Enjoy a special Sneak Peak interview with one of our upcoming Lit Live authors!
Who: Angela Boyle
Where: Village Books in Fairhaven
When: Sunday, Sep. 18, 4pm
Why: Awesome 'Possum: Volume II with Slide Show!
"They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night."
So says Edgar Allen Poe, and Angela Boyle agrees. After having the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Boyle, I believe her favorite author quote is a fitting way to begin her story, as I would be surprised if her beautifully creative mind ever stops dreaming.
Join us at Village Books in Fairhaven this Sunday, September 18th, at 4pm, where Boyle will be talking about her latest book - Awesome 'Possum, Volume II: A Natural Science Comic Anthology - the second (obviously) in the series. She's already working on a third, plus a myriad of other writing and graphic art projects, drawing a few more comics (just for fun this time), reading a ton of interesting books, keeping up on a few hobbies, and last but not least, enjoying her day job! Get ready to be inspired as we get to know her a little better before she arrives on Sunday; read on and find out why science + passion + amazing comic art = AWESOME.
Village Books: I see you grew up just outside of Bellingham (Mt. Baker). Can you tell us a little about your years in this area and how your path took you to Vermont?
Angela Boyle: I grew up out in the county from age 5. The house we bought came with a cow, named Meatloaf, who did eventually end up at the butcher and then our freezer. My parents filled our 5 acres with animals: borzois, my dog (a whippet named Patience), cats, chickens, turkeys, horses. I got to spend my time as a kid swimming or ice skating on our pond, collecting tadpoles, chasing frogs and mice, reading in trees, building tree houses, and picking black berries. My mom, Anita, was a school bus driver but spent a lot of time drawing (so did I). My dad was a chef. I only remember when he worked at the Bellingham Yacht Club, where the chefs always gave my brother, Isaac, and me sesame bread sticks. And then he started his own restaurant, The Casual Gourmet, where we had our special drink, a chocolate almond moo, which turned out to just be an almond hot chocolate.
After high school, I moved to Seattle to go to the University of Washington. I started in the Engineering School with plans to get a degree in Aeronautical and Astronomical Engineering, but at the end of the 4 years graduated with a BS in Technical Communication. I worked as a technical writer at Tyler Technologies on government financial software for 8 years. About 2 years into that, I knew I couldn't be a tech writer forever. My boyfriend, Abe Olson, got me into web comics and that exploded into making comics. My goal for 2011 was to make one comic every month, and I was only one short for the year!
After learning about The Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) in Vermont from Lucy Knisley's online presence, I decided to take a summer workshop there in 2013. It was love at first sight. I had a week with Alec Longstreth and Jon Chad; I was so pumped by the end of that week. When I got home, I started a natural science illustration certificate program at the University of Washington. In January of 2014, I applied to CCS for their MFA program and was accepted. It was a bit of a surreal time with so many wonderful things happening.
I absolutely love the idea of your natural science comic anthology. Can you describe the Awesome 'Possum, Volume II: A Natural Science Comic Anthology in your own words?
The Awesome 'Possum anthologies are a place for artists to explore and share something they love about the natural world, be it a species of animal, a location, a plant, or a natural historian or scientist. My goal was to make a cool educational anthology. As a nice side benefit, that gives me an excuse to delve deeply into some part of the natural world I am interested in. Because comics are a visual medium, I think they are the perfect way to discuss and explain the natural world. With visual things like species and anatomy and even physical processes, it can be a lot easier to enter a drawing than try to parse the written word. One thing I particularly love with comics is that the art that everyone brings to the same topic is different. That is why, in addition to the comics, I have each artist do an illustration of one of the topics they didn't make a comic for.
What was your inspiration for this cool collaboration?
It started with my natural science illustration class. I loved that group of people and had so much fun working with them, I didn't want to stop. I wanted to keep working with them. Since I was more than a little obsessed with comics, I wanted to see what they would do making comics for the first time. So I put together the first anthology. I was so pleased with that book, it turned into two more anthologies!
For the first one, I wrote about the grey fox. I had discovered them during the natural science illustration classes when I was looking up skulls to buy. (I have about 6 skulls at home, the biggest being probably the beaver.) They are fascinating and old creatures. For the second book, I did a comic on what a mushroom is because I have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with fungi. And I find it interesting that most people don't know that mushrooms are just the fruiting body of a large tangle of root-like mychorrizal. In Volume 1, I included a comic called "Cute or Deadly" that focused on the tapir. (I am a bit obsessed with tapirs, too.) In Volume 2, I explored the cute and deadly facts about the platypus. And to continue the "opossum" theme, I always include a comic with an interesting fact about opossums.
The first volume included only people from my natural science illustration certificate program. The second one I opened up to include people from CCS. And now with the third one, I have opened it up to anyone, and it now has about 50 creators! I posted online about the open submissions dates on Tumblr (such as comicops.tumblr.com) and Twitter and Facebook. I handed out little flyers at comic shows. Volume 4, in 2017 or 2018, will also have open submissions.
Did you learn anything new about natural science while putting Awesome 'Possum together? Please share.
I have learned so many new things! Just in doing my own research, I always get to go more in depth on a topic that I already knew. I didn't know how many ticks an opossum could eat in a week, and they are kind of my hero now. (There are a ton of ticks in Vermont and they carry Lyme disease, not something I had to deal with in Washington.) In Volume 2, I loved EJ Landsman's comics on "How to Build Your Own Terrarium" and "Air Plants." Now I really want some for my office.
Tough question! I think the most interesting was "What's in a Name?" by Kelly Swann in Volume 2 about the Thorny Dragon, also known as the Thorny Devil. The thorns are actually used to direct water to the little guys’ mouths using capillary action, like in a paper towel. Volume 2 also had a very personal introduction to the fisher cat, a mysterious creature in the woodlands of Vermont. Stephen R. Bissette, one of my teachers and the penciler of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing in the ’80s, wrote about the one time he saw one and used that to explain some interesting facts about them. He handpicked his artist, Ross Studlar, an actual park ranger and CCS alum. In Volume 1, the comic that had the most direct influence on me was EJ Landman's short biography of Maria Sibylla Merian, a natural science illustrator from the late 1600s. In part because of that one little comic, I am working on a larger biography of Maria and the time in which she lived and worked.
The combination of natural science and comic art is such an approach that sure to appeal to many demographics, especially younger audiences. Did you have this in mind? What has been the reaction from kids and young adults?
I very much had younger audiences in mind. I do ensure that the comics are scientifically accurate but also all-ages friendly. That means no swearing, but I also won't exclude any reasonable scientific subject. The comics themselves are intended for an audience range from very young to the average American adult. Some of the contributors are scientists themselves, so the comics can include some more technical information, but it is always explained. I want the anthology to grow with kids and be accessible to all levels of adult education.
The reaction has been wonderful. Lots of teachers get the anthology for their school library. Lots of adults get the book for themselves or as gifts for friends and end up sharing with kids they know. I have had a few people comment that the kids they have shared with have flipped through enough to wear out the book. That is a great thing to hear. I grew up around nature and was always interested, but the natural science illustration turned my interest into knowledge. I want to share that experience with more people.
My work process usually starts with an idea, and then I flesh it out. Since CCS, I have changed my process a bit to include a script. I thumbnail, and then turn that into a script. The script allows me to break down my thumbnails and heavily edit my original idea. From there it is as simple as penciling and inking, ha ha.
I have had a full-time job since 2004 except for my first year at CCS, so I never have as much time to work on comics and other projects as I want. But I come home from work and goof off for a bit before getting back to work. I work on something pretty much every day. I only have 3 or 4 hours, so I can't do too much. I usually focus on one project each night. I currently also do freelance editing and layout work, so that is also eating into my personal project time, but somehow I make it work.
Any new projects on the horizon?
In addition to Awesome 'Possum 3, I am working on a comic for the Vermont Folklife Center about a family of migrant farm workers; a graphic design project for First Second, a graphic novel publisher; and a Maria Sibylla Merian comic biography. I also do other random comics as a little breather on the larger projects.
The Maria Sibylla Merian project is my biggest work, ever. She was one of the first to document, especially for the layperson, that butterflies come from caterpillars rather than springing forth whole from mud and flowers. I started this project with my thesis project for CCS. I now have a Patreon going where people can learn along with me about Maria and watch my progress if they pay a monthly fee. This helps keep me working on it at least a little each month and gets me some extra funds for art supplies and research as needed.
Wow, you are getting quite a lot done! Any tips or tricks for fellow writers or artists?
I found an app for my Android phone called Gleeo that allows me to track my time for various tasks on various projects. It's a good habit to get into, tracking your time, so you can see just how long each project takes you. It lets you plan your time better in the future. I think planning your time is key.
What are you reading right now?
Right now I am reading The Species Seeker by Richard Conniff. It is about 1700s and 1800s explorers who were bounding around the planet in search of new species. Because there were so many. At times, it reads like a gossip column about the various explorers. Conniff is a really fun writer and the subject matter is dear to my heart. I'm also reading a biography of Jorges Borges, one of the most amazing writes I have come across.
I'm in the process of reading Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa, an action-packed manga that is full of some of the most gut-wrenching emotional scenes. It's 28 volumes, so it's going to take a while. It's a favorite of mine (though I've only read through Volume 8) that I found through a comics hero of mine, Faith Erin Hicks, creator of Friends with Boys.
Of course, I am also reading Maria Sibylla Merian & Daughters, a book published by the Gettysburg as a companion piece to the exhibit they had a few years ago. It is a very good, but dense, book. Not quite as funny as Conniff.
After reading this list of what I am currently reading, I am left wondering how I get anything done! Of course, I haven't include the things I read at my current day job as a production assistant at Chelsea Green Publishing.
What's the last best book you've read?
The last comic I read was Moose by Max de Radiguès, which was nomiated for an Eisner. It was a good read about a kid getting bullied in high school and how he copes with that. For books, I most recently finished Chrysalis by Kim Todd about Maria Sybilla Merian. That was another fantastic read. She made me laugh and included a lot of really interesting details about the time periods and places that Maria lived in. Maria moved a fair bit from Germany to Amsterdam to South America and back.
Favorite books of all time?
For prose books it would be Einstein Intersection by Samuel Delaney. It is a strange sci-fi story that just reels with strange imagery. For comics, that's a tough question. I think for overall storytelling and emotion, I would go with I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and J. M. Ken Niimura. For pure comics genius, it is Hellboy by Mike Mignola. He is a master of page layout, spot blacks, and combining source material into fiction. For humor and Easter egg design, it is Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory. The story is utterly ridiculous but follows it own internal logic to a T, and the art enlivens the story to create a deep, full world.
Favorite writer/s (other than yourself, of course)?
Faith Erin Hicks is one of my favorite writers. She is also very open about her process. Her stories are fairly straight forward but very emotionally packed and definitely not blunt. My other favorite writer is Anders Nilsen, creator of Big Questions. I was fortunate enough to have Anders as my advisor for my thesis year, and I learned so much. His stories are thoughtful and slow. He takes his time to explore. That is why I picked him. I would have asked Faith, but she is so dang busy! I find it very inspiring. For prose, Jorges Borges is such a poetic, image-filled writer. That's why I am reading his biography.
What do you do when you're not working or reading?
It's not like I have a lot of time to spare, but I spend the remainder of my time knitting. I have been knitting longer than I have been making comics. I love the feeling of taking that strand of yarn and turning it into a useful object.
I also have two dogs, Pembroke Welsh Corgis: Nisa (12) and Ernie (11). They are still spry little puppies. Nisa is a crazed pick-pocket, unzipping my purse to pull out the strangest things, like my coin purse with my headphones. She likes to just keep it in her kennel. But Ernie is my dog. We spend weekend mornings on the couch together while I read comics. He's a big loud puppy who has no indoor voice and fairly terrible allergies.
On the weekends, I also play video games. From six o’clock on, Abe and I spend Saturday nights playing video games with an out-of-state friend on the PS4. Namely, Borderlands (2 and prequel), Diablo III, and Overwatch. We are all interested in science and just learning in general, so we like games where we can talk while we play.
Thanks so much for sharing your inspiring journey, Angela! We look forward to meeting you this Sunday, September 16, at 4pm in the Readings Gallery at the Fairhaven Village Books! Stay in touch with Angela and all her latest creative adventures at:
Angela sure mentioned a lot of cool books in her interview! We put them all together in a handy dandy group for all to peruse. Click the pics and enjoy!