You know around here we've got a soft spot for the '80s. Today we're talking with Esther Pearl Watson, author of the hilarious and poignant comic, Tammy Pierce is Unlovable, a sadly accurate look at the high school years for many of us.
Describe your comic, Tammy Pierce is Unlovable, for our readers who may not be familiar with you.
Tammy Pierce is a 15 year old lovable loser growing up in a small town and trying to survive high school. It's based on a diary I found in a gas station bathroom, although now it's closer to my childhood. It started out as a 64-page mini-comic in which I tried to break all the rules of comics: no grid, broken sequence, speech balloons in wrong places, sloppy writing and mess-ups, inconsistency of character, etc. Bust Magazine saw the first mini and since 2004 I have been doing the back page comic for Bust. Fantagraphics published the complete sophomore year of Tammy's life in a two volume set.
Was the diary set in the '80s? How do you think that influences the comic's content?
Yes, the diary was set in the late '80s. The distance of time helps point out some of absurdity we go through in high school. Especially trying to pretend you can afford certain brands or being obsessed with music to prove you're OK. Tammy finds a Debbie Gibson tape but has to pretend she doesn't like it to impress Ken Edward Olsen who like The Smiths. It all looks silly years later. All those friends you impressed or didn't impress, where are they now?
Can you tell us a little about your other artwork as well?
I also make paintings in a 'grandma moses' style about growing up in Texas with an eccentric father who built flying saucers in the front yard.
How does using diaries (or letters, etc.) add to your art?
Storytelling is about those crazy daily details. Diaries help me record a lot of wacky, absurd, and poignant moments in life. I keep a comic diary now and use it to make more zines and mini-comics. Lately, I have been drawing comics of my Granddad in the nursing home and also my CalArts grad school moments. It's strange how those two worlds overlap.
Who are your influences?
Even though now I have a huge collection of mini-comics, I try not to look at other comic artists as influences. They draw too nice, or have their thing down. Comic storytelling styles can be as individual as fingerprints. We spend years creating our own narrative language. Instead I look at naive drawing and self-taught artists to de-skill. For Unlovable, there are several books I have to have on my desk while I draw: high school yearbooks from the '80s, Hong Kong comics, The Best Of LCD: The Art And Writing Of WFMU-FM, Barbie and the Rockers deluxe color/activity book, Hilhaven Lodge: The Photo Booth Pictures, John Travolta: Staying Fit Extreme Canvas, handpainted movie posters from Ghana.
What was the first comic book or zine you ever bought?
I didn't really read comics growing up. My dad used to buy me comics in other languages as a joke. He thought it was funny if I tried to read it in English and it came out like jibberish. Superhero stuff seemed to be for boys. I did see some Japanese cartoons that influenced my drawings. It wasn't until I was 21 that someone handed me a zine. It was a Ron Rege, Jr.
Where can readers find Unlovable?
You can find signed copies of Unlovable Vol 1 and 2 for sale at Fantagraphics or unsigned copies on Amazon. Giant Robot, Meltdown Comics or Secret Headquarters in LA might have some very rare copies of the $5 zines (Issues 1-5). And you can always read it in Bust Magazine.