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Interview: Sarah Andersen

Wasting away my life on Tumblr means running into a lot of art. It can be someone’s fan art of their ideal relationship from their favorite show. It can also be something striving to make clear an insightful, unapologetic social perspective. Then again, it can be something that makes absolutely no sense, not even to the person who drew/wrote it. You run into all kinds of things, and you’re never at a loss for ingenious and unreal.

Some artists show up on my dash once or twice, and others show up once in a while. I can’t remember the first Doodle Time comic that I saw. But I know I liked its humor, and in particular the way creator Sarah Andersen drew herself. Eyes are one of my favorite things in art, and the eyes of the characters in Doodle Time have this great Peter Lorre quality to them. Sarah’s exaggerated self-portrait in particular features eyes that are wide awake, slowly going mad, and couldn’t give a damn about that. I’m sorry I can’t remember the first Doodle Time comic I read, but I know those things stuck out to me.

When Doodle Time made its way across my dash a couple more times, I finally got it into my head to visit Andersen’s own Tumblr. What I found were comics that reminded me of why I love the art form in the first place. Her Tumblr has thousands of followers. The “likes” for her Facebook page are over thirty-four-thousand and climbing. I’m clearly not alone in how much her comics amuse the hell out of me. Besides the artwork, Doodle Time manages to strike beautiful comedy and observational chords in just a handful of panels. The strips are never complex in design or writing, but that doesn’t make them any less relatable or riotous in their wisdom.

More and more artists who built their reputation online are finding book deals through major publishers. This has been going on for a few years now, but it’s become a more prevalent practice amongst large printing houses. I’m surprised Doodle Time hasn’t managed to garner that kind of attention. If it doesn’t, I have no doubt that Andersen herself eventually will. Her art and sense of humor can go in a variety of directions.

My favorite comic remains the one in which she illustrates her lifelong disinterest in having children. As much as I love how beautifully she expresses that opinion, I know the best is yet to come.

Drunk Monkeys: I have to admit that I’m a little surprised to see that you haven’t had a Doodle Timecollection released by a major publisher. It certainly seems to be a well that a lot of companies are going to right now.  Not only are you extremely popular, but you’re certainly producing some of the funniest material to be found anywhere right now. Have you not had any offers?

Sarah Andersen: I haven’t had any offers yet, but I also haven’t been actively seeking out publishers and pitching my work.  I hope to finish school first, and I also want to develop the comic strip a little bit more before I feel ready to pitch it as a book.  I do feel confidence that it will happen, but I’m going to be putting a lot of research, time, and thought into it first.

DM: Are you ever taken aback by the success of the comics? That’s not a comment on their quality. It just seems as though these comics became popular very, very quickly, and I’m always curious to know how the artist in question feels about that. I suspect people love the artwork, especially the way you depict facial expressions, but I also think the best of your comics have this phenomenal way of resonating strongly with people.

SADoodle Time’s success took me completely by surprise because I never expected to do comics.  I just made comics for kicks to make my friends laugh, and posted them when I was bored at work. When one of the comics went semi-viral I was shocked because it literally happened overnight.  Seeing the way people responded to them was what actually convinced me to continue them and take the strip more seriously.

DM: My favorite to date is the one in which we see your character states through a variety of ages that she has no interest in children. People respond over and over again with complete disbelief, and not a single fuck is given all the live long day. What are some of the comics that you’ve gotten the most feedback on?

SA: Thank you!  I think to date that’s the one that has gotten the most response, and I’m really happy about that.  I love when I make a comic about something that I think no one will relate to, and then I realize that a lot of people share the same feeling.  Comics where I express anxiety or laziness usually get the most response; the first one that went truly “viral” was about me not wanting to get up in the morning.

DM: Do have any interesting or even surprising experiences come out of that feedback?

SA: Honestly, the internet being what it is, I expected to get a lot of hate.  I was prepared to defend myself.  But I’ve gotten an overwhelmingly positive response from people.  I get kind, heartfelt messages on a daily basis.  People send me pictures of their pets and stuff.  It’s a pleasant surprise.

DM: How long have you been drawing? At what point did it become something that you wanted to share with the world at large?

SA: I have always loved drawing.  I decided I wanted to be an illustrator very early in my life, probably around fourth grade.  I always hoped my life would take me to a place where I could express something meaningful with my work, and although I’m still currently working to become an illustrator, being known for my comics is incredibly rewarding for me.

DM: A few of your strips detail your perspective of the college experience. Can I ask what you’re studying? You certainly seem to get a lot of people who read the strips about things like studying and finals, and respond with “My god, she really, really gets it.”

SA: I’m actually studying Illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art!  And the finals are really hard.  We have to study and write papers for our academic classes, but our main classes require us to complete illustrations for our finals.  It’s not a good time to have an art block, trust me.

DM: Take us through the process of an average strip, from conception to publication. How long do they usually take?

SA: I usually come up with the idea while daydreaming sometime during the week.  I used to stay up almost all night on Fridays trying to brainstorm for something to post on Saturday, but finding ideas has gotten easier over time.  Usually somewhere around Thursday I sketch it out and then ink it with a brush, then scan it and clean everything up in Photoshop.  I also make the panels in Photoshop.  This is all usually in one sitting and in the course of 2-3 hours.

DM: Is there a part of the process you enjoy the most?

SA: I like scanning and finalizing everything.  It’s just rewarding to have everything be completed and put together neatly.

DM: Comics published online are certainly not a new invention, but the potential for an appreciative audience for a writer and artist has never been greater. Are there aspects to publishing your comics online that are particularly appealing to you? Is there anything about it that frustrates or infuriates you?

SA: Without the internet, I would never have even considered making comics regularly.  The internet allows a sort of direct connection with fans and readers that hasn’t existed before. Underdogs really have a shot online, because it doesn’t matter who you are; if it’s good material, people will respond to it.  However, a problem I find is the appeal of the lowest common denominator—something that just relates to the masses without having something clever or intelligent to say.  I consider this a lot when I make comics, and I push myself to try to say something innovative instead of just making something that a lot of people will like.

DM: In terms of your humor and style, do you have any influences?

SA: In terms of character design, I was heavily influenced by characters like Yotsuba and Ponyo who are sweet and expressive.  After I watched Ponyo, I loved the way her pupils dilated depending on her emotions.  Before then, I only drew black dots for eyes.

I also am influenced by Calvin and Hobbes.  I created the rabbit character because I love the dialogue that Calvin has with his sophisticated stuffed animal.

DM: Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?

SA: Definitely.  It hasn’t happened yet though.  I always think I’ve come up with the best idea I can, and then when the pressure to make a new comic comes, I somehow manage to come up with a new one.

DM: One of the greatest things about your comics is the way in which you can find the ability to be both hilarious and applicable in a space that’s pretty small. Are there any ideas that you’ve tried to commit to a comic, but just haven’t been able to figure out how?

SA: I very recently started making political cartoons, but they haven’t seen the light of day.  I’m way too naïve and uninformed to actually put them online, but I might start uploading them once I feel that I’ve researched a news topic thoroughly and can defend my position on it.  However, I love thatDoodle Time doesn’t take a side politically, so who knows.

An example: I made one about Julian Assange stealing a friend’s diary out of curiosity and discovering that the author wrote about a murder he committed.  Julian reports him, but then he gets arrested for stealing the diary and the author goes free.  Is that clever or just kind of stupid?  You be the judge.

DM: Are there any artists or websites you’d love to plug?

Yeah! Beth Evans and Claire Jarvis deserve a mound of attention because they’re wonderful.  I often felt like I was aligned with them because we write about similar things and gained popularity through Tumblr.  An old school cartoonist I absolutely adore is Sam Gross, so check him out too.

DM: There’s a rabbit that appears in a number of Doodle Time strips, and I was wondering if there was any kind of reason for that or backstory.

SA: Well, I don’t actually have a rabbit.  I have seven.   They’re at home in Connecticut.  There’s one I love particularly though whose name is Sunshine, and he is the main inspiration for the rabbit character.   I felt that I needed someone for “cartoon Sarah” to bounce her thoughts off of.  So naturally, it was a rabbit.

DM: Outside of Doodle Time, are there any comic or other art projects from you that we can look forward to?

SA: Two things!  In a few months there should be a Doodle Time animated short that I’m making right now with a friend from Savannah College of Art and Design.

I also recently decided that I’m going to stop posting my illustrations on the Doodle Time blog.  I’m going to start illustrating under a pen name.  I don’t want my illustrations to gain popularity just because I’m affiliated with a popular cartoon, so illustrating under a pen name will encourage me to make good work with integrity.  I’m not sure if I should release the pen name publicly on the Doodle Time Tumblr. For now I’ll just say that if you want to know the name, inbox me and I’ll send you a link to my illustration-only page.

Check out more of Sarah Andersen’s work on her Tumblr and Facebook pages.