The Alabaster Pizzo Interview – Mimi and the Wolves

On Alabaster

Alabaster Pizzo is a cartoonist from New York, currently living in Los Angeles. A graduate of the School of Visual Arts, her publicly available comics work include her serialized a weekly comic, Ralphie and Jeanie, Hellbound Lifestyle with Kaeleigh Forsyth, and her ongoing project, Mimi and the Wolves.

This Fall Avery Hill Publishing is collecting the self-published issues of Mimi and the Wolves. It is on that occasion that I exchanged emails with Alabaster to chat dig into the process and work-flow of this exciting project.

-juan

 You can purchase Mimi and the Wolves Vol. 1 from Avery Hill Publishing. 

 

Alabaster Pizzo photographed CALA 2018 by Chris Anthony Diaz
Alabaster Pizzo photographed at CALA 2018 by Chris Anthony Diaz

Juan Fernandez: So, how did you find yourself working on what has become Mimi and the Wolves?

Alabaster Pizzo: I worked out the story in my head and doodled characters for it for a long time before actually committing to it. I had a central story I wanted to tell, and I decided to set it to basically an extended adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood.

In Mimi and the Wolves, more so than anything, it feels like you’re weaving a lot of personal experience and spinning it metaphorically, to create new spaces for yourself and readers to process the emotional landscapes that you may have navigated in your life. What is your writing process like for manifesting those feelings through characters, sequences and images?

When I started writing this comic I was fresh from leaving a complicated relationship, and from making myself “hyper romantically available” for the first time (I’ll leave that vague). As 23-year-olds sometimes do, I put a lot of dramatic weight on my experiences, which I don’t necessarily feel anymore, but I still think it’s worth it to write about the different kinds of relationships adults find themselves in. I think I’ve altered it and blown it out enough that anyone can insert themselves into the story and find it relatable. I like to think I’ve fleshed the characters out well, but I had the advantage of basing them mostly on real people. I enjoy drawing animal characters to begin with, but casting animals is also a good way to change a likeness, if you’re telling a true-ish story.  

What was your first memorable experience sharing Mimi and the Wolves with public? 

I wrote a mini-comic in 2012 called “Wool” that featured Mimi and another character not related to anyone in the main story, as a sort of test run, also it was essentially me venting about another frustrating romantic situation I’d gotten myself into (I’ve aged out of this forever I hope, lol). Tumblr was big then and it was hugely validating to post panels from the first chapter of Mimi and the Wolves and watch the likes and reposts stack up. God, I miss Tumblr every day. I wouldn’t be where I am now without the comics community I found there.

In The Complete Talamaroo, you explored a raw, wild society of critters, in Hellbound Lifestyle, working with Kaeleigh’s writings you were deep in the city, as in Ralphie and Jeanie, in the world of social relations. Mimi and the Wolves finds us dancing between the wild and civilized. Can you talk a little bit about your personal relationship with the city? With wilderness?

I’m often reminded of how different my comics are from each other. Which is true, they are. The theme of “the city” factors in a lot, because I’m a city person. In Mimi and the Wolves, the city and wilderness serve to separate the society of the wolves, who are more wild, don’t wear clothing, and eat meat, from the other animals who live in the city.

When the events of the story were happening for me, I had just moved from a really central location in Manhattan where I was living in a small apartment I shared with my sister and whatever friends or romantic partners were staying with us, to an apartment in Flatbush, Brooklyn, 45 minutes away by subway, essentially alone. Most of the things I did day-to-day still required me to go back to Manhattan, and my sister lived in the old apartment for a couple more years after I left. For the first time, I was really out on my own and able to do whatever I want without scrutiny, and I had a private space. I’d meet up with everyone again after a few days and tell them what I was up to, sometimes to their horror. So although I was definitely still in the city, emotionally I was out in the wilderness. It made sense to make this more literal in the comic. 

In real life, I don’t see how I could ever live in a metro area with fewer than 10 million people. I crave being surrounded by strangers. I’m also passionate about public transit and sharing resources. 

Page 47 of Mimi and the Wolves Vol. 1 by Alabaster Pizzo

I’m curious about what has attracted you to the goddess Venus. Why Venus? 

This is me straight up referencing Venus in Furs, which I’ve honestly only read part of, but I have listened to the Velvet Underground song 1000 times.

Outside of the work you’ve done on this book, do you read a lot regarding mythologies?

I used to more than now. A friend sent me a meme that had something to do with “girls who were mythology stans in middle school” and I was like, oh yeah that was me. I like how Greek/Roman mythology leaked so much into our modern language and art. I think that now, I’m less interested in the content of myths ancient peoples told each other and more interested in the people themselves and what purpose the stories told. I’m not religious and I think all human behaviors and events have practical reasons behind them. When I sat down to plan Mimi and the Wolves, I intended to inject a lot of ritual and alchemy, but I wound up focusing on the realistic relationships between the characters more. Unfortunately I think this left the lore a little half-baked. 

Do you have any experience practicing or learning about Theosophy?

No. I’m generally turned off by modern-era Western cherry-picking of non-Western religion and spirituality, I like to go to yoga for the physical benefits and to be able to be present in my own body for an hour out of my day, but I always skip the chanting.  I’m a non-religious white person and chanting in Sanskrit feels uncomfortable. Is it distasteful to have a statue of Buddha or Shiva in your house if you’re not Buddhist or Hindu?

I’m troubled by how many people around me seem to actually believe in Astrology and crystals. I grew up around Catholicism, so I feel no need to adopt pieces of religion as an adult. I didn’t start thinking about this until recently so I don’t know if these sentiments are imbued in Mimi at all. Maybe they are? Mimi is certainly looking for something divine to give her life meaning.

Page 6 of Mimi and the Wolves Vol. 1 by Alabaster Pizzo

Given the level of control that you have on this project, as the sole creator, as compared to say your work with Kaeleigh or commercial illustrations, or your work in animation, what do you find to be the biggest challenge? What comes as a source of relief?

Definitely being my own bookkeeper/distributor was hard for me. I’m glad I’ve decided to relinquish that to people who know what they’re doing. Self-publishing was fun when I was young or only printing 200 or less handmade books, but I think I’m beyond that now, and happy to have someone else manage the business side. 

I like interpreting someone else’s words. Without the responsibility of writing, I can focus on drawing. Of course I wind up inserting some narrative that might not have been present in the original text, but I think that’s what makes the work better. I work as a story boarder on a cartoon; I’m given an outline that’s looser than a script and allowed to add visual jokes and dialog as I see fit.

Page 146 of Mimi and the Wolves Vol. 1 by Alabaster Pizzo
Page 146 of Mimi and the Wolves Vol. 1 by Alabaster Pizzo

Similar to the illustration work of Tove Jansson, you offer readers patterns and textures to explore while they move through the world of your comics. What is your favorite thing to draw in your backgrounds?

I love to draw home interiors, store interiors, and city neighborhood scenes. A landscape of pine trees is easier but less fulfilling.

Though much of your work has dazzling colors that are used expertly to create depth and clarity, Mimi and the Wolves is completely black and white. What has motivated you to keep it in black and white? 

When I started the project I was only drawing in black and white. Partly because I liked that look, and partly because I was printing everything myself and color is so much more expensive to print. I prefer to do colorwork now, but I have a really hard time doing color images of Mimi. Her world is black and white. I’ve never found a method of coloring that feels authentic to it.

Could you talk a little bit about your process in creating this book? What tools did you use? What was the flow of your drafts like?

First I write an outline of what has to happen in each chapter, then I break it down into a script. In the beginning, I was winging it more which I kind of regret now. I like to tell people not to dwell too long on initial planning but jumping right into a large work with no planning is also not good.

Then I just get to drawing it. I don’t thumbnail or pencil more than one page at a time (probably also to my disadvantage but by now its hard to break this habit) I used to pencil on graph paper but now I do the “pencil” digitally which is much easier. I print that and trace it on to bristol paper with a crappy rollerball pen that turns yellow and ruins the original over time, but I do a lot of edits after I scan the page so I don’t really consider the original worth anything.

In Photoshop I scale the page down slightly, turn the art into black and white pixels, and make any edits. I try not to add anything that looks like it couldn’t have been drawn by hand. It’s tempting to draw white lines over black, but because I wouldn’t have done that in the initial inking phase, I try to avoid it, or make it look hand-drawn.

Page 34 of Mimi and the Wolves Vol. 1 by Alabaster Pizzo
Page 101 of Mimi and the Wolves Vol. 1 by Alabaster Pizzo

How do you structure your pages? Is it an intuitive process that comes as a result of space constraints When you think about organizing your pages, what is your guiding principle?

I sometimes do a very quick thumbnail of what layout I want to use, also, I used to be in the habit of taping up all the finished pages in order over my workspace so I could reference them at a glance and try not to put two similarly dense pages next to each other. Otherwise, it’s very intuitive. Something I would like to change about it is how dense some pages are, but I was always thinking about keeping printing costs down (also I’m small and lifting 200 book’s worth of pages is hard). I think the story would benefit from more slow wandering sequences, full pages or spreads. Oh well.

Given that you’ve been working on this story consistently for over 6 years, what keeps you coming back to this world, to see this story through?

I gotta finish it!! The core of the story, the “true” part, feels much less urgent now. I didn’t think I’d be working on it this long, but the breaks I’ve taken from it have been to work on other projects. Also, people seem to really like it! I’m fortunate to have had pretty good responses from my other work, too, but this is the story people want to see the most, I think.

For anyone looking to work on a long-form piece like this, what advice can you give, for making progress and balancing life and work?

When I started this project I wasn’t working consistently, and I was able to take chunks of time off completely if decided I needed to rush to get a book done for an event. Only in the last year and a half have I started working a regular 9-5 job, and it’s very hard to make time to do other work around it (I also do illustration work). Luckily, the television industry has long breaks built into it, between seasons or productions, and that’s when I’ve been able to get back to working a lot on comics. 

Whether you are busy or not, starting something that will wind up being 400 pages is daunting. I guess my advice is just to start. You’re almost certainly gonna hate the first pages you did, years later when you’re finishing the last few pages. To that, I say, whatever. Show me an artist or writer or musician or film director who doesn’t think the same thing over the course of their career. While I didn’t think Mimi would take me so long to produce, I don’t mind that it’s been with me so long, while I’ve grown artistically and emotionally.

Have you read anything good lately?

I read every night before falling asleep since I was in first grade, until about the time I got a smart phone, and then I started at internet garbage until I fall asleep. About 6 months ago I decided that sucks and I got a library card! Recently I’ve been into memoir (or mock-memoir), unconventional narrative style, the recent histories of American cities, and the combination of these. Some good ones I’ve read this year: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn, The Story of Junk by Linda Yablonsky, The Last Bohemia: Stories from Williamsburg, Brooklyn by Robert Anasi. I’d like to get more into non-fiction.

Do you keep any books by your bedside?

A how-to book called “The New Plant Parent” because I’m really into houseplants!

Thank you for your time, Alabaster!

 You can purchase Mimi and the Wolves Vol. 1 from Avery Hill Publishing. 
Share this page:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.