Seeing as Miranda Harmon recently knocked us all off our feet with with her deeply personal ode to the Harmontown podcast, this is an excellent time to remind everyone that she has been making autobiographical comics for a while now—and they are all great. Seriously, go read them now.
Harmon is from Gainesville, Florida and recently graduated from the Sequential Artists Workshop. You may recognize her work from Cards Against the Humanity’s holiday comics or indie anthologies like Chainmail Bikini and Dirty Diamonds. Or, if you’re like me and first encountered her work at a show like TCAF or SPX, her name might inspire visions of the myriad minis she makes, a rainbow of curious creatures and self-deprecating self-portraits (My personal favorite is her 2015 collection of journal comics entitled Girls Just Want To Have Fun, featuring a doodle of herself vomiting on the back).
Her comics, whether fiction or non, have a magical quality. Fantasy meets an emotional rawness with which many of us are all too familiar, but that is often difficult to articulate. Miranda captures these feelings with finesse and sincerity, weaving hard-hitting realities into delightful dreamscapes.
Journal comics mean different things to everyone who creates them—perhaps they help us digest things about the world, or they’re a challenge to draw more. What drives you to make them?
For me, journal comics are a way to communicate with the world. For most of my life I’ve been painfully shy and quiet, and drawing was a way for me to show how I felt. I have problems with circular thinking, and I think about memories over and over and it’s painful, so drawing them into comics takes some of that burden away. Also, I’m not very diligent with taking pictures, so sometimes making a comic about just a nice, small moment when my friends and I were drinking on our porch is a way for me to remember and recreate it.
I’ve always preferred to draw than talk, because I have time to sort out my thoughts on the page. The internet has been a godsend for me in that way, because I’ve been able to put my thoughts out there in a way that some people find legible.
One of my favorite things about your work is your fanciful sense of character design. The creatures scattered through the crowds in Harmontown add such a delightful element that might be out of place in some styles, but in your work, they feel like home. You weave these little surprises in so cozily that they become an essential piece of world-building, and our glimpse into Miranda’s universe.
I’m especially curious about one particular application, though. Sometimes you draw yourself as an adorably weird little lizard critter. Where does that come from?
Sometimes I draw myself as a little bird (it sort of looks like a lizard too)! At first I decided on that avatar because it was quick and easy to draw, and I love birds. I’ve always been more interested in drawing animals than people! But I’ve noticed that I’ve unconsciously been drawing my bird self in comics that take place in a primarily mental state, whereas I draw my human self in comics about day to day activities. I think this is my way of preserving my anonymity (as much as I can) as a sort of self-defense. It makes it easier to fictionalize my journal comics! I drew my bird avatar into the Harmontown audience as a sort of reference to my other work, because even though I draw that bird to represent me, she feels like a separate character from my true self.
I know you were nervous about Harmontown, which took you about a year to make. How do you feel about it now that it’s been released into the wild?
I feel so relieved! I wanted to make this comic for a little over a year, and as soon as I set out to do it the story became very complicated and emotional. I had to first figure out what exactly the story was about, and how to depict it visually. I was nervous because I knew I was dealing with a subject that has a cult following on the internet, and so there was a possibility that it would get around. Because I knew there could be a lot of eyes on it, I became much more obsessive about drawing and layouts, which I’m usually not at all! I prefer to work quickly, because the more time I spend with a project the more I can find wrong with it. This is the longest I’ve taken on anything before!
I was also nervous because the memory I’m working with feels incredibly embarrassing. A lot of friends have listened to the episode of Harmontown I’m in and told me that it’s not so bad, but I remember feeling mortified! I had so much anxiety surrounding that memory, to the point where I was obsessing over it for a while. That’s not fun or healthy! So I think the best thing I could do to get that off of my chest was to make a comic about it. It felt physically impossible for a while, but I’m so glad that I completed it. I had a lot of help from friends who supported me and knew about the project since it’s conception.
Really, I couldn’t have asked for a better response. I’ve gotten so many messages and emails from people who said they connected with the comic, and that makes me feel so loved! It was so rewarding to hear back from people who said that they also struggled with mental illness, and had gotten help from a podcast or another piece of media. A theme in my comic is living in an age when we’re all connected but it’s somehow still easy to feel lonely. The feedback I’ve gotten has made me feel less lonely for sure.