Published on July 1st, 2012 | by Alison Kjeldgaard1
Interview with Comic Writer MariNaomi
MariNaomi is one of those unique comic artists (and writers in general) who can lead you into a dark abyss and bring you out laughing.
“Despite having loads of opinions about most given subjects,” Mari admits in her artist’s statement, “I am utterly passionate about not taking myself seriously.”
A self-taught artist who grew up in the Bay Area, MariNaomi has been writing comics since 1997. She has self-produced a mini-comics series, Estrus Comics, has been featured in multiple anthologies and regularly writes online columns for a variety of publications.
Her novel, Kiss and Tell: a Romantic Resume Ages 0 to 22, is a prime example of the lighthearted humor that she expertly weaves into her adolescent stories of life, love and loss. Far more than just the fun and fluff suggested by its title, Kiss and Tell catalogues the author’s romantic relationships, wrapping each neatly into a single story. Adolescent yearning and the pangs of growing up string the relationships together, building into heavier themes of sexual identity, drug experimentation and heartbreak.
The real magic of MariNaomi as an artist is her ability to depict herself so unflinchingly. Her comics find energy and humor in the utter mortification of her comic self. She is merciless in her presentation, never willing to censor herself or cover up mistakes. By the end of all of her memoirs, you can’t help but love Mari for her quirks and eccentricities, and sheer acceptance of herself.
Art Animal had the chance to chat with MariNaomi over coffee in SOMA about her early aspirations to become a novelist, dancing naked in a hotel room, and her newest comics.
Art Animal: Which came first: comics, art or storytelling?
MariNaomi: Storytelling. But I always drew and doodled and stuff. I never had any aspirations with that. I wanted to be a writer because I thought that would be cool, I guess.
AA: What made them come together?
MN: When I first started reading comics that were amazing. I was like, “Oh, I didn’t know you could do that. That’s really cool.”
AA: Any particular comic that inspired you?
MN: Jizz by Scott Russo. That was the first one I read that I was interested in. It was a couple of years later that I started actually doing my own comics.
AA: I feel like it’s hard, at least as a writer, to go from a story and then having to pare it down. Do you ever feel the same?
MN: It’s kind of like editing. You say a picture is worth a thousand words – I’d say it’s probably more like 100.
AA: I love that your comics make me laugh while still exploring darker themes. Did that come naturally or was that a skill you had to develop?
MN: It’s mostly intuitive. For a lot of comics, I put a lot of thought into how my stories are going to be. But I do want to be funny. If I write something and I think it’s too heavy-handed, I’ll say, “Ok, where can I infuse some humor in it?”
AA: Your Rumpus comics are pretty dark. Was this something new for you?
MN: I feel like those are all a little darker than I am. But I like what I’ve been doing. I’ve been learning. I’m completely self-taught at everything and I feel like these were a really good lesson to me on how I can be a better storyteller and stuff. But yeah, when I started doing them, I was like, “God, these are so depressing. I have to do something that’s not depressing.”
AA: Like your restaurant reviews in SFBay.ca? They’re so fun!
MN: Thanks! I mean, they’re not super professional for reviews, but it just seemed like a fun way to get a tax write-off at some restaurants.
AA: That’s always a good thing in our line of work. Tell me about your other stuff. Have you always done memoirs? Ever been interested in fiction?
MN: I wanted to be a novelist since the age of, like, three. I don’t even know if I could write yet but I remember telling people that I wanted to write. I know I did because in my kindergarten autobiography I said, “I want to be a writer or a scientist of caterpillars.” Which I haven’t done yet, but…
AA: Who inspired you to be a writer?
MN: I really liked what Mary Fleener especially was doing. She told stories about her crazy roommate. That’s one of my favorite stories ever: she has this roommate who’s, like, really busty and always getting taken advantage of by guys, but she went along with it. It was so sad and funny. That really inspired me. I was like, “I’ve got stories like that! I can tell stories!”
AA: So, biggest question of the day: did you really meet Duran Duran like you wrote about in “Heartthrobs” on the Rumpus?
MN: Mmhmm. That was one of the stories where I was like, “How much do I tell?”
AA: Do you think anyone from the band ever read it?
MN: I know one of the groupies did because I saw some comments that people sent me on Twitter. People were thinking that it didn’t happen. Really? It’s not like I’m saying I slept with Duran Duran. I just happened to be there…
AA: I mean, you did take Roger Taylor’s underwear…
MN: Yeah, but it’s not like I took it off him!
AA: I love one of the final panels in “Heartthrobs” that shows a bird’s eye view of the backyard, with each band member drawn as a star in the center of a circle.
MN: Seriously, that’s exactly what it looked like. I mean, we got there early so we got to talk to some of them, but it was just like little clusters of people and each one was at the center of each cluster.
AA: I love how at the beginning of Kiss and Tell you say, “This is dedicated to my parents who I pray will still speak to me after they read the contents of this book.” For me, it’s hard to really lay it all out there. Was that difficult for you?
MN: I’m one of those too-much-information people so it kind of came naturally to me. [My editor] wanted more information about my parents and that was really hard because I get along with them so well now, but back then we had such an awful relationship. Not awful – that’s harsh. But we didn’t get along, especially me and my dad.
There’s always this fine line about, ok, I want to tell a good story and tell an honest story, but what part of the story is mine and what belongs to other people? I don’t want to violate someone else’s privacy as a result. So that was the toughest part for me, just to balance that. For me, I’ll tell anything. I’m constantly pushing my boundaries. I don’t want to get embarrassed by anything because I know it makes a good story.
AA: Yeah, there’s something about getting a story out to the world that changes how you felt about it.
MN: Totally, it’s cathartic! The other day, while I was in Ohio – it was so embarrassing – I was trying to get to sleep, but I couldn’t because of the three-hour time difference. I had to get up early in the morning to do the show, but I had all this energy since I’d been sitting on the plane all day. I was like, “shit, I’m just going to dance around. Naked.” I had my stupid black socks on because I don’t want to walk on the nasty parts of the carpet in the hotel. I’m a horrible dancer, so I’m just flailing all over the place. The lights were on and I didn’t really think anything of it because there were curtains that I thought were curtain curtains. But no: they’re sheer curtains that look right into another hotel room. And I’m like, “oh my God, that’s horrible! I hope I’m not recognizable! What if someone were taping this and they put it on YouTube and someone recognizes me. Oh my God. I’m going to be like that Jedi kid.” I was just mortified. But I thought about it the next day and even drew my cellulite as I was jiggling around.
AA: Do you have any other stories like that where writing helped you feel better about the situation?
MN: There’s a chapter in [Kiss and Tell] where my boyfriend in high school is going down on me. I felt kind of funny and as I realized that I got my period. I turn on the light and realize that he’s covered in blood, I’m covered in blood, and that’s when my parents come down the stairs and they’re like, “Mari, why is your light on?” And I’m like, “Ahhh! Get in the closet!” It was so mortifying.
AA: Do you ever think, “I’m going to write a story about this?”
MN: Sometimes. When I started working at the hostess bar in San Jose, I was just thinking that I could use it for a book in the future. There were definitely things I did – when I was younger especially – where I was like, “this would make a good scene in the story, or, “I should be more adventurous so I can live life and write about it later.”