Q&A: Comic Artist Casey Nowak
You may have seen comic artist Casey Nowak’s work around town without realizing it; their client-base and resume are varied and accomplished enough that major outlets and businesses have taken notice. They’ve done work for Cartoon Network, Ann Arbor District Library, BOOM! Studios, and Spry Publishing, among others, some of Casey’s recent projects include the webcomic series Lazy, 2018’s Girl Town, which made plenty of 2018 year-end lists, and the Eisner Award-winning series Lumberjanes. We chatted with Casey about their foray into the art world, what it takes to get there, and why it matters.
You have a wide resume. Can you describe your genesis as an artist?
I think, as a kid, I started drawing because I was allergic to cats, and, therefore couldn’t have one. I was a sullen, epicurean child— I wanted to eat, watch television, and talk to no one. A cat would have been the perfect companion. I filled that void with drawings and discovered talking cats who have interpersonal dramas. And violent wars with dogs.
What was your education?
I went to the Penny Stamps School Of Art and Design at U-M. It’s all about the thinking there, and it was a difficult paradigm to work under, but I genuinely think it set me up for the stressful, vital expectation that no matter what I’m doing, it’s gotta be about something. I guess I could say… maybe the instructors at Stamps couldn’t lead me to water, but they did remind me how important the feeling of thirst can be.
What are some common themes in your work?
Intimacy, self-discovery, and being gay. A big theme is: “Girls are hot and good.” I don’t even mean to do this, I swear. I find writing under a “theme” extremely difficult! It just turns out that way [and my work is all about] all these girls being hot and good together. It’s just an honest expression of my worldview.
How did these themes originate?
Intimacy fascinates me because I grew up around a lot of people whose relationships with reality had been altered or damaged in some way by trauma and mental illness. I experienced a lot of emotional confusion as a child at the hands of these people. It’s just really easy to mess with a sensitive kid. I have sympathy, then, for people who struggle to say what they mean… who have trouble understanding the difference between reality and personal perception. But, in order for me to understand them when they communicate, I have to understand the pathways inside of their brain. I have to understand them in a way that will come to me instantaneously. Self-discovery is the reciprocal aspect of this: I need to understand my own pathways, because my brain is not innocent, either.
What would you tell aspiring artists who are seeking advice on how to put themselves out there?
Make an actual comic. Write, draw, and produce a mini-comic with enough pages to staple, and then give it to everyone you can. Don’t take rejection personally— sometimes rejection is genuinely personal, but I think that’s pretty rare. This advice, by the way, is not for people who are looking for money. If you are lucky, you will make a marginal profit from comics in about ten years. This advice is meant to [help you] find your people, and eventually, your people will find your work.
Are you currently working on any upcoming projects or releases?
I’m actually working on hundreds-of-pages-long fantasy epic— I should be releasing it piecemeal on my Patreon by the summer. I keep trying to create these discrete pitches for books I can send to publishers, but I have a real problem with digressions in my work, and I just can’t imagine any editor is going to like that. Another good piece of advice: have another revenue stream. Not just because it’s fiscally wise, but it’ll loosen you up creatively.
Where can readers find and/or order your work?
You should be able to find something by me in any local comic shop if you ask a clerk. I recommend my, ahem, award-winning collection, Girl Town. Buy it locally, if you can! Down with Bezos! Otherwise, you can find my work on my Patreon (patreon.com/caseynowak) or my Instagram (@Ignatzhaderach)
Anything else you’d like readers to know?
I run a small press with my roommate, Carta Monir! We only publish work by trans authors and artists. Our website is www.diskettepress.com
Read more at linnanliterary.com/casey-nowak.