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One-Shots: Nate Beaty

Nate Beaty has experienced the opposing poles of the West Coast: from living off the grid on Orcas Island to coding and commuting in Los Angeles, these geographical and cultural extremes have brought him to the physical center of the country. Drawing for pleasure (and sometimes for money) and pixel-pushing for money (but it seems to have its moments), his line-heavy illustrations are charming and funny, awkward and sad, and above all thoughtful, whether he's illustrating moments from his past relationships, someone else's story, or a plate of charcuterie. We talked about old advertisements, the awesome food in LA, and zines, while I tried to get a sense of how Nate's often autobiographical comics have followed him to the middle.

Name: Nate Beaty
Job: Cartoonist / Coder
Age: 35
Education: Self-taught
Awards: Blue Ribbon, 7th grade REACH diorama
Location: Humboldt Park
Hometown: Newport, OR
Favorite place in Chicago: Humboldt Park in winter

Self-portrait (on right in photo)

How did you get into self-publishing?

I got into self-publishing in 95'. A friend of mine, Keith Rosson, had a zine, Avow -- he actually just moved from Portland to Milwaukee. He did a zine with a friend in Seattle when I was living on the coast at the time, we actually lived together in Newport. But it was kind of artsy-fartsy independent publishing. There was a circle of literary zines, and poetry, and art, that we would trade across the country.

It was really interesting before the Internet connected people, it was really difficult to find networks of people that were into small publishing. But there was a pretty tight-knit group of people around the country that would trade things -- you would always get a ton of crap in the mail, a lot of crap, but still.

What were your first zines about? Was it other people's stuff, or yours, or a combination?

It was a combination. It was called White Space. I did that for a year, I did 10 issues. It's kind of embarrassing to look at, though I guess every early creative output is embarrassing. I would do some of the stuff, but most of it was other people.

When did you start getting the idea to collect stuff? I guess what I'm talking about is Brainfag Forever, your big collection.

It wasn't my idea, it was Microcosm Publishing's idea. They proposed it to me, to print a collection. It was kind of -- it was almost 10 years, too long, I was really tired of explaining the title, and I was retiring the comic and moving onto something else and Microcosm was like why don't we do a collection.

BFF: Brainfag Forever

How did you get in touch with them?

I guess the Zine Symposium, I lived with another cartoonist, Aaron Renier, we were both living together in Portland...I guess that's when we met everyone. We helped organize the 2002 Zine Symposium in Portland. I ended up meeting a lot of amazing people, including Joe from Microcosm. There was a pretty tight-knit group of people, which organized into a big event. It's super-stressful, a good way to meet people.

You bond.

You bond in the pain. So I met him through that and then I did their website...that's when I started doing websites, about that time. I did the website for Microcosm and the zine symposium, and I started becoming the go-to guy for independent publishing and websites.

Did you like drawing somebody else's story?

It was really far as comics go, I've only illustrated another person's story a couple of times, neither of them have turned out as well as I would have liked but...

You weren't pleased with The Motel Life?

Well, that was just like chapter illustrations.

Then I guess I'm talking about those too

I love doing that kind of work. It's less...pressure to have to come up with every little detail, it's kind of...I like working with limits. I like when there are constraints.

The Motel Life

That's kind of like coding. Sort of.

I think so, when somebody comes up with an idea for an illustration, I have a small scene to work with instead of this big, empty space where I have to come up with an idea.

Brainfag covers a lot of territory. Time-wise and life-wise. Do you find it easy to draw about relationships and your life?

I do in the aftermath. I see a lot of cartoonists, Liz Prince and Julia Wertz, they always have people being like don't draw this, because they keep drawing everything from their life. Honestly, it is easy to draw. To me, it feels almost like cheating, because it's like you don't have to write fiction. You just physically edit your life down into manageable bits.

How do you do that?

It's more of an intuitive thing. Just whatever was funny. My life seems to be a lot of tragedies, so there's a lot of material. A lot of comic opportunities.

The Great White Honky Visits South Korea

Why do you think life experience adapts well to comics? What qualities of drawing work well with what's happened to you? Or experiences in general?

I love reading other people's autobio stuff. It gives you immediate insight into that person. I honestly think most cartoonists find it pretty easy to write about themselves, because they're constantly self-aware and aware of things around them. And just hopefully picking up on different types of things that are funny. I guess there's other types of comics too.

I think it translates pretty easily.

Do you think your physical environment has affected how you've drawn?

Moving to Chicago, I've started drawing a lot grittier. I feel like I'm in a noir novel, walking around Chicago. It might have to do with mostly exploring the city at night.

I don't know if I've been affected that much, but I assume it happens without even thinking about it. My drawing style's all over the place, I seem to be kind of schizophrenic with styles.

It looks grittier, or what's been going on is grittier?

Both. I moved from LA, it was...such a drastic change, just a very established and solid job with health benefits, and I was in a relationship, and had a car, and everything seemed pretty set.

Completely black and white difference moving to Chicago. Single, back to freelance, got rid of the car and biking around again. More of a raw existence. Less supportive and less comforting.

Is it similar to living off the grid, or somewhere between there and LA, or somewhere between, not like any of that at all?

No...I miss that, for sure. I miss living out in the middle of nowhere.

What do you miss about it?

It's like's..what I miss about living on Orcas Island, which was one of my favorite places I lived, was that at night, it'd be completely silent, I mean dead silent and completely dark. It was just weird, it was just this a lack of sensory input. You could hear the highway across the Puget Sound, that was it. Something about that just completely slows down your thought process. Just a lot less things battering in your brain.

Had you ever been here before you moved?

No, I came here to visit for a week. And then I just decided to move here on a whim. I had no real reason to move here.

Do you like it?

Yeah. Chicago's amazing.

You said Chicago's darker and grittier. Los Angeles wasn't, for you?

My experiences in LA were driving to work at Universal Studios and sitting in an office. And then I'd drive to go get some food -- I'd always eat out. The food was amazing, that's one thing I'll miss about LA. But I'd just feel like I was always in some kind of cushioned seat, climate-controlled environments in this endless sea of comfort and money. It was kind of a lazy existence.

I moved here and it was freezing cold, around Thanksgiving, two winters ago. It was a very drastic difference. I've never lived in weather like this.


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