Graphic novel creator Leela Corman talks about her graphic novels and short comics on the topics of generational and personal trauma, New York City history, Polish-Jewish life, and amateur women’s wrestling.
Corman is a painter, educator, and graphic novel creator. Her books include Unterzakhn (Schocken/Pantheon, 2012) and the short comics collection We All Wish For Deadly Force (Retrofit/Big Planet, 2016). She is currently at work on the graphic novel Victory Parade, a story about WWII, women’s wrestling, and the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Her short comics have appeared in The Believer Magazine, Tablet Magazine, Nautilus, and The Nib.
The following is a transcript of the video’s content, with human corrections. For any errors the human missed, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heather Hendershot 00:48
Heather Hendershot 00:50
Thank you for those who joined us in person and those who are online. We have Leela Corman with us. Her […] Graphic Materiality, Trauma, and Expressionist Comics: Artist’s Talk With Leela Corman. Corman is a painter, educator and graphic novel creator. Her books include Unterzakhn, and a short comics collection We All Wish For Deadly Force. She’s currently at work on the graphic novel Victory Parade story about World War Two women’s wrestling and the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp. And a short comics have appeared in the believer magazine, tablet magazine, Nautilus and the Nib and before I turn it over to her, I just mentioned that next week is Veterans Day. So we know it holiday and we will not have a colloquium. And then following that on November 18, we have Craig Robertson, with Information at your Fingertips: Filing Cabinets and the Gendering of Information. Filing cabinet history. So nerd classic, right. So it’s going to be fantastic. And your topic. So I see many of you there that will be a pirate, in person and also for started. So without further ado.
Leela Corman 02:09
Hi, thanks. Thank you so much for having me. It’s really nice to be here in person with everyone. I want to go to this filing cabinet talk. I think I’m gonna have to join virtually. Okay, so as Heather mentioned, I’m a cartoonist, painter. I was an illustrator for a long time, I had a kind of a funny trajectory. As an artist where I, I started out I grew up thinking I was going to be a painter. I had a sort of checkered path through art school, or I kept quitting in disgust and then coming back and quitting and disgust again, and coming back. And finally I decided, okay, I want to get paid to draw pictures. So I’m going to major in illustration, and I just put my head down and did that. And that was my job for a good 15 years solidly I want to say something like that. I was also making comics at the same time. So I started making comics while I was in art school, living not too far away from here actually in an attic in central square, where I spent an entire winter listening to […] and trying to make comics do without really knowing how they were done. Until my housemate begged me to stop listening to […] all the time every day. And no one begged me to stop making comics, which was good, because I kept going. So when I discovered that there were people making mini comics, I, that’s when it really clicked for me. And I thought, Okay, this, this is how you do it. I recognize this art form because I’ve been reading zines for years. This is just comics in zine form. So I started making many comics and self publishing them. And that was the beginning of my incredibly illustrious career in America’s favorite gutter art form. No pun intended. So I’m here to talk a little bit about more recent work, though. So I want to, I guess, I will start by talking about my first big graphic novel, which was called Unterzakhn, which is a Yiddish word, kind of, kind of, I worked with a Yiddish translator on this book, just kind of informally, I just worked with her meaning I would email her occasionally and say, Hey, Riva, what’s a good word for kind of underwear, but not really underwear, more like under things. And this was the word that she gave me. I believe that it is no dialect of Yiddish. It is a kind of an academic word that comes from the academic teaching of Yiddish as a it’s not a dead language at all. But it’s not this. This word might not be a living word. I’m not sure. My mother grew up speaking Yiddish, and she didn’t recognize it. So this book was set up on Lower East Side of New York City at the turn of the last century. Tree and largely concerns the lives and activities of a pair of twins named Tanya and Esther, who are growing up in a tenement. Oh, right, my screen isn’t shared. Thank you.
Andrew Whitacre 05:19
You’ve got a bunch of windows open. Which one? Well,
Leela Corman 05:22
let’s go to the slideshow.
Leela Corman 05:25
You can go here. Yeah. Thank you.
Leela Corman 05:32
And you know what, let’s go back to the book cover. So that yeah, it’s great. Thanks. So I should stress this is a work of fiction. It’s a it’s literally a graphic novel. Meaning it’s a work of literary fiction, in comics form, not, not autobiographical, which is funny, because people have sometimes asked me if it is, and I just look at them. And I say, do you see a pair of twins here? And is it 1909. The original idea for this book came at a time when the discourse around reproductive rights reproductive freedom was getting heated and ugly again, although I don’t think it’s ever not been heated and ugly in this country. It was in the George W. Bush years, though, and it was starting to get ominous again. So I was thinking about this and I was walking to the 63rd Street YMCA in Manhattan where I had gone to camp as a little kid, I was going to see the cartoonist, Kim Deitch give a talk. And I was sitting there and I suddenly had this image in my head of the character of Fanya that I drew on a napkin, which I really wish to still add, of course, that is lost to time. And suddenly, all the characters tumbled out of my head, this set of twins, their mother, their their traumatized father from Russia, the entire neighborhood that they lived in and the trajectory of both of these girls lives. And I spent many years creating this book. So I was working in ink here and computer gray tones. So those are not cut halftones. Although I have spent a lot of time with an exacto knife and sheets of halftone. I don’t do that anymore. I would call this kind of my old comic style that I honed when I was making mini comics. Greek mythology came out a lot when I was working on this book. So there’s a lot of references to the myth of Persephone. And to the Odyssey in this book, I’m purposely not showing a ton of this. So I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time on this, but I’m happy to talk about this book if people want to once we get to the end. I am. So let me not get ahead of myself. I published this book in 2012. And then a whole bunch of things happened in my life.
Leela Corman 08:00
Leela Corman 08:01
emerging from that I started making short autobiographical comics, which I had said I would never do. And yet, and yet, I ended up doing them. So pardon me while I fumble around on the screen just a little bit. I have only brought the most recent one to show you. I’ve done quite a few short autobiographical comics since this since then, but this is a piece that I did last spring to share. Do I have to share a new okay, I’m not sure. Actually, yeah. So in into November 2011, I delivered a design to my publisher, November 2, and on November 17 2011, my daughter died suddenly so I spent about a year just not being able to do anything. And then when I emerged from that, I only wanted to make comics. Illustration seemed very useless. I didn’t stop being an illustrator. am I sharing now because this topic, okay, there we go. You’ll have to forgive some of my technical fumbling I’m used to sharing from my own screen at home while I’m teaching but not this many things at once. So I started making short autobiographical comics as I was kind of emerging from the the year of trauma after that, and I started get very excited about working with reportage and research and and my own personal experience again, that’s the place a lot of us start in comics because it’s a good place to start. But going from there into fiction was really fun. Going back was also really great. So this is a piece that I did last year. Two years ago, I I went to Poland for the first time to visit my grandfather’s hometown. It’s a kind of a shaggy dog story. It’s in this piece. But how do I make this as short as possible? I found out that there’s a group of people in my grandfather’s hometown, specifically one guy, mainly who is obsessed with researching the Jewish history of the town, and reconnecting with all of the living descendants of the Jews of this little tiny town. It’s like a two street town in southeastern Poland called Grybów. And there’s a whole lot of other crazy stuff attached to all of that. But the upshot of this is that I went to Poland for the dedication of a memorial in the Jewish cemetery of my grandfather’s town. And I thought I was going to have this really heavy, really dark time. And instead, what happened was, I ended up falling in love with Poland, with everything about it. And now all I can think about is going back to Poland and making comics about Poland.
Leela Corman 10:57
But, you know, I went back and they stuck a mountain of perogies in front of me. They took me to a mass grave where my great grandparents are, and then they filled me with perogies.
Leela Corman 11:13
Part of what happened was that I, I found out about all of these connections to a student of mine at UF who said, Oh, I’ve never been to Poland, I went to this little tiny town called Grybów, because there’s this guy in my shul, in West Palm Beach, who grew up there. And it turns out, this guy grew up next door to my grandfather, and was in Auschwitz with Primo Levy. And here he is telling me this whole story, where he’s telling me how nobody thought Primo Levy was Jewish because he didn’t speak Yiddish. Primo Levy is one of my favorite writers. So as he’s telling me this, I’m just kind of sitting there staring, I can’t believe I’m here. This is amazing. And something I really enjoy doing in my fiction, and my nonfiction is playing with that line between the living and the dead, the worlds of the living and the dead. I’m going to start to get more into that as we move further into this presentation. But this is where it starts to happen in this story.
Leela Corman 12:13
The glass lanterns are part of the tradition for All Saints Day of bringing glass lanterns to the cemetery and paying respect to your dead ancestors. This is a Catholic tradition, as far as I know, in Poland, but they did it in the Jewish cemetery anyway. So here, I’m imagining that the spirits of all of my dead great aunts and great grandparents are complaining about my short skirt and lack of Yiddish language abilities in the cemetery.
Leela Corman 12:46
I want to talk before I get into my newest project, about artistic influences, and a few other things, but I’m going to stop here for a second and talk about working with comics as a material art form a little bit too. So when I started to talk about playing with the boundary between life and death, and the worlds of the living and the dead, that is where the materiality of making comics comes in. For me, I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the context of a lot of art forms are drawing and painting art forms. Where does the mark become the work? Before I came here, I went to the Harvard Art Museum and I was I was thinking about this a lot as I was in the room full of abstract expressionist paintings and related kind of mid century work. And I, it’s, I don’t have an answer to that question. I just want that question floating in space in front of me all the time. I think that there is an extreme physical pleasure in making marks that become work, right? That sometimes that pleasure in making the mark itself is the work and finding that when you’re making something is is exhilarating. So I find it when I am working with viscosity and color in my comics. And I don’t know if this comes across in print, or in a scan. There’s a materiality and physicality to my work that exists in the originals. That is hard to translate. However, sometimes, interestingly, it can come through and I’ll explain that when we get to that page. So these questions of materiality and physicality are there, they’re open ones they’re they’re not answered questions. They never should be. I guess also I’m thinking about this a lot because I teach comics and I and I’m observing how many people are working with digital materials now. And I think it’s great I I love digital comics. I think all those tools are beautiful. I personally happen to like to work by hand and for me, there’s there’s a tactility and a physical experience that is very important. It’s not just one experience. It’s the experience of my body as I’m drawing. It’s also it’s also what the materials do and the way they lead you into the story itself. That they, they are the work sometimes. Alright, so
Leela Corman 15:23
I’ll do another screen share Oh, dear. Weirdly, I
Leela Corman 15:43
can’t find the one I’m looking for. Which is this one back here.
Leela Corman 15:51
What’s that? Okay, now? Do you see it?
Leela Corman 16:02
I think it’s this one. I think it thinks Yeah, yeah. Okay.
Leela Corman 16:07
All right, great.
Leela Corman 16:09
That’s a mistake, that particular slide shouldn’t be in there. So now I want to talk about influences. And I think that this is a really important thing to think about. I always get that line from an early Fall single in my head. I’m eternally grateful to my past influences. That’s from the song how I wrote elastic man, if you’re a fan of the fall, and now it’s going to be in my head all night. So when I’m teaching what I tell my students, what is the the way to become a good illustrator good cartoonist is to make sure you’re filling yourself with good material, which is like very obvious, but there’s saying anyway, so what are you what are you putting in your, I like to use the word nebula, I think of it as kind of a nebula around you that you’re reaching into and pulling from when you’re working. So the first one I want to talk about is the filmmaker Pedro Almodovar who taught me more than anybody else has about nonverbal communication in a story with color. So yesterday, when I was putting this presentation together, I actually just typed color in Almodovar films into Google. And actually I came up, a lot of interesting stuff came up many pieces of writing a surprising number of pallettes that people have created from his different films. Which of course you can purchase as a poster or tote bag or a yoga mat. So maybe I’ll do that at some point. This is a still from the film All About My Mother, which is an amazing, amazing movie, I just rewatched that. And you know, I think I love almost all of his films unreservedly. But I think this one might be my favorite.
Leela Corman 18:06
I also want to talk about the influence of Weimar era art on my work, specifically the New Objectivity painters. So this is a print by Otto Dix, I’m going to talk about Otto Dix a little bit. And I’m not going to talk about this from an art history perspective, because I’m not qualified to. I really wish I could. But I’m just a puny ant, staring at the pictures most of the time and taking them in and letting them influence me in ways that I’m not even fully aware of when I’m working. But in the book, I’m about to talk about Otto Dix’s influence looms very, very large. So these are drawings and prints that he created in the immediate aftermath of the First World War. After serving in, in the war, but also from observations in in Berlin.
Leela Corman 19:01
This is really small.
Heather Hendershot 19:04
It’s really hard to share because there’s no green edge.
Andrew Whitacre 19:07
Yeah, showing the, the whole
Leela Corman 19:11
you know, I’m not even going to bother with that one because it’s too small, but that would be great. Yeah, let’s do that. Because I don’t want to go back to that really grotesque image. I am incredibly fascinated with these artists and Otto Dix, of course, is only one he just happens to be one who looms really large over my work, and I’ll go down to a painting that I steal from a lot. This is his war triptych. […] Der Krieg you have to excuse me I have absolutely zero ability to replicate a German accent. So anything I say any German words I tried to say just gonna sound like an American saying them. This is an incredible painting that I’ve never seen in real life, but I am absolutely obsessed with it. Obviously, it is a painting about trench warfare in the style of a medieval altarpiece, these legs, in the upper right corner of the center panel, I have a habit of stealing them and putting them into a lot of my comics. There’s almost always a place for them. I think this painting is absolutely stunning. And I hope to see it in person one of these days.
Leela Corman 20:28
Leela Corman 20:32
not going to talk about Love and Rockets yet. We’re going to talk about
Leela Corman 20:37
we are going to talk about well, you know,
Leela Corman 20:42
oh, you know what, there’s one that I thought I put in here, but it doesn’t seem to be in here because I put it in this morning. That’s okay. Actually, let’s talk about Love and Rockets before we talk about Seven Beauties. So another huge influence is this comic Love and Rockets. And I really hope that, that you read it one of these days it is, to my mind, the best comic ever created in the English language. And I’m being really specific about that, because comics is a global art form. And there’s I’m never gonna say what the best comic is I, you know, I don’t believe there’s ever a best anything really, except for Love and Rockets. That’s the best comic, especially anything by Jaime. So this is a comic created by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez and originally their brother Mario, who I think dropped out after the first issue, I’m not sure they’ve been doing it since the early 80s. And it’s deep and extremely intertwined storytelling that you kind of have to start at the beginning with this is a this is a Jaime Hernandez cover. And let’s just go up here. And this is the cover of the Gilbert’s book Poison River, which has been a massive influence on the kind of stories that I always wanted to tell. So I think these were the first comics I read that that told me you could say anything in this art form, and you could be very serious and talk about dire things talk about very personal things talk about interiority, show interiority and also trauma in comics. If you read only one book by Gilbert Hernandez in your life make it this one. It’s a bit of an origin story of a character who shows up all the way through the other and other cartoonist who really taught me that you could do almost anything in comics is Phoebe Gloeckner. And you know what, how did you zoom in? Did you just command plus? Okay.
Leela Corman 22:52
Leela Corman 22:54
Phoebe is a cartoonist originally from San Francisco. These are a couple of pages from her story Nightmare on Polk Street, and her collection of child’s life. I read this, I think, I don’t know I was like 19 or 20. And it just blew my mind. I’ve never been able to stop thinking about it. If you’ve seen the film diary, the diary of a teenage girl, oh my God, why am I blanking on that title? Yeah, that’s the title. That’s based on Phoebe’s book that’s kind of a combination of prose and comics, and pulls from this story a lot, although it takes the teeth out of it. And and the really severe, longer term part of the story kind of, I felt wasn’t really in there. Although it’s an amazing movie, and I recommend it. What actually is going on in this story is so much more intense. And that’s, that’s from the very end of the story. Phoebe started out as a medical illustrator, that’s her training. So that’s one reason why her work is so meticulously grotesque. I’ve only included a few cartoons here I could talk all night about art, in comics and in other art forms. That has been a massive influence on me. I will say I think I put myself squarely in the tradition of expressionism and New Objectivity, painting and drawing. And I’m not sure if Phoebe or the Hernandez brothers would say that but I would say they’re very expressionistic and not concerned with making work that is cute. Or neutral in any way, visually, or, or,
Leela Corman 24:36
Leela Corman 24:41
So I’m going to get a little closer now to the work that I’m doing now. This is a still from Lina Wertmüller’s film Seven Beauties, which I highly recommend. I mean, you know, also give a content warning. It’s it. It’s full of stuff that will upset you. In so many ways, they will trigger warning for everything, basically content warning for everything. So I’ve started, I, I come from a family of Holocaust survivors, and I tried to get away from doing work about that time period for a very long time. And it just kept pulling me back and pulling you back. It’s like a vortex. I was thinking again about this in the Harvard Art Museum today, because so much of the focus there is on modernism. And, and then there’s this shift into the postwar period, in their collections. And because they have a focus on German art, in part of it, there’s a lot of German art from the immediate post war period. So I was thinking a lot about wrestling with that, that rupture in the middle of the 20th century, which was not just a rupture, if you’re Jewish, it was the whole planet. World War Two is a massive, vast subject. And as soon as you start researching any of it from any perspective, it opens up into such a vast area that you either leave it behind forever, or you focus only on that for the rest of your life, it feels very extreme to me to work with this material. So.
Leela Corman 26:19
I really resisted doing a book that had any kind of content about the Holocaust at all, because it is hard to talk about, in a way that feels new, although I would have actually, you know what, I would have said that, let me put that in the past tense, I felt that now I don’t, because now I’m seeing the way people talk about it in cliche and the way people talk about it in a fresh way. And you can you can get to the second. This film was made in 1975. And I was kind of on my knees, with my eyes bugged out of my head from the very beginning of it. This scene that this is a still from comes late in the film, and it is one of the most disturbing and perverse things I have ever seen. I think I’ll take a little bit of a side here. And aside to say I came up and trained in a time when being confrontational in art was highly valued in the culture in general in the subcultures that I came up in, in music, in visual art and comics. And there were a lot of people who are trying to make work that was transgressive. So I ended up kind of coming out on the other side of that thinking, Well, you know, I don’t think most of us who are trying to do something transgressive are actually transgressing anything. Transgressiveness requires parameters, right, you can’t transgress anything if you don’t have any bounds around you. So it seems sort of like a hopeless target to try to hit. However, I have come across several works of art that I do consider transgressive. And this scene is one of them because it transgresses the boundaries of what is usually shown in a film about the Holocaust you’re supposed to talk about, there are sort of accepted narratives that you’re supposed to use. And I love that this does not do that. So when I saw this film, I thought, well, you know, if I make anything even half this good in my life at this intense, I can die happy. My feeling is that there is no no limit to how how grotesque and how how perverse you can be when showing the depravity of war crimes of any particular time period in history. I am disturbed by attempts to tidy narratives about the Holocaust or any similar atrocity and tell a clean story about it. Because there’s no way to do that without lying. I know that sounds really extreme, but, and I understand that information needs to be categorized in order to be clear, but part of my goal is to keep the story of the Shoah as messy as possible because it was extremely chaotic and messy, and humans are chaotic and messy.
Leela Corman 29:05
There are no heroes
Leela Corman 29:07
in the true story of any of this. So I recommend this movie. It’s not only about the Holocaust, it’s also about probably the dumbest criminal in Italy. Parts of it are very funny. Let’s see, I can’t remember if there’s anything else in this incredibly beautiful and disturbing slideshow. You know what, let’s just leave you on an image of Penelope Cruz. From the film Volver, from which I also learned a lot about color. No one uses red, like Almodovar and it’s not always blood.
Leela Corman 29:44
How are we doing on time? Now? Okay, great. So I’m going to talk a little bit about the work I’m doing now. And then I think Q&A. Okay, so, now I’m working on a book called Victory Parade. I will share my screen momentarily. Oh, okay, this is sharing this. Okay, great. Alright, so now I’m working on this book that is set during the Second World War, partially in Brooklyn and partially at the liberation of Buchenwald. But there’s a little bit of a flashback to Berlin in the 1930s. And that’s what this page is from. This book is partially about women working in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. And there’s a subplot about women’s wrestling that has become sort of not the A plot, I would say, But as important if not more important to me than the Navy Yard, possibly because I like drawing wrestlers more than I like drawing shipyards. I’m really a figurative artist. And so every, every single time I pitch and and and land a book about New York City, then I curse myself because I realized, oh, no, that means I have to draw architecture and cars. Very few people like drawing cars. So here, I’ll zoom in a little bit. I just copied an Otto Dix painting from a postcard in that bottom panel, that is a copy of a painting called the scat players. But I did sneak in something extra that’s not in the original, which is the woman pouring the alcohol. She’s a callback to the war widow slash sex workers that Otto Dix painted frequently. I gotta say, it’s really fun copying your favorite painter, I recommend trying it because you get inside of the work. It’s like if you’re a musician, and you’re covering a song, it’s you. You get inside and you get to take it apart with a little screwdriver, and then put it back together and see how they did it. I did this. So literally, I had the postcard of the painting, taped to my desk, and I did this with a double zero, round. And a one and a zero. Also, it wasn’t all double zero. I like to work with really tiny brushes. Now. Another huge influence on me is the 1930s and 40s, choreographer Busby Berkeley. Have any of you seen a Busby Berkeley film ever? A couple. Yeah. Okay. So he was a, he was an iconic choreographer and film during the depression and the Second World War. And when you watch his films, you understand what the term feel good movie means. I mean, they’re like these gigantic spectacles that make you completely forget about your troubles, whatever they are. I really recommend one called Gold Diggers of 1933. Because it’s one of the few dance movies with a plot that you can actually follow that is enjoyable. Usually the, you know, the plots are forgettable. They’re just a way to get you to the next dance number. The Gang’s All Here is also an amazing one that’s in Technicolor. The earlier ones are in black and white. He I don’t know if he pioneered this. But he was known for using huge numbers of dancers on gigantic stages, and shooting them from all angles. So often from above, creating these really interesting geometric formations that moved in and out of each other. He did a lot of work in the water with Esther Williams.
Leela Corman 33:10
Leela Corman 33:12
it makes sense that he shows up in this particular book, because this is a book about mass trauma and masses of bodies experiencing trauma. There are there are frequent images of mass graves in this book, but also the 20th century was a time visually where there are so many images of columns of people, columns of refugees, columns of soldiers, piles of dead bodies, huge numbers of dancers on a massive stage. The number of people is monumental in a single image. So one of my writing techniques is that I, I keep a pile of note cards and I just write single beats or ideas on them. I learned this from my partner Tom Hart. This is I’m sure a lot of writers do this, though. It’s a really great thing to do, because then you won’t forget anything. And that is how I stumbled on a note. I had written myself a couple of years prior that just said Busby Berkeley death scene. I think I wrote that note to myself in 2017. And I found it in 2019. And I thought, thank you 2017 Leela, because here it is. So I deliberately, I’m not showing you what happens right before this scene. But I will tell you, this is an SS officer who has been hanged in in the camp yard, after the Allies have have entered the camp. This was the thing that happened occasionally where they would let the prisoners have at it with the guards. And when he gets to the other side, all of his his former people, he’s killed mass in a big dance number and take them apart and sing a little song. And there’s also also a little Oskar Schlemmer tribute in here who was a Bauhaus artist I’m extremely fond of
Leela Corman 35:00
recommend them a lot.
Leela Corman 35:03
These are the random pages from here that I wanted to show you. In this book, I’m very obsessed with the dream state and the death state. And I was thinking a lot about what, what happens to people’s subconscious at a time of mass trauma. And what happens in places where a mass trauma is underway, or has just occurred. I thought of all of this, I pitched this book in 2016. I in I sold it in June 2016. Then Trump became president. And while you know, so, I’m working on a book about a fascist time period. While all of this is happening in my own country, and they’re starting to be highly visible signs of neo Nazi activity in the street, and all sorts of really nasty stuff happening. And I remember having the thought that this is the only thing I can think of as activism right now, this is the only thing I can do. slow, very slow moving activism. Not sure it’s activism actually. And then while I’m in the final stretch of doing this, the pandemic started. So I hear here we are experiencing multiple rolling mass traumas, global pandemic, climate change, that feels it feels like no one in power wants to address most of the mass traumas that we are experiencing now as a species. So here I am working on this, thinking this couldn’t be more appropriate for the time. Basically, what I’m doing here is shouldering my little corner of humanity’s coffin. But on that note, let’s look at some wrestlers. I have a dance and martial arts background. And I really liked drawing people in motion. It’s really, it’s really fun for me as a facilitator. Yeah. But I, I didn’t really think about wrestling very much until I did a record cover for a band called Mountain Goats that was wrestling themed. And that had me drawing wrestlers all the time, and I didn’t want to stop. I really like drawing sweaty bodies in space. So this is an early excerpt of this book that ran in The Believer. And boy, I had fun drawing this and drawing these crowd scenes. I think you can kind of tell from the way that I draw wrestling though that I’m I don’t have a wrestling background. I have martial arts background. Trying.
Leela Corman 37:55
what’s happening here is this this poor Jewish refugee wrestler is being mistaken as a German and having a little hesitation from her dead mother. As I said, I’m extremely obsessed with the dream state and depicting it. That is a moving target, hard to write a good dream sequence. And I’m not sure this is really a dream, either. It’s not really a dream. The final excerpt of this that I will show is this also ran in The Believer. This is the the Navy Yard character reading a passage from the playful off to these to her lover, I want to talk a little bit about why philosophy is because I want to give credit to the person who turned me on to that play. It’s a guy named Bryan Doerries, who founded an organization called Theater of War, which I cannot recommend enough. Theater of War performs classical Greek dramas for traumatized populations, often with the people from those those communities. So I think they started out doing it with military veterans. Philoctetes is I think the play they started with It’s a play about a wounded soldier. And in this particular scene, her lover is a world war one veteran who lost his leg and she’s reading this this scene from from this play in which this this soldier has a leg injury, a catastrophic leg injury and sneaking back to her apartment. Alright, so I promised to talk a little bit about materiality and scanning. In this dream sequence, which is very definitely a dream sequence I used in these trees. I I painted these in black ink with a lot of water wash and then I dripped from kind of 12 inches above it. iridescent liquid acrylic ink into the wet black ink. And what happened was really interesting and hard to see. Unless you oops, unless you zoom in
Leela Corman 40:11
Darn it, how do I move this? Down?
Leela Corman 40:16
It’s alright, I, you know, I think yeah, if you can scroll up in the image without accidentally scrolling up in the slideshow. So you’re trying to get in? Yeah, just bring this down. If you could bring the whole thing down. Yeah, that’s great. Thank you. You can kind of see what happened, the liquid acrylic ink and the wet, black Sumi ink kind of interacted with each other and created a crackle texture, that the light from the scanner bounced off of us in a way that I really love. So there’s things you can’t see in the print or in the scan. But But then there are things that happen that are not predictable that you can. Continuing into her dream, and smoke break at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Leela Corman 41:08
And then we move into his dream
Leela Corman 41:14
about a victory garden full of severed limbs. And some light reading for insomnia to end the visual part of the presentation. So this is what I’m working on now. And I’m almost finished with it. Although I feel like I’ve been saying that for a long time. I swear I really am almost finished with this book. So now it’d be a great time to open it up to discussion.
Heather Hendershot 41:46
Right? First of all
Heather Hendershot 41:54
opening up to questions in the room, maybe first and
Srushti Kamat 42:07
I look for you to talk a bit more about materiality. And you I mean, do you see it as a gaining or loss? When when prints are digitized? And if so what is gained? What is lost? And and how do you negotiate that relationship when you’re making?
Leela Corman 42:25
That’s great question. I have to not think about it too hard when I’m making it or at least not think about it as a loss. So what I think about it instead, as for people who can see the original, they get to have a kind of an experience that that people who can’t, won’t have unfortunately, and I wish I could share that with everybody. But when you go into making comics, you you’re making an agreement with yourself that all the work you’re doing is mostly going to be disseminated on a mass scale, or you know, mass scale, meaning you know, a print run of 300 or 3000 or 30,000 not really huge, but that most people will see a reproduction of your work. So actually, most of the time, for most of my career, I was thinking of working towards reproduction and what so so what feels like a game really, to me a gift is working without worrying about that now. So instead of just working in ink and thinking about it as like, Okay, this is black and white, it’s very easy to to reduce down and print. Now I’m not thinking about it at all, and maybe this will be a nightmare for the production department of my publisher. I hope not I don’t want to give them nightmares, but But when I’m thinking about that materiality, when I’m working with it, it’s it’s so rich, and it’s creating so much of the narratives. I want to say the pigments themselves, in their textures in their colors, when they’re wet when they’re dry are part of the story. The the controlled chaos of working with watercolor is part of the story itself. So because that is that’s because that’s the point at which the portal opens where I have access to the other side, whatever that is and and I’m a bit of a closet mystic so just bear with me there. That’s that’s where all the good stuff is. I don’t worry about what might be sacrificed in the digital or print production. But I have been pleasantly surprised because sometimes things come out in really interesting ways. Like when the believer printed these pieces, they look gorgeous on paper. I think part of that is their production standards are really high. But it just It surprised me how good it looks even flattened down to print
yeah You were telling me earlier about the movie from 1975 that depicts kind of given chaos and moral. How to put this, sort of the messiness, I guess, of everything that World War Two represents. And so you talked about how you strive to kind of capture that messiness, in your own work. And I’m wondering how you negotiate, capturing messiness, and chaos, but also having structure and control in your narrative.
Leela Corman 45:39
I love that. I mean, the first answer I want to give is, I hope I have structure. I’m a little concerned about that in this book, actually. Writing a plot is the hardest thing. I think, for me, I don’t know maybe there are people who are really, really good at it. And that’s their favorite thing. But I think for I want to say a lot of writers I know that’s that’s the hard part is marshaling ideas into a structure, even if it’s not necessarily a story about something vast and chaotic. Although really, I think any human subject is vast and chaotic, like even the most interior personal novel, you know. It helps to absorb really good film storytelling, I have found to learn kind of structural tricks and not tricks, that’s the wrong word, but learn how to how to structure certain kinds of stories. I love prose novels absolutely love them. But I like to say that when I read them, I’m kind of like an ant crawling on a beautiful sculpture, I don’t really know what I’m what I’m seeing. So for me, film storytelling, is really close to comic storytelling. It’s not exact, but really good film and very good episodic writing for television, like something like Deadwood, you know, or The wire, like Madman, like the really, really high end. Another really good one, that’s been a big influence on me as Russian Doll, Natasha Lyonne’s Netflix series is amazing. There’s some very serious writing and very, very interesting interplay of interior exterior. Real surreal, in in a lot of that storytelling, and very human. So what I look for before any kind of structure and is I look for human experience, and I let that guide me into the structure. I don’t know if this is relevant to your question at all. But one of the things that I’m trying to do and and something that I’m attracted to in, in a lot of other people’s work, too, is to take time periods that have been turned into a kind of mythology, which again, can be very easily tidied up and presented in the package nice way, and open them up and find the really messy human stories inside of them. Now, if you think about any, any film about or novel about a historical time period, right? And I’m veering into a dangerous direction here of subjectivity, where I’m going to tell you the movies, I don’t like to do this. But heck, I’ll go out on that limb, I’ll say like Schindler’s List is a really good example of way too tidy. I called that one Auschwitzs for goyim. It’s so clean and so packaged, and so neat, and everyone is so happy at the end. Even even the ways that are that it depicts trauma and bad things happening. It’s very sanction, right? So where’s the mess? Where’s the humanity? To bring it back to your question. When when I hook into those really human stories, and those really messy human dramas, that’s where the structure begins to suggest itself. Because that’s the trajectory of character. That’s what the structure has to be built around. Beyond that, I struggle with structure completely. Part of this also is I tend to write in a fragmentary way. So I write my stories kind of all over the place I don’t write from from the beginning to the end. And I finally realized why. I don’t know if I’m making an excuse, or if this is the real reason, but I trained initially as a painter. And when you train as a painter, you’re trained to work all over the canvas all all at once. So that’s kind of how I write and I have to say, I don’t think that’s a linear narrative very well. Luckily, this current book is not so linear, but hopefully the next one will be does that approach your question at all? Yeah. Oh, good. Okay.
Andrew Whitacre 49:58
You have a couple that have come in from the chat. Yeah, so I’m just gonna read those to you.
Andrew Whitacre 50:03
From Tom Hart. It’s a question.
Leela Corman 50:05
Andrew Whitacre 50:07
Working in paper, other material stuff, process trauma because it goes to working digitally.
Leela Corman 50:14
What an awesome question. I love that question. Yes, it does. But I would say that’s a really subjective answer for me it does for you it might not. So for another person working digitally might be the exact key that they need to get past whatever their inner resistance is to making an image and take them exactly where they need to go. That that might be the tool. I don’t want to be dogmatic about physical materials versus digital materials. But I will say that from my own experience, the tactility and the physicality of materials brings me to that place where I’m I’m facing whatever it is I’m working with. I will come back a little bit to my day at the Harvard Art Museum today. There was a bit of wall text about primitivism after the war and I in Germany, I’ll actually I think it was a Karel Appel painting who’s Dutch but I think he might have been working in Germany. I’m not sure talking about a movement of artists who use materials in a as the wall text put it on a paraphrase frenzied frenetic, primitive style. So this is a painting with a lot of impasto and part marks and and you can tell it was done with a lot of speed and intensity. And the wall text goes on to say this is a reaction to the destruction and and of World War Two and the absolute horror at the violation of humanity. Now, that’s, that’s my words, I understand this. And this is kind of what I’m getting at when I talk about the physicality of materials, sometimes you’re working in a way where it’s, it’s you and your body fashioning against the materials or using them as an extension of your body. Right. An analogy to this would be certain kinds of music too. I remember when I was in my early 20s thinking I want I want to hear musicians playing their instruments so hard that it’s like they’re breaking like I don’t understand how you can play a guitar in a certain kind of mood without tearing the strings in half
Leela Corman 52:40
now this gets refined we refine ourselves away from that working working in comics and especially in the kind of comics I’m doing. I didn’t talk about miniatures painting but that’s also been a really big influence on me and both medieval European and Persian miniatures and it’s like an extreme obsessive control with tiny little brushes and and very small areas of paint very small passages within the painting. But within that there are these micro realms of chaos and and portals of of emotion that open so yes, to answer your question, but again, I want to say for somebody else The answer may be the opposite of the answer may be that working in procreate or another digital medium might be exactly the thing that takes them to that that emotional state that they need to tell their story
Andrew Whitacre 53:51
All right, just a second. Alright, so Lilly M. you don’t write superhero comic books. Do you have feelings on the inherent Jewishness that influenced you at all? Do you think that it’s trying to be covered up somewhat at the moment as well?
Leela Corman 54:07
Um, that’s a great question. But I think I’m not the person that answer it because I have never read a superhero comic. I will say I’m aware of the of how many Jews created the superhero comics world and I’m a huge Jack Kirby fan for other reasons. Because the guy was an absolute maniac have an anchor drawer. I teach a story street code in my classes sometimes just because it’s an incredible piece of art. And I love Will Eisner dearly but I haven’t actually read Spirit. I’ve read his more autobiographical stories, his Bronx stories. I would like to put the question back to you questioner. Is it being covered up how I’m so curious about that? I wonder if there would be one willing to address that in their comments?
Andrew Whitacre 55:02
Yeah. Anything else? Anybody else?
Heather Hendershot 55:08
I was just gonna quickly interject for anyone who is Busby Berkeley-curious. It is mind blowingly weird stuff
Leela Corman 55:17
Heather Hendershot 55:19
Personally Footlight Parade is the most kind of approachable gateway drug
Heather Hendershot 55:28
in terms of like it actually have a little more story not to do any […] Jim Cagney is in it. And it’s yes, it’s amazing
Heather Hendershot 55:36
his pre code which we all know about from our class, right, so it’s like, extra dirty.
Leela Corman 55:43
And it has By a Waterfall and by one, which is a completely bonkers Art Deco water dance. Insanity
Heather Hendershot 55:52
is bonkers, like, are we underwater? Are we under a waterfall?
Leela Corman 55:55
Are we on drugs?
Heather Hendershot 55:59
But also, just in general, is such an interesting reference point to keep versus Susan Sontag. That’s a fascinating fascism like, but that that thinking about these moving bodies as a fascist aesthetic, that might if you hadn’t seen the film seemed like that’s a strange leap. And it’s very interesting leap and move moment movement. But when you see it, you’re like, oh, yeah, they’re marching there. There are who stepping scenes in Busby Berkeley films, there is this kind of management of mass management of bodies, that at certain moments will make you think of Leni Riefenstahl, management of bodies.
Leela Corman 56:36
I want to sorry, go ahead. I want to say something about that. So I just want to say the fascists did not invent that kind of imagery there. I think. I, I’m not gonna I’m gonna talk out of out of school about history, because I don’t know actually, who invented it. But I think the early 20th century is full of propagandistic imagery like that, right? Although some of the futurists were fascists. But there’s a really interesting, the closing number of Busby Berkeley’s gold diggers of 1933 is a complete mood change. So this this particular film is goofy. It’s kind of a Hey, kids, let’s put on a show. Plot. It’s said, made and set during the Depression. And then it’s basically people trying to get a buck to eat by putting on a show. And there’s all it’s also pre code and there’s also a really fabulously dirty, filthy number that ends with a guy opening up a woman’s metal outfit with a can opener. It’s while the Honeymoon Hotel I think, is that I can’t remember which one that can opener to get into this woman’s Oh, is that in Honeymoon Hotel also, the the number I’m thinking of is his Pettin’ in the Park. But then there’s this total mood shift at the end. There’s a song called remember my forgotten man, and it ends in this art deco kind of agit prop imagery, but there’s also there’s imagery of this there’s all of these men marching off to war in these clean uniforms and coming back ragged and bloody and carrying their comrades on stretchers heads or bandage. There’s a whole bunch of dancers on a on a breadline passing one cigarette down the line. And then there’s like these recreations of Dorothea Lange, just pull photos in this dance number. It’s wild to see it. I think it’s a really interesting point to bring up the fascist use of mass bodies. I think there’s a very short distance between Anti Fascist art and fascist art. And I think that the the commonality is, well, I don’t want to I don’t want to say that commonality is only propaganda because so so much of the modernist art that the fascists hated, was was not propagandistic at all had nothing to do with politics in so many cases. But it was telling the truth about human bodies in war and starvation, which was not agreeable to fascists at all. They only wanted very able very strong, very well fed bodies. It’s worth looking at the degenerate art exhibition, and then at the counter exhibition, that the Nazis mounted, incredibly boring, a state approved fascist art. That’s a subject I’m really interested in and talking and learning more about.
Heather Hendershot 59:41
Thank you. Do we have more online?
Andrew Whitacre 59:44
Yeah, we have a question from Mauricio. Maurico Cordero, What are your thoughts on transgression and the passage of time? Does the passage of time impact the narrative potency of transgressive comics?
Leela Corman 59:56
Well, that’s a really good question. I’m trying to think of comics that I think of it transgressive. I mean, I guess, since I was talking about Phoebe I want to say, I’m not sure it does impact. It’s it’s, I don’t think it blunts the impact of those comics. You know, it’d be really interesting. It would be really interesting if there was a younger cartoonist here to counter me and argue with me about this or just talk about what younger cartoonists are doing now, because I have my own observations about certain trends that I see in comics, but kind of the curse of the mid career artists is that you don’t really have time to read a lot of other people’s work, because you’re too busy doing your own. Also, being mid career artists means doing a lot of paperwork, it turns out. So I feel I haven’t read enough of, of what’s out there now in the last decade or so. But I feel like there’s a lot less grotesquerie in comics than there used to be. I this is totally subjective, and I could be completely wrong. But I wonder if younger cartoonists coming up today might look at something like nightmare on Polk Street that Phoebe Gloeckner story or Renee French’s work from the nine days or even Julie Doucet’s comics and think like, oh, this is gross, or I don’t want to see that or that that’s really like, yeah, I suspect maybe not actually. But Mauricio, I wish you were here to actually talk about this in person and and give your own thoughts on that because I think that’s a really interesting question. I think I think what has changed over time is the way that certain kinds of edge lordy transgressive behavior has been like whether it’s approved of in the culture or not, I, so I’ll go outside of comics for a second here. I follow Steve Albini, on Twitter, and he posted this great thread, Steve Albini, for those who don’t know, is a musician and record producer, kind of iconic recording engineer. But he also was an iconic musician. And in the 80s, he was in a band called Big Black who were very deliberately transgressive, but also he was sort of a professional jerk in that band. I love them. And I love his writing. When you read his writing from that time period, you can see him like really trying to push people’s buttons in this way that was really permissible in the culture at the time, especially from white guys. And so the the, the newer way of looking at this stuff now to say, No, we don’t, we don’t really want to give everybody a pass anymore. That’s really good. But he posted this thing on Twitter about that exactly kind of saying, Look, you can’t you can’t bust me on my past. I know, I know, a lot of what I said and did was wrong. I’m paraphrasing really poorly, you should find the thread yourself. He said it much better than I could know. He was like, you know, good luck trying to try to shame me. I’ve already publicly outed myself as in all of these ways, you know, and then he sort of talked a little bit more about how things have changed and how that’s better. That was really interesting. As for comics, I want blood I want to see blood on the walls, metaphorically speaking, I want I want people to make work that is hard to look at. I think that’s kind of what comics are for. That’s my little teeny soapbox that I’m ranting on.
Leela Corman 1:03:23
But I’m also find that people don’t I’m not sure how to answer the time part of this question.
Srushti Kamat 1:03:34
Do you associate mess with with this this paradigm J saying like, you want more mess, and therefore being messy is to have more because chaos and mess don’t always have to be aligned. There’s a lot of chaos in minimalism. There’s a lot of chaos. And yeah, the negative in removal, and not just presence is chaos and accents as well. So like how do you how are you defining this and this erratic mess as opposed to a clean mess? Ah,
Leela Corman 1:04:02
so erratic is actually not a value of mine personally. I’m actually extremely controlled. They work. But the original, you’re the first thing you said in your question. No, I don’t think I’m defining it as only mess. And actually, you know, when I I’m really careful about what I say in public about what I want comics to be, because for one thing, who the hell am I, I’m just one person, what I think really doesn’t matter outside of the scope of my own work. I want people to make comics and tell their story in whatever way works for them. So I guess I’m just expressing a taste that I want to see intensity, and I think that might be a better word. When I talk about mess, sometimes I’m talking about materials or the physical method of drawing, but sometimes I’m talking about storytelling, or I mean, not the structure. I don’t want the structure to be messy. that the humanity. I think what I’m really arguing for more than mess is truth, though. And the truth about people is that we’re messy. Although as you know, as I’m saying all this, I’m realizing like, there’s only so far out on that on this limb. Particularly I can go right. I also love really clean controlled art and I love I love minimalism and maximalism both, yeah. Is this addressing your question at all?
Srushti Kamat 1:05:25
It’s not a question. It’s just more I’m just curious, because I’m negotiating and all the time.
Leela Corman 1:05:29
And so I’m curious about, you know, I’m curious about is what? How are you negotiating these these factors?
Srushti Kamat 1:05:40
Um, oh, God, guys, I wasn’t prepared. I don’t know. I
Srushti Kamat 1:05:45
mean, in my own maybe, I guess daily life, there’s no artistic element to it just, you know, mess as its represented as opposed to mess as it’s felt or it is, like messes as an ontology versus mes as a representation, right, can sometimes be in the form of a single line, right? It can be in an especially in kind of socio political environments where, where intensity isn’t necessarily allowed, then how does cleanliness become a form of like, radicalization, or like, like the act of radical politics or radical revolution, you know, so. And that’s my own socio cultural background that I come from bring, I’m bringing a little bit of like nuance to that idea of mess that I’ve seen sometimes and kind of Western just to practice contemporary.
Leela Corman 1:06:33
I love this. I’m so curious about, like, I mean, I’m a novice at that. And that’s a really interesting bunch of stuff that you just brought up. I don’t know. And I would say I also, when I talk about messiness, I think I’m also coming from a teaching perspective, where for a long time, I taught non majors in an illustration class in an comics class. And most of the time, I was trying to get them comfortable with making mistakes and getting dirty and just kind of basic like dealing with materials that you can’t predict and can’t always control and just letting relinquishing some control, letting things be like, you know, draw even though you don’t know how to draw, get charcoal on your fingers, it’s okay, kind of basic stuff that I think a lot of us get through early on. But if you don’t have any art training, and you’re, you know, 22 years old, and you’re a journalism major, or an engineering major and come into an art class, sometimes you need a little permission to just make a mess. So kind of like on a really basic level, right. I like elements of chaos that are marshaled into very clean parameters and in music and art as well, like very intense guitar feedback with a very, very structured rhythm section, for example. I’m really intrigued by your question about, when does cleanliness become an act of radicalism? That’s where I feel like wow, I I do not know. I think I’m very privileged in that I’m, I live in a world where I mostly am alone, and not having to deal with expectations that I’m always very controlled and clean in my presentation, you know. So,
Heather Hendershot 1:08:32
I just want to interject that, you know, those in the room or away you know, who are not artists, but are creating in other ways, like as writers, I like people aboutu to write a thesis, people writing in general. You know, I think some of these issues about how the process works can be applied to a writers in a non painting brighter as well as or as a word or non comics writer. And, you know, I was thinking about three points in particular one was this last one around making mistakes and messiness, and cleanliness, and just like writing, writing, writing, knowing that like 90% of its going to go and that the 10% This is it, right is the magic fourth is the best part of that right? copying from your favorite painter as a strategy. In parallel copying from your favorite writer, right? You’re not plagiarizing this stuff. I love this, and just experimenting like that. And then possibly, most importantly, perspective, and people might, you know, pointing to three things everyone might have their own thing is most useful. But my own perspective, the question to ask really early on when you putting your nebula as you were about was just beautiful, because, you know, that’s where, you know, if you’re reading stuff, you’re thinking, I don’t like the style or the argument or the method or the sources and, like, if that’s all you’re reading, like, it’s not going to get you in the right frame of mind to do your own work, right. And it’s having that work. In the neck, you know, even if it’s not saying meeting history, media theory, right, but you’re just reading the right. Toni Morrison novel that gets you thinking about language and, and forging a work that that can help you, you know, to so so just keep thinking about
Leela Corman 1:10:20
Yeah, what are you feeding yourself with?
Leela Corman 1:10:23
what are you what’s in your diet, I guess is another way of putting it. Your some of what you brought up made me think of something I put in my notes, a question that I also don’t think is answered, which is, where do you put your deadliness? And you can apply that to anywhere in your work and your daily life in environments where you are expected to be controlled. Where do you where do you put whatever you define as as deadliness. Another thing you may think of as a reaction, I had to a lot of the work that I saw today, the art museum. There’s an incredible photography exhibition. at the Harvard Art Museum right now called devour the land, that’s, I really recommend it, but I recommend going with a strong stomach. It’s all photographs of the impact of war and war industries, on America, on environments on the land on humans on communities. So there’s a lot of historical photographs from the post war period, but also a lot of stuff about environmental racism. It’s more recent, a lot of it. Now, some of it not so recent. And it made me think about thing I’ve been wrestling with a lot lately, too, which is just the impossibility of comprehending most, most of what happens in this world. That Okay, so this may be getting close to what I call my two watt light bulb, which is, when I realized something that’s been obvious to most people for a long time. There it is a little too light bulb. But I think it’s always worth remembering. I think we feel huge to ourselves. And we feel like we’re supposed to understand things, we’re supposed to be able to comprehend things and process information, and synthesize it and spit out some kind of product or process in response to it, right. As an artist, I increasingly feel completely incapable of that. And that all I can do is document certain kinds of trauma that are sometimes really personal, and sometimes their personal ways of talking about something that’s more collective. And I also increasingly feel that I’m incapable of understanding other other kinds of group trauma, I try to understand it on a on a on a humanity wide scale, but I have to question whether that’s the right thing to do you know, because am I am I universalizing? My own communities experience, and therefore missing other other communities experiences? Does that make sense?
Andrew Whitacre 1:13:19
You mention the mid-career curse. What’s the nature or the source of artistic growth at that point? You know, people early on, follow some instances, other artists or writers they’ve loved that had some kind of meaning for the early […] into their growing aesthetic But you’re talking about in mid-career, you no longer as often engaging with other artists.
Leela Corman 1:13:57
Quite the opposite. mid career is when all the good stuff starts to happen. Because up to then, you know, well, again, I don’t want to universalize my own experience, but I think I don’t think there’s anything particularly special or unique about me. So I’ll say probably common experience for a lot of people in your 20s you’re kind of a wreck. And just trying to figure stuff out and getting through school trying to figure out your career path. In your 30s you’re maybe you’re hustling a lot, maybe you’re starting a family, maybe not maybe you’re you’re just starting significant partnerships. In my case, I was working as an illustrator and I was completely I had parts of myself as an artist completely locked away inaccessible, thinking I would never be the artist. I thought I was going to be when I was younger, because I had chosen this path of kind of lesser resistance. And yes, it was making comics but I felt like I was never touching that source of power where whereas I don’t know how to get to that thing. I really want to do that. The kind of power that I want to have in my storytelling and in my visual art, and the kind of illustration work I was doing, I knew I wasn’t a great illustrator. And I knew that, you know, it’s just kind of workman like, and it was it didn’t really feel like me. It started to kind of break open a little the first time I heard a Niko Case album. And when I heard her music, I thought this is the kind of she’s in touch with something that I want to be too. She’s she’s got her finger in some kind of electrical socket. That’s really intense. A few other things. Also, when I there was a huge retrospective of the South African artists William Kentridge at MoMA right before I left New York City. And that was also a kind of moment of being broken open like this, this is really this is what I’m, this is what it’s supposed to be. Around the same time, there was a Kara Walker retrospective too and that had a similar effect even more, that was extremely humbling to see. So for me, I didn’t become the artist that in start to become the artist, I really thought I was going to be an really could be until I was in my 40s. So the thing that happens, God, again, I don’t want to say like, Okay, this is what’s gonna happen to everybody. But I, again, I think it’s a sort of common experience, you get to a point in your life where you have enough accumulated experience and wisdom, that you can turn around and share it with people coming up behind you. But then also, you have all of this, this bank of experience, and training and, and hard knocks to draw on in your life, then that’s when the real power comes, if you if you can find a way to access it, because that’s, that’s when you have that right balance of all of the messiness of your life, and all of the clean parameters of your discipline, to filter it through, right, and it becomes this very focus laser beam. I would love to hear somebody else’s description of this, this is just mine. But the curse of the mid career artist is really just that you don’t necessarily have time to read other people’s books. But that does not mean you don’t have time to engage with art. For me, it’s meant reopening my engagement with the rest of of art that’s being made. And I almost said the art world. But I want to make a distinction when I say that I’m not talking about the art world that we often disparage, that’s art dealers and the money part of the art world, I mean, the world of people making things, I really tried to run away from it, because art school can be kind of a scarring experience. I tried to run away from it into illustration and comics and coming back to it has been really healing. And you start to engage in a crowd. Well, for me, I started to engage in a really cross disciplinary way with a lot of other art forms, too, that I had either locked away from myself, or that I had never even come close to before. And that’s, that’s when the interesting stuff started to happen. So I’m really it’s not really a curse, you know, that’s just, it just means I don’t have time to follow the trends in comics. And that’s fine. Like, I was listening to an interview with one of my favorite musicians Blitzer bar guild, who is in his early 60s now. And there’s almost nobody more interesting or disciplined or in in touch with very, very wild, creative power than him. But in this interview, he said, I’m out of touch, I’m really out of touch with what’s happening music, and that’s fine. He was talking about having a school aged daughter how she’s really into Billy Eilish. And it’s like, you know, she, she listens to all this pop music that I just there’s no possible way I could follow it. That’s kind of a pleasure getting older, too. It’s like, you know, I’ll let the kids have that. And I’m over here doing something else. It’s cool. The other thing about being a mid career artist is just that you’re applying for a lot of grants and a lot of residencies and it is amazing how much time is spent on administrative work.
Heather Hendershot 1:19:02
Do we have any more questions in the room?
Ámbar Reyes 1:19:06
Actually. So you mentioned earlier that this story changes like when they’re like the pigments are in water, versus like it’s part of the story and then when it dries, total part of the story. I’m wondering if every time the painting change? Do you think the story is changing? Hmm. It also I’m wondering whether they they what story are you talking about? Like, from what I understood, it’s about the story of the comic, but I’m wondering more like whether is this story, your relation with your art, like what is changing or evolving in these, you know, like, when it’s when you’re experimenting with the water and you’re like letting the water cooler like where right It’s one story and then, but it’s your it’s like your connection with your thinking with your coming. Or
Leela Corman 1:20:08
it’s both. Yeah, it’s very much my own connection with it. And it’s what’s happening in the narrative. It’s also allowing a door to open for unconscious and subconscious stuff to come out the unplanned, the surprising, and some of that stuff is physical, like, Oh, I didn’t expect the ink to go that direction and then dry like that. And then some of it is narrative like, oh, wow, I didn’t realize that I was actually, you know, here I have I have characters saying, this particular words and having this particular conversation, but then there’s these colors, things happening that are kind of telling, it’s a nonverbal signal under the verbal part of the narrative that can either it’s not so clean and binary is it’s either reinforcing the narrative or countering it’s not quite that simple. But it’s part of the story that makes sense. I want to say also, I had really intense color theory training, had the like, the really standard Bauhaus color theory pedagogy, and the way that I like to describe that is, it’s like they, they put you under for three months, and then they snap their fingers, and you wake up, and you can mix any color, like, put anything in front of me, and I can mix it. And I don’t know how I got there, except that it involves cutting a lot of color aid, which is a really irritating substance. But something that I did in the period between the 2020 election and the inauguration was I was so I was in this like physiological panic state that I was starting to worry about, like, I’m worried about the future of like, my physical health, like, I’m going to have like heart problems or neurological problems from the amount of stress that I’m under right now. And the amount of threat that I feel. So that you know, even in fascism, so in order to kind of build a little barrier around my intellect at the very least, I, I had a ritual for a while where every night at the end of my work day, I would paint all day. And then I would take it in a book of color theory in was one of the Bauhaus color theory teachers, and I would read two pages every night. And it was so restorative, even though some of it I couldn’t understand some of it was was above me, like, I’m just too dense for this. And some of it was like poetry, the poetry of color, talking about color. I feel as I was reading it, I felt like okay, this now I kind of I understand the more theoretical and, and kind of existential aspects of this thing, I was trained so hard, and that comes out in my work. So when I’m in that state of experimenting, I’m drawing on those, that training and those experiences without knowing I’m doing it. And really interesting stuff happens because of that. Does that make sense?
Heather Hendershot 1:22:59
We’re right up on time, do we have any other questions online that we need to
Andrew Whitacre 1:23:04
I just have a quick one, from Lilly? asked, Can you clarify what you mean by deadliness? […]
Leela Corman 1:23:16
So I think that there are multiple definitions to that. Lilly, thank you for asking. That’s a good thing to clarify. Sometimes that deadliness is in your own responses and reactions to the world to whatever it is that really pisses you off or her to or that fascinates you. Where do you put those reactions? Where did those impulses go? Right? For me, it takes the form of I want to exhibit some sometimes i Well, let me go back. I’m very fascinated with the line between beauty and brutality. So I want to explore that line a lot. I want to play on that line, kind of like one foot on each side, see where where my weight is on either side of that line. And I want to share that with people. So that’s where I put my deadliness. Like I want to sometimes I want to I want something that’s pointy, not to hurt people with but to give people a sense of solidarity. Like I have reacted to this thing too. Does that make sense? So where do you put that in your in yourself in your own work? Where do you where do you I guess, like maybe another way to put it would be where do you focus your rage, but I don’t want to make it sound like everything is about rage. It’s not. But but that’s just one way of expressing it. How do you make something out of out of difficulty difficult experiences, personal or collective? How do you work with what is difficult?
Heather Hendershot 1:25:01
Thank you so much
Leela Corman 1:25:08
Thank you for having me and thank you for your amazing questions and discussion points.