Be Your Own Backing Band
Liz Prince, Hannah Templer (colorist)
Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.
There’s an incredibly profound short comic in Liz Prince’s new, now fully-colored comics collection, Be Your Own Backing Band. When Prince’s childhood cat passed away, her family was able to be together and say goodbye. After her cat passed, Prince felt, intensely, the joyful weight of being oneself and experiencing every moment through unique eyes. In addition to capturing a stunning moment of grief, this comic illustrates the power of a retrospective work like Be Your Own Backing Band: it captures a piece of what creates a complex individual. Prince gifts her audience a glimpse into the ways punk music shaped her specific perspective, helped her create a loving community and carried her through the best and worst of times.
Initially released in black and white, Be Your Own Backing Band will debut in full, glorious color—provided by colorist and cartoonist Hannah Templer—from Silver Sprocket at the end of August. The book collects Prince’s comics about punk and DIY culture from the almost ten years back, written initially for Razorcake Magazine and If You Make It. Prince shares magically joyous concert experiences, infuriating interactions with punk bros (let’s be honest, all communities have their bros), and moments in which music provides the ultimate, perfect companionship. Templer brings each already vibrant comic fully into life with a warm, bright palette that celebrates Prince and her friends in all their plaid-wearing glory.
I spoke with Prince and Templer over email about the technical and emotional processes behind collecting and coloring Be Your Own Backing Band.
You’ve been making autobio comics for quite a while, and Be Your Own Backing Band is a collection of comics going back to 2009, correct? Is it strange to look back at comics from years back? How does the practice of making autobio comics affect your life?
Liz Prince: At this point, I’ve been making autobio comics for 20 years! And yes, it is really cringe-worthy to look at some of the comics from my high school years/early 20s, or even at a few of the comics included in the Be Your Own Backing Band collection. My excitement about pop-punk has dwindled somewhat, especially with regards to how bro-y and misogynistic a lot of the genre tends to be. But it’s nice to be able to open a book and have such a stark reminder of who I was and what I was going through at the time when I drew those comics. Honestly, there are lot of things I think I would have forgotten about entirely if I hadn’t drawn comics about them.
Todd Taylor, the founder/editor of Razorcake, wrote a short letter for the comic in which he mentions the “undeniably overlapping Venn diagrams of common ground” that the two of you share, and that DIY punks often share. Have these comics created moments of connection among you and other punks over the years? What has the reception of the comics been like prior to this collection for Silver Sprocket?
Prince: I was just having a conversation with a friend about how accessible DIY punk is. I’ve been able to befriend and even work with (i.e., do artwork for) a large number of bands that I’m a fan of. Sometimes I’m shocked by the level of “punk celebrity” doing these comics has garnered me, but I think of it mostly as a mutual appreciation. A lot of people who read my comics online have become my closest friends IRL, so yes, many moments of connection, and hopefully many more to come!
We’ve gotta talk about the colors! It’s exciting to now have a gorgeous, full color version of Be Your Own Backing Band out in the world. Were any of the comics colored previously? Hannah, how did you go about adding color to comics initially intended to be black and white? Was it difficult to make comics not necessarily intended to sit side-by-side feel cohesive?
Prince: I can’t take any credit at all for the idea or the execution of having this book colored; it was Avi [Ehrlich] at Silver Sprocket who put the coloring of the book in motion! I had experience working with Hannah Templer when she colored my comic series Coady and the Creepies. Coincidentally, she had colored another Silver Sprocket release at around the same time, so I think it was easy for Avi to see how Hannah would be right the fit for this gig. Some of the comics in this book have been published digitally in colors that I did, but we scrapped all that for the sake of letting someone who knows how to work a palette much better.
Hannah Templer: It can be tricky doing coloring work not originally intended for color, but because Liz has such a bold and graphic style, her work takes to color very well! Generally, when I approach coloring a comic collection like this, I come up with a flexible color palette for the entire book at the beginning. I look at all the pages and try to come up with groupings of colors for different “moods” and tones (i.e., more reflective pieces vs. gag strips.) Then, I adjust the entire palette all in one place, so I know every swatch will play nice with others, no matter the order of pages. There is always some adjusting and tweaking after the fact to make sure things flow properly, but this approach works well for me.
How much did you collaborate with Liz on the colors? Did you ever need to clarify moods or run things by her, or was it pretty clear/you had a good amount of freedom to do what you felt was best?
Templer: Liz and I have worked together a couple times before, so we have a good sense of each other’s style; she gives me a lot of trust and freedom, which I really appreciate. Occasionally, I have clarifying questions for her, but it is fairly easy to figure out the right palette for each comic by giving the page a quick read and factoring in the pages that come before and after it. Feedback usually comes down to when I miss a pop culture reference or something specific. Otherwise, our tastes line up really well. The most difficult part of coloring autobio is actually getting references for all the real people that appear in the book to make sure they look right! Pulling this together is actually a ton of work (thank you Liz)!
Along similar lines, did you have to change or edit anything drastically, either to make the comic work with color or for non-art related reasons?
Prince: Nothing has been edited drastically. I took out a reference to an R. Kelly song because fuck that guy, and I replaced the term “spirit animal” with “patronus.” I no longer support any of Ben Weasel’s projects, or The Queers, but it would have been rewriting history to remove those references from my earlier comics, so I let them slide.
I’d love to know more of your thought process behind deciding whether or not a change would be “rewriting history.” I hadn’t thought about it initially, but Be Your Own Backing Band doesn’t include much commentary, and some collections do include more. Did you think about adding more commentary or reflection? How did you decide to sort of let things stand on their own?
I would consider it rewriting history to, say, take out the comic about me seeing The Queers on a boat, because I DID see The Queers on a boat, but changing an off-hand reference in a comic is more like editing for posterity to me. I did consider adding more notes to the book, but in the end I just made a passing reference to the comics being old, and to me not relating to some of them anymore in the introduction. Ultimately, as someone who has been publicly posting and publishing autobiographical comics since high school, I’ve come to accept that the work I made 20 years ago isn’t going to just magically disappear if I’m embarrassed of it now, so I have a very it-is-what-it-is attitude about it.
How different is the process of writing and drawing autobio from something like making an Adventure Time comic or working on another fictional comic?
Prince: Both end up being similar to me, process-wise; I usually end up putting a lot of my own experiences and interests into my fictional and licensed work (Lemongrab in a punk band, for example). The only real major difference is that when you’re working with characters that already exist, there is an approval process for the stories that you’re pitching, to ensure that you aren’t going too far off brand. For my autobio stuff, I’m the only gatekeeper.
You’ve got a good number of comics that touch on stereotyping/making assumptions based on appearance, or on taste in music. You talk about moving through labels such as “punk” and “goth” at different moments in your life and always being questioned or doubted (by dudes, of course) but also about being read as queer based solely on your style, and even about being judged for your connection to and love for Green Day. Personally, I always get extra upset when stereotyping or similar acts occur in communities I view as progressive or safe. Have you seen a lot of negative stereotyping in punk scenes? How do you think punk has changed over the years in terms of judgement and creating safe spaces?
Prince: I think that punk falls victim to the same trappings that all communities face, in that not everyone who is punk has the same ideals and goals or even likes the same music. I’ve never been involved in any other type of music scene, so I can only speak to my experiences in this specific niche, but it seems like there’s a constant push and pull between the kind of punk who has an “if you don’t like it, leave” mentality, and the people who are really trying to make the scene more inclusive and diverse.
Do you still have the dino slippers that scare your cats? (I’m sorry, this has nothing to do with comics, I just have to know. I have GI Joe slippers that my cat has zero feelings about.)
Prince: Haha, no, I got rid of them several moves ago. They were so large that walking around in them was extremely cumbersome, so while they were hilarious, they weren’t very comfortable, and what good are slippers that aren’t comfortable?! My cats don’t miss them, that’s for dang sure.
Punks and folks who don’t identify as punks alike will love the joyful, celebratory comics in Prince’s new book. Preorder Be Your Own Backing Band on the Silver Sprocket website, or order it at your local comic shop!
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.