We had a chat with Tommi PG (aka Katie Parrish), comic artist and art editor at The Lifted Brow, about drawing, careers, cerebral junk food, and narrative lube.
When did you first realise that drawing and comics would become something that you'd devote a lot of time to?
The last five or six years I've been really trying to make art everything, but drawing has always been important, it’s what I'm good at and nothing else has ever been able to hold my interest. The periods of time when my head isn't a very nice place to be I can always escape into comics and everything else just melts away.
How long have you been involved with The Lifted Brow, and in what capacity/ies?
I’ve been involve with The Lifted Brow as the art editor for two-ish years, I’m not sure how long exactly. It’s a fun job. Lots of emails.
To me, one of the things that make TLB stand out from other magazines is, in general, its mix of the literary and the visual, and specifically its focus on comics and illustration. What kind of role do you see the artwork playing when you’re putting together an edition?
There’s a focus on comics because my whole life is comics and I choose what art goes into the magazine. My friend Marc Pearson came ‘on board’ about six months ago and started helping me out when I started to be too busy to do it all solo. It’s great to give my talented friends, whose careers are still a year or two from gaining a wider audience, a bit of a boost (Lee Lai, Merv Heers, Michael Hawkins, Nicky Minus). The main focus during my time at The [Lifted] Brow is making sure (at least) an equal amount of talented people of colour, women and queers are represented in the magazine as white men.
You’re also a contributor to advicecomics (although currently on hiatus?). How would you explain advicecomics to someone who's never seen them before?
advicecomics is this cool thing. What happens is people write in, often anonymously, seeking advice. The person asks one of the columnists (a character invented by one of the cartoonists in the group) and the character answers the question in comic form. Anyway then the answer is posted on tumblr. It’s a community builder, which is important because sharing opportunities is how everyone makes it.
Do you think there are any advantages in giving advice/arguing/explaining in comic form, both for you as an artist and for your audience?
I would say that the main drawback to giving advice through comics is time. Try to imagine how much time one comic takes and then multiply it by one million, especially if everything is hand painted.
Part of the original reason for advicecomics was trying to encourage comics to be earnest and loving while also offering a side project for cartoonist if they ever felt stuck. The melancholy in the advicecomics writing comes from most cartoonists being quite sensitive and self-indulgent people (I’m no different)... Everyone hates themselves almost as much as they love themselves. It’s a thing.
Visually speaking, your human characters tend to be of big proportions, sometimes with minimal facial features and small heads. To me, this evokes a sense of graceful strength – watching your characters can be like watching slow-moving giants. Do you have any comments on your style, and how it fits with the other themes in your work?
Balance and composition are incredibly important to me. I love reducing the figure to simple shapes, making the page pop with a palate that focuses on utilising complementary colours. A subtle purple plant amongst greenery against an orange brick wall and the whole page just explodes.
Making in this way is like junk food for my mind and eyes. It’s so satisfying. I used to feel a lot of anxiety around what I perceived to be a lack of stylistic consistency in my work. Like, sometimes the ‘character’ will just be a naked faceless body, just a vessel for writing; other times the character will be more fleshed out, with a vague personality and clothes and expressions. And then I got more confident and just thought fuck it. Different narratives demand different approaches. The comics that I’m most proud of are just collections of simple shapes and opposing colours. Placing an organic rounded body amongst the sharp geometric shapes of a building is like covering the character in lube, they just slip through the narrative without friction, they belong there, because without them the composition would stop working.
You have some books coming out soon. Can you talk about those? Do you have any other projects afoot currently?
I’ve been working on a book with US publisher 2dcloud for about 8 months now, it’s really close to being done. Sixty pages, full colour. Very sexy. Unfortunately because of printing and promotion and distro it won’t be released until fall 2016 which is October-ish. (It’ll be released at CAB or SPX which are North American alt comics festivals).
I have a mini coming out with an art book and publishing outfit called stilllife based in Atlanta, which will be a cute riso affair with a screen printed cover that will be out in a month. I’m making a mini for a project called Ley Lines, which is like fine art fan art (but that’s not due till next April). When I’m [finished] properly wrapping up this 2dcloud book I’ve been asked to pitch to a publisher who I’m really excited about (probs can’t say the name but omg).
Apart from that I’m in a show with some local cartoonists this December curated by Michael Hawkins in a space called Mailbox, and I'm in another gallery show that will have accompanying publications at the Art Gallery of Western Australia early next year.
Career-wise, what are the most important things you've done/biggest challenges you've overcome that have allowed you to get to where you are today?
I would say the biggest challenges have probably been my own self doubt. Having confidence in the stuff I make has been a real battle. Learning to be comfortable with how uncomfortably broke I've been for years and learning to not work so much that I completely neglect sleeping, eating and friendships. Brains don’t work well enough to make interesting art if you don't give them rest, food and interaction with other humans who appreciate you. My confidence is in a pretty good place right now, I like the direction my work’s going in, I like the people I spend time with and I’m outside enough to have a tan.
Do you have an idea for what you would like to achieve in your work, or for what would count as success/fulfilment?
I feel like my work is pretty on track. I’ve been full speed ahead with art (working very long days instead of going out and being a young person) for long enough for it to be a deep habit.
Things have been taking off a bit over the last year or so and it feels deserved. For the future I’d like my comics to keep changing and getting better, an income from art in the next few years would be welcomed, so the energy that goes towards making rent can go towards drawing what I want to draw instead. But I don’t know, life’s getting better all the time so it would be nice if that kept happening.
You’re credited in TLB as Katie Parrish, and known on tumblr as Tommi PG. What’s in a name?
I’ve always hated the name Katie Parrish, so I decided to change it.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
More tattoos, less sadness and anxiety, better comics and also 31.
To check out more of Tommi’s work click here .