GUM Editor Linnea Hurst sat down with illustrious campus comic artist Diane Lenertz to learn the secrets behind her trade.
self portrait of the artist sssssssssssssssssssss
What came first, a love of drawing or a love of comics?
I honestly didn’t get into comics until recently. I didn’t used to see their value. I’ve never actually been that much of an artist either. I took Intro Art here at Grinnell and I’ve taken art classes in high school, but it was never a big thing I did. But then I got into comics, and how many different ways you can convey feeling and action with them. I thought: Oh, I’d like to make these!
Wow, that sounds pretty easy! Good thing you can draw, though. When I look at a comic I think to myself, well I literally can’t draw, so I can’t do this.
Oh but that’s the thing though, anyone can do comics! If you can’t draw you just gotta keep doing it until you know, you can. I spent a lot of time this summer just drawing random shit and it would look terrible and then I would draw it again and it would look even worse and I’d do it again and it’d look good.
The other cool thing about comics, and one of the main reasons I was drawn to them, is that you can develop such a unique voice through your comics that you actually don’t have to have crazy, unique, skillful renderings. You can find a way to use whatever skills you have, because comics are so much about pacing and word economy. You don’t have to draw really well to do comics. It is not as intimidating.
Wow. I have never heard the phrase “word economy.” How did you get so knowledgeable about comics?
This guy called Scott McCloud has a series of books. The first one is Understanding Comics, which I read. I didn’t read Reinventing Comics because the library doesn’t have it but I read Making Comics. It isn’t prose, it is in comics, and it is about comics. Like a meta-comic thing. He is a well-respected graphic novelist, and he talks about the theory behind graphic novels and comics. I got really into reading those over the summer.
Your series “The Machine” in the S&B is, for lack of a better word, pretty deep and existential. Tell me more about “The Machine.”
Being an inquisitive person and going to a place like Grinnell that emphasizes social justice and all the world’s problems, I just felt so paralyzed by being exposed to all these ideas about inequality and systems of oppression. I felt such a disconnect between what I was learning and the rest of the world.
Like walking into the d-hall after learning about issues of food security and being like…okay…
Yeah exactly. “The Machine” is one of those things that developed. When I was chillin’, I would just rant on the machine for a while. There is so much that is bad in the world, or confusing, or just harmful stuff, but there is nobody at the helm of it. Nobody is doing it, but it is this system that we’ve built. We rise to our place in the machine and do the little thing that makes the whole machine go. That was this idea that I had, maybe other people have had it too. The reason that I wanted to do it for the S&B is actually because of an interview I read with two Grinnell alums. They are these two guys who are now successful comic artists and illustrators, named Kevin and Zander Cannon.
Are they brothers?
Ha, no. There is no relation there, I don’t understand. Anyways, I read some interview with them. It said they did comics for the S&B and they said it was great experience to do a college comic because it gave them ideas about deadlines, and about reaching a certain audience. And then I was like; oh, I will do a comic for the S&B too!
What is the name of your comic series for the GUM?
It is called “Campus Views.” I got the idea to do “Campus Views” because when I started doing “The Machine,” I realized people might think I am a dark, horrible person.
And since “The Machine” is published in the S&B it is printed in black and white, which makes seem more ominous, but I mean that isn’t your fault.
True! But yeah, I was like wow, this is so critical. I want people to know I can do lighter stuff, to try to balance my comic karma.
What is “Campus Views” about?
There is stuff that everyone either thinks about or talks about. That is a big thing of what comics are, that thing everyone is aware of and notices. With comics you just get to riff on it for a second. You get a lot more involved when it is something specific, like about a specific environment and traditions. So “Campus Views” is reaching Grinnellians like that, about our shared experiences and observations.
Yeah, comics can get at that collective experience of Grinnell perhaps even better than writing. Or at least do it differently.
Let’s switch topics though, talk to me about how you come up with your ideas. Is it natural and pain free or do you have to brainstorm a lot? What techniques do you use to get your creative juices flowing?
Oh it is a mixture. For “The Machine” comic about the first place ribbons, I thought about it from my walk from Burling to ARH. I was just like, wouldn’t it be funny if a factory only produced 1st place ribbons? And I laughed to myself. It just popped into my head, which is great. But other ones I have thought about more intentionally, asking myself what I have been thinking about recently, what has been bothering me. But the idea doesn’t usually come at that point. I feel like I can’t sit down and say, “I have to think of an idea now.” I have to think about it and then kind of forget about it but make myself more aware as I walk around to have that idea present itself.
What kind of responses have you gotten about your published comics?
One of my friends read “The Machine” in front of me and said “woah” in a concerned way. Other than that, people have been cool about it. I have had a few people tell me that they like the comics.
Yeah, that is just nice to get recognition.
Yup, especially when you really have no idea who is reading your stuff.
Oh just to let you know, we can see how many people looked at your first comic published on the GUM via facebook. The number of people who looked at that Facebook post is 1,721 (as of October 9th, 2014).
Woah! That’s awesome.
That is the thing about comics! People love to look at them. This summer I didn’t feel like I could read a book for a long time, like it was hard to sustain that kind of focus. I realized if I read comics my mind would be a lot more engaged, visually. Not to undermine books.
I feel you. You can do so much with visual stuff.
Okay one last question. In a dream world, if you got the opportunity to draw comics professionally or become a graphic novelist, would you like to do that?
Thought so. That is awesome and I think you have a chance, especially with how often you are being published right now.
Wait, one more question. Are you going to keep doing comics after graduating even if you don’t get the opportunity to do them professionally?
Definitely. I have reaped so many benefits through drawing comics. I feel like I have so much angst about all the shit we are learning and I can’t always do something about it. Like when my buying choices support a horrible system… but at least with comics I am able to be like, “THIS IS WHAT I MEAN!!”
I am so jealous that you found comics, a.k.a the best hobby ever to get out this angst I think most of us are all too familiar with. Maybe I will reconsider attempting to draw a comic. Thank you for chatting!
Editor’s Note: Diane would like to make a plug for Grinnell’s very own comic publication, the Sequence. They are accepting comics until October 28th, and pay students for their submissions. Email your submission to [sequence].