Interview With Erika Moen (DAR)

DAR Volume 1

Earlier this year, Erika Moen published a print collection of her webcomic DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary, after some struggles with printers due to explicit adult content. An edited version of this interview was previously published at Publishers Weekly Comics Week. We discussed many things I didn’t have room to cover there, so the following is longer and in question-and-answer format.

You’ve been creating this diary webcomic since 2003. What made you decide to put out a book at this point? 

There were two factors that went into the decision to print my first book: being unemployed and peer pressure.

Though the majority of my friends are freelance artists, I never had enough faith in my abilities to think I could support myself on my own without the the certainty of a day job. I worked at a couple different animation studios in Portland, Oregon, after I graduated college in 2006. In May 2008, my entire studio got laid off, and I took on some freelance gigs until I could find another Real Job. After about six months of supporting myself on my own resources, it slowly dawned on me that I didn’t NEED to work a 9-5 and that it’s actually possible for me to be an independent artist. Pooping out DAR! over the years had left me with an enormous amount of content that I could actually turn into a potential source of revenue in the form of a book, which could also act as a calling card/portfolio to attract new clients or publishers.

My friends had been urging me to compile DAR! into a book for yeeeeears, but it just never really felt like it was worth it. Who’d actually spend money to read about my life? But my friends were super supportive/insistent, and the timing was right so… voila!

DAR Volume 1

How and why did you start cartooning? 

Words and pictures make such a fabulous combination, and I have always, always, always been using them together. Aside from speaking face-to-face with someone, comics are the most natural way for me to communicate. Though I enjoy making up dialogue, writing descriptions is really difficult for me. I make them super boring (probably since it’s an activity that bores me). But by cartooning, I can just SHOW the reader exactly what the setting is and what’s happening and save the words for when they’re really needed. I approach storytelling with a very “Show, Don’t Tell” mindset.

Why a webcomic? 

The internet was the best place for me to show my work to my friends, and once it was up there, I started to get a growing audience of strangers. I was putting my work on the web before I even learned about making minicomics. I never sat down and thought “_I_ know! I’ll put it… ON THE INTERNET,” it was simply the most obvious and easiest place to stick it.

You mentioned, when last we spoke, that you had some publishing problems with the book. What were they?

America is populated by Puritans. If I lived in Europe or Canada, the only issues I would have had to worry about would have been print quality and bleed marks.

Unfortunately, I had heard good things about the publisher I used and even own a few of their tits-n-weed-smokin’ filled books, so I signed up for them to pop my self-publishing cherry. Oh, regrets!

The short version: The company I went with (headquartered in Quebec) is very widely used in the comic book world, and they do definitely print “risque” and “adult” content. I paid them upfront. Two weeks before I was supposed to have all 1,000 books, the branch (in the US) where my work was to be printed decided to “decline” my project because of its “risque” content. It was sent on to a second US branch, who also “declined” for the same reason. Finally it was sent on to Canada, who did agree to print it but charged me extra. Though I told them they should cover the additional costs themselves (because it was their own individual branch employees who vetoed my book, even though the company itself had no problem with my work), I needed my books so I had to pay the additional fees.

The Long Version: I paid them up front for the amount quoted and was told I’d have my book by mid-March. So I opened up pre-orders online, saying I’d be shipping on April 1st, as well as lining up conventions and events to sell them at.

Less than two weeks before I was supposed to have 1,000 copies at my house, my representative called me up to inform me that the Idaho branch in charge of printing my book was “declining” to do so because of my “risque” content.

Never mind that they’d had all my files and had been having me do minor layout corrections on them for WEEKS at this point, nor that NOWHERE on my contract had it said that they do not print adult material. There are naked bodies in my book and some absurd sexual contexts, but I certainly wouldn’t consider my book to be sexy or pornographic. Book printers are basically Kinkos for books: they are not responsible for your content and their name appears nowhere on your project. You pay them to print. That’s it.

So my representative (who didn’t think my work was objectionable, I should mention) sent along my book to another branch, this one in Massachusetts. They also declined to print my book, on account of it being “too graphic”. At this point, there was no way I was going to be able to fulfill my pre-orders on time, and god only knew if I’d have them in time for the conventions I’d lined up.

Finally, it gets sent off to the Quebec branch which is, thankfully, in Canada where they don’t give a fuck about a tit here or there. But now that my project had gone international, it cost me many hundreds and hundreds of dollars more to have them print it and then ship it across country borders.

I asked that they reimburse me for the money I was losing by not having the books at the events I’d lined up (and paid to be at) and that they cover the additional costs that their own internal politics had cost me. Of course they “declined”. Working with this company hurt me financially.

In the end, I did get the books, and they are beautiful. But I’ll be damned if I ever use that printing company again, and I completely advise anybody looking to have their work printed to STAY AWAY.

I do, however, strongly recommend Epigraphic, the graphic novel division of Epigraph. Don’t let the website design deter anyone who is looking for quality printing done by reliable, fully invested people. They gave me nothing but absolutely wonderful, personal service when I was looking to switch printers, and my next book is going straight to them. They’ve also published several of Lucy Knisley’s books, including the first edition of French Milk, Heart, Seed, Snow, and Pretty Little Book. I can’t say enough good things about them.

Your material is unashamedly explicit, and revealing so much about yourself, physically and mentally, seems scary. Have you ever second-guessed that decision? What drives you to be so open? 

I’m only open about the stuff I feel comfortable talking about; there’s actually lots and lots that I actively censor. Sex, nudity, and bodily functions are things that I find pretty harmless and fully entertaining. Topics that I do find too private are stuff like fighting with friends, being super depressed, or anything that will portray my loved ones in a way that will embarrass them. People always ask if my husband knows of, or how he feels about, the stuff I write and it’s like “Bitch, please! That comic where he ate his own sperm? The one where I’m cooing because his cock’n’balls had gotten super tiny? THOSE WERE HIS SUGGESTIONS!”

I’m really, really lucky to have a spouse who shares my sensibilities. Or lack of them. I dunno.

Why am I so open about it? I think those subjects are funny, and I feed on the validation that comes from complete strangers telling me that they relate to my strips. Most of my close friends I’ve met are because of my comics. Shit, I met my husband because first he was a fan of my comics.

Also, I might be kinda an exhibitionist. Maybe.

Some of your material some might call gross. Do you ever get that reaction?

Oh sure, and I don’t blame them. Some people are actively offended by my comics and angry at me as a person for having made them. My sense of humor and world view are certainly not for everyone.

I loved your introduction, where you skip over the first three years and sum up your history as a lesbian who fell in love with a guy. How do you identify yourself? 

Thank you! For my sexuality, I stick with ‘queer’ as an all encompassing term to mean ‘not straight’. But the longer I’m with my spouse, the less defining my sexuality becomes to me. It’s like, I’m not going to be sleeping with anyone else so what does it matter who I find attractive? I’m still a feminist and I still think dirty thoughts about pretty girls…

I identify as an immature pervert.

Do you have plans for future volumes?

Oh yes! Volume 2 will collect all my strips from 2009, so that’ll be ready in 2010. And then I have several other not-DAR!-related books in mind as well that I’d like to get out this year… We’ll see if I can pull together the funds for them. I’m reeeeeally itching to do a full-color one.

How can readers get this book?

Currently I’m self-distributing, so you can either order from my website, buy directly from me at a convention or reading (ahem, cough, I’m available to do readings and lectures, cough, ahem), or at a comic store that is carrying my stuff.

Hopefully I can find a more official distributorship to actually do a professional job, but for now I’m all I’ve got.

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