Photo credit: Emily Rich
Describe your latest book.
I have written a book called Many Love
, which is very difficult for me to describe. You are supposed to have an elevator pitch for the book you have written, but I have struggled greatly with such a pitch. Here are the different ways I’ve described it to different people:
Modern-looking woman: “It’s an illustrated memoir about polyamory.”
Cool, comics-loving guy whom I might want to someday date: “Yeah, it’s mostly a comic. It’s like, an autobiographical comic? But there are words in there, too, that aren’t part of the comic; it's like Phoebe Gloeckner
’s book, but different.”
My grandmother: “It’s a sort of sociological book with my own stories and it’s vaguely about the evolution of human love. You shouldn’t read it, you would find it boring.”
A potential employer: “It’s being published by an imprint of Simon and Schuster!”
My mom: “It’s a lot of things, Mom. It is kind of like a memoir, but I’m also trying to answer people’s questions about polyamory. I interviewed a bunch of people who know more about it than I do! I interviewed Dan Savage, even. He’s VERY famous. There are also drawings in it. It’s kind of chronological; there are charts. You’re in it a lot. I hope you’re OK with what I wrote! I love you.”
What was your favorite book as a child?
I was really, really into The Baby-Sitters Club
. When I was nine I told everyone I was going to get a BSC tattoo one day, and I think I probably still will. My favorite sitter at the time was Mary Anne, because she had a boyfriend. I have since changed lanes and am now 100 percent Team Claudia.
When did you know you were a writer?
My sister was a baby (who could not yet talk) when I intrinsically understood that it would be my life’s work to write books that would specifically please her delicate literary palate. I started with Princess Pony Goes to the Dentist
. My baby sister loved this book. The writer in me was born.
What does your writing workspace look like?
I like the cheapest chair at the thrift store. The current iteration is orange, and it is going to break in like a week, but I like its flair.
I have six different watercolor palettes, and at least two are always out at a time. One is for dry pads, the other is for wet goo pads. I don’t think I use the palettes properly. In fact, just writing the word “palette” is giving me imposter syndrome.
There’s no art supply I’m fonder of than the shiny transparent tape that was important for 'zines in the ’90s.
I try to steal as many exhibitor badges as I can when I go to festivals. As you can see, I have collected exactly one.
These are all wooden rubber stamps, and they are pretty much all birds. This is for when I need people to understand that I am deeply committed to my twee-ness.
I bought one of these clip-on phone holders that all the teens are into these days solely to be able to film myself doing dip-pen lettering. I watch the videos and get all aroused by the sound of the metal tip of the pen on the paper.
The memory I have associated with this lamp is putting little stick-on jewels on it after a parade in New Orleans, while simultaneously telling a man I had fallen in love with him. I remember wondering when the jewels would fall off.
La Croix, which I have delivered once a week because it’s too heavy to carry and our fruit market doesn’t stock it and I don’t have a car.
I keep a full cup of dirty watercolor water on my desk even when I’m not actively watercoloring. When it’s the morning, I often accidentally dip my paintbrush in a cup of coffee while I’m painting. A lot of times, the cats like to drink the dirty paint water. Cats are so punk.
A Powell’s water bottle! The one I’m using now is the science fiction one, because it fucking glows in the dark.
This is my poor laptop, which I have dropped on the floor more than 100 times. The bottom comes clean off if you pull on it. The keypad stopped clicking like four years ago because I spilled cooking oil on it. It often gets angry and makes a loud whirring noise and you can’t make it stop unless you stroke it and speak to it in dulcet tones.
It’s positively shameful what I do to commissions I’m working on. I just wedge them here and there and let the cats walk on them, and I spill water on them, and generally don’t treat them lovingly. You can see dozens of them in this drawing, stashed all willy-nilly in precarious spots on my desk. I am sorry.
This is a plastic letter-holder that is shaped like a paper crane. I bought it at Target. I am into being a pen pal. I have a few pen pals still sprinkled throughout the United States, and I try to keep up with them. Letter mail is the best mail: the end.
It appears there is no 14.
Once I ordered away for a McSweeney’s box of postcards. On the box it says, “Greetings from the Ocean’s Sweaty Face.” Once there were 100, and I have sent almost every one of them.
Wedged between some estranged commissions is my sleeve of drawing supplies. It contains: two G-nib dip pens, two Pentel Pocket Brushes, two Pentel architectural pencils rigged with blue lead, one white grease pencil, a size 10 round brush, a size 1 striping brush, a chewed-on number two pencil, a neon yellow Prisma, a size 02 Micron, a smudge stick, and a piece of bamboo fashioned into a pen by a wonderful drawing teacher. Also, I usually try to stick a plastic eraser and a brass bullet pencil sharpener in there, but they always fall out.
Oh look! Another palette! I didn’t realize it was hiding out back there! Hey, other palette!
This is the Dungeon Masters’ Guide, 5th Edition
. It is among the greatest creative writing manuals ever published.
I am a teacher, and I always have stacks and stacks of things to grade and return. I diligently come up with organizational systems with which to accomplish these tasks. Then all the papers end up haphazardly on this green table in a jumble.
This is a slide paper cutter that’s always getting lost. There it is!
Throw everything that is no longer serving you in the trash and never look back. (Unless it’s recyclable or compostable, in which case, act accordingly.)
Paper is so frustratingly sized. It never fits anywhere! Mine is just all over the floor.
Here’s my at-home printer, and I think it’s the most important thing for a writer or a reader to have. I know, I know: tree-saving, etc. But the thing is, holding your writing in your hands and marking it up with a ball point pen is vastly superior to all the other ways of dealing with writing.
I have an electric typewriter that is not at all cute (it’s from the ’90s), and I use it for writing letters. I am totally over typewriters whose only job is to be cute. I vastly prefer these aesthetically lacking gray workhorses that never get stuck keys or weird ink blotches.
It appears there’s no 25, either.
This door does not open. Beyond it is the mudroom in our house, and currently the mudroom contains a cardboard box that’s vaguely shaped like a piano, and several La Croix deliveries.
I’ve kept diaries since I was five, and have written in them on average four times a week. So I have hundreds (yes, plural hundreds) of diaries. They just go on and on and on. Chris Ware
once told me that he was jealous of this fact about me, and I immediately went and cried tears of impossible joy and wrote this new memory in my diary.
What do you care about more than most people around you?
Pigeons. I talk to pigeons a lot. I believe that pigeons know more about life than humans do, and that their importance has yet to be really understood by modern man. (Ancient man, on the other hand, was able to see the beauty of pigeons. There is a lot of evidence that they were raised and beloved by old-school royalty in places like Rome.)
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
When I first started writing about polyamory, I got a lot of unsolicited Facebook messages from people who wanted to know how my love life was going. Someone wrote, “Please help me settle a bet with my mom. Are you and Ned still in love?” Ned and I had gone our separate ways. “Definitely. Polyamory always works,” I responded. It is more important to help the right person win a bet than to tell the truth to a stranger, I always say.
Tell us something you're embarrassed to admit.
I’m embarrassed about every one of my Secret Snacks. A Secret Snack is a snack you eat alone in your room because you had a bad day and you’re sort of feeling like, “What’s the point of it all?” On a good week, I go for a Secret Snack three times or so. Examples include: Skittles and buttered popcorn in the same bowl, plain flour tortillas microwaved with olive oil and cinnamon sugar, and Oreos crushed up in a blender so you can eat them with a spoon.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
The “children’s book author” Byrd Baylor is a modern Shakespeare
, and she should be worshipped en masse. She and her collaborator — a sort of trippy illustrator named Peter Parnall who’s always doing weird line drawings that don’t make complete logical sense — have done upwards of a dozen books together, and I can never believe that they’re not on everyone’s shelves. Byrd Baylor is brilliant because her books act like they’re for children, but really they’re for grown-ups who are afraid of books, or who don’t yet know how simple the deepest truths really are. Start either with The Table Where Rich People Sit
or Everybody Needs A Rock
. Get ready to send me a long, gushing thank-you email for making this introduction.
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
I have seven bone china cats that I found in my mother’s attic. I think they were once her mother’s.
In high school, for all four years, I picked up a Sweet'N Low packet from every restaurant I went to, wrote the name of the restaurant on it, and dated it. I love remembering just how many times my friends and I went to Denny's.
There is a small drawer in the repurposed card catalog in my studio that is labeled “dinosaurs.” It contains lots of small dinosaurs. Does this count as a collection? I love it, but I am very eager to give these little dinosaurs away. I like when someone brings their kid over and I get to say, “Do you know what? I have a drawer of dinosaurs. Do you want one?"
For a while, I collected false bananas. There are a few relics left, although I have given most of them away. It’s funny when you stop collecting something. You see a false banana and your heart skips, because it has been trained to get excited upon such a sighting; then you remember that you’re not really into false bananas anymore, and you leave it. It’s a little like becoming an adult.
What's the most interesting job you've ever had?
I delivered newspapers, thinking that it was the first step on the road to being a journalist. There were two guys who worked in the paper-bagging room named Hank. It’s not like there were a lot of people working in there; really, it was just me and the Hanks. I thought that two Hanks was pretty unusual.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
I’ve gotten pretty good at getting into the back rooms at the Chicago Field Museum. It’s just drawers and cabinets full of animals that were alive once and now aren’t, or shelves of jars of rodents or snakes or extinct lizards all bottled in chemicals so they look like pickles. I can’t convey to you the size of the animal collection. It feels like you’re in the stacks of the biggest library in the world, but everything is skins or feathers or furs, neatly labeled with fascinating tan tags. I know this isn’t a big trip or anything, but there’s nowhere that makes me want to write more. The human relationship to the rest of the living world — how we clumsily navigate it — is on full display. What else is there to really write about?
What scares you the most as a writer?
Does it have to be a writerly thing? Because, writer or not, it’s still going to be sitting in the passenger seat while someone I don’t really trust is trying to merge onto the freeway.
If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
This is written after I die: Owl Girl: The Woman Who Gave Up Her Life as a Writer to Live Among the Owls (Until She Became One)
Offer a favorite passage from another writer.
“If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it. A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” — Roald Dahl, The Twits
Share a sentence of your own that you're particularly proud of.
“I ain’t saying she’s a gold-digger; I’m just saying she moved to California in 1850, so one has to wonder.”
Describe a particularly memorable dream.
I keep a dream journal. Here is its most recent entry: “I’m dating Sarah Silverman, and she is really hard to date, but she likes me and we have really good sexual chemistry. Also, she is a man? She is a gay man with another boyfriend and they aren’t threatened by me because I’m dating soooo many people. At one point, one of the people and I sit on a red couch under a green blanket. We both have on green outfits, and we are trying to talk to Sarah Silverman, who as a man is named Dane. We are trying to talk about non-monogamy and the paparazzi come in. They want to photograph us, I assume because they think the colors in the picture are so good, but then my mom comes in and gets really upset because she thinks the publications are going to out us as socialists. I try to talk to Dane-Sarah about emotions, but he doesn’t want to. I try to talk to him about his childhood and he doesn’t want to. It was too traumatic and he doesn’t like to dredge that stuff up. I start to tell the story of the night heron (?). In the end, my mom is mad at me because she thinks I’m backing out of buying a house. She used to trust me when I was studying abroad in Spain, but no longer. I yell at her that she has made a lot of unfounded assumptions."
So, either that or the 2016 presidential election.
What's your biggest grammatical pet peeve?
It’s a really silly one, but I’m bugged by lay/lie errors. Everyone’s always like, “I’m going to go lay down.” And I’m like, “What are you going to lay down — your burdens!?”
Do you have any phobias?
I am medium-afraid of bacterial clusters.
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly.
Well, all of the above (seriously), but my big one is that I take a bath basically every day and read a trashy magazine. I subscribe to 31 magazines. Name a magazine. Did you name one? Yes, I subscribe to that magazine.
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Don’t take it personally. It’s never about you.”
Write a question of your own, then answer it.
Q: Shouldn’t you stop procrastinating and make a dentist appointment already? Because don’t your teeth hurt and isn’t it difficult for you to even eat your favorite Secret Snacks anymore because of this tooth pain?
A: Really good point, Powell’s. Thank you. I will do it.
My Top Five Graphic Books (In No Order Whatsoever).
These graphic books are all superlative to me in some way, shape, or form. We are living in the golden era of indie graphic novels, and we couldn’t be luckier. If there’s even one of these you haven’t read, go out right now and read it. Not a single one of these books will take you longer than a day to read.
by David Mazzucchelli
This is likely the greatest graphic novel ever written (just objectively speaking), and I have never met a person who did not love it. It’s about an architect, a hole in the earth, and the meaning of love. If you’re ever in a book club, and you have to choose a book for the club to read, choose this one. You will be the most beloved one in the club, and people will think you’re cool and smart.
New Construction: Two More Stories
by Sam Alden
Full disclosure: I know Sam pretty well, but I met him a decade ago because I found his art on the Internet and wept over loving it so much. I think he’s the best living storyteller. His comics collections — this is the second one, following the also excellent It Never Happened Again
— are dark and funny and they make you feel emotions that you can’t even really describe because the emotions are so strange. He has a deserved cult following, and now you will be in it.
SuperMutant Magic Academy
by Jillian Tamaki
This is my favorite book ever, of all time. It’s a very funny collection of comics about superheroes, monsters, and generally magical people who all go to school together. There’s no real storyline, but every page-long piece can stand on its own, and is at once very funny and very deep.
The Complete Cul de Sac
by Richard Thompson
Sam Alden (see above) introduced me to this comic strip years and years ago, before Thompson passed away from Parkinson’s in 2016. It was in The Oregonian
for a while, I think. If you are a Calvin and Hobbes
person, you will be seduced by these strips, which are both smart and sweet. They make you feel good about humanity, if only for a short time.
Imagine Wanting Only This
by Kristen Radtke
This is a gorgeous book about loneliness, abandoned places, decay, death, love, life, and growing up. Radtke is a master of her trade, nonfiction writing, eloquently expressed in meticulous drawings. I have been a fan of hers for years, but when this book dropped, I felt like she had truly transcended the world around her.
÷ ÷ ÷
Sophie Lucido Johnson
is a writer, illustrator, comedian, and the editor-in-chief of neutrons/protons, an online literary magazine. She has been published in The New Yorker, Guernica, The Guardian, VICE, Catapult, DAME, McSweeney’s, Jezebel, The Hairpin, The Nation
, and ROOKIE
, among others. She has just completed an MFAW at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Many Love
is her first book.