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Interview Wed Jun 06 2012

A Slice of CAKE: Spotlight Marian Runk

This month marks the inaugural celebration of CAKE, the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo. It will be a weekend full of chances to enjoy the world of comics through panels, discussions and, of course, the expo component. The range of guests includes self publishers, professionals and educators. This column, A Slice of CAKE, will come in two parts, both spotlighting a different artist who will be exhibiting at the expo.

First up is comics artist Marian Runk, a Texas-raised Midwest transplant who has taken up residency in Chicago for over a decade now. Runk is settling in, bird watching, working in the public health field, and emerging as a name in the comics community.

As part of CAKE, Runk will be sitting on one of the many June 16 panels, discussing the topic of Women and Graphic Autobiography. She will also debut her new comic, The Magic Hedge #2, at the tabling portion of the expo. I had a chance to chat with her about her process, her new issue, and her passion for her work.

Your work draws on personal experience, focusing on simplification and reduction, which help to connect with the reader. How did you come to use this process?

I think both memoir and comics are great vehicles for introducing readers to characters and topics they don't always think they want to meet. My first year of grad school, I made a life-sized comics panel that expressed anger at my mom's unwillingness to talk to me about my queer "lifestyle." Among other things, there was a painting of a lesbian orgy hung up on the wall, some text coming out of a telephone that said "deal with me," and a comfy chair. One of my (straight male) classmates said "I sat in the chair and thought about all the things my family disapproves of in my life." That really illustrates why I make autobiographical comics -- to connect with people at a personal and emotional level. Humor is that other huge thing that can disarm your reader and allow this to happen. Laughing with someone allows you to share their experience for a moment.

Putting forth yourself fully in your issues, do you feel pressure at times to be a representative voice for your community?

I don't feel pressure to represent my community, but I do feel an obligation to present my community with honest and interesting images of ourselves.

Having grown up in Texas, how has becoming a Midwesterner informed your art?

As a Texan transplant, I find my inspiration in the people of Chicago. I work in public health so I meet sometimes 50-plus new Chicagoans every day. They're almost all awesome, or at least a joy to chat with for a few minutes. As I get older I find that I'm clinging to the idea of "Texas" more and more, probably due to some sort of midlife-crisis-induced nostalgia. But I think living in the Midwest for a decade has made me a more empathetic and reasonable person. It's definitely made my "A's" all funky. I'm one of those people who can't help adopting the local accent.

Magic Hedge #2 by Marian Runk
Artwork from Magic Hedge #2

What can readers expect in your new release The Magic Hedge #2?

The Magic Hedge #2 will recount my usual bird-watching adventures in Chicago, but much of this issue -- Firsts, Seconds, and Endings -- will return to my childhood growing up in Dallas. Topics covered include Snowy Owls, first memories, awkward childhood crushes, adult heartache, my former life as a teenage ballerina, and childhood mentors lost to the AIDS epidemic. I experimented a little more with style in this issue. You get to see what I would look like as an octopus!

What are a few things you enjoy about Chicago's independent self-publishing scene?

I'm a self-publishing cartoonist and a printmaker -- what is there not to love about this town? Stores like Quimby's and Chicago Comics have been incredibly supportive and good to me, community studios like Spudnik Press and North Branch Projects thrive here, reading series like Two Cookie Minimum and Brain Frame, Chicago Zinefest and now CAKE... The community of cartoonists, artists, and printers in Chicago is amazing and supportive of each other in a really unique way. I'm never leaving.

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