Nova Scotian cartoonist Rebecca Kraatz debuts her new graphic novel Snaps (Conundrum Press) at TCAF this weekend, marking the first major work from the cartoonist since her Doug Wright win for Best Emerging Cartoonist in 2007.
As we discuss in this interview, Snaps has taken almost the entire length of time since then to complete and it found a publisher in Conundrum relatively recently.
Kraatz’s book dovetails with her interests neatly. Her passion for the 1940s, the era in which Snaps is set, is evident and in the interview she tells of how the genesis for the work starts at a flea market in British Columbia.
Kraatz spoke by phone for the interview and you can visit her at the Conundrum Press table at TCAF, table 140.
So you’ve been working on Snaps for a while now. You must feel pretty excited that it’s coming out.
I’m very excited, yeah. It was a long time.
Yeah, how long have you been working on it?
About 3 or 4 years.
So how did it develop that you’re publishing with Conundrum Press?
Well, in the fall he (Conundrum publisher Andy Brown) contacted me. I guess he heard somehow that I was working on a book and he wanted to see it. So I photocopied it and sent it to him.
Nice. Did you find that it helped to have a publisher that lives closeby to you and could be in frequent touch?
It’s been pretty good because then I could meet him in person a couple of times as well, so that was advantageous, yeah.
For Snaps, it gets back to a lot of themes you’ve touched in throughout your comics. In particular your passion for history and the 1940s.
Yeah, I always wanted to do something about the 1940s. I always feel as though I am doing something about the 1940s but I really wanted to concentrate on something. I had this old photo album that I got at a flea market in Victoria and I looked through it a lot and it was black and white pictures pasted in very carefully and I didn’t know anyone in there and I used to study the pictures with a magnifying glass and everything. I had it for a really long time and I really felt close to it. So I was thinking about doing something about the 1940s and I was sitting at my typewriter and I said, “oh, I think I’ll start writing about what I think is going on in the photographs” and it kind of developed from there.
So that way the photo album almost acts as a storyboard for you to spring off of?
So what is it particularly about the 1940s that you find so compelling? What is it about the aesthetic, the people or the sensibilities that evokes a strong reaction in you?
It’s really hard for me to say because I’ve liked it for so long. I can’t really remember. I guess it started when I was a teenager. I was home a lot because I was sick, so I watched a lot of movies… because my Dad bought a satellite dish. And, I didn’t know there was this time before the one I had lived. When you’re young, you think the world has just started now, so it made me really think about that. It made me think about my relatives, I looked at their old photographs and got really involved with vintage clothing, sewing clothes and fabrics, history. I read lots of war books. I found it really fascinating, I don’t know why. But it really started when I was a teenager and spent a lot of time alone. And it was like , “oh, there’s my friend Lana Turner on the TV again”.
You have a very particular look to your art as well. What kind of influences, contemporary or from the 1940s and that era have you brought to your art?
Sometimes I can’t see it, it’s hard to identify what I’m using. I think it’s old movies, old black and white images, that kind of thing, and Lynda Barry but I wasn’t aware of too many cartoonists. Pulp book covers too, old movie posters. Those were probably my first influences. When I was working a job doing layouts for a newspaper, I had a friend who made a comic- this was in 1997- and he was telling me about it and I was, “oh, I didn’t realize people could do that” and that’s when I started, because my friend did it. So that’s when I first started making them.
You are also very interested in woodcuts too, is that right?
Would Lynd Ward be someone you look at too?
I got the sense that you tell a similar kind of story as Ward, focusing on the everyday person, the working class and how they go about their daily business.
Yeah, yeah, I really like his work.
How about more contemporary cartoonists then, do you keep in touch with people, bounce ideas off each other?
There’s no one that I bounce ideas off of except for my husband (musician Joel Plaskett). I’m aware that there’s people out there, but sometimes I don’t want to let other ideas into my brain because I just want to have my own idea because I think I could easily feel influenced or bad about what I was doing. When I’m working on something I feel like I can’t look too much at other people’s stuff or I have to look at something else. If I’m doing comics, I hardly look at comics at all. I look at other things.
So you want to keep it close to your original vision.
Stepping back a bit, in 2007 you won the Doug Wright Award for Best Emerging Talent. What did that mean to you?
Well, I was really shocked. I don’t think I said anything when I went up to get that award. I was really shocked, haha. I met a lot of really great people. I knew Hope (Larson) and Bryan (Lee O’Malley) and from them met some other people, which really opened my eyes to what was out there.
At TCAF that’s coming up, you’ll be going through that process again.
I know! I heard it’s even bigger.
Yeah, much bigger. Anything in particular that you’re looking forward to?
Well it’s going to be bigger, so that will be amazing. I like seeing those books that are hand-made, where there’s only one of each one. I like seeing all the stuff that people do. If I was working on something that would be hard because my brain would get all overwhelmed, but I feel kind of relaxed right now- it’ll be really good.
Your House of Sugar book had that look and feel to it too, that it was a special object. What is it about that feeling in comics, the DIY handmade nature that interests you?
I was thinking about that the other day. I think what interests me is that I always liked to create worlds. I used to like to draw maps with all of the fake towns and everything. I think making a book is like making a map, like a fake town or a fake world. That’s something that I really like.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Rebecca.