Twice a month, we talk to a different Philly comic artist or writer about how they got here, what they love and hate about the Philly comics scene, and what it's like to work in comics!
Today, we're talking to Christine Larsen:
How did you get into comics?
I got into comics weird. I actually never wanted to do comics as a profession. When I was in school, I was aiming more into kids books and stuff. Just cause - and I’m gonna show my age now - I was graduating in 2004, and you have to kind of think of what the comics industry was in 2004 in terms of what was out, genre-wise. Doing indie books was - you’d just do them for fun. You know what I mean? The comics industry now is completely different, in terms of the scope of what is published, and how many indie publishers there are out. First Second is going really good now, Image is really going good in terms of what they’re publishing. And then you even have Scholastic or Harper collins or Random House - they have YA and young adult/all ages comic divisions.
When I was in school, I wanted to do art as a living, and that was not really viable for comics. But I ended up doing some licensed work. I did Shrek and Kung Fu Panda for this company called Ape Entertainment, for when Windows Movies came out. I got that job really serendipitously. They had seen my work in a Cartoonists Society annual, and then I did another licensed property called Teddy Scares. I never even started writing my own stuff until I was in my mid to late 20s. It’s not that I didn’t have the interest, I just was never really that confident in my writing. You know what I mean? It look me a little while, I think, to kinda get going. I had to do it for a little while, and get comfortable with it. When I got out of school, I wanted to do art for a living; and I didn’t really care what kind of art it was, as long as it was helping me pay my electric. Now I’ve been at it for a while.
You’re probably one of the better known comic artists in the city, I would think.
That’s bizarre to me, haha! Now that I have a kid, I extra don’t leave my house. It’s always weird to me, because I’m probably one of the few comic artists in the city who doesn’t have, like, a complete graphic novel out. I have a few short stories, and I do my orc thing once in a while. Maybe I’ll collect an issue here and an issue there, and then I’ll do bunch of licensed work and short stories for companies. But in terms of…like Box has several graphic novels, and other guys in the city have piles of books together, and I feel like my work is weirdly stretched out.
If you were to collect all my shorts, it would probably be, like, several graphic novels, but I’ve never done a lot of long-form stuff. It’s always surprising when people know who I am, ‘cause I feel like that’s kind of more of a “how people find people” kind of thing.
You initially stayed in Philadelphia, because you were getting jobs here?
When I got out of school, I had a day job at what was basically the art department for a commercial screen printer - doing baseball logos and family reunion t-shirts and shit like that. So that kind of payed a lot of my bills. Plus also around that time, I met who is my husband now. I started to set up deep roots here, and since then I decided not to leave. And I was fortunate that when I got out [of school] there were still a bunch of little tiny art jobs.
I stayed doing art. And even practicing, to certain extent, graphic design and stuff - and remain in a smaller city like Philly. Whereas a lot of people, I feel like now have to… if they want to do an art job that’s a “jobby-job,” they have to essentially go to New York.
Did you ever think about going to New York?
No. One of the biggest reasons I stayed in Philly was I wanted to go to New York in 1985. I wanted to live in 1985 New York. I don’t want to live in 2000s New York. I wanted the punky, scummy-around-the-edges city to live in, and early 2000s Philly was still that. I’m not that picky. I get it, there are “scene” places. But I’ve never been big into the Philly scene. I’ve met a lot of the local artists more through serendipity than searching them out. Lately, I’ve been hanging out with the Comix Jam people ‘cause I like to get out of my house once a month.
As you do more freelance and you’re more isolated, you want to hang out with people more. But do I want to go to Portland? No, not really. All my friends are here. When I was more mobile in terms of my responsibilities - now i’m a wife and a mom and shit - but when I was more mobile, I would want a time machine and travel back in time to shitty 1985 New York. That’s where I’d want to live. I’m a weirdo. Even in a lot of my personal comics, the background is always a scuzzy city. It’s never a super nice, high-rise type of city. I remember when i could get loosies on Broad Street…no longer.
My biggest complaint about Philly is the business taxes, in terms of what you pay as a small business. Those are kind of a pain in the ass. And as I’m getting older and looking into the school system, it sucks. I’m atheist. I shouldn’t have to send my kid to Catholic school to make sure there’s not 80 kids in his class. I could go off on a whole rant about it.
Do you think the city is getting better for artists?
For comic book people, you kind of have to make your own scene. Philly’s always had a strong scene, but I think there’s also a lot of talent in the schools. Definitely UArts has a lot of great students, and a lot of them are staying. So I feel like there’s definitely a lot of more artists staying in Philly which is nice. I think that you can build a nice community off of that and people can feed into each other’s work, whether you’re an illustrator or a comic artist, or you do both, or you’re a cartoonist, or you take photos - Philly’s always been a good “art city,” like a city for the arts. It’s just, I guess, how high profile they are on a national space.
A lot of people think of New York, or Portland, or Toronto, or whatever, but I always feel like this is a good city for comics. All of the comics stores here, whether you’re going to Fat Jacks or Brave New Worlds, Midtown…they’ve all carried local artists’ books. Philly’s always been receptive to that stuff, and I think comics now are generally more widely accepted.
Is there anything you’d like to see change in the Philly comics scene?
I’m not a “scene” person, so I’m sure there are other artists that could speak to this better. I go out once in a while, I try to go to shows when I can. I’m a weird, hermit-y person, so I don’t leave my house a ton, and I think that social media keeps a lot of people together. I have more comments on how comics are perceived, or the kind of work that people do in comics and, I suppose, where I hope comics goes generally. In terms of the local talent, I think there’s a lot of great people working here, even probably that I don’t even know. Should folks gather more? Should they do more group books? I don’t know. That’s a weird social dynamic. Not everyone can get together all the time.
Comics have a tendency, even professionally, to be kind of cliquey, in terms of people hanging out and folks who get work because they know someone who knows someone. I wish comics generally was less cliquey, but you’ll never get rid of that, that’s in every single profession you can think of. So I don’t know. My inherent nihilism comes out in that answer. It would be nice if some of the grants that used to be here came back, as opposed to going through Kickstarter. I wish that the arts grant money came back, but I feel like that’s pie in the sky kind of stuff. Everyone supports each other pretty well. Hopefully the industry still becomes more robust, and people get more work and more varied work…save super hero style.
No more superhero comics?
I like them, I have nothing against them. But I feel like they’re this weird shadow over the industry. If you talk to the general public, people who don’t know comics at all, that’s what they think of when you say comics to them. And that’s frustrating to me, because it’s a narrative device. Superhero is a genre, it’s not comics. That bothers me more than anything. It’s a great way to tell stories, and an especially great way to tell stories to younger people. I get a lot of writers who contact me who want me to do their superhero book, and I’m like, guys…call me when you have a detective story. I would just like to get out from under the shadow of superhero comics.
What are you reading now?
Right now, I’m reading a couple of different novels. The last comic I read, it was something I bought a while ago and it sat on my shelf, and I pulled it out and said “I’m gonna read you.” It was this little zine I got from this Australian guy, Ben Constantine. I read so much stuff. But I’m gonna crack open Nausicca once I’m done reading [the novels], cause it was on sale. It’s just so massive that I want to have a couple weeks to devote to it. I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology books. I like to parse out reading graphic novels with reading regular books. I’m reading a couple non-fiction books. I read a lot.
Do you have any projects you’d like to let people know about?
I’ll be tabling at MICA, the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo. I’m finishing up another Microcosmos book, which is my short, and I’m hoping to get that done and also the third issue of Orcs by October. I’m working on another Adventure Time thing - that’ll be out around Halloween. There’s also the thrill-bent comic Valentine, which has been like…my Sisyphean curse for years now.
That’s a lot of things.
Yea. I’m always doing stuff. Maybe one day, page rates will be better and I can work on one thing at a time.
Thank you very much for your time!
Yea! It gives me a minute to step away from my drawing table.
After being attacked by a billy goat at a young age, Jaz decided that leaving her Detroit, MI home was for the best. She moved to Philadelphia, PA, where she received her BFA in Animation from The University of The Arts. She currently works in the tri-state area as a sequential artist, occasional animator, and tea enthusiast. She has yet to be attacked by another goat.