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Feature Wed May 19 2010
Sarah Becan's comics are small and intimate, but manage to convey worlds of feeling and meaning within their loosely drawn figures and sometimes shifting panel borders. The author and illustrator behind the Shuteye series and the The Complete Ouija Interviews, she is also a founder of Shortpants Press, a small, independent press dedicated to comics, zines, and prints. Recently, she has begun chronicling her journey towards healthier living with the online comic Sauceome: in addition to being touching and funny, it makes me want to drink good beer and drink it in moderation. That's pretty impressive.
Name: Sarah Becan
Job: Creative Director/Designer/Illustrator by day, Comics Artist and Accordionist by night
Education: Beloit College (BA in Studio Art and Modern Languages)
Awards: Xeric Foundation Grant, Stumptown Trophy Award -- Outstanding Debut
Location: Logan Square/Avondale
Hometown: Er, none? I was born in Beaumont, Texas, but we moved around so much that I don't really have any hometown connection anywhere. I've lived in Orange, TX; Wilmington, DE; Plano, TX; St. Louis, MO; and Beloit, WI. My parents are in San Antonio, but I never lived there. Of all of these places, Chicago is my favorite. Can it be my hometown?
Website: www.jakze.com, www.shortpantspress.com
Favorite place in Chicago: Hm. That is tough. As it's just starting to warm up, I will go with the patio at the Logan Square Small Bar on a Sunday afternoon, as long as everyone reading this doesn't head over there right now, that patio is small and gets crowded pretty fast.
Did you start writing and making comics in Chicago, or was that kind of a long-term thing?
I was always doing it just for myself -- my mother pointed out one time that my first published piece was when I was nine years old, in Cricket magazine. It was very Calvin and Hobbes inspired.
Even in high school and college, when I knew I wanted to do cartooning, I didn't do much beyond political cartoons for the newspaper and stuff for art classes. It wasn't until I moved here -- it was the first Ouija Interview comic...that was what made me want to do it in earnest, to go to comic book conventions and comic book stores and distribute the book.
The Ouija Interviews
What made you choose the Ouija Interviews as a first self-publishing effort?
All of those stories were based on actual sessions with the Ouija board. My brother was working in a youth hostel in Nantucket Island, and the hostel was in this 200-year-old building that used to be a lifesaving station -- very old, very romantic, isolated kind of quiet corner of the island within the town. We went to go visit him, and at night the fog would roll in, lights would mysteriously turn on and off, and he pulled out the glow-in-the-dark Ouija board and a bottle of wine.
What made you pick that particular event -- what made it stand out strongly?
I had never used a Ouija board before, I was raised Catholic and taught to be afraid of it. I guess I thought that a Oujia board session was going to be a lot more creepy and spooky, and it wasn't -- I don't know if it was because my brother had been doing it so long, or it's just the kind of person he was, but any time someone came on the board and it started to turn sort of dark or sinister or anything, he would just be like "okay, we're not talking to you, good-bye."...we waited until the story was kind of silly and the couple of stories that came out with the first time around were small, slight, kind of simple -- but at the same time, they're these little slices of life, like you're born, this is what happens, and then you die. The circumstances of their individual stories....I found them moving.
It does get pretty dark though, at some points.
Yeah...the fourth one especially, I've been told, is extremely dark.
How did you get the Ouija Board interviews published here? What was the process?
I kind of just did it all on my own, I was, I didn't submit it to any publishers or anything, I was hanging out with some people from Columbia College, we were meeting weekly and exchanging creative processes and stuff like that -- someone wrote a story, someone wrote a poem, I was working on my comics. The first one that I did, I just had it as a big picture, like all in a row, and I realized it would make a much nicer small book. I printed it out at Kinko's, I had a Gocco printer that I used for the cover. I only made a dozen copies, just to see how it would work, and I handed it out to people.
What happened next?
They were selling...not slowly, but slowly enough that I didn't have to keep reprinting them. My brother had a written a couple of short stories that he liked a lot. He wasn't doing anything with them, so I turned two of them into little short story comic books: that was the start of the Shuteye series.
Did you collaborate with your brother a lot growing up?
Not really, we didn't even really collaborate. We gave me the short stories, but we didn't talk much about them when I was working on it. He still claims he can take credit for the books. The brother who was at the Ouija Interviews was my older one, my brother who wrote the short stories is my younger one. My younger brother and I were always very close growing up, we'd play make-believe a lot. We're in a band together, he plays fiddle. And he brews his own beer, and he cooks.
Nice -- when I was reading Sauceome, I kept wondering where all the great craft beer came from. Getting into Sauceome, how is it different writing and drawing your own stories? The Ouija Interviews and Shuteye are very personal, but they're based on other people's stories. What's it like telling your own stories?
Sauceome was terrifying when I started. I'm still really terrified - I put a lot of personal stuff into the Shuteye stories, but it's fiction, there's still that wall, that mask that you can put on to protect you. This is the first time I've done any extended auto-bio stuff, and even if it weren't such a raw issue with me, it's hard to expose yourself to people, to be completely honest.
There's so much wrapped up in it, so much history, things that family has told you, things that happened in 4th grade.
Do you think it's a lot harder to write your own story?
I find it a lot more emotionally difficult. When I'm sitting there doing Shuteye or the Ouija Interviews, I can sit there and craft something that I think is pretty, Sauceome occasionally gets ugly. It's an ugliness that I think on a daily basis we don't like to admit to ourselves is there.
One of the reasons I like it so much is because it's so familiar -- even if it's not exactly your experience, you can still relate to it, and it really rings true.
That's another thing I've been really surprised at -- I mean maybe it was hubris or self-absorption that made me think these were my issues and mine alone, and they're universal. It makes me actually a little bit angry, that no matter what size, no matter how beautiful I think they are, it feels this way, that everyone hates themselves at times.
I feel like you get a really great sense of Chicago food within Sauceome...do you think that's tied to place, or is it just you, anywhere?
I think that yes, it's a Chicago comic. It couldn't be me anywhere. Nowhere -- very few places -- have the culinary landscape that Chicago has.
Do you think you're going to keep putting out Sauceome as a daily thing?
Yes, I think for the forseeable future. I guess at the beginning I was telling myself it was until I was happy with my weight or whatever. I feel like we hold these emotions inside, and they gain a life of their own, and become a monster.
Those dark thoughts, when they stay inside your head, they get bigger and bigger and just gain this life of their own sometimes. When you speak them aloud, they're suddenly small and stupid again. Putting it down on pages and black and white is even more solid.