Talking with cartoonist Noel Franklin about her new award, Short Run, and her next book

Yesterday, Artist Trust announced it was supporting 61 Washington state visual artists, musicians, and writers with its Grants for Artist Projects (GAP) Awards. This year's awards amounted to $91,000 in total, with most of the artists getting $1,500 each toward their latest projects. One of those GAP winners was Seattle-based cartoonist Noel Franklin. We talked with her over email about the award, her (relatively brief) career as a cartoonist, and what she's working on next.

Congratulations! What do you think you'll be doing with the award money?

Artist Trust GAP funding is a fixed amount - $1,500. I’ll be investing that directly into creating and printing a sample chapter for my graphic memoir, Girl On The Road. This means spending money on the unexciting but necessary things like laser jet ink cartridges, pens, paper and – most importantly – a high-quality printing of the work as a stand-alone mini-comic.

You seem to have a lot of work coming out right now; was that by design, or is it just how comics works?

It’s a little bit of both. The main reason for everything coming together this month is due to The Short Run Comix and Art Festival happening on November 5th. Short Run is great at catalyzing cartoonists – everybody wants to have something new to celebrate at the event. For example, I have a collaboration with Anne Bean, (“Coyote and Butterfly Woman”) who is putting together a series of updated fairy tales and traditional stories from around the world, which she wanted ready by Short Run. I’ll also have one page in Extruder, a local comics chronicle that is set to premiere at the event.

But two other publications are ready by chance. I was able to put out a zine-style minicomic of stories (“Can’t Say”) that were published in anthologies and journals simply because I have the rights back, now. Also, my collaboration with Mark Campos in the Rock Is not Dead anthology was contracted almost two years ago, but the publisher decided to put out an accompanying CD, which pushed back the project release date. I’m excited to be premiering that at Fantagraphics on October 22nd.

Can you talk a little about your new work?

The big news is that I am actually drawing the graphic novel right now. The new title for the manuscript is Girl On The Road, and it’s a travelogue, of sorts, that explores friendship and grief through my travels across America. There are not a lot of true, gritty stories about female friendships out there, and very few about women just hitting the road on a whim. I want to create the kind of story I would have benefited from when I was in my early twenties and driven to go on adventures with little cash and no compass.

Every other story I’ve created has been in preparation for this work. Most of my autobiographical short comics incorporate some element of Girl On The Road – a theme or a setting that is also planned for inclusion in the larger work. My collaborations and comics journalism have allowed me to test out and develop techniques for use in a book-length story. I’m particularly grateful for the opportunity to publish in Seattle Weekly, as I can experiment in a fun one-page format.

All of these publishing opportunities have helped me to be a better artist. Every graphic novelist wants to do the best work they possibly can, but because Girl On The Road is based on the true story of my friendship with Deborah Penne, who died on Alaska Flight 261, I feel it’s even more important to do well in order to honor her memory.

You only started doing comics fairly recently, correct? Why comics?

Right. I published my first minicomic in June on 2013. By that time, though, it became apparent to me that becoming a cartoonist was the natural next step in my creative evolution. I hold a degree in printmaking from Western Washington University and I was an avid Slam poet in the 1990s. Bring those two experiences together and you’ve got comics – the sweet spot where my love of lush black and white imagery meets the economy of language that poetry demands.

I don’t think I would have gotten here, however, without my ongoing friendship with David Lasky and other cartoonist I met in the 90s simply by being in Seattle’s creative community at that time. I had worked at the infamous “Seattle One” Kinko’s in the University District with other cartoonists, and lived in a house of friends frequently visited by artists like Jason Lutes and Rich Tomasso. I was invited to Fantagraphics’ parties. I was accidentally in the epicenter of the new comics renaissance, pounding tequila and asking cartoonist if they want to hear some poetry. It’s had a long-lasting influence on me.

What's been most surprising thing you've learned about making comics?

The most surprising thing to me about comics is how many perspectives people bring to cartooning. I’m a story driven artist and I love creative nonfiction, but there are cartoonists out there who make sequential art just for the love of creating beautiful lines, or inventing mythical creatures, or attempting to shock people, or to support social justice causes, or for world building as apposed to world documenting. I love it. I love that there is such a diverse community of creators out there making things from so many different impulses and points of view. I may not be into everything that’s being made out there, but unless someone is creating work specifically to hurt others – which I have, unfortunately, seen – then I fully encourage everything that people are doing.

What's your advice for someone getting started in the field now?

Since I am basically just getting started in the field myself, I don’t have any solid “industry” advise to offer, but I would say to just do it. Create what you want to create and work to be good at it. And seek support. I wouldn’t be awarded grants if I didn’t apply for them. Comics are being recognized as a legitimate art form and so cartoonists should get in there with their best work and compete for the same opportunities as the painters and novelists and dancers and theatre artists of the world are afforded.

What comics have you been enjoying lately?

Oooo. How many can I cite? First, Jaime Hernandez and Alison Bechdel are my two biggest influences. Who I’ve been enjoying these days, however, are mostly fellow new Pacific Northwest cartoonists. I love Annie Murphy’s “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden” series, which weaves personal trials and tribulations with the history of the Pacific Northwest’s dead outsider celebrities like Kurt Cobain and River Phoenix. Hazel Reed Newlevant’s comic biographies on lesbian figures in entertainment history are fantastic. Seth Goodkind’s comics journalism in Seattle Weekly are some of the best illustration out there. Myra Lara is brand new to comics, but she’s a fellow creator of color who approaches comics through her lens as an architect. As far as nationally established cartoonists, what’s currently on my coffee table is a copy of Tom Hart’s Rosalie Lightning, which is graphic memoir that details the loss of a loved one. It is a heartbreaking read, but I’m scanning it for clues on how I might tackle my own story of losing someone important to me.