For this week’s Graphic Friday, I thought we might take a slight departure from the regular reviews and share a fun interview with a talented comics persona: one Dylan Meconis. Recently, Dylan’s webcomic “Outfoxed,” a fun, short piece that features beautiful art, great design, and seems inspired by the old trickster tales, was nominated for an Eisner award (the Oscars of comics for the unintiated). While that one is certainly a worthwhile read, this interview spawned from a reading of one of her older comics: a vampire farce known as “Bite Me!”. When library patron extraordinaire (and teenage indie author!) Kya Aliana read this story of Dylan’s a year or so ago, she was inspired to learn more about the type of person who would write such a funny and engaging piece. So she shot off an email full of questions to Ms. Meconis and promptly got a response! So read on and enjoy a brief glimpse into the mind of a modern cartoonist.
One quick note before reading: I love cool people. And Dylan Meconis falls smack dab in the middle of that definition. Not only did she take the time to respond to a young reader’s questions, she also promptly responded to my request to reprint this interview here (it was originally intended for a library newspaper that fell through). So, many thanks Dylan! I’m sure the busy life of an artist could make it easy to ignore a fan’s request or two; it’s inspiring to know that there are creators like you who decide to buck that trend.
Anywho, read on…
1. What was your main inspiration for becoming a cartoonist?
I was exactly the right age when Disney started doing animated movies like the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. My family also subscribed to a daily newspaper that ran good comics like Calvin & Hobbes and the Far Side. I was always encouraged to write and draw. I had friends in fifth grade who read superhero comics, which I loved, and I also read MAUS, Art Spiegelman’s comic book about his father’s experience in the Holocaust.
Then in high school I met my friend Erika, who had read all kinds of comics – not just superheroes – and she loaned them all to me. Image scanners had just gotten cheap enough to get as a Christmas present, and the internet had just gotten fast enough that you could put images of drawings online and it wouldn’t take forever. We met all sorts of artists online who didn’t care that we were teenagers – they just liked what we did. Between all that, it seems pretty inevitable!
2. What do you love most about your job?
Drawing facial expressions is really fun and rewarding. I love acting, too, so drawing a character having a reaction to something in the story is like all the best parts of writing, drawing, and acting combined.
3. What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?
“This is a wonderful story.” I love to hear that somebody thinks my drawings are good, but it matters most to me if somebody likes the story. That means that the pictures weren’t just good, they were the right ones, and that the writing underneath was strong.
4. Why did you choose to make the vampires in “Bite Me!” French?
I started the comic in 2000, long before the Twilight books came out. The most popular vampire book series around then was Anne Rice’s series about the vampire Lestat, starting with “Interview with the Vampire” (definitely not a book for kids, by the way). Many of her vampire characters were French or were from Louisiana, where there’s a lot of French influence. So I had read her books in high school.
Then, almost at the same time, I was assigned in school to read Charles Dickens’ novel about the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities. I liked both books a lot but also thought they were both very dramatic and that the authors took themselves very seriously. I decided it would be fun to take vampires and the French Revolution and make them ridiculous. So that’s why the vampires in Bite Me! are French.
5. Do you think you’ll soon write another vampire farce?
Not anytime soon, I’m afraid! There are too many vampire stories around right now – I don’t want to look like I’m copying anybody, and there are other stories I’d like to tell before I write about vampires again. That said, there are a lot more silly vampire stories to make fun of, now. So maybe someday.
6. Excluding your own, what’s your favorite comic?
I like so many comics that it’s hard to choose – that’s why I always feel a little sad when I meet somebody who says they don’t like comics. I think that there are enough comics now that most people who say that just haven’t tried very hard to find the right one.
For comics that kids in grade school can read, I really like “Hereville” by my friend Barry Deutsch, and “Smile” by my friend Raina Telgemeier.
For comics that are more for older teens and adults, one of my favorites in high school was the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman. There’s some intense stuff in there, though, so watch out!
7. What were you like as a child/teenager and how does it differ from you now?
I think I’m pretty similar. Since I can remember, I’ve always very silly and talkative and happy to speak or perform or just plain show off in public. But I can also be self-conscious and very private about some things, and I can get lost in my own head.
I still love reading. I still love writing and drawing, although when doing those things is your grownup job, it can be harder to stay confident. When you’re a kid or a teen it’s easier to just be creative and not worry that you’re going down the wrong path with a story or a drawing.
I didn’t always have the easiest time making or keeping friends as a kid. I probably seemed like I came from another planet sometimes, because I did: I had a whole weird world of imagination inside my head. As I got older I learned how to find other weird people, and now I have more friends than I could ever keep track of.
I’m very glad that I didn’t try too hard to fit in or to pretend too much to care about things just because my classmates thought they were cool.
8. Do you remember the moment you decided your profession? If so, what was it like?
I don’t think there was ever really A Moment. When I graduated from college I wasn’t totally sure what career I wanted to pursue, so I took whatever temporary jobs I could find and mostly concentrated on learning how to do boring grownup stuff, like rent an apartment and get health insurance. I thought about becoming a librarian (and I still know a LOT of cool librarians).
Gradually, thanks to my website full of comics and drawings, I got more and more offers to do work that involved making comics. Because of that work and some very helpful friends, I found a “grownup” job at a company doing cool illustrations for big businesses like Microsoft and Nike, with enough spare time that I could do my own creative work, too. I felt like I could finally say I was a professional artist.
Then one day I was laid off of that job – right after I had printed Bite Me into a book. Since I was so busy with that, I didn’t have time to look for another “grownup” job. That was the day I became a full-time comic book artist. It just sort of happened!
9. What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever written like?
I’ve written some pretty crazy limericks. Limericks are a good challenge. It’s hard to rhyme words, and it’s hard to fit words into a certain rhythm, and it’s hard to be funny. Doing all three at once (and having it make sense) is like a fun game for me.
10. If you could be anything in the world, what would you be?
I’d like to be a housecat. It seems like a nice lifestyle. Lots of sitting in sunspots, chasing toy mice, naps, romping around all the weird places in backyards that people are too big to fit in, getting petted all the time. My cats always look pretty satisfied.
Either that or a dolphin. Playing all day in the ocean, eating sushi? Count me in.
11. Do you plan out your whole story before drawing it?
Not always. In general I think it’s a good idea to plan everything out first, but I often to get too excited to wait and just start drawing. That can cause problems later on, though.
12. Have you ever had “writers block” and if so, how did you over come it?
Absolutely. Anybody who tells you they’ve never had a hard time writing something is either pretending or is very forgetful!
The only bad thing you can do is to avoid writing at all – because you’re scared, or think you don’t have any ideas, or there’s a problem you don’t feel like you can solve. The best way to get over it is to just sit down and say “for the next thirty minutes, I’m writing – it doesn’t matter what, it doesn’t matter how much, and it doesn’t have to be good, but I’m going to write and do nothing else for exactly that much time.” If you do this enough days in a row, you’ll find it gets much easier.
It takes a lot of practice, and a lot of messing up, and a lot of starting on things you might never finish, but as long as you keep writing, it’s going to turn out okay.
13. If you had to choose a different profession, what would you choose?
I think I’d be a good middle school or high school drama teacher. My theater teachers meant a lot to me growing up – I learned so much from them about how to tell stories, how to think like somebody else, how to work as part of a team. I think that school plays are really important, and that everybody who goes to school should be in at least one – even if they’re scared of performing (or of looking silly), or hate somebody else in the show, or don’t get a good part.
I probably wouldn’t like deciding who gets what part, because I hate disappointing people, but I think everything else would be pretty interesting and challenging.
14. Would you share your best piece of advice for young, aspiring cartoonists?
Read all kinds of books, not just comic books. Some of the best comic book writers and artists I know will read anything that’s good, no matter what kind of book it is. The more kinds of stories and characters and facts you have crammed into your imagination, the better your own work will be.