Since it's inception in 1992, Image Comics has been known as a bastion for independent comics and unique creative voices in the comics’ world. Founded by seven mainstream superhero artists, it’s gone on to accumulate the most diverse slate of comics from classic superheroics like Astro City to whimsical cartooning like Bone, and coming up in December they debut a new name from the world of mini-comics.
Emi Lenox's stories mix the quixotic with the charismatic, all with amazing heart and unabashed charm. From stories about boyfriends and exes to breakfast burritos and cat armies, Lenox takes her life and injects it with humor, superheroes and good old-fashioned cartooning spirit. She came into the comics’ scene by way of internships at two Portland comics’ institutions – Top Shelf and Periscope Studio. Working in and around comics led her to take her habit of diaries into the comics medium and a series of sketchbooks. These sketchbooks found there way into mini-comics – mini-comics which caught the attention of Image Comics. And now with her upcoming professional debut in the graphic novel EmiTown this December, people get to see her work for the first time.We recently spoke with the creator... Newsarama: So Emi, what can you tell us about EmiTown?
Emi Lenox: Well, it began as a private sketch diary for about six months until my internship mentors encouraged I put it online and then it became a web comic. It's basically all the big and little things that happen each day that I would like to remember along with random doodles!It's definitely not your usual diary comic. There are no synchronized panels or punch lines but rather thoughts and reflections placed on paper like they would pop in your mind.
Nrama: You've got numerous stories in here – so let's pick out one and go in-depth.
Lenox: Okay. There is a small story-line that starts in May and goes through August about a guy I had dated. It was told mainly with the superheroes Ocean Girl and Octozoid. Ocean Girl was named this because I met him at the beach and his name became Octozoid because one day he couldn't remember the word trapezoid. It became a story about a heroine and her sidekick and then at the end...well...let's just say...He wasn't the sidekick to just one heroine.
Nrama: [laughs] Your comics show off an amazingly heartfelt adoration of the common things in life – do you think you’re like your comics?
Lenox: Oh yes. I mean, it's a diary comic. I am basically drawing and writing things that I think in my own mind. It's basically me in comic form! There are so many awesome things happening everyday and life is so much more pleasant when you pay attention to those things.
Nrama: Since your comics pull from your own life – do you ever edit or censor yourself about certain things?Lenox: I try not to. There are times when I'll stop and think when thumb-nailing a page and wonder if I should just be honest or worry about how I'm representing myself. Generally, I think if that's who I am then why be afraid to show it? For other things, such as romantic ventures, I tend to go and hide a bit in metaphors such as the army cats and superheroes. I like to think I'm still being honest, but in a vague way which leaves room for people to interpret and hopefully makes it easier for them to relate.
Nrama: I read you only started doing comics recently – but did you keep a diary before that? If so, can you tell us how those might compare to the comics?
Lenox: I have always struggled to keep track of my life and it's become important to me to hang on to memories and moments. I have tried keeping a written journal but to no avail. It was hard for me to write in it everyday and I think in more visual terms rather than with words.
I've always drawn since I was a wee child but had taken a 5-year hiatus due to a relationship. When that fell apart and as a result of other events following, I had to rediscover who I was and what I wanted. I also had a lot of pent up emotions with no release. I started the sketch diary in October 2008 to get back into the groove of drawing as well as getting out some frustrations I was experiencing with life.
Nrama: How does a typical story from EmiTown come about? Do you carry around a notepad with you at all times?
Lenox: I do have a notepad! Usually, I wait until the next day to reflect on what had happened the day prior. I note the things that I wanted to document and then choose from those what would work best for the page. I then thumbnail it and then draw it out in the sketchbook I have devoted for EmiTown. I have filled up seven volumes of hardbound sketchbooks thus far. I scan the page, tone in Photoshop, and presto!Nrama: Do you have a notepad with you right now? If so, what are you working on?
Lenox: I do! I'm working on thumb-nailing the past 70-plus days of missed EmiTown pages. I had fallen behind due to organizing the book and another project that has yet to be announced. Luckily for me, I kept notes for each day!
Nrama: Since your comics are auto-bio and getting more popular everyday, have you ever had an awkward experience where you meet someone for the first time but they act like they know you by reading your comics?
Lenox: I haven't yet. I do feel that people act like they know me online and technically they do because of the comic! But I have yet to face anyone in life. Everything is just beginning so we'll see! I hope they are nice.
Nrama: I heard about you late last year for your mini-comics – and now you’re moved on to Image Comics, a big jump. How’d it all happen?
Lenox: It still amazes me. People had kindly donated money to me so that I could print out my first mini comics for my first ever table at Emerald City Comic Con 2010 back in March. I had also printed out a number of EmiTown minis that had my favorite pages to hand out to people I deemed "important" who I wanted to share my work with. One of those people was Eric Stephenson from Image. There was nothing formal about it, we were all at a bar and a friend of mine introduced me to him. It wasn't until several weeks later after the show that I received an email from a friend Jamie S. Rich, who told me that Eric was asking if I was pitching EmiTown or not. I wasn't pitching it when I handed him the comic but word was passed that I'd be happy to have it published and soon enough I received an email from Eric asking if Image could print it!
Nrama: For a lot of people, you’re bursting on the scene out of nowhere… so can you give us your background in comics and art? Lenox: I have always been the kid that drew growing up. Around 12 years old after a trip to Japan visiting my family, I got into manga in a serious way. Specifically, Dragon Ball. I also stole and read some of my older brother's X-Men comics. I started doodling a lot my own comic ideas all through Junior High and High School. In my early 20's I discovered Chris Ware, Craig Thompson, Jeff Smith, and Adrian Tomine and fell in love with "slice of life" comics. It was also at that time that I attended the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to study Illustration. I didn't get very far, I failed within a year. I moved back to Portland, Oregon and doodled a little bit.
It wasn't until March of 2009 when I interned for both Top Shelf Productions and Periscope Studio that I realized comics was a place I wanted to be a part of. At first I thought I wanted to be involved only in production. I was very against drawing being a job instead of a hobby but over time, I realized that's what I really wanted to do. So I did EmiTown and here I be.
Nrama: Once EmiTown comes out later this year, what is your next big project?
Lenox: My next big plan is working on some OGN ideas. Something that has a storyline and a plot...Something that's not about me! Of course, I do want to continue drawing EmiTown and will do so for as long as I can! I think it would be neat if I am able to keep going to chronicle starting a family and getting older and the progression of my career.