Strange Love and Bathroom Culture: Interview with Chelsea Martin
Chelsea Martin, photographed by Caitlin Snodgrass
Chelsea Martin "studied" (her quotes, not ours) art and writing at California College of the Arts and is currently the creative director at Universal Error. She's the author of Everything Was Fine Until Whatever (2009), The Really Funny Thing About Apathy (2010), Even Though I Don't Miss You (2013).
What are you working on now?
A novel about “love,” a collection of memoir essays, a set of temporary tramp stamps for middle-aged women, and a pamphlet about how to navigate a career in hand modeling.
I know this is a pretty general question, but what are you trying to convey in your comics? A lot of your strips are about particular moments in a relationship that are strange and subtle and sometimes a little ugly. Are these all taken from real life?
I guess I’m trying to convey how life feels to me. There are these strange or confusing moments, or conversations that seem really ambiguous and open-ended the more I think about them. And they begin to seem really meaningful and heavy because I’ve spent so much time thinking about and analyzing them, and I sort of lose touch with the actual moment.
I think the form of comics really adds to this idea, because it takes so much time to conceptualize and layout and draw and scan, that the message seems to gain all this weight and significance that may or may not have been when the moment actually happened, which, to answer the last question, maybe did or maybe didn’t actually happen.
How did you get started making comics? What’s your process like? What kind of equipment do you use?
I studied both writing and illustration in college, and comics are a pretty natural combination of both. But writing is definitely the core aspect of my comics, and I see the drawings as a vehicle to pace and contextualize and set a mood to the writing.
I use printer paper and pens and markers. I don’t plan things out very well, so a lot of times the panels for a comic are on a bunch of different pages and I have to composite everything in Photoshop.
I’m always interested in creative peoples’ obsessions. Susanne Lamb, an illustrator I interviewed in May, is into goats and not wearing socks at the moment. What are you most drawn to right now? What can you not stop yourself from thinking about?
Right now I’m really interested in office bathroom culture. Like, what people say when they see each other in the bathroom. Recently I saw a coworker in the bathroom and we had a conversation about potatoes. Not a short conversation, either. We dug pretty deep.
Also, I’ve been trying to only use stalls that are adjacent to already-occupied stalls as a personal challenge having to do with choosing the least comfortable option from a selection of non-ideal options.
If your creative process were a type of geographical area, what would it be? A meal?
For a geographical area, maybe this corner in my neighborhood where abandoned couches are mysteriously piling up.
For a meal, maybe a kind of Lebanese wrap whose main feature is not meat but a nut mixture you’re too embarrassed to ask about, followed by sweet corn ice cream from the place you went to because you wanted butter ice cream, but they didn’t have the butter ice cream this time :-(
You have a few books out, right? Can you talk about balancing creating visual art and writing?
I don’t try to balance it at all. All of my ideas start with writing, so that’s what’s more important to me. If I don’t have visual ideas, I don’t pursue that.
If I do work on a visual project, then that does cut into writing time, but I feel fine with that, and I usually feel more excited to write again.
Which contemporary writers and artists are you most into at the moment?