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How fighting depression, finding the muse in everyday living, and lifting her voice propelled her

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

In the past, when I thought of comics, I thought of Marvel and superheroes. Superman saving the day. Batman and Robin. Maybe Calvin and Hobbes and the Far Side. I wasn’t familiar with autobiographical or diary genres in comics. It was a medium that I didn’t consider very much.

But Emily Clancy is changing the way that I think about comics. I see them now as a means of authentic storytelling. It’s a form of self-expression that can be relatable, honest and funny - though it doesn’t always have to be. The way that she captures small moments in ordinary days or observations extracted from casual interactions - feel both familiar and profound. There’s a depth to her writing that I find thought provoking.

In her recently self-published zine, “Getting Up Soon,” she quilts together memories, conversations, and dreams to tell the story of a relationship that isn’t destined to be. It’s poignant and funny and a little heartbreaking.

I love that Emily’s daughter is a frequent muse. Motherhood - particularly single motherhood - isn’t often reflected in mainstream comics. Emily is drawn to female comic writers/illustrators who are out there creating a community through their work. It’s part of what motivated her to delve into it herself. That and the need to raise her voice - raise it to be heard. I love what she says about finding herself through creating comics. That when she began drawing, suddenly she was really digging into what she was going through. Isn’t that what we all aspire to as artists and writers? It’s through self-exploration and the process of creating something meaningful that leads us to healing.

Here’s what she has to say about her art, healing and the meaning of this quarters theme: vision and vibrance.

Tell us about your journey of writing and drawing:

I’ve always done both, but I was much more of a writer when I was younger. As a child, I wrote songs and poetry and recorded myself on cassettes. I was perpetually building inventions and sewing doll clothes and costumes, and like most kids, I drew plenty of pictures.

How did that evolve into you creating comics?

I loved comics and never missed the newspaper comics – the daily ones as well as the color version on Sunday. But I didn’t try to imitate them or have a drawing practice. Comics seemed to come organically as doodles when I was bored at school, or as a way to illustrate handmade greeting cards. But I didn’t make any for a long time.

In 2018, I attended a local comics fest and saw so many people who were invested in indie and autobiographical comics as a medium. I remembered storytelling through comics myself in high school and earlier and decided to try it again.

Is it a healing process for you, and if so, how?

I think others can relate to the feeling that the world is saturated with good (and bad) writing and incessant messaging via social media. Fifteen years ago this manifested as “do I have something original enough to make a blog about?” Now, we might be tempted to weigh in on a social media feed, but feel intimidated about representing ourselves accurately online. “Should I share this post, or will I alienate my friends?”

I began to feel that I was losing my voice – I didn’t have something unique to add to political conversations, but talking about the toast I burned that morning didn’t merit mentioning either. Dropping out of the conversation didn’t make much sense: As a single parent, I am thankful for social media for its original purpose. It keeps me in touch with friends, and creates little pockets of community that are otherwise inaccessible in my daily life. So far, I’ve felt more like myself than I ever have sharing posts, blogging, or with art or writing by themselves. It’s a calling that comes from the center of my being.

I’ve fought depression and anxiety for most of my life, and I’ve tended to shut down when I felt I couldn’t cope. But there’s a consensus now that just resting, or dwelling on issues, doesn’t relieve them in and of itself. When I began drawing, suddenly I was working hard, digging directly into what I was going through. Instead of just losing that time, I have something to show for it – and a way to reach out to people about it too.

You incorporate everyday experiences, yourself and your daughter into your stories/art – what are the rewards in doing so?

Comics provide a unique way to add meaning to the small moments that make up our lives.

I think the obvious reward in telling a story about all the reasons you’re late for work is that it’s so readily accessible to the audience – it’s fun knowing you’ve made people laugh or that you’ve touched them because they can relate. It’s been fun to write about my daughter and represent motherhood in comics. She is her own person, too, so it’s important to me not to show her in ways she doesn’t feel comfortable with, or to share parts of her life without her consent. She enjoys it for the most part, but she’s almost 9 and that may not always be the case!

Autobiographical and diary comics are a popular genre, and to some extent our experiences are redundant with each other, so delivering something original is still a challenge. Not only that, it can feel indulgent in today’s world of poverty, war, racism, and sexism to focus on these tiny sources of stress I experience as a middle-class white person – they wouldn’t even be worth mentioning in many contexts. I try to incorporate more real-world issues sometimes, and welcome side projects that allow me to address them too. But I hope that the appeal of art, and commonality of our human experience, delivers something of value to people who aren’t just like me as well.

Are there any downsides to using personal experiences in creating your comics?

My art takes so much time! When I started, my passion made it easy to stay up late at night. It’s really made me much more focused with the small amounts of free time that I have, and I’ve had to sacrifice other options – ironically, a social life. And quite often, the dishes. But mostly, it’s just wonderful.

With more time, I would be doing abstract mixed media, marker portraits, and life drawing. Those things have to wait while I chase my comics dreams but you’ll see bits of other kinds of art included in my books, because I can’t help myself.

Who inspires you artistically?

I’m going to go heavy instead of light here because I want to illustrate that this is really just the tip of this community. In no order, some of these inspire me with their productivity and discipline, or their commitment to comics and the community. Others on my list are making fine art or coming from that realm; and finally, some are just making brilliant comics. All of these are on Instagram but there’s a world of print I’m surely ignoring beyond that digital closet.

Sara Lautman, Rebekah Evans, Rebecca Kirby, avocado_ibuprofen, Simone Rein, Barrett Stanley, Adam Meuse, Kristine Compton, Fifi Martinez, Zoe Belsinger, Laura Knetzger, Katie Schofield, Max Huffman, Keiler Roberts, Amie Wilensky, M. Sabine Rear, Liz Bolduc, Alison Zai, Michael DeForge, Sara Harvey, Rosa Brodsky, Joanna Blitch, Bubby Wade, Carolita Johnson, Andrew Neal, Emmett Helen, Elise Dietrich, Ness Garza, Tori Holder, revelies, Eleanor Doughty, Matty Sheets, Mike Banas, Kira Rasure, Julia Gootzeit, Scott Hensel, and Caroline Smith.

The theme for this issue is Vibrant|Vision – what’s your interpretation of that and what is the connection to your art and writing?

I take this to mean energy and clarity of sight. It feels familiar - ideas often come to me as flashes that are either complete ideas or images. Sometimes they capture a new perspective that I represent as a visual metaphor – as a kaleidoscope that only contains images of myself inside, of two people seeing a rainbow from different angles, or in what we tend to see when we look low or high.

You can find Emily on IG: @mundanewizardry

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