“This is the desk I share with my boyfriend, Trevor Alixopulos, who’s also a cartoonist. We take turns using it and each have some crates for filing, etc. Our place is really small so for now this is the extent of our workspace, at home.I mostly use just pencils, ink, and watercolors in sketchbooks or watercolor blocks, but have more supplies around the desk.
I like to have a mirror around when I draw; it helps with drawing facial expressions or body gestures. Also I think it just helps to see myself working every once in a while. Maybe like how they have mirrors at the gym?
is an illustrator and cartoonist living in Santa Rosa, California. She is the creator of Spaniel Rage
and most recently, Make Me a Woman
. Her work has appeared in The New York Times
, and The Jewish Daily Forward
. She is a frequent contributor to Tablet
magazine, and has a piece in this month’s Psychology Today
FROM YOUR DESKS: Your mirror comment is hilarious. Do you get to the gym?
VANESSA DAVIS: I quit the gym but I am (recently) a devoted exercise video enthusiast. What I really want is an old-fashioned jazz dance class like I had when I was a kid. The best exercise I can imagine is practicing choreographed dances to the latest hits while looking like a fly girl with all my friends.
I did a Jillian Michaels one a day ago and today I feel like I got clubbed in the legs by some of Tonya Harding’s cronies.
FYD: I’m often chastized about having too many mugs. Do you have a pile or is that YUM your sole mug?
VD: We have a small collection of mugs including this YUM one, some Pyrex Crazy Daisy ones, some Hawaiian Hilo Hatties ones that my boyfriend’s mom gave us, and a handpainted clown one with my boyfriend’s name on it. (I broke the matching Vanessa one. A friend made them for us at one of those paint-your-own-pottery places.) I actually have a plan in place to acquire more mugs once we move to a bigger place. I want a jadeite mug (like the one Giles had on Buffy) and a pink Fire King one, too. I want to have those hooks from which one hangs one’s mug collection.
FYD: What is your dayjob like?
VD: I don’t have the best setup at the moment–my boyfriend and I share a desk in our small apartment, and we supplement space by going out to coffee shops to do work. So I really long for my own studio setup, where I don’t have to scramble for 20 minutes to find my eraser or a pencil every time I sit down to work.
Everyone’s a psycho about money. It’s not money’s fault.
This also prevents me from having a real routine, I think. Plus, every project is different. But I guess I work things out in my sketchbook: make notes, sketches, etc. Then I pencil things out, ink, paint, and then scan.
I have terrific discipline when I have a deadline. I can be a real pro. But when left to my own devices I can get overwhelmed with ALL the projects I want to do and I won’t know where to start. So then I’ll bake a cake instead or something like that.
FYD: Do you have a dayjob mantra?
VD: ”Think of the money.” (I stole that from my uncle.) My comics mantra is “Do it and screw it.” My mom said that to me once, along with “Don’t second guess yourself. Leave that to everyone else.” I totally second-guess myself all the time and angst about work but I try to live up to these sayings. I don’t know if you meant an actual mantra phrase, but there you have it.
FYD: Did you grow up on comics or the “funnies” as my grandma used to call them?
VD: Yes, absolutely. I always loved the funnies and Archie. I liked the old strips they’d mix in with the newer ones in the Double Digests. I was fascinated by the clothes, hairstyles, the teenagers’ easy, neat, suburban lives. I HATED whatever era it was where Betty’s ponytail began to be relaxed enough for the hair to gather in these round lumps over her ears. I much preferred the older days when it was pulled back real tight.
As I got older I found it hard to maintain my interest or connection with comics. My mom took me to a local West Palm Beach comics shop when I was about 11. Man, that was a bleak experience. I didn’t care about superhero or science fiction comics at all and there was just nothing there for me. Then I started attending an arts school and I mostly forgot about comics until about 10 years later because they wanted us to be very “fine arts” and do women’s studies-inspired landscape sculpture installations instead.
FYD: What is the evolution of a comic cartoon illustrator; does it start with drawing and a segue into cartoons?
VD: Well, obviously many cartoonists grow up wanting to be cartoonists and it’s with them all their lives in a really conscious way. I didn’t realize it until I had gone through a lot of other aspects of my identity and I was able to finally accept it. I was a painting major but I always had these real narrative impulses and was totally inspired by illustration, which I’d thought was a weakness, kind of. I’ve always been very verbally-inclined–talking a lot, and so on. I thought I had to keep it out of my work, as art was the one place I was quiet.
I did become more aware of artier comics in college, so it wasn’t like I had to make a choice to separate myself from my fine art background to embrace them, which had always seemed like the case. And I found myself in New York with no room to paint. I saw James Kochalka’s diary comics and they reminded me of a project one of my favorite painting teachers (Ken Tisa) did, where he painted one painting a day as a diary entry for several years, and I tried it out that way.
My dayjob mantra is “Think of the money.” My comics mantra is “Do it and screw it.”
FYD: I’ve been told if you want to be a scriptwriter you should read comics because every scene is laid out.
That is so interesting because I have been wanting to write a script based on Spaniel Rage
for a long time and it seems hard for me to go through every moment of conversation like you do in a movie. In my (somewhat limited, as yet) experience with comics, I’m usually cutting dialogue down to the least amount. So I will sometimes be trying to illustrate an entire conversation in one exchange, with some pared-down narration, too.
My friend, a screenwriter told me that scripts are based on these bulletpoints, which is how I write comics. I will make the outline based on which scenes/images/exchanges I want to include, and then just try to put them in a working order. So I think it makes sense that scriptwriters could benefit from looking at comics for those reasons. But I guess it depends on which comics.
FYD: On a scale of one to ten; how much does your cartoon self resemble your real self?
VD: Cartoon Me and Real Me are both amorphous, changing all the time. We’re ugly and pretty, old and young, all at once. Cartoon Me is edited and says less stupid, regrettable stuff. So, maybe a 5?
FYD: Make Me a Woman is about growing up, being alone and of course, money. Are we better off with or without the stuff?
VD: Everyone’s a psycho about money. It’s not money’s fault. I think people’s attitudes about money reflects so much self-awareness (or lack thereof). Privileged people who complain about everyone else having more; people born into money who think they earned it; poor people who think they don’t deserve it. I like that you said my book is partly about money. Nobody has said that to me but I totally agree.
FYD: In a screen adaptation, who is playing you?
VD: James Woods.
FYD: When you want to step out of the work zone and documenting your world; what are you up to?
VD: I love cooking, I get really distracted with cooking projects. And I live in a really pretty area, so I try to do a lot of exploring, going to the beach, going to little places all over Sonoma County and so on. I am also really far from many of my friends and family so I try to travel a lot to Florida and New York and Los Angeles to see everyone. I love to window-shop on the internet. Reading, going to movies. I’m trying to find the right exercise video. I did a Jillian Michaels one a day ago and today I feel like I got clubbed in the legs by some of Tonya Harding’s cronies.