Interview with Joan Reilly

from their kickstarterJoan Reilly is a fantastically talented artist and half of the amazing team that put together an anthology discussing feminism in, and through, comics. The Big Feminist BUT: Comics About Women, Men and the IFs, ANDs & BUTs of Feminism came out July 8th and is available online. Her work has appeared in Studs Terkel’s Working: A Graphic Adaptation and I Saw You: Comics Inspired by Real-Life Missed Connections.

About herself she says:

“I was always fascinated by the cartoons and illustrations in my Dad’s New Yorker magazines, even back before I could read–there was something about the drawn representation of mundane, everyday life that was incredibly appealing to me. And when I discovered my older brother’s copies of 70s-era Mad magazine in the basement, I obsessed over all the comic strips and tiny margin cartoons in those. Then in high school a friend introduced me to Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, and I absolutely loved it, and knew that I wanted to do something like it. But I actually went on to study writing in college, and got a degree in language and literature, then worked in book and magazine publishing for 5 or so years before switching to freelance illustration and comics–I never studied art or comics in any formal way.
I think what I love most about comics (and I’m sure I’m not the first to use this analogy) are the varying degrees of dissonance and consonance between the text and imagery. The ongoing flow of tension and resolution between the two, when it’s done right, can be satisfying in the same way as listening to really good music.”
the big feminist but
Leslie Anderson: How did you get together to work on The Big Feminist But?

Joan Reilly: The book was an idea that Shannon developed with a few other people, and she was spearheading the project. I had done some illustration for her previous anthology, Pet Noir, and was initially just going to contribute some illustrations to this one, but as time went on and we discussed the book more, it became clear that combining our different talents editorially would be a good thing for the book overall.

LA: Why was feminism an issue you wanted to cover?

JR: I have to admit that before Shannon brought up the idea to me, I hadn’t really given feminism much thought since college, but reading the submissions that came in definitely reinvigorated my interest in the subject, and it turned out to be a huge learning experience for me. I think I had the attitude going into it that feminism was an outdated concept in First World countries, but starting to read publications like Jezebel, Bust, Bitch and The Hairpin reminded me that even though a lot of the big, obvious, original goals of feminism have been achieved, there are still countless subtle inequalities that need fixing, and even the big wins that we’ve come to take for granted, like reproductive rights, are now being seriously threatened.

LA: How did you select comics for the anthology? What were you looking for?

JR: We were aiming to include as many of the most talented artists, writers and literary comics creators as we possibly could, while also portraying a well-varied spectrum of viewpoints, opinions and experiences, and then doing things that might not be expected, like including male contributors, soliciting work from writers who had never written for that medium before, and asking couples to collaborate on pieces. But we also wanted to avoid including any strident or preachy manifestos, and to keep the dialogue very personal and idiosyncratic. We were pleasantly surprised by how honest people were willing to be about their complicated feelings on the subject.

LA: What is your favorite part about the book?

JR: One of my favorite aspects of the book is the prevalence of humor and absurdity in it–I think that’s a crucially important tool for reaching people on a human level, and it’s too often left out of discussions about feminism.

LA: What were some difficulties you didn’t expect?

JR: At a certain point in the multi-year process of compiling the book, we were advised by an agent that a book with the word “feminist” in the title would never sell, and that both the title and the cover art needed “sexing up,” so we came up with an alternate title and image, and tried to get excited about it, but were ultimately relieved when nothing came of that particular collaboration and we were able to return to the original title and cover. And when we eventually did the Kickstarter campaign, the title and cover imagery both proved to be key elements in the book’s intrigue and appeal, so we felt vindicated in the end.

LA: Some of the comics deal with queer and LGBT issues. Why was it important to include these issues?

JR: The feminist and queer communities, as well as all other marginalized populations, are naturally aligned in their shared desire to subvert the dominant paradigm of white, male, heterosexual privilege, so it just seemed like a given that they should be included.

LA: Considering the high emotions around the word ‘feminist,’ have you received any backlash about the book?

JR: So far, the reactions have been positive, but the book was only officially released in July, so we’ll be interested to see what the future brings. An article about the book in Mother Jones did spark a lengthy and vitriolic comments war, that I believe is still ongoing, but none of those comments are specific to the book–they’re just general reactions to the whole concept of feminism. But inspiring debate is one of the main aims of the book, so we welcome any and all viewpoints. We really want to make people think, and hear what they are thinking.

LA: How do you deal with these comments?

JR: Our method has been to listen, and encourage all feedback–the more conversation about the book and the ideas within it, the better…

LA: Why did you choose Kickstarter to fund the project?

JR: It became overwhelmingly clear that Kickstarter campaigns raising funds for comics and graphic novels had an extremely high success rate. Last Summer, Publisher’s Weekly posited that Kickstarter was the #2 publisher of comics and graphic novels, in terms of revenue, and when we looked at how many projects like ours had been successful using that method, it really seemed like our best option.

LA: What’s next? What are new projects you’re excited about?

JR: I’m currently working on a comic for an anthology of flash fiction and comics called Flashed that is being co-edited by Josh Neufeld and Sari Wilson, and I’m looking forward to returning to work on a series of comics called Frankly East 14th Street which is based on my father’s journals and recollections of his youth in the 1940s and 50s in Oakland, CA,

Leslie Anderson

Leslie Anderson

Leslie was born and raised in Michigan. She spent a lot of her time falling off ponies and out of trees. She received a BA in Writing from Michigan State University and an MA in Writing from Ohio University. Her writing and art has appeared in Asimov’s, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and the International Journal of Comics Art. She obsessively consumes video games, comic books, speculative novels, and espresso. Her collection of poetry is forthcoming from Alliteration Ink.