Not Blind, Not Deaf, But...An Interview with Georgia Webber
Georgia Webber is the comic artist behind Dumb, a series chronicling her severe vocal injury and ongoing (mostly silent) recovery. She is the Comics Editor for carte blanche, Guest Services Coordinator for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, and a freelance cartoonist and comics educator. Follow her blog to read the comic and keep up with her other activities: georgiasdumbproject.com.
Can you talk about your creative process for Dumb? How do you go about making these? Do you draw them out and scan them? Did you learn to make comic strips from anyone in particular?
I have the most basic materials to work with—printer paper, pencil and eraser, pentel brush pen and micron 1 felt tips, red marker—so my process is complicated in the writing phase, but pretty straightforward in production. I make a short list of all the things I want to say with each comic, each anecdote that I think serves the messages of each story, and any storytelling devices that will serve the content. There are usually three to five major points being crammed into each 24-page comic, and an additional three to fivestorytelling devices or tricks to experiment with. Then I give myself headaches over how to pack it all in and make it read well. Pacing is the real work of writing for me. Rough layouts determine the flow of any comic before I move on to dialogue or clearer scenes. It’s just vague shapes and their relationships flowing from scribbled page to scribbled page until the visual flow is right. (I can definitely send you pictures of this!) (Ed. note: She did! See below.)
I learned to dissect and appreciate comics from an enthusiastic teacher I had in high school, who let me study comics with him independently after I graduated. I think we called it Media Studies or something, but we basically talked about why Bill Watterson is a genius all day for nine months, and then he forced me to make some of my own work. I’m pretty sure my process has completely changed since then…
Wherever you see red, it signifies voice.
What do people most often misunderstand in your comics, if anything?
Most often, people read the red as just a nice design touch, or a representation of noise in the background. The truth is much more meaningful: wherever you see red, it signifies voice.
Did you do comics before you hurt your voice? Some, right, but not often?
When I was doing that independent study course, I made a few comics that were a part of our curriculum. I had made some one-page comics before that, but nothing I kept up. Before Dumb I had produced maybe 30 pages of short comics, but nothing in the last five years, because after that course was done I very quickly jumped to publishing comics, trying to bring the experience I’d had in a supported setting to people around me who were interested. For me, comics was this grand and liberating creative discovery, but one that I could put on hold for myself to help other people have the same experience.
I especially love this part. (See right.)
Can you talk about your inspiration/motivations for this scene?
This scene portrays a party I threw for the bike co-op I was volunteering at, where I did a bunch of work bringing people together to have fun, despite being silent. I had a friend there whom I’d been sort of flirting with for a while, but it was going nowhere—until that night when he made that joke about liking me better silent, and then later I really felt he was coming on to me. The combination of those two events on the same night was really disturbing. It had to be a part of the comic!
What new comic artists are you excited to see develop? Who are some you continue to return to?
There are so many talented cartoonists out there right now, but I’m a substance-oriented reader, high concept and all that, so I’m waiting for most of them to deliver a story that really feels passionate, intimate, bitter sweet, and expertly executed. Some are already on that track, making things that I really like just as they are Sophie Yanow, Cathy G. Johnson, Sophia Foster-Dimino, Dawson Walker, Jack Gross—actually this list is about to get really long! Sam Alden is building an incredible catalogue of skills and interests; when he breaks into more meaty stories, more vulnerable ones, I think it’s gonna blow our minds. The anticipation is fun, to be on the journey with these artists as they explore.
What projects are you working on now? What do you want to be doing in five years?
At the moment I’m working 100% on Dumb, though part of the project is audio-based, so it’s not all comics. I have five more issues (to complete the ten-issue series), and then ten audio pieces, and always some little extras along the way. In five years? I’d like to be more stable in pretty much every way. It would be amazing to have my voice in good enough condition that I could be performing vocally again, singing or improvising. I love to teach, so that would be a part of my life, but in a limited way. It’s funny, as I say these things they all seem so reasonable, but if I think about what’s required to make it happen? I really couldn’t tell you if I’ll be able to do it or not.
I'm a substance-oriented reader, high concept and all that, so I'm waiting for...a story that really feels passionate, intimate, bittersweet, and expertly executed.
What leisure activity would you cut if you knew you had to spend more time making art? Do you give up things in order to go home and work?
I am currently unemployed, but even when I had a job, I was working seven days a week on comics. I recently realized that I’d forgotten how to do things to relax, so instead of giving things up right now I’m working on bringing them back. I love riding bikes, and fixing them. Getting myself totally covered in grease from an activity that’s fun, helps people, and I learn from? Yes. Yes please. I also spend a lot of my leisure time trying to acquire knowledge, like improving my French or staring at maps to improve my sense of geography. I like to learn about the body, and when I’m treating mine well, it’s like a joy-machine. The best feelings don’t come from my brain, they come from my blood and guts and bones all working hard and happy.
What is the toughest part about being a female comic book artist? Do you encounter people who think you’re less funny/talented than men very often? Does this exist?
My experience is not an accurate representation of the many major challenges that female cartoonists face. I’ve had a really lovely career in comics, feeling appreciated and respected for the most part, and I have the luxury of being able to lend all of my support and solidarity to women who are being harassed, undervalued, objectified, infantilized, etc. From all the support I’ve received, I have a lot of confidence confronting or cutting out people who step over the line, so I want to make sure every woman in my life knows how fiercely I support them in every situation, so hopefully they can pass it on in kind, if that’s right for them. This conversation is very important and requires a lot more specificity and comprehensive explanation, which I’d rather not tack onto a conversation about my work, but I’d be ecstatic to dedicate a full interview to those issues, including the voices of other women who experience these things in different ways than I do.
I’ve had a really lovely career in comics, feeling appreciated and respected for the most part, and I have the luxury of being able to lend all of my support and solidarity to women who are being harassed, undervalued, objectified, infantilized, etc.