Siobhan Gallagher: Cartoonist and Author on the Rise

I first met Siobhan Gallagher at this year’s MoCCA Festival. Among hundreds of exhibitors, it was her experimental drawing style and ironic witticisms that caught my eye. A former cover designer at Penguin Random House, Siobhan has self-published two full collections and several smaller art pamphlets since her graduation from NSCAD University in 2012. Her first book, a nonfiction project, is slated for publication by TarcherPerigee next year. I caught up with Siobhan to further explore how she sees the world and the ways that art can make you happier.

You started collecting your artwork into books a few years ago. In your collection, “Soothing the Troublemakers,” you have a set thesis statement to bring joy through your art. Do you feel like your direction with these books has evolved since “Troublemakers,” either when it comes to your aim or methodology in making them?

My goal has remained the same, so I think no matter what I’m working on, my aim is consistent. I draw, because it helps me understand myself and the world a little bit better, and I think a lot of people have the same feelings/fears/beliefs/doubts/concerns as me, so I always hope it helps others feel more understood too. I don’t want to keep saying the same things through the same methods though, so I certainly hope my methodology changes and evolves. Right now though, I’m happy to express these thoughts through one-liners, puns, and illustrated confessions.

Page from Contain Yourself by Siobhan Gallagher
Page from Contain Yourself by Siobhan Gallagher

What’s your process? Reading your designs, they feel stream-of-conscious, but is the creation of them more disciplined?

I think stream-of-consciousness is a good way of summarizing the origins of a lot of my work, but not necessarily the act of drawing.

I usually sit on my roof with a coffee and listen to music, go through notes I’ve made to myself throughout the day of things I’ve seen and observations I’ve made that I want to draw somehow, and kind of digest and brainstorm ideas. Sometimes I have a concept or message I want to draw, but don’t know the best way of showing it, so I keep notes in my phone or in a notebook of what are basically fragmented conversations I have with myself and often go back to these reminders when I have a better idea of how they can take shape into drawings (sometimes this is just the next day, and sometimes it’s months later). So, the origins of my work is certainly stream-of-conscious, but I keep my drawing themselves pretty focused. I rarely draw fragmented images or bodies that trail off, because I’m drawn more to bold, graphic lines rather than rough, shaded sketches.

“Contain Yourself,” your other collection, has all your drawings organized into circles; however, these drawings all seem unconnected other than their placement. How do you decide which ideas live adjacent to others?

“Contain Yourself” is actually my first zine collection (from May, 2015) and “Soothing the Troublemakers,” the second (October 2015). CY was definitely a focus in train-of-thought, stream-of-consciousness drawing and writing, so while its contents were busy, I wanted them to be unified only in the circular composition. I liked how separate and individual each little drawing was on its own, so I think the only way I decided where each item should go was based on where it could fit best within the circle shape. The more contrast between each item on a page, the better!

We’re doing a slightly new thing at WWAC where we ask cartoonists how music influences their art. What bands or musicians do you listen to while you work? What are your favorite albums right now?

I don’t often binge-listen to entire albums, but rather specific songs, so I make monthly playlists for myself of my current music obsessions. When I draw, I prefer listening to podcasts (usually Comedy Bang Bang and other Earwolf shows), but when I’m brainstorming drawing ideas, I like music that hits me in a particular and emotional way OR has great beat/rhythm/lyrical elements. This sounds so vague, so here are a few of my current favorite songs:

“The Artful Dodger” by Mick Jenkins (Produced by Kaytranada & THEMpeople)

“Shut Up Kiss Me” by Angel Olsen

“Angst in my Pants” by Sparks

“Deeper Than Love” by Colleen Green

“Mama Said” by The Growlers

“Lillie of the Valley” by Jun Miyake

from Soothing the Troublemakers by Siobhan Gallagher
from Soothing the Troublemakers by Siobhan Gallagher

There’s hints of 1990s nostalgia throughout your work, including Nickelodeon cartoon homages and references to the decade’s unique aesthetic. What novelists and artists do you feel most impacted you while you were growing up?

Some of my favorite picture books were The Big Pets by Lane Smith and For Sale: One Brother by Patti Stren.

The two novels that most effected me growing up were probably a tie between A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I was always drawn to stories about and by women, and these two books in particular made me feel excited, I guess, for future life adventures. A Wrinkle in Time is surreal and magical while A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a realistic telling of a young girl growing up in New York during the early 20th century, but both made me feel understood and allowed me to dream of my future potential.

I really got into Lynn Johnston’s comics (especially her pre-“For Better or For Worse” work from the ’70s) when I was around eleven or twelve, and before that I pored over Bill Watterson’s “Calvin & Hobbes” and Gary Larson’s “The Far Side” as much as I could.

One of the books that influenced me the most though creatively would probably be a big coffee table book my dad got in the ’80s of great magazine covers from around the world, which included every genre of editorial magazines (political, nude, humor, business, entertainment, etc.). I liked how some covers could invoke humor without certain iconography and most used bold and graphic images to stand out. I photocopied so many pages from the book and taped them to my walls as a kid, which was actually really inspiring.

Vanity Fair cover
Vanity Fair cover

Is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn how you ended up in New York?

Ooooh, not explicitly, but it definitely fanned the fire of my obsession with NYC when I growing up. That along with J.D. Salinger books, When Harry Met Sally, every ’90s sitcom set in New York, and Sex and the City.

Your first professionally published book is coming out in 2017. Your website says that it falls under the nonfiction category. Can you tell us a little about it?

Yes, I’m so excited. It’s being published by TarcherPerigee at Penguin, which is a nonfiction imprint, but its category is moreso art and humor-driven. It is an illustrated choose-your-own adventure book that takes place all in the span of one day and follows “You” through every average and mundane step in a typical day. Your potential paths include running late for work, sitting through a bad date, going to a friend’s dinner party, finding the right song on your phone, and doing laundry, to name a few. It incorporates observational humor to point out the fun little things in life we sometimes miss. I’m finishing up the writing right now and think it will be a fun, relatable book for urbanites and millennials especially.

I LOVE Choose Your Own Adventure books! You know what, your upcoming book sounds like a more linear version of your self-published “Modern Tragedies” booklet, which is the work that made me realize that I wanted to read all of what you had at MoCCA. I still grin when my headphones get tangled, because of your devastated depiction, right before my face mirrors it. What is it like working on a longer book?

Ha, thank you! Yeah, a lot of my stuff has to do with the “the little things” and the minutia of daily life. Working on a longer book has been reeeeeally thrilling and intimidating, because as I picked away at it, little by little I was feeling good about how it was turning out, but you can’t really know how it will come together until you’re like, 90% complete. I have never worked on such a long form project of my own, as I feel like my bread and butter is more one-liners and single-image comics, but I’m almost done and feel good!

Ray Sonne

Ray Sonne

A comics reader since the first Raimi-directed Spider-Man movie, Ray now works as a copywriter. When not writing or training in Krav Maga, she likes to expand her queer comics knowledge and talk with fellow nerds on twitter @RaySonne.