them eating and drinking, further creating a sense of activity over time. This issue also introduces the reader to her anxiety about becoming part of the comics community. 

RC: Malarkey #2 introduces some experiments with color. One strip's in full color, including the backgrounds, and another uses spot color. Is this something you'd like to experiment with more? Do you use a computer to add coloring effects?

NG:  I had just finished Frank Santoro’s comics course and he said to always use color even if you print it in grayscale, for when you CAN afford to print it in color. Then I got obsessed with checking the values by constantly looking at the colored page in grayscale then going back to adjust it so it would have good contrast in a black and white print. Then I ended up printing it in color anyway!

I feel like I’m starting to get into the groove with my coloring now, especially with Malarkey #3 and the Popula comic. I’m trying not to be too literal with my approach (flesh on humans, blue for sky, etc.) I color digitally on my iPad, but I experiment by adding pencil textures and things like that. I wish I could do more analog coloring but I’m not good at drawing. See, I use a non-photo blue pencil to draw because I need tighter drawings to ink over. The good cartoonists pencil loosely and very light so their inks don’t fade when they erase. Maybe one day, I’ll be good enough...sniff...

RC: What was the experience of going through Santoro's course like? What lessons did you find most valuable?

NG: The lessons I carry with me to this day are: 1) Your drawing comes out flat if you use reference photos. 2) Look at the composition of the entire page, not just the panels. 3) Don’t limit yourself to traditional methods of inking, and don’t be afraid of color. 4) Practice every day (I don’t).

RC: In Malarkey #2, you set up a different dynamic with your mom and your sister. Whereas there's more give and take with you and your mom, your mom and your sister seem to go at it hammer and tongs in your comics. Is this an exaggeration, or is this an actual dynamic that you simply like to exploit?

NG: Jeez, where do I begin? Unfortunately, these are all verbatim. We all have extremely strong personalities in this family and they are all completely different ones. So a pleasant family lunch can easily detonate into the argument of the century, take no prisoners, scorched earth, war of the worlds, Uber it home, what have you. I have a witness –– ask Roy.

RC: Your line is rubbery and cartoonish, which is perfect for humor. How long did it take for you to get to this point in using this kind of style? The way you draw your own eyes is particularly interesting and exaggerated, where they are huge, vertical almonds often accompanied by heavy, drooping eyelids. Was this trademark look influenced by someone else, or did you figure it out over time?

NG: The Bean character I mentioned from when I did the awful, psychedelic comics was a girl with those exact eyes. I guess she was a version of me. I reverted back to drawing my eyes that way at some point, maybe for consistency. A lot of artists are good at making dot eyes expressive but I like playing around with the eyeballs. The rubbery style was solely inspired by Lynda Barry.

RC: You're pretty bold about including other people in your autobio comics. Have you had many complaints or pushback from people other than the stuff you write about in your comics? Do you find yourself censoring your own work at times?

NG: My rule is to always be honest [and] truthful but never spiteful. That is how I censor my work. I don’t believe in censoring my work just to avoid offending those who have opposing opinions, beliefs, or sensibilities.

I worry most about "My Weepy Ex" stories but hopefully, he has a sense of humor about it should he come across it. In Malarkey #1, I did a comic where a guy I dated was an extra in one panel. He only bought that comic because he was in it, then asked for the original panel with him in it. So I made a comic about this in Malarkey #2 and, to my relief, he laughed about it, then asked for the original panel of that one too since he was in it. Then made me sign all the original panels. It was all very meta.

Malarkey #3 is Garcia's most recent comic, published thanks to the Dash Grant. Her commitment to refining her drawing is obvious, as she added hatching, cross-hatching, and stippling for certain of the stories while continuing to explore spot color in others. That said, her basic line remained expressive and unfussy, with her characters' faces telling the story on their own. In one strip, where she talks about having not watched Star Wars as a kid, Garcia draws herself as a kid, contentedly munching on food in the first panel; missing out on a joke in the second; and learning a big spoiler in the final two panels. Because of the way she draws herself, she's the focus of every panel, even when she's not right in the middle. 

RC: Malarkey #3 was a departure in some ways. Are you intentionally mining your childhood for more anecdotes, or was it just how it worked out for this issue?

NG: I spent a lot of time at home last year drawing comics and working. Since I hardly left the house, there was nothing too eventful to write about in Malarkey #3. I guess this is why I wrote more about the past. Being back home and finally settling in probably prompted that too, jogging a lot of memories.

RC: Do you consider yourself an artist who writes, a writer who draws, or something else?

NG: I consider myself an amateur writer who is learning how to draw. I know there are cartoonists who focus more on writing and those that focus more on the art. I want to be good at both. I really try to push myself to get better by writing beyond the easy gag comics and drawing things I hate to draw.

RC: Can you see the progress you've made just in the last year or two? What are some things that you want to specifically improve?

NG: I do see a huge improvement when I look at comics from when I started doing this seriously two years ago. I specifically want to get better at writing longer narratives (and not relying on Roy so much to edit and expand my writing) and drawing better backgrounds. God, I hate backgrounds.

RC: Do you still derive pleasure from the physical act of drawing?

NG: Not since I started making comics, haha! I love when the writing and drawing part is over and the mechanical process begins: inking, lettering, cleaning up and coloring. I can just zone out and not think anymore.

The Fan And The Pro

I met Garcia at Chicago's CAKE in 2017, her first appearance at a comics show in the US. She followed that up by tabling at SPX in Bethesda, Maryland. She documented this experience of making the transition from fan to peer of her favorite cartoonists in Rookie Moves, which includes appearances by me and a number of well-known cartoonists. Garcia's knack for turning quotidian encounters into fodder for jokes is remarkable, especially given how much information she had to compress in order to extract and design a joke. At the same time, these are deeply felt stories about social anxiety, imposter syndrome, and the deep feeling of caring so much about something that it hurts. 

RC: A running theme in your comics is your unabashed fandom of many alt-cartoonists, starting with a hilarious strip about being excited when John Porcellino followed you on Tumblr. How has this changed your approach to comics after meeting so many cartoonists in the past couple of years?

NG: Being friends with all these famous cartoonists has definitely changed my approach to writing. I feel like I can’t write about the fandom anymore because it would be redundant. I felt the need to address all this with Rookie Moves, so I did and now I’m done.

I also feel more confident, like maybe I’m doing something right after all. What is interesting to me is that the indie comics scene is like high school: there are cliques, hierarchies of popularity, etc. I ended up gravitating towards certain personalities and these cartoonists (who are now my very good friends) somehow have exactly the same tastes in comics as I do. It’s like I’ve found my tribe. And for these people who like good comics and make good comics to say they like my stuff, well, it’s a great sense of validation. 

RC: You've written a little about your experiences at CAKE and SPX in 2017, but did you feel like you had crossed a magical barrier when you started befriending so many cartoonists? What was the experience like for you in the moment?

NG: I definitely felt that magical barrier crumble. I’m very sociable but get nervous around famous people (famous to me, at least). What surprised me was how friendly, accepting, and supportive everyone in the indie comics community is. I particularly found Simon Hanselmann and Jim Woodring intimidating but ended up just casually conversing with them and making jokes. I guess I pictured cartoonists to embody the attitude of their comics in real life –– not to say their work does not reflect some of their personalities –– but they have normal lives and problems outside of that world. Kevin Huizenga is still very intimidating but in a good way ... he’s got that teacher vibe and I’ve joked with other cartoonists about it.

RC: Despite your stated nervousness in Rookie Moves, you managed to turn anecdotes into funny gags on every page. Do you have a process for how you turn observations and experiences into a sharp comedic structure?

NG: I guess it’s just the way I try to find the funny in everything and pick special moments to feature instead of a play-by-play narrative.

RC: To be specific, you boiled down meeting me at Quimby's in one story into one panel and paired with a panel of meeting Iona Fox -- creating a new punchline out of these two unrelated events. That's more than just finding the funny in an event -- it's a specific kind of comedic structure. Is this kind of gag work intuitive to you? Is it just part of your working process? Is this something that you specifically work on?

NG: It’s a way of tying in parts of a story without being too long-winded. I suppose it’s killing two birds with one stone––I get to tell a story in the most economical way possible and get a gag in. I recently did something similar in a panel where I find the perfect clothing store and beside me is a mannequin wearing the exact same thing I’m wearing. It explains the panel but is also funny. However, that was Roy’s idea so I’m full of shit. It is not intuitive at all.

Set Up For Success

More Diary Comics From A Relative Nobody features Garcia working fast and loose. While not as polished as her other work, it demonstrates just how rock-solid her storytelling is. The expressive immediacy on each page makes up for that lack of polish and color, as she clearly labors to make each gesture stand out on the page. That's especially true because the subject matter here is more mundane than usual, and Garcia works hard to keep the reader's attention.

RC: Your Diary Comics mini was interesting because the drawing was rawer and more immediate than your other work. Was drawing like this liberating?

NG: I was trying an exercise in learning to draw better by not erasing or noodling too much, and not using reference material. It was not liberating because I realized that people were going to see it. You can actually see the slow improvement of the drawings, which was not a result of practicing but more of cheating.

RC: In some of your most recent comics, you talk about feeling set up for success at the moment. That is, you're being offered gigs and pitches and you won the Dash Grant at Short Run in Seattle. Do you feel increased pressure to perform, or is this just a way for you to turn your energy to projects you wanted to do anyway?

NG: I’m quite competitive and some of these successes are due to my hustling. The pressure to perform comes from myself. It’s like, “How far can you go with this and how can you do better than the last thing you did?”. I applied for a lot of things like the grant and expos just to see if I could get in. When The New Yorker invited me to contribute then rejected my submissions, I became obsessed with “cracking the code” (until I did) more than the actual prestige of being in the magazine. 

That being said, putting myself out there has also generated a lot of luck. I got gigs from people recommending my comics or seeing a review or a published comic online. There’s that domino effect, and I’m really grateful for all that’s happened. 

RC: Does it feel odd that you've kind of wished some of your comics into reality, like the one where you joked about having to tell Gabrielle Bell to hold on because your pals John P. and Noah Van Sciver wanted to talk to you?

NG: Haha! It didn’t quite happen that way but my friendship with Gabrielle came about because she saw that comic about me pretending we were friends. Then I made a comic about her talking about that comic. What amuses me the most with autobio is this cyclical thing. 

RC: My favorite character in your comics is your husband Roy. You depict him as simultaneously patient and exasperated with your shenanigans, but there's always the sense that he's your partner-in-crime. What approach do you take in writing him in your comics? 

NG: I can’t always depict situations exactly as they happened because there would be more explaining to do. If he’s not necessary in a scene, or if it complicates the narrative to have him in it (even if it’s stuff he says, does, or thinks), I’ll just edit him out. Most of the time, he’s in there because we’re together all the time—especially since we now both work from home.

You nailed it with my depiction of him because that’s how our relationship is in real life. He does often end up as the “straight” character in contrast to myself in my comics, which can be a harrowing dynamic at times—because as he often jokes, “If I’m the voice of reason here, then you’re in for a real world of hurt.”
Rob Clough has written about comics for Cicada, the Comics Journal, Sequential, tcj.com,
sequart.com, Savant, Foxing Quarterly, Studygroup Magazine, as well as for his own blog, High-Low (highlowcomics.blogspot.com).

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