These are how I did comics from sophomore year of high school until 2014. The vast majority of them were just funny conversations I had with people. I have 2 1/2 sketchbooks worth. I dug them out of storage to show my boyfriend, but I reread them all. I ended up sending some to old friends if they were featured in them, it was great. These comics played the role of a diary, a lot of old memories flooded back when I read them. It makes me wish I still had time to make comics like this, to capture funny moments in my life. But being in DE where I know no one (thus I don't have funny conversations with people) and having different creative priorities means I won't be able to do them. Anyway, it was fun to stroll down memory lane with these.
Comics have been my saving grace the last few years. They are my healthiest coping mechanism for battling mental health issues; they make me be present in the moment (which is something I struggle with most of the time) and keep me busy and productive. They have the potential to be really cathartic as well (Safe is the best example of this). Recently, it has become apparent to me that I don't work hard enough on both comics and all of the back-end business side of things in order to ever make money with them. At this point, they actually cost me a lot of money to do, with things like supplies, traveling to conventions, and paying for this website. This was bothering me a lot the last couple months; when I decided to not continue my webcomic I felt pretty lost. I had put about 10 months working on that script, and it felt like a giant waste. I also was so preoccupied with a new relationship so I stopped working on comics for about a month. But I've come to terms with something that I had known before going to grad school for comics, which is that this is a passion not a job, and I want to keep it that way. So, I'm slowly getting back into making work, and loving it just like I always have.
This relationship has been the cause of a lot of stress but it's also been very very good.
In my last blog post I posted a comic that I was hesitant to put online (the bottom comic with me and My bf in bed together). I feel really vulnerable when showing it to people, it's a conversation that most people would keep private.
I often get anxiety before putting a comic on my social media (Twitter and Tumblr ; I will eventually get an Instagram when I run out of business cards that only list my two current social media accounts). But occasionally, I don't just feel anxiety, I get genuinely scared. Some of it makes sense; Everything's Fine is all about me being insane, so it's understandable why it would make me feel a bit exposed to be putting it out into the world. Safe is an example of where I felt insanely vulnerable putting it online, even though it's not apparent why. I won't go into why I felt that way here, but it is an extremely personal comic for me despite being fictional.
All of these works can be found just by googling me. All of my social media and this website are under my name, and I am the only Anna Sellheim on the internet (with the exception of an Anna Sellheim that died in the late 1800s that you can find if you go through the first few pages of google), so people see my stuff and thus know some very intimate details about my life.
The reason I post my work here and elsewhere, the reason I actually make comics, is to connect with other people. It's an odd, very niche way to go about it, but that is my motivation to stay productive. I make comics of things that I feel compelled to express. That's why I really don't do fan art or commission work. That's why I really have never drawn anyone else's script (though I would be open to that maybe, if it was the right script for the right price). As such, my work doesn't connect with everyone. It doesn't connect with the majority of people. But when my work does resonate with people, it resonates hard. I might have less than 1000 followers on tumblr, I may not have a published book, or ever won a comic related award but there is a guy out there with my avatar tattooed on his freaking arm. When I exhibited at TCAF, my sales were slower than anyone else in my section. The guy next to me literally had a line so long that it often blocked my table. But people that bought my stuff on Saturday went out of their way to come back on Sunday and tell me that they loved what they had bought (almost every one of these was about Everything's Fine: And On And On- available in print here or as a PDF here. This made me really happy because that and Safe are the two comics that I am most proud of).
For a while I thought my comics might be a barrier to connecting with me in real life. After all, I am more than just my mental health baggage. I am more than just solid fictional work. But then I landed a boyfriend because he read my stuff and really liked it. I've made new friends because of them, and have strengthened old friendships because of them.
So I will keep posting work that comes from a private place, an intimate place. And I will always appreciate when people take the time to read them, despite it often being scary as hell.
I ended up getting together with the guy I wrote this post about. I really really like him. A big reason we got together is because of my comics, actually.
Here are two comics that I have done about our relationship, posted with his permission. One of them is very mushy (a term I steal from Chu when she draws the main couple in Slightly Damned) and I was literally bitching to Tillie less than a month ago about how much I hate gross mushy comics. Then I make the second one of these. Old forever-single Anna would be furious.
Okay, let me talk about this doodle comic for a minute.
This was drawn during my semester at The Center for Cartoon Studies, which was really the last time I doodled besides the ones I put in letters to friends and fans. I stopped doodling once I really started making comics seriously, but for years that was all I did. I did fine art for school, but really, all I cared about was the doodles and art in my sketchbook (some of which is on my sketch page). The way I learned how to make comics was to obsessively doodle for 25 years (ok ok maybe 23, I probably started making art at 2, not at birth) while writing unrelated embarrassing Mary Sue fan fiction in my head every night for hours as my way of falling asleep. Oh, and I read comics all the time too. All of those things gave me the chops that I had to be able to pretty much start making decent comics right off the bat.
ANYWAY THAT WAS NOT WHAT I REALLY WANTED TO TALK ABOUT AT ALL!
What I want to talk about is how I come up with ideas, bc I feel like people have trouble doing that. The first comic I linked earlier I did when I was 19. I then didn’t do another real comic until I was 25. The second one was a response to a prompt that Square City Comics gave at the first meeting of theirs I ever attended, which was, “a brush with the law.”
After that, I went to CCS. I did a few more comics before, but really I only did 3 or 4 real comics total before going “Fuck man, I need help with this.”
What CCS taught me more than anything else, is that what gets me to make comics faster and easier than anything else is having restrictions and prompts. So the first semester, my teacher would say something like, “You need to do a comic about a vacation in 8 pages. Each page needs to have three tiers. You’ve got a month.” (please keep in my mind most of us were full time students at that point so 8 pages in a month was pretty painless, if it sounds like a lot it would be for me now). And then I would panic because I wouldn’t have an idea for 3 days but I’d doodle and fret like crazy. Then BOOM! IDEA! Having the restrictions of a page count and the tiers, and having a prompt that was vague but still concrete ended up being what ended up making me inspired to make comics and stories on a consistent basis.
To this day, I still use prompts when I feel low on ideas. It’s the reason I do as many anthologies as I can. It’s a prompt with certain restrictions (most often page count, but sometimes other things) that will eventually give me a story that people will pay me to make! Plus, I get to network with other cartoonists that are in the anthology. Anthologies rule, seriously.
And even if you aren’t accepted into the anthology, you can still do the story. The webcomic I’m working on started as a failed pitch to the Beyond anthology. It’s now a completely different animal, but the prompt of “queer urban fantasy,” is how I came up with the idea.
Not every prompt is going to be fruitful. I wish that I could be in every cool anthology, but certain themes and ideas are just not gonna cut it. But anyway, my advice if your stuck not being able to think of comic ideas is to look up some writing prompts and find one you like and make a SHORT comic about it.
I forgot to post this ages ago, but here:
Since the election, I've become obsessed with Transformers. Mostly with James Roberts IDW series MTMTE . It's really well written and has a lot of gay characters (I know, it's shocking, but yeah, a bunch of gay robots)! No one ever believes that though because the source material and overall concept are so dumb. Anyway, here's a comic about two conversations I had about Starscream with my buddy Liza and new friend Chris, because all I talk about anymore is Transformers anymore.
Also, this is my contribution to the fandom, not fan art anyone cares about, just super self indulgent conversations about the fandom.
I want to talk a bit about writing outside my experience. I am, for all intensive purposes, a white cis straight lady (I mean, I'm Jewish and possible asexual, but you get the drift). As such, writing diverse characters is something that doesn't come natural to me. I have to work at it.
When I first started writing POC characters, they were so kind of arbitrarily. As much as I like my story Malai, the protagonist could really be any race. I sort of made her black for diversity's sake.
But as my writing progressed, I tried to make race a more real part of my POC character's lives . Whether it's my character Esther in my webcomic, who is a black girl going to a virtually all white school, or it's Kamon from my comic Safe, a Thai immigrant who is dealing with Trump's America. I want these characters to be more fleshed out than just me making them have a non white skin tone with the Photoshop paint bucket tool.
The way I have tried to write these characters more authentically is to ask people outside of my race about them. Having a very diverse group of friends has been helpful for that. My friend Salakjit really helped me with finding Kamon's voice. She isn't really like him, she came to NYC from Thailand as a kid and knows who Oasis is, and her english is very good. But she has told me about how she navigated the election as a both an East Asian woman and as an immigrant with an accent. She also was the one who told me that the song for the karaoke scene should be Oasis (Sandi loves karaoke)- a classic karaoke song that Kamon could conceivably have not heard in Thailand.
This isn't just about race either. I tend to write of queer women characters; mostly because it's an excuse to write more women characters period. That, and I do not know how to write for straight guys, and don't really care to learn (they get enough representation already). So I have a few queer people I ask to look at my work so the characters seem more real. Tillie, who I did the Planned Parenthood comic with, is my go to reader for that. Not only do I respect her as a cartoonist, but I've heard her talk about how straight people often suck at writing queer characters. So I run things by her so I, y'know, don't do that.
And this can be done for lighter topics too. Not only did I ask my friend Christine to sign off on Esther from my webcomic (the character is based off Christine in a lot of ways), but I also ask her for astrology help all the time. For example, in Wasted, Christine told me that the protagonist was a Gemini and helped me write her horoscope. Or with the comic I'm going to be doing for Square City's next collaborative project (I talk about that here), the story is about a bartender and a customer falling in love. That meant that there'd be a lot alcohol in it, and I don't drink. So I asked my hipster (-esque, he's not a full blown hipster) brother, who knows about drinking culture questions like, "What kind of alcohol would a sweet bisexual lawyer take a shot of as a shot of as 'liquid courage?" Did you know cool kids drink Manhattans? That's what he told me. Fucking gross, but fine!
I recommend having a lot of friends that are very different from you to learn about this stuff from. Not only because it makes your writing better, but because it also makes you a more empathetic person.