Telling her own secrets: MariNaomi’s autobiographical comics

Humor and occasional heartbreak marked MariNaomi’s first book, Kiss & Tell, a graphic memoir of the author/cartoonist’s love interests from ages 5 to 25 (topics ranged from chapters titled “The Most Beautiful Penis I’ve Ever Seen” to “My Dad is So Naïve!”).

In her second graphic memoir, Dragon’s Breath and Other True Stories (2D Cloud and Uncivilized Books, 2014), MariNaomi once again mines her own life for memorable events, this time in episodes revolving around family matters, friendships, work, and the occasional romantic interlude. In this book, the illustrations are somewhat haphazardly broken into short and long vignettes that vary in style, sometimes sparse, at other times more text-heavy. Collectively, the stories leave the reader with the sense of a narrator who is curious and adventurous—a keen observer who generously sees and feels what others might otherwise pass over.

Recently, MariNaomi chatted with BookTrib about her process and inspirations.

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BookTrib: How is Dragon’s Breath and Other True Stories related to your first book?

MariNaomi: One of the stories in Dragon’s Breath (“The Rebound”) sort of follows the Kiss & Tell format: covering a year-long relationship from beginning to end in a handful of pages. Other stories elaborate on events that happened in Kiss & Tell (such as running away from home, or the fallout from dating my jailbird boyfriend). So they’re tied together in that they’re all stories of my life but the stories in Dragon’s Breath have less of a common theme and are more Bechdel-Test friendly.

BT: You originally published a number of the stories from Dragon’s Breath online on TheRumpus.net. What was that process like?

MN: Posting online is a cost-effective way to connect with new readers. I found the instant feedback of the internet (versus the slow, if any, feedback of publishing) intoxicating. I paid a lot of attention to the feedback, and I’m positive that affected how I told the next story, and the next.

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BT: Some of your stories in Dragon’s Breath look so different from one another on the page. How did you initially decide on the length and style of each story?

MN: I never knew how long the stories were going to be. I didn’t plan out their length; I just sometimes needed more space to tell one story than I did another. There was one insanely busy month, when I was working on my Duran Duran story (“Heartthrobs”), which ended up being so long. I didn’t socialize or really leave the house; I was just furiously drawing all the time.

The different art styles were sometimes a result of me trying out a new set of pens (like with the story about the leather jacket), and other times, the result of me giving the story a rough edge (like with the penciled pages) due to the roughness of memory.

BT: Why do you think you’re so interested in memoir?  

MN: Memoir draws me in more than other genres because I’m more interested in emotional honesty than I am with plot. You can definitely find that in other genres, and sometimes it can’t be found in certain memoir pieces, but I find that memoir is where that kind of frankness is the most prevalent. For me, the greatest challenges in memoir have been about boundaries. My golden rule is to tell my own secrets, not anybody else’s, but it took me some missteps to get there. And sometimes these things aren’t so cut-and-dry.

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BT: Who are your influences? Do you read a lot of memoir and/or comics? Have you always wanted to be a cartoonist?

MN: I always wanted to be a writer, with the goal being to write the Great American Novel, whatever that means. I didn’t find comics until I was in my 20s and it took me years before I read Mary Fleener’s story “The Jelly” (about her hot-mess roommate) and realized I wanted to make comics, too. These days I’m not so much influenced by anyone as I am inspired. Work that has inspired me lately includes the “Dear Sugar” advice column by Cheryl Strayed; essays by Zoe Ruiz and Roxane Gay; Lauren Weinstein’s recent webcomic, “Carriers,” about being pregnant and worried about passing on scary genes to her kid; and the awesome wordless comic by Christopher Adams, “Strong Eye Contact.”

 

Feature Image by Fiona Taylor

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