Last week, Seattle cartoonist DW recommended a cartoonist who posts on Instagram under the pseudonym Seattle Walk Report. I’d never heard of her before, but when I looked her up I could easily understand why she was a favorite.
Seattle Walk Report’s cartoons track various data points from her walks through Seattle. She might count all the pumpkins she sees, or make a running tally of newspaper boxes, or notice that every single paneled parapet on the Montlake Bridge had its own spider web inside, or write little love notes to dogs she meets while walking around town. “I’ve been seeing a steady increase in sidewalk nachos,” she writes in one installment, “BUT WHERE ARE THEY COMING FROM?”
Seattle Walk Report responded quickly to a direct message, and she seemed happy to talk on the phone. The anonymity of her pseudonym isn’t iron clad: She identifies herself as in her late 20s and kindly offers her first name when I comment on how awkward it is to call another person “Seattle Walk Report.” But for reasons she explains in the interview, she finds the anonymity to be freeing.
What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
How did you get started? Did the walking come first and then the cartooning? Or did they happen at the same time?
Well, they're both intertwined. Like many walks, I think, it’s a long story, so I might ramble a little bit here.
I was born and raised in Seattle, and I've never lived anywhere else — even for a second. I don't know how to drive, and I've never learned. So I've always relied on walking, or buses, or the kindness of others to get around. The walking component was not something I found much joy in until very recently; it was just a means to an end for much of my life.
But something happened earlier this year, and the pure joy of long, winding, destinationless walks really hit me. It was kind of like —, you know in cartoons, when somebody gets hit by a piano, and they wake up and there's birds over their head and their teeth are piano keys? It was kind of like that. I woke up one morning, and it just felt like something was different. And I would wake up on a day off, and I would leave with no destination. And sometimes nine, ten hours later, I would come back, and that was just how I spent my day. It didn't even feel like a conscious decision. It was just my mind and my body telling me to get out there.
I thought I knew Seattle really well, having never lived anywhere else, but I can honestly say that before I started to take the time to slow down and take these walks, I really don't feel like I knew the half of it. Or the quarter of it. I still don't know that I do. Seattle's really started to unfold in a way that I hadn't seen before. Or maybe I hadn't taken the time to see it before — I'm not really sure.
Anyway, I've always been a person who draws, and when I was little my mom would say that I was born with a pencil in my hand; and I believed her literally until I was an embarrassing 10 or 11 years old. I thought, ‘wow, that's a really cute coincidence', and, ‘ouch, that must have hurt.’
I just crossed my legs.
But anything I've ever done artistically has really just been pretty much for myself — just art for art's sake. In high school, I would spend weeks or months working on some little, tiny minicomic just for myself. I'd complete it, and I'd smile, and I'd put it on my shelf, and I'd move on to the next thing. It was always for me and never really for anyone else.
I always imagined that I would die and the guy with the push broom who comes to clear out people's apartments who have died would find this shelf full of comics and books and all this crazy stuff that I had made that I had never shared with anybody. I imagined him with his push broom being like, ‘Whoa, this is some weird stuff.’
In addition to drawing, I've always really loved mundane data. Like the library has a subscription to a database called Statistica. It has a really great search functionality, so sometimes I'd just sit there and type in ‘Funions,’ and I'll see the average American household ate two or less bags of Funions in 2011. I just loved that kind of thing.
So walking really made me reconnect with Seattle, and reconnecting with Seattle made me walk. It was this really satisfying loop, and that was my first revelation. Then my second revelation came when I realized I could combine this love of walking with drawing and with data collection.
I thought it would be another one of those projects that I'd be happy to keep to myself, like some sort of journal or something. Because after a while the walks kind of all start to blur together. So I thought this would just be a fun way for me to remember these walks, and where I went, or what I saw on them, or how many crosswalks I crossed, or that kind of thing.
I decided one day to go out and just record what I see. I didn't have some deep goal in mind with it. And when I got home, I turned it into a drawing, and I wrote "Seattle Walk Report" at the top without thinking about it.
I closed my notebook that I had drawn it in, and I just felt this overwhelming sort of — it felt like there was something there that needed to be said about Seattle that wasn't being said. And for the first time with anything I've ever done, I really felt like this drawing needed to be somewhere for somebody else to connect with and see.
So I downloaded Instagram for the first time in my life, and I registered Seattle Walk Report. I posted it, not thinking anyone would ever see it or ever care, but wanting to know that it was there for people to see and care about if they felt like it.
It just went from there. The feedback loop grew stronger in terms of me walking to draw and drawing to walk in Seattle. It all just kind of wove together into this perfect little thing.
I didn't tell anyone I was going to do it. I didn't come up with a cute name first, and then try to figure it out. I just did it, and I didn't have a fully formed idea of what I was doing. I still don't. It's evolved so much. It was just born out of walking, and raised by walking, and will probably die by walking. Anyway, that's the long, winding story of it all.
That's fantastic. What do you think, specifically, about the evolution when you look back on the last four months, five months? How long has it been?
I think July 1st was when I started it. When I first started out, I felt this desire to use the knowledge that I have of Seattle's neighborhoods to impose my own ideas about what might unfold during that walk, instead of just letting the city be whatever it is that day. I would actively seek out certain things at the detriment of actually seeing what was there.
In one of my earliest ones, I knew I was going to be walking around in South Lake Union so I was like, ‘okay, I'll probably see closed sidewalks, and I'll probably see Starbucks cups on the ground, and I'll probably see some baby ducks.’ And so I went out to tally those things, since it seemed like I would probably find them there, and that's fine. But it was almost like I was writing a narrative and pigeon-holing the walk, or the place, before even setting out on it.
Once I let go of that sort of narrative, and just started to walk with no preconceived notions of what I would see, I think things just really started to pop off. Right around the time that I let go of that, people started commenting, ‘This one was really good.’ Or, like, ‘this has really gotten a lot better.’ Then I did start to put more effort into it, because before I would just do it over 15 minutes on my lunch break.
I actually just found out about you last week, because a cartoonist named DW who moved to Seattle just a few months ago recommended you as one of his favorite cartoonists.
That's so nice.
I've been doing long walks for a few years now, and I've written a little about it, and every once in a while I'll tweet while I'm out on a walk or something. And people have told me, "You should write a book about this." And I love walking, but the point of walking is to be sort of monotonous, right? It's literally one step in front of the other. But the way you handle it, I think, is really interesting.
It really speaks to me about the quotidian nature of walking, and just what it's like to go out on a walk and to observe at a very natural, very slow pace. Have your cartoons always been sort of like data collection or did you just start doing that with the walking?
There's always been kind of an element of that. I’ve always been interested in taking things that people think they know and adding some sort of new layer to it. I've found through this that there are other people out there doing this exact same thing in a different way, moreso than I realized.
Like the number of messages I've gotten from people who are like, ‘oh, my gosh, I thought I was the only person who always remembered my favorite dog I saw on a walk.’ Just that there are other people out there quietly doing this exact same thing in their heads. And that's pretty cool — to find that kind of quiet community out there, and kind of bring people together. I was not expecting the response to be what it was. I really thought I'd be playing to an audience of myself, just in as more public way than I normally do.
And so to have people resonate, to have it resonate with people, and have people message me and say, ‘you're my hero’ and ‘this has changed how I see Seattle’ — it just blows my mind a little bit.
So you have over 700 followers on Instagram. How did those numbers grow? It's been a relatively short time. Did you get everybody all at once or have there been little plateaus, or what?
It's been super, super steady from the beginning. Every day a couple more people. I haven't had one day where I wake up and see that I’ve gotten 100 people — nothing like that. I think people find it just by stumbling on it, or people hear about it from somebody else. It's been kind of a word of mouth thing.
There are people who know me really well who don't know that I'm doing this. There are people who I work with who follow me, and they don't know that I am this person I don't see myself as part of the Seattle comics community, because I've never met anybody in it or gone to any of the things that you're supposed to go to if you're part of that. But I have followed certain Seattle cartoonists that I stumble across [on Instagram], and then they'll follow me back and that kind of thing. So it's just been a steady sort of growth.
So, say you inspire somebody to walk, which I imagine has probably happened. Is there any walk that you would recommend as a particularly surprising one for people want to get a feel for Seattle as a walking city?
This might be a little bit long for the new walker, but I'd say give it a shot and see what happens: I really like the South Lake Union walk. I like walking around South Lake Union — starting near MOHAI and going the entire way around — because you get to see such a variety of things. It's a relatively flat walk. There's Gas Works along the way. There's Fremont. You get to go over bridges. You get to go under bridges. It's relatively quiet. There's nice views. Especially if somebody is new to the city in general, I really recommend that walk just to get a feel for the sort of sights there are to see around.
Discovery Park — for some reason, growing up I didn't spend a lot of time there, and so I've discovered it for the first time. I'd recommend either just walking to Discovery Park from wherever you are, or taking the bus there — driving there, whatever — and giving that a shot. Because that's another place that has a lot of variety, and beautiful views.
I'd also say to walk down Airport Way and see what happens. If you like interesting trash, and sights, you can achieve a good sort of rhythmic zen state on Airport Way.
There's also buses everywhere so you can take back if you get tired.
Yeah. And definitely on the South Lake Union walk, there's multiple points where you can just bail on it.
And there are public bathrooms at MOHAI, and again at Gas Works Park. Because bathrooms are a real concern on these long walks.
PCC in Fremont has bathrooms that they don't care if you use all day every day.
I'm sure they'll be pleased about you telling people that. But it's important! There aren't a lot of open restrooms. In October through April a lot of the public park bathrooms just close down. Because you obviously don't need to go to the bathroom from October to April.
Weirdly, even though you’re anonymous, I think that you're a really good ambassador for walking in the city. Even though you don’t use your name, the work feels really personal.
I think when I first really grasped on to what it was that I was doing, I realized that being mostly anonymous enhances my ability to be an invisible observer, and just to report out. I think that really strengthens the work.
If you were a walker, too, it's probably likely that we've stood at the same crosswalk or walked by each other. I think that's kind of like a cool, human thing. And I like being able to be amongst people at any time and have them not know who I am, or what I'm doing, even if they are one of the 720 people who know my work.
So I don't mind sharing certain things about myself or my comics, and people can certainly figure out a lot about me and what I care about through my comics. To know Seattle Walk Report is to know me pretty darn well. I don't know if readers would have a greater appreciation or understanding of Seattle Walk Report, if they knew my face, or my job, or my favorite Beatle, or whatever. I don't know. We'll see.
There is certainly anonymity to walking. Every once in a while I will see older versions of me out on the Interurban Trail and we’ll nod to each other, but generally, I don't recognize anyone. When I started doing this, I thought I was very much alone. I thought I was the only human being who has walked from Westwood Village in West Seattle to Shoreline, from city limits to city limits across the city diagonally, in a single day. But now I'm starting to realize that there is this culture out there. And hearing you talk about it certainly has helped solidify that there is a walking culture here. But it's a culture of people who like to be alone.
One of the first things people will say when I talk about my walks is, ‘oh, we should go walking together sometime.’ And it always makes me uncomfortable to respond ambivalently, but part of the reason I do these walks is to be alone. Has that happened to you too?
So many people have messaged me on Instagram saying, ‘we should go on a walk sometime.’ And I'm like, you have no idea how — first of all — how horrendous that would be for you.
If you want the worst time of your life, go on a walk with me. I'll just pop in my headphones, and get out my notebook, and ignore you for six hours. And you'll be exhausted, or you will have left hours ago, and I'm still walking, and I didn't even know you were gone.
I really appreciate people reaching out to me, but I do think it is such a solitary venture. Maybe sometime I can go on a walk with somebody where they go on a walk, and I go on a walk, and we're not together; and we just report back on what we saw, and that can be spending time together. That would be perfect situation for me.
Do you enjoy nature walks, too? I know you mentioned Discovery Park, but that's walkable from the city. Have you ever been the sort of person who's into hiking?
Not really. I'm definitely more of a city walker. I definitely appreciate the contrast, but I think I really like to fill out the map in my mind. I really like to think ‘there's no way I could get from Woodinville to the U District,’ and then go do it.