Today, we're in conversation with our dear friend Jennifer Herd from Toronto. For those of you who may not know, she visited us last year for the pop up gallery that we hosted!
Let's get down to it y'all.
How did comics making start for you?
So it started when I was in high school. I was a teenager in the late 90s, before smartphones and social media were a mainstream thing, so note passing was the best way for us to communicate incognito (that's right, kids, HANDWRITTEN notes!). However, my friends and I took our letter crafting a step further, adding stick figure comics among what we wrote to each other in class. If one of us liked a boy/girl, it was a comic. If one of us disliked one of our classes, it was a comic. If there was an altercation with someone outside our circle, we made like good little nerds and quietly took it out on them with ballpoint pens and notebooks in the school cafeteria.
I started taking drawing more seriously when art classes became available to me in Grade 10. I also got into video games like Final Fantasy 7 and Zelda, and shows like Sailor Moon and Reboot, which had a big influence on me. I started carrying around a sketchbook with me and drew as much as I could. Things snowballed from there: I graduated and took fine arts in university, learning about painting, sculpture, photography and digital art. Comics were my main focus, but I did my best to develop other skills as well. I didn't really know what I wanted to do yet as a profession, so I began working in graphic design and did comics and illustrations on the side.
How did clearlymissherd.com begin?
My design career eventually led me to a Canadian company that ran specialty cable channels and websites. I got to work on a (now-defunct) comedy website called Bite.ca and, aside from managing graphics, my responsibilities included creating original content to be shared on the page and across social media platforms. I made infographics, illustrations, mashups, small animations and comics, some of which went viral. I often collaborated with some of the writers and comedians who also worked on the site, which helped me meet other artists and expand my interests. I really enjoyed this gig, as I was getting my name out there as an artist and getting paid for it.
Unfortunately, the company axed the comedy site during restructuring, and my role in the office changed as well. I wasn't happy with the job anymore, but I couldn't afford to quit (hello Toronto rent!) so I started up my own weekly comic site to work on during evenings and weekends. It was really exciting to have my own corner of the internet where I could write and draw whatever I wanted, and I realized how much I'd missed the creative freedom at Bite. I make funny posts about cats and geek culture, as well as politics, feminism and body image.
Any favorite works you’d recommend to other people?
This is a tough one, because there are SO MANY. So here are three names I'm really into at the moment:
What Did You Eat Yesterday? by Fumi Yoshinaga. It's about a gay couple living and working in Japan. Each chapter includes a home cooking scene, in which one member of the couple creates elaborate meals for the two of them to share in the evening after their shifts. The characters' social lives and careers also give the reader an idea of what it's like to navigate Japan's LGBTQ culture, as gay marriage isn't legal yet. It's a lovely, sweet story and, because each novel contains tips on how to make Japanese food, I've actually learned to cook some of the featured dishes.
Motorcrush by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr. It basically has everything - motorcycles, action, romance, gorgeous colours, a sexy '80s vibe, and a gripping story. I've only read the first issue so I'm dying to get my hands on the next one. And Bab's Tarr's artwork is beautiful and brilliant and so, so inspiring to me.
One-Pound Gospel by Rumiko Takahashi. I'm a huge fan of hers and have been reading her comics since I was a teenager. It's about a boxer who falls in love with a nun, and wants to win her heart by winning a championship. This story came out in the late 80s, so expect lots of poofy bangs and 80s fashion. And it's HILARIOUS. It's only 4 novels long, so I've read it several times, and keep finding something new within its pages that makes me laugh.
How did you approach the theme of ‘distance’ in your comic for AFAR?
I've never had a romantic long-distance relationship, so I thought about potential stories about family instead. It's just me and my parents in Canada, and everyone else lives in the UK and Europe, for the most part. My cousin Angela came to mind because she's one of the few people I've kept in touch with over the years, and she had a large (and very positive) impact on me when I met her. So the decision to write about her was made very quickly.
What’s your comic in AFAR exactly about?
It's largely about being a shy 13-year-old only child who grew up in a quiet household, who met an older relative who grew up in a different country with a completely different story. In many ways, my family was a mystery to me at that age, and my conversations and letters with Angela sort of gave me a window into what teenage life is like in the UK. The act of writing letters was such a big part of my formative years, and having an older cousin to share my thoughts with was very important to me at the time.
Ideas on future themes (for the anthologies) you’d like to pursue?
I'm really into cringe-y, embarrassing stories. I love telling them as much as I love hearing them. It's our awkward moments that make us human and relatable. I'd love to see a collection of comics about the tales of our lives that we can never, ever forget, even though we really want to forget.
What advice would you give someone who wants to get into comics?
Draw as often as you can, because it's true what they say about practice - you can only get better if you keep it up. Take chances and don't be afraid to fail, because each time you fail, you learn. If you hit a wall, don't overthink it, just push through.You'll eventually develop a consistent drawing style that's uniquely your own. And it will change and evolve with you as you keep going.
There are LOADS of online resources if you're looking to pick up a specific skill set, and this includes everything from drawing skills to social media techniques to places to print/display your art. We're living in the wonderful age of free/inexpensive learning tools, thanks to our friend, the internet. You don't have to go to art school anymore, depending on what it is that you want to do (but a couple classes won't hurt).
Get involved in your community. And not just in terms of comic festivals and zine fairs. Check out local cafes and restaurants that display original artwork, and see about getting your stuff on their walls. It's an amazing chance to get your name out there - I've sold out entire collections this way, and gained freelance gigs as well.
Explore other creative outlets, like dancing or learning a musical instrument. It opens up parts of your creative mind that you might never have used before, and acts as a compliment to your comic making. It's also really healthy to get away from the drafting table once in awhile.
Make things that are important to you. Spin stories that come from your core. Don't be afraid to get political because the best stuff makes waves, and we have a LOT to talk about in 2018, so go to town. Don't be afraid to be honest, because someone out there reading your comic is going to resonate with your material and it's honestly the best feeling knowing a like-minded person shares your thoughts.
What is the one thing that you want to accomplish before this year’s over?
I'm working on a comic series for a fictional story I'm working on. It's in the very early stages, so I'm still doing things like character design and working out plot points and such, but I'm excited about how it's coming along. Before the year's over, I'd love to have at least the first chapter drafted up. I'm also dancing around freelance and my full-time job, so it's challenging, but it's a passion project, so I'm going to keep at it.
I'm also starting an online store, where I'd like to sell my work on tote bags and shirts and pins and things like that. I've sold lots of prints and originals in the past, but I'd like to expand on that because people seem to like wearable merch these days.
Thank you so much Jennifer! Before I sign off, please check out our Kickstarter anthology, AFAR. We're so close to our goal and have only a week left. Thank you!