Canadian artist/writer Rolli has made a splash in the worlds of cartooning and literature with his singular comedic sensibility. His cartoons have been featured in Reader’s Digest and The Harvard Review. He has released collections of short fiction, including the critically acclaimedGod’s Autobio, and the recent I Am Currently Working on a Novel.
Recently, Rolli spoke to Matthew Guerruckey about his new book, how he approaches his art, and coffee, coffee, coffee.
Drunk Monkeys: Where did you grow up?
Rolli: The exact geographical middle of nowhere. The good thing about nowhere is you have lots of free time. The bad thing is the coffee. The coffee is terrible.
DM: When did you begin to write?
R: Seriously, nine years ago. Long enough, I should think.
DM: When did you begin to work in cartoons?
R: Not quite a pair of years ago. I never wanted to be a cartoonist, but submitted some things on a whim. First sale was to Reader’s Digest. Within a few months I was selling to the Harvard Business Review, Adbusters, the Chronicle of Higher Education—big markets, for cartoonists. Writing has been just the opposite—being rejected for years and years, with the biggest markets always (and still) out of reach. No matter: I’m a writer first, a cartoonist second.
DM: What writers and artists made the most impact on you growing up?
R: The first writer I ever loved was Poe. The first artist, Van Gogh. I still love them a lot.
DM: Do you approach cartooning in a different way than you approach writing?
R: I don’t think so. The process is the same. Coffee, brainstorming, coffee, execution, coffee, distraction, coffee, obsessive reworking, coffee.
DM: What do you get out of art as opposed to writing, and vice versa?
R: Money. Magazines will pay good money for cartoons and illustrations. For stories and poems, not so much.
DM: The opening section of I Am Currently Working on a Novel features a pretty scathing look at Hollywood–what is your own personal experience with Hollywood, or Los Angeles in general?
R: I have never been to Los Angeles. I haven’t gone a week without dreaming of Los Angeles, not for many, many years. All the best nightmares and dreams these days come from Los Angeles. If I ever went there, I’d probably drop dead of ecstasy and terror.
DM: What do you find the biggest differences are between Canada and the US?
R: Not well-travelled enough to say. I once met an American—a North Dakotan—who asked me if I lived in an igloo. Of course I said yes.
DM: You do performances at schools—what sort of energy do those shows have?
R: I drink an enormous amount of coffee. When I do readings for children, I drink even more than that. Teenagers—that’s a tough crowd. I’d use a megaphone but I don’t think they’d hear me.
DM: When you have an idea, how do you decide whether to turn it into a story or a cartoon?
R: No, it isn’t like that. I shake my head for writing ideas (or cartoon ideas, if I need those) and see what falls out. I drink coffee—and I shake my head—every day.
DM: What’s next for you?
R: Coming soon: a Gothic novel-in-poems called Mavor’s Bones. A pair of titles in 2016—a novella,The Sea-Wave (Guernica Editions) and a children’s book, Kabungo (Anansi/Groundwood). I don’t really care for novels. I’m currently working on a novel—but really, a novel-in-stories—about an aristocratic family and their robot butler circa the End of the World. I call it The Gorgeous Meteor.That should probably be finished sometime around the End of the World.
Rolli’s latest book, I Am Currently Working on a Novel, is now available from Tightrope Books.