Lale Westvind: Sometimes an overgrown golf course will do

Lale Westvind parked her bike outside the Comics Workbook rowhouse in Pittsburgh, PA, on a cool early summer night – and was immediately pulled into conversation with the neighbors. They wanted to know everything about this motorcycle riding, pencil wielding samurai of a cartoonist. Their interest was well founded – her work includes the recent Breakdown Press publication HAX, which has been rocking boats and knocking socks off ever since it’s release at CAB last year, as well as many self-published comics (Hyperspeed to Nowhere, Hot Dog Beach, and Express Less). Her spectacular forays into animation include pieces like Flesh Gun (2010) and the official music video for Lightning Bolt‘s The Metal East (2015). When she’s not making comics or riding her motorcycle or playing the guitar, Lale teaches animation at Parsons.

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Lale Westvind visits the Comics Workbook rowhouse, Pittsburgh, PA, 2016

When I met Lale at PIX this year, I knew I wanted to interview her for Comics Workbook. With her busy schedule in mind, I was content to conduct a conversation via email. However, as luck would have it, Lale decided to stop by the CW headquarters on her way to CAKE in Chicago this week. She knocked out 4 pages of a new comic in the course of an evening, explored the amazing library at the rowhouse, and matched Frank story for story until late in the night. A few hours later she got back on her motorcycle and zoomed off to the next adventure.

I’m pleased to share our email exchange below, some photos from Lale’s visit, and a peak into the new comic that she is debuting at CAKE this weekend.

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Sally IngrahamThanks for taking the time to chat with me! I’ve got a few questions that I’ve really wanted to ask ever since finding your work. To start off though, what are you really hyped about right now – planned adventures, current projects, the Philly scene? What’s going on?

Lale Westvind – I’m hyped about getting a break, gettin’ away somewhere on my motorcycle for a little bit and the end of a large project I’ve been working on for months. I’m hyped about getting into some comics projects that were started and left unfinished due to more urgent deadlines, about making weird paintings. I’ve been fending off a lot of anxiety and stress for a while and I’ll be very relieved when the pressure’s off a bit.

I don’t know the Philly scene much yet, I kind of came down here to hide out and I’ve been cooped up in my house mostly trying to churn out an animation thing, but! Will Laren is down here at Space 1026, as is Mark Beyer who I keep trying to meet up with. I consider him legendary. There’s also Ian Harker and Pat Aulisio.  I’ve met Jenna Brager, who lives in my neighborhood, an academic badass who makes excellent personal comics. There is an awesome group called Metropolarity down here that writes and sometimes reads excellent speculative fiction. There is a comic/coffee shop up north I have yet to visit called Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse that seems really cool. I have to go out more now that it’s warm.

I’m looking forward to CAKE in Chicago, when I’ll have a mandatory break from working and can see some of my most cherished friends and peers.

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New book, being released at CAKE 2016

SallyOkay, now for my pressing questions. When you were a teenager, what were you into? What was the dream life?

Lale – I wanted to be an environmentalist working in the Siberian tundra or living in a pristine wilderness working to keep it that way. My dream lives involved travel to isolated places and writing. It’s increasingly difficult to get to a space where there are no people – sometimes an overgrown golf course will do though.

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An isolated spot, somewhere near Philly?

Canadian environmentalist/writer Farley Mowat, was/is my hero. He had a lot of wild solitary adventures and wrote beautiful compassionate books. Counter to that I fantasized about making my own films and cartoons too, ha. I would love to make work that inspired the kind of compassion and awareness that Mowat inspires.

Sally – Your colors are super intense and key to the overall telling of the story. Tell me how you approach making comics directly in color as opposed to making black and white line art first and then coloring it all.

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Pages from Hax by Lale Westvind – Breakdown Press, 2015

Lale – I use colors as an energy conduit, like the line, to direct energy outward from the work. They are the same primary color combinations of advertising, used for the same reasons. I like to create visually exciting imagery. I get the most joy from drawing that.

I don’t think I’ve ever made comics directly in color, though I do make notes as I am penciling. If the comic is to remain black and white I’ve usually made that decision before starting the drawings. I’ve done some experiments with cartooning directly in colored pencils that I have not published anywhere.

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Warrior Witch detail – “colored pencil messin” by Lale Westvind

Sally – Are comics and music connected in your head? Is making music with your metal band anything like making comics for you?

Lale – No, they’re not. Not at the moment any how. And unfortunately since moving I haven’t been able to play with Gun Tit for a while. If anything the connection is that it’s a total break from comics where I can still be creative. My approach to music is idiotic and unproductive but that’s ok with me, I just love to play guitar. It gives me a lot of joy to pick it up and try to make something up on the spot even if I usually forget it afterward. I keep a guitar by my desk so if I get stuck I play.

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In the words of G. W. Duncanson – “Cartoonist Lale Westvind shreds at The Crown last night in the band GUNTIT.” 2014

Perhaps the connection is that I try to create both out of joy, or total desire to create, the difference being that with comics I follow up with the grunt work of parsing it together to be read, (mostly) and with guitar I don’t usually. I think I just do it for myself. Gun Tit is definitely metal influenced, but I think calling it a metal band is a stretch. I’m a little embarrassed to describe it actually – improvisational sludge incantation maybe? Freaky art band?

Sally – You went to a LOT of shows last year – just generally speaking how would you like to see shows change for you as an exhibitor?

Lale – I have no ideas about changing them. But…I think smaller shows put on by the people who are excited about making comics is a great thing. I like the idea of it being a community building/educational model rather than a capitalist event although it’s definitely both. I get very worn out after awhile being a salesman. I have more fun if I talk to my peers and attend panels, so sometimes a slower show sales-wise is better, long as you’re not counting on it.

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Lale (left) and Cynthia Lee (right) at PIX 2016

I think that alternative comics roots in self-publishing is very important as a political act, increasingly so. Even if the work is not political, the way one depicts characters in a story is inherently an expression of personal morals and/or desires. My favorite comics shows are the one which are open and encouraging to all types of people. It should be a place where we exercise our freedom of speech, in an intelligent way conducive to love, change, appreciation, mutual respect, new construction. Having people tabling at different levels in their career, from different backgrounds.

Comics, specifically alternative comics, have the potential to be a space for idealistic expression, which is important for generating and encouraging hope and faith in a better future; in solutions to issues facing our society. For that reason I think we should stress accessibility, stress exchange, stress discourse and stress vigilance. In it’s best form I think a convention would stimulate everyone, in different age groups, experience, race, class, to make work that is more aware and more challenging while still encouraging experimentation. I think the more voices in comics, the better.

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Page detail from HAX (Breakdown Press 2015)

SallyThanks so much Lale! Good luck at CAKE and wherever else the road takes you.

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Keep up with Lale Westvind HEREbuy her comics HERE
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Lale in Utah, 2015

Sally Ingraham

Sally Ingraham

Sally is a cartoonist, educator, and journalist based in Pittsburgh, PA. She makes comics about Pittsburgh and bird watching, and co-writes the "Suzy and Cecil" daily strip (with Gabriella Tito). She facilitates the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency, is a managing editor of the CW Daily News, and runs the CW Roller Derby "of the mind" League. She is focused on documenting the current and historic place of women in the comics industry, is working to build the Women's Comics Library, and is developing a comics curriculum by and for girls.
Sally Ingraham

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