Interview: Daria Tessler
Daria Tessler is a cartoonist and printmaker based in Portland, OR. Her most recent book is Accursed, an illustrated collection of curse tablets from Ancient Greece and Rome. She also creates silkscreen prints, stationary and more via her own website AnimalSleepStories.
CYA: Characters in many of your artworks inhabit completely fragmented worlds with visible contentment - how much thought goes into the backstory as to how and why each characters ends up in these places? Are they fully collaged together artistically or is there certain traits or inspirations that bring them together?
Daria Tessler: I really like narrative ambiguity, the almost infinite possibility of an unexplained moment. I don't usually have a backstory planned out for these things because I like to see where my drawings take me. I separately draw environments and characters and see what fits together and feels right or interesting and my images grow organically and take on a life of their own. It's like each drawing creates a current and I just drift along with it and see where it takes me.
CYA: In your comics work, each page and panel are incredibly detailed - almost as much as your silkscreen art prints. What in your mind differentiates the characters that sit stationary in a print or are given life, words and movement in a comic? Have any of the worlds/characters in a print ever eventually evolved into a comic?
DT: I’m not sure what differentiates them other than the structured narrative presented in a comic. I approach comics with the hope that I can simplify and pare things down a little visually, although often I fail to really control myself or feel satisfied with a stripped down aesthetic. I’m also a lot more forgiving with myself in terms of flaws in my drawings, flaws in my composition. Not every page in a comic has to be a stand alone beautiful creation, I allow myself a few stinker pages. Otherwise I’d keep reworking and refining and never get to the finish line.
CYA: Would you consider yourself a perfectionist? Your work is incredibly detailed and each individual element ranging from characters, backgrounds, shapes, colors and textures all seem very intentional. Does having the ability to handle the work from inception all the way through the printing process give you chances to make adjustments throughout or do you take each step individually?
DT: I don't consider myself a perfectionist, and for me technically flawless art is alienating or boring, so I try to accept the idiosyncratic flaws in my drawing style. But I am pretty OCD and even when I try to work in a simplified style to make making comics more manageable I tend to go down the rabbit hole and fuss over every detail. And yes, working on projects at every level does allow for a lot of control and adjustments. I often don't feel like I get the colors or even the overall planning of a silkscreen right the first go around so I sometimes redesign things and change my colors for a 2nd printing.
CYA: For your works with a narrative, do you work from a script? if so, do you approach a writing process drastically different from your drawing process?
DT: For my comics I have lists of notes and ideas. I love research so the notes can get really wacky long and involved. Then I try to create a sort of bullet point plan of the actions/ dialogue. But I don't consider it a tight script. And as I complete each page of comics the plan changes as I realize what I need to do to make things work better. So the initial stages of planning a story are rough and loose and tighten up as I get further into penciling and inking finished pages. In a way it's similar to my drawing style, a loose goal which drifts along until it charts out a more defined path.
CYA: When speaking with strangers about your work as an artist and your work in comics, are you ever met with confusion from people who expect your work to be a sequential, narrative-driven comic similar to the mainstream? Do you draw any inspiration from artists or writers in that realm when it comes to your comics?
DT: I think the people who read my comics prefer non mainstream comics so that hasn’t been an issue for me. But many of my silkscreen customers like the cuter nostalgic kids book illustration style I was working in ten years ago and they certainly feel befuddled with my odd comics and the less commercial silkscreens I make. So in terms of making a living I end up making concessions to mainstream expectations. I’m not interested in mainstream comics with formulaic conflict driven story construction. I also struggle with gender presentation in most mainstream media in general. There are things I like about some of the old ghost story/ weird tales style comics from the 50's but they are really, really rough on women, and affirming negative gender roles for men. In terms of mainstream comics I actually enjoy, I love the Moomin comics, Little Lulu and The Far Side.
CYA: For someone who handles all aspects of their own art from inception, creation, manufacturing and promotion: what is the most challenging part of it for you personally?
DT: Being my own sales person and unfortunately my own advocate is often frustrating and depressing. American culture has a very two-sided attitude when it comes to artists and art. On the one hand a full-time artist is treated like a unicorn, rare and miraculous. In capitalism, art (with the exception of high-end commodity art) is seen as inherently valueless. The concept that a person could earn a living selling something valueless is dazzling and almost magical. The flip side of the unicorn myth is that often people also see artists as hucksters. Artists who manage to earn a living selling their work are seen as effectively conning people into buying some self indulgent relic of their introspection. Because on some level attaching monetary value to art is considered a con, it can be really hard to get paid for work or treated with professional respect.
CYA: Is there anything you read/viewed/listened to recently that inspired you //or// that you would recommend to a reader of this to seek out??
DT: Films I've seen his year and loved: Himiko, Medea by Passolini, Manuel on the Island of Marvels by Raul Ruiz and Duelle by Jacques Rivette. The last comic I really felt wild about was Test Tube by Carlos Gonzales, but I've also been really inspired by Chroma Build, a book of drawings by Jason Herr. Mathew Thurber’s Mr. Colostomy is also full of inspirational ideas.