From "Lumberjanes" to Chad's Mom: Carolyn Nowak | A2CAF



Carolyn Nowak sits at the desk where all the magic happens.

Ann Arbor-based cartoonist Carolyn Nowak may have reached a larger audience with her work in 2015 on the critically acclaimed and award-winning comic series Lumberjanes, but it’s her funny, introspective self-published comics, such as Lazy and Girl Town, where Nowak truly shines.

Last year, one of those works, Radishes, received the Ignatz Award (named for the character in George Herriman’s classic Krazy Kat comic strip) at the Small Press Expo for Outstanding Minicomic, and Nowak herself was nominated for Promising New Talent. Radishes was a shift for Nowak into fantasy comics and tells the story of two teenagers, Kelly and Beth, who play hooky from school to visit a wondrous market filled with mysterious shops and a tiger hairstylist. Nowak’s follow-up from late last year, Diana’s Electric Tongue, is set in a futuristic society where people purchase androids for companionship, is her most mature work to date, and possibly her best.

Nowak will be joining over 50 other comic creators who are displaying, selling, and signing their work on Artist’s Alley at this weekend’s Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF). The A2CAF is a free event starting on Friday, June 17, and running through Sunday, June 19, at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch. Nowak partnered with AADL to create the all-ages comic Chad Agamemnon for the recent Free Comic Book Day, and you'll also be able to get a gratis copy at A2CAF.

Nowak was kind enough to answer a few questions via e-mail for Pulp ahead of the festival.

Q: A2CAF is a celebration of all-ages comics. What are some of your favorite all-ages comics?
A: My absolute favorite is Laura Knetzger's Bug Boys, which follows the adventures of two beetle best friends. It's kind, funny, fun, wonderfully unpredictable, and almost frighteningly sincere. It's a book I would buy for literally anyone.


An excerpt from the Chad Agamemnon comic, which you can get for free at A2CAF.

Q: You partnered with the AADL on Chad Agamemnon for Free Comic Book Day in May and A2CAF. Who inspired Chad and have you ever lived in an Ann Arbor co-op?
A: I really don't know where Chad came from. He is my weird son. I lived in Michigan House in the summer of 2008. I was a really, really bad roommate. The co-op (in the comic) is clearly a direct reference to Mich House, and the room Chad shares with Scott is the room I inhabited that summer!

Q: Calvin and Hobbes and Mad Magazine have been noted by you as early influences. Do you still see their influence while you’re working on something new today?
A: Calvin and Hobbes, maybe! But I was so young when I read Mad Magazine I might as well have been a literate slug. To be honest, I think I've just always hated reading, and I absorbed a lot of Mad and Calvin and Hobbes just because those were the books in my house with the most pictures.

Q: You won the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Minicomic for Radishes last year. Will we be seeing any further adventures of Beth and Kelly in the future?
A: Probably not! I've definitely thought about it, but these girls were so specifically created for the story of Radishes, and even though I love them and see them weirdly as complete people, I can't imagine them going on a different adventure. I feel like I would end up just repeating the themes of Radishes over and over again, and I'd rather move on to something else.

Q: Before working on Radishes you attended a workshop by Fantasy Sports creator Sam Bosma. How much did that workshop influence Radishes, and has it continued to influence your work?
A: Sam is so nice! And that workshop is basically where Radishes was born. It wouldn't exist without it. I even got Radishes printed on off-white paper because Sam had been printing his fantasy mini comics on off-white paper. I told Sam later that Radishes was just a rip-off of his stuff, he gave me a friendly shrug, and said, "I can't make all the comics!" He is just the best. He's an amazing teacher, and I owe him so much.

Q: What advice do you have for other creators who are either considering or already are self-publishing their comics?
A: Write yourself a budget! I've never done this, but I feel like it's probably a good idea. And go to festivals! I feel like nobody can succeed in self-publishing without going to independent comics festivals. Even if you're just attending, bring some little cheap mini-comic, and get it into people's hands.


Carolyn Nowak really shines in her more personal comics, such as Girl Town, Radishes, and To Be Seen.

Q: When you’re working on something like Diana’s Electric Tongue and Girl Town, how much are you pulling from your own personal experiences while creating the story?
A: I'm pulling, like, everything from personal experience. I don't know how to write any other way. Diana is basically me. The main character in Girl Town is also me. Both girls in Radishes = me. I've never been an astronaut or bought a sex robot, but I do derive a ton of power from my gang of girlfriends and I do have an intense fear of true intimacy.

Q: How did you end up working on bigger properties like Lumberjanes and Spongebob Squarepants?
A: Blackmail

Q: The podcast you co-host, We Should Be Friends, is billed as a podcast “about exciting work by cool people.” How did that start, and what kind of “cool people” are you discussing in each episode?
A: My beautiful friend Carta started it all. She's a comics genius, a comics ... shark ... I'm trying to think of a good metaphor here. She thinks about comics all the time and reads comics all the time. The "cool people" we talk about in each episode are the creators that Carta finds and brings to the table. Then we talk about their work and try to get them to be friends with us. Doing this podcast has made my work so much better.

Q: What are some of the projects you’re currently working on?
A: Right now I'm working on a few things, a couple secret things, but honestly, there's nothing solid on the docket for me, which is good because I've completely overcommitted myself in the past few months. The one thing I can talk about in a real way is No Better Words, an erotic comic I'm making for fun, which I will release on my birthday, July 29.

Jeremy Klumpp is a freelance writer based in Ypsilanti.

The Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF) is at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch from Friday, June 16, to Sunday, June 18. Click here for the full A2CAF schedule of activities and guests, including Jarrett J. Krosoczka ("Lunch Lady"; read our interview with him), Raina Telgemeier ("Smile", "Sisters"), and Ben Hatke ("Zita the Spacegirl"), who has an exhibition of his artwork on the third floor of the library's downtown branch; a reception will be held there on Friday, June 16, from 6-8 pm.