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From the creative friends of CICADA Magazine...

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On May 5 at 4pm CST/5pm EST, we will be having a live Q&A with Marnie Galloway in this space! Stay tuned.

Marnie Galloway is a cartoonist and illustrator working in Chicago. She is the author of "In the Sounds and Seas," "Burrow," "Particle/Wave," and a chaotic mountain of self-published mini-comics. She has worked for years, professionally and recreationally, as an advocate and cheerleader for cartoonists of all ages and skill levels, and is excited to talk with CICADA readers about art, comics, being deeply engaged readers & writers, and anything else that brings you joy.



Nino Cipri is a queer and trans/nonbinary writer, currently enrolled in the University of Kansas’s MFA in fiction. They are also a graduate of the 2014 Clarion Writers’ Workshop. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Nightmare Magazine, Tor.com, Fireside Fiction, and other publications. A multidisciplinary artist, Nino has also written plays, screenplays, and radio features; performed as a dancer, actor, and puppeteer; and worked as a backstage theater tech.


CICADA: Both Jeremy and Merion gravitate towards all things fanged, tentacled, and undead. What kind of comfort/empowerment/affirmation can be found in embracing the monstrous? 
NINO CIPRI: On a more personal level: Monster is the name I give to my depression when I’m trapped in it. I feel like a monster: inhuman, alien, horrible, radioactive, destructive. It’s not an accident that this is what I’ve heard all my life—that my queer self is monstrous, that my trans body disturbs people, that my existence is a mistake or a joke. When I’m depressed, I’m too worn down to disagree with those messages. Embracing the monstrous is how I tell myself that it’s good to live in my body, to love who I do, to feel my feelings, to find my own reasons to keep living. 

(Sidenote: the Gay Babadook memes during Pride were GIVING ME LIFE, because he’s pretty much all of the above feelings wrapped up in a pink boa and top hat.)

On a larger level: normativity kills people. I don’t mean that metaphorically. People die because the world refuses them entrance based on perceived deviance from “normal.” We are refused healthcare based on that deviance. We’re hounded out of public places through ridicule and refusal. We face violence (like all monsters inevitably do) and commit or consider suicide in higher numbers (because the world has no room for us). But “human” has a high entrance fee. Traveling from monsterhood and assimilating into humanity demands stripping out the most essential parts of yourself. 

I would rather be whole and a force to be reckoned with. I’d rather be a monster, aligned with other monsters. 

CIC: Tell us a little bit about your creative process. How does a story first take shape in your mind? What does your revision process look like? How do you break through the dreaded writer’s block?
NC: My stories often come unexpectedly, especially when I’m bored. Certain kinds of boredom are actually really helpful to my creativity, since my imagination will do pretty much anything to escape the mindless task at hand. (I’m pretty sure I started writing “A Silly Love Story” while doing laundry.) I’ve worked a lot of boring jobs, and some of my best ideas came when I was cleaning other people’s bathrooms, fixing bikes, or shelving books. Public transportation and bicycle commutes are also great times to be bored and come up with stories. 

I don’t have a single, streamlined writing process. I like knowing the beginning and ending and letting the middle work itself out on the page, but other times, I just have a single idea and free write from there. My revision process can be really lengthy; I’ve tossed out and rewritten entire drafts, then tossed out the rewrite and started again from scratch. 
I’m not sure about writer’s block. I did lose the ability to write poetry when I was seventeen and dealing with a bunch of horrible stuff in my life, but got into other forms instead. That became a pattern in my life; when I couldn’t write poetry, I wrote plays. When I couldn’t do that, I wrote fiction, or fanfiction, or essays, book reviews, angry emails, or journal entries about how miserable I felt. I think—after almost fifteen years—that I’m getting ready to write poetry again. Creativity isn’t a well that dries up; it’s a certain way of engaging with the world. The practice stays the same, even as the forms shift.

CIC: What is inspiring you most right now?
NC: 2017 has been ROUGH, not just because of politics and homegrown fascism, but because of personal losses, grad school, personal changes. My families—the biological one and the chosen one(s)—have kept me afloat. I’ve taken a lot of strength from my elders, who teach me how to fight and build even when I feel broken, and from young people, who are dreaming new futures in the face of despair. 
I’m feeling especially inspired by the prison abolition movement, particularly the activists that are based out of Chicago, and the changing face of the labor organizing and activism. These two movements are the ones that have the clearest visions of a future I want to live in. 

CIC: If you could go back in time and meet yourself when you first started writing, what advice would you give yourself?
NC: Write the stories that you want to read. Don’t listen to people who say that fanfiction is weird and a waste of time. Stop quitting your novels at 20,000 words. 

CIC: If you were a ghost or poltergeist, what would your haunting M.O. be? Rattling chains? Flickering lights? Something a little more unorthodox? 
NC: I would haunt certain politicians’ offices and let out long, loud, juicy farts during important meetings, press conferences, and speeches. 


Whit Taylor

Whit Taylor is a cartoonist, writer, and editor from New Jersey. In addition to self-publishing, her comics have been published by Sparkplug Books (2015 Best American Comics Notable Comic, The Anthropologists), Ninth Art Press, The Nib, Fusion, Boom! Studios, and others. She is currently working on a graphic novel about public health.


How does visiting an impressive place put things in perspective for you? Can you tell us about a specific time a place left a deep impression on you?

Going to places of immense scale or beauty make me feel smaller, and in a way more integrated into the universe. Sometimes, I’ll go to a planetarium or museum to get that feeling. Years ago I visited a few national parks in southern Utah. Just sitting near the edge of a cliff at Canyonlands National Park gave me this feeling of tranquility and awe (as well as a bit of fear).


Talk about some of your other comics projects. What project do you think is the most exciting and what drew you to the idea? 

I’ve tried make different types of comics, from fiction and journalism to autobio/memoir. This last comics genre is the one I’m most comfortable with, but I still try to find ways to push myself with it. The last mini-comic I made, Wallpaper, was a semi-autobio story told entirely through patterns and text. I wanted to see if I could construct a story without drawing people and feel like I succeeded! Plus, it was a blast to draw complicated designs. Up next I am doing a history comic. This is challenging due to the research and fact checking, but it is also rewarding to work on lesser-known stories that I want folks to learn about.


What subjects and themes are you most drawn to right now?

I’m really into writing non-fiction educational comics right now. I like the idea of taking tricky or misunderstood concepts, as well a typically “dry” material and explaining them visually. I also keep coming back to the same themes in my autobio/fictional work: culture, relationships, and identity. I like wrestling with these topics in different ways, both to help me understand them better and to give the reader something different to think about.


Do you have advice for other budding comics artists?

I would say that having patience is key. There’s often a pressure to become a fully formed artist at a young age, since our culture puts a real value on becoming “successful” early. I wish I had known that my style would go through a lot of changes in the first few years, as my skills evolved and I tried drawing with new materials. I think that is normal and I also think style evolution is something that will last your entire career, even if those changes become less pronounced.


If you could ask one question of a creature of the deep, what would it be?

I would ask them how the people in their society treat each other.  Or their opinion on mayo.


Unlimited possibilities! If money, time, and the laws of physics weren’t an obstacle, where would you want to travel?

I’d want to take a tour of our solar system with a few days on each planet. I would include Pluto too, because I’m still having a hard time accepting that it’s not a planet anymore.





Corinne Mucha

Corinne Mucha is a Chicago-based cartoonist, illustrator and teaching artist. She is the author of three graphic novels, including “Get Over It!” published by Secret Acres. You can find more of her work at www.maidenhousefly.com


CICADA: Can you talk a bit more about what being vigilant about mental health means to you? 

Corinne Mucha: I have struggled with depression and anxiety since I was a teenager. Over the past twenty years or so, I feel like I’ve learned a lot of the same lessons over and over. For example, a depressive episode isn’t going to go away if I ignore it or blame it on something external—it’s important to be as proactive as I can to reach a baseline of better mental health. I keep a running checklist of good habits that I know contribute to my overall wellbeing. When I’m feeling bad, I revisit the list, spend some time evaluating what I’m not doing and why, and try to get back on track. Some of it is really basic, like getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, and paying attention to my diet. Other things require a little more time, like exercise and meditation. After spending some time recommitting to this routine, I can reevaluate—do I feel any different? Or does even keeping up with these habits feel overwhelming? That’s when therapy can be really helpful. I have seen different therapists at different points in my life who have really helped by giving me a variety of tools to use on my own. 

I have gone through long periods where depression and anxiety have felt like familiar (but annoying) companions, and I have also gone through periods where they have really disrupted my life, affecting both work and relationships. It’s important to me to stay attentive so that I can tell difference between the two, and to know when to ask for help.


Cic: What subjects inspire you most? What would you like to explore more in your comics?

CM: My first experiences with comics were making diary comics, and since then I’ve continued to be drawn to making work based on personal stories. My favorite thing about personal storytelling is playing the “association” game—making connections between experiences or anecdotes that might not seem to have a relationship. I also have a deep fondness for drawing faces on inanimate objects. In addition to making comics, I also work as an educator and illustrator. Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time making drawings explaining concepts in particle physics, which I’ve enjoyed quite a bit. In general, I like using art to explain things, whether it’s to attempt to pin down a feeling, detail an experience, or illustrate theories on the origins of dark matter. There are more personal stories I’d like to tell, but I’d also love to keep using art for educational endeavors. 


Cic: What are some tips for authentically turning yourself into a character in autobiographical comics?

CM: Learn to pay attention to your own unique thought process.  Noticing your thoughts is not just an art-making tool, but a helpful mindfulness practice!  Diary comics are a great way to do this, because you are not just recording what happens to you, but creating a system of noticing what is important to you. You won’t draw every single thing you do or think about in a day, so what will you choose to put on the page?  Consistently recording stories over time will help you to get to know what your written “persona” is. 


Cic: If you were reborn as a plant, what plant would you be and why?

CM: An aloe plant! Aloe plants are not only resilient, but they have healing properties.





CICADA: Can you talk a little bit about how Pen’s character took shape? Has she stayed true to your original vision of her, or has she evolved beyond what you expected?

M-E GIRARD: The idea for Pen first came to me as I quickly put together a submission for a writing contest. The early version of Pen was crusty and negative—people found her exhausting to listen to! It took several drafts for me to figure out how to strike a balance with her characterization. She definitely evolved beyond my expectations. I know the goal for any writer is to create realistic, authentic characters, but it’s still kind of mind-blowing to have created a character that you talk about as though they were real. I’ve already created many characters through my writing, but Pen is in a league of her own—and not just because her story is now a published book. In a little while, I plan to dig out my original first draft and give it a read, just to remind myself of where Pen came from.


CIC: There are many different types of masculinity portrayed in Girl Mans Up, both positive and negative. How can the concept of masculinity be toxic? How can it be positive? In what ways would you like to see masculinity explored in teen lit?

MG: I’m not always sure how I feel about femininity and masculinity, nor am I sure how I’d define them. Masculinity is toxic when we place expectations on those who practice it that reinforce harmful ideas about what it is to be masculine and why that’s superior to being feminine. I’m not sure I would deem masculinity or femininity as either positive or negative. I don’t think it’s particularly useful to create lists of attitudes, behaviors, and fashion/physical appearance choices and decide they only belong to a certain type of person. But at the same time, this is the world we live in right now, so many of us find comfort and empowerment in redefining our ideas about what it means to be masculine and feminine, in discovering our own versions of masculinity and femininity, and in letting each other decide what feels more authentic and what belongs to us.

You can’t possibly tell everything with just one story, so I took a few questions and ideas I have about these concepts and incorporated them into Girl Mans Up. I really wanted to lay different versions of femininity and masculinity out there for readers to see, and I wanted them to experience the good and the bad about it. I also wanted them to feel confused about the whole thing, the way I often do. Because it’s not cut and dried. So in teen lit, I’d love to see stereotypes and expectations for what is normal continue to be challenged. 


CIC: At one point in the novel, Pen wonders, “am I queer because I like girls, or because I look the way I do? Maybe I don’t know enough words.” In what ways do you think language can be freeing or limiting, in terms of identity? 

MG: I think learning new words and learning about new concepts is so freeing . . . until you realize there’s even more words and more concepts out there that you have yet to get into. Then you start reading people’s opinions, interpretations, and critiques about the new stuff you’ve learned, and you’re confused all over again. You’ll try to engage in conversations and assert yourself, but you’ll offend by saying the wrong thing, using outdated arguments and terminology, or by denying someone else’s experience or existence. But if you continue reading, listening, and paying attention to the ways others use words, you will come to a point where you realize you’re aware of things you weren’t aware of before. You’ll understand yourself and others in a more profound way. You’ll know that you’re in a better place now than when you sat there in ignorance. Despite the fact that gaining knowledge often leads to more questions and more confusion, it’s undeniably empowering. It can literally save you. And your use and understanding of language can also save others.


CIC: So you’re a gamer, and many of the characters in Girl Mans Up are pretty serious about video games, as well. Has gaming influenced you as a writer?

MG: I’m not sure gaming really has influenced me as a writer, other than by really cutting down the amount of time I have to dedicate to writing, since I’m known to spend entire days in my game room instead of writing in my office. I think my being a writer has actually enhanced my gaming experience, however. I’m a lot more aware of storytelling in gaming now. Although game play will always be the most important thing to me, when it comes to choosing a game to spend time on, storytelling is something I look at now. It’s why I gave a nod to The Last of Us in Girl Mans Up—because that game’s story and characterization are epic.


CIC: If you were a protagonist in a video game, what sort of game would it be? What kind of powers would you have?

MG: This question is interesting! And I feel like I could interpret it in several ways. First off, my favorite games are open world, first-person shooter type of games like Dead Island, Dying Light, Far Cry, and Borderlands. I would not want to hang out in one of those worlds for real! I’m not really into superhero games, so I couldn’t see myself in that kind of game (even though having a power would be pretty awesome). I love side-scrolling platformers but I imagine running from left to right in a 2D world would get kind of boring after a while. So I guess I’d probably star in a choice-based, interactive drama game like Life is Strange, where I’d be the main character of some mystery or thriller, and the player would decide how the story unfolds by deciding what I should be doing next. 



Christina “Steenz” Stewart is a comics creator from St. Louis, Missouri. She works at Lion Forge as the Social Media and Community Manager and has been making comics professionally for the past six years. Steenz created and has run an annual educational series, “Comics University,” for the past 4 years and prides herself on her extensive knowledge of the DC Universe. She likes watching reality TV competitions, eating Pop-Tarts, and listening to any and everything Lin-Manuel Miranda touches. She and Ivy Noelle Weir have a book coming out from Oni Press called Archival Quality. Look for it in 2018! She lives with her fiancé, Keya, and her cat, Marko.


CICADA: Do you ever get stuck over-thinking or over-editing a comic instead of finishing it? How do you get yourself out of that rut?

Steenz: Actually I don’t do ENOUGH editing. I like to get a lot of my thoughts out there even if that means making the comic longer. If I need to stick within a page limit that’s when I do the most editing. The best way to do the right amount of editing is to read what you wrote at least twice and see what is superfluous information. No need to be repetitive if you don’t have to.


CIC: What subjects and ideas are you most drawn to lately?

S: I love reading and drawing day in the life types of comics. The small things that happen in people’s lives on a daily basis give me so much life. Knowing that other people also count while they brush their teeth or commiserating on life’s tiny annoyances is satisfying.


CIC: How do you decide which “small things” to turn into “day in the life” comics? What advice do you have for people who want to start creating autobio comics?


S: When it comes to autobio comics, I like to focus on things that cause a visceral emotional reaction, whether it’s humor, tragedy, or the satisfaction of seeing someone’s mundane activities mirroring your own. My advice for those looking to make those kinds of comics is to go with your gut. If you feel like you would want to read a comic about a certain situation, then by all means write it. In fact, write it regardless of whether you think it’s interesting to someone else. Write what makes you feel. Nine times out of ten, there’ll be someone who wants to hear your voice.


CIC: What comics/books/movies are inspiring you most right now? 

S: Right now I’m really impressed with Hulk by Mariko Tamaki, the Six of Crows series by Leigh Bardugo, and most horror movies. I’m actually going to see Get Out later tonight, so follow me on Twitter to see what my thoughts were. I expect it to be great!


CIC: If you were a mythological/fantasy/fairy tale creature, what would you be and why?

S: I would probably be a siren. The idea of luring someone to their death with sweetness is kind of baller. Also then I’d be able to conquer my fear of drowning.



an interview with Darcie Little Badger

Darcie Little Badger is a Lipan Apache scientist, writer, and friendly goth. After studying gene expression in toxin-producing phytoplankton, she received a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University. Her short fiction has appeared in several publications, including Strange Horizons and Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time, an anthology of speculative fiction by indigenous writers. Darcie tweets as @ShiningComic. For her complete bibliography, visit darcielittlebadger.wordpress.com/my-short-stories.


CICADA: Even in the face of death, the Apparently Siblings still take time for witty banter—how can a sense of humor (even dark humor) help keep you buoyed in dark times?

DARCIE LITTLE BADGER: Laughter may not scare away all the evil and sorrow in our world, but people are more than the weight of struggles. Humor can be a vital method of self-care. You and I deserve a chance to be happy, even if that means a dash of gallows humor. It feels good to smile (or make other people smile); even a spark of joy goes a long way when life is hard. It’s like a glass of cool water in the desert. 


CIC: What made metal the natural choice for the Apparently Sibs’ music genre? 

DLB: Good metal embodies the indomitable human spirit. It’s an anthem of bravery, defiance, and screaming strength. When metal plays, you’re ALL-CAPS TRIUMPHANT. By the way, this applies to virtually any situation. Stuck in a traffic jam? Turn up the music and BRING IT! Doing homework? YEAH! YOU’RE AWESOME! SOLVE THAT QUADRATIC EQUATION! Descending into the underworld to defeat an apocalyptic threat? YOUR SOUNDTRACK IS EXTRA METAL, BUDDY! The Apparently Siblings aren’t just survivors; they survive and flourish, despite overwhelming odds. To quote a poem by Dylan Thomas, they “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” The music they create reflects that quality.

Now, the Plague Eater definitely appreciates the bold, creative quality of Apache/Navajo neoclassical alt-metal fusion. Plus, the void Below has terrible acoustics, so music has to be loud enough to rattle teeth, or it doesn’t carry very well.


CIC: Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between the colors black and white in this story?

DLB: The seed that inspired “Black, Their Regalia” was an observation about color. I’m the kind of goth who drapes myself in black. Consequently, my closet looks like it’s full of fabric shadows. One day, while I was getting dressed, I realized that my bright blue, pink, and holo-rainbow Pow Wow regalia was completely out of place among my daily wardrobe. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to write about righteous dancers with black regalia? Yessss.”

In Lipan Apache culture, black is not associated with death and mourning. As such, I avoid linking black with death in my story. Rather, it’s a powerful color, one that unites the Apparently Siblings with each other and the awesome forces from Below (it’s the Plague Eater’s favorite color, for turkey vulture–related reasons). 

Alternatively, the memorial pillar, the quarantine compound, and the tragic train are all bleached bone white. That’s definitely intentional symbolism. By the way, as an oceanographer and horror fan, I love that the White Cliffs of Dover (and many other calcareous sedimentary formations) are made of prehistoric plankton “skeletons.” Scary!


CIC: What is most exciting in the SF/F world to you right now? 

DLB: The surge of Indigenous futurism art, particularly new fiction by Native writers, is thrilling. The term “Indigenous futurisms” was coined by Grace Dillon to describe a speculative body of work that is entwined with Indigenous experiences. To me, that’s crucial. Growing up, I rarely encountered Apache characters in books or short stories (except for Westerns or historical fiction; if I never think about the slur-named villain of Tom Sawyer again, it’ll be too soon). I felt invisible, particularly when I read mainstream science fiction that erased people like me. Colonization did not succeed; Native Americans survived the 1800s, and we will have a brilliant future. Indigenous futurism recognizes and celebrates our persistence. I love it! Give me Native space pilots and Apache cyborg detectives! 

On the SF/F magazine front: FIYAH, which publishes Black SF/F stories and poetry, just released its first issues. I’m excited to read more from the magazine with a mission “to spill tea and throw shade in the most delightful way.” 


CIC: Are there any other writers or artists who are inspiring you right now? 

DLB: I’ll name three, in honor of the Apparently Siblings trio. Starting with music (which seems fitting), I’m inspired by Frank Waln, a Sicangu Lakota producer and hip hop artist. Waln uses art to fight injustice; for example, he recently released the song “Treaties,” a response to centuries of broken promises between the U.S. government and Indigenous nations. 

There’s Jeffrey Veregge, an artist from the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe; he’s well known for his work in comics (though my favorite Veregge art is the gorgeous love-in-space cover for the Indigenous SF anthology Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time). His art radiates brightness and hope; it’s a flame of optimism that I
carry with me.

Speaking of comics, Elizabeth LaPensée (Anishinaabe, Métis, and Irish) is, among many other things, a comic writer and game developer with a Ph.D. Her push for Indigenous artistic self-determination is crucial. I also admire her dedication to teaching. LaPensée empowers students with skills to create their own art, and that’s world-changing. 


CIC: If you could be the protagonist of a SF/F story, what sort of character would you be?

DLB: Here’s a summary of my ideal role in a SF/F story:

    It’s midnight. My cell phone rings. Unknown number!? Who could it be? Nobody calls me. I have just three names in my contact list, and two of those are my parents. I answer the phone, curious.

    “Is this Dr. Darcie Little Badger, the oceanographer and writer?” asks a mysterious voice.

    “Yes. How can I help you?”

    “I’m with NASA. We . . . we need your expertise.”

    “Well, I know three things really well: phytoplankton genetics, badgers, and weird stuff.”

    “Good. Dr. Darcie, we have discovered aliens. They’re planktonic!”


    “Also, you have superpowers.”

    “What kind?”

    “Really, whatever is convenient.”

    “Excellent. You can count on me.”

    So I study alien plankton, fight crime, and add NASA to my phone contact list.



Alex D. Araiza

Alex D. Araiza is a freelance artist living in Minneapolis, MN where he helps run Plus Dog Collective. He lives and works in a cozy house with his fellow artist friends, a dog, and an amazing cat.


CICADA: A lot of your work tends toward dreamlike horror—what draws you to this kind of subject matter?
ALEX D. ARAIZA: I have an extremely overactive imagination that lends itself to a lot of high anxiety and an ever-looming fear of death. For some reason, though, I’ve found that when I’m working on something that appears horrific or creepy, I become less focused on my mortality.

My fear of monsters, ghosts, or strange, unusual sounds in the night is not my fear of death. I would rather be scared of fiction than be frightened of reality.

CIC: In this comic, you literally “put a happy face” on your fear of death. How does art help cast a friendlier light on things that frighten you?
ADA: Art helps me gain some control over my fears. If I can create something visually irksome or terrifying, what does that mean? Does it mean that my fears in real life are as counterfeit as the two-dimensional world I’ve painted on a wood panel?

If I can create my own fears, maybe there’s a chance I can unmake them, or at least there’s a chance I can overwhelm them with a whole new idea.

CIC: So you’re part of an artist collective called Plus Dog Collective. Can you tell us a little bit about that? What is the importance of community to you as an artist?
ADA: Plus Dog Collective is a collective that my friends and I created post-college. The main two things Plus Dog does are to create anthologies and enter art conventions.
A lot of us came out of school feeling dried and used up. With most of us stuck in non-art-related jobs, there was a real fear that we all kind of failed at life. Plus Dog was a remedy for the stagnant feeling of failure. It became our rallying call to get us unstuck from the mud.

Having a community is just the norm of the art world. You can’t get by on your own, and really it’s worth it to reach out to others around you. Artists are meant to grow and reflect on the world around them. If a person is unwilling to get outside of their own head, they will be cutting themselves off from the only way to stay relevant.

CIC: Are there any other comics and artists that are inspiring you right now?
ADA: I would say the artists and cartoonists who have had the biggest influences on me have definitely been KC Green, Stephen Gammell, and Junji Ito. The latter may be the most obvious if you look at the style of my art, but KC Green may seem like a big surprise.

I really value humor. I feel like the reason life can be so scary or sad is because those feelings only occur in reaction to the loss or the fear of loss of what is good.

Also, humor, when it is successful, is the best tool to relate to your audience. If you can make people laugh, you can make people cry and scream.

CIC: Say you’re a were-animal of some kind. What do you turn into every full moon?
ADA: Another human. Does that count? A taller, cooler human. Or maybe just a house cat. 



Rumi Hara was born in Kyoto, Japan. She now lives in Brooklyn, New York, and makes illustrations and comics there. Visit her at rumihara.com.


CIC: Thanks for talking with us, Rumi! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?

RH: I was working as a translator in Japan when I decided to come to the US in 2012 to go to an art school. I always loved drawing and was coming up with a lot of stories to illustrate, so one day I decided to learn more about illustration and comics. Now I live and work in Brooklyn, NY, and I’m working on a graphic novel called Nori. Nori is a nickname for Noriko, a little girl who often runs away on her own and finds out interesting things about the people and animals in her town.


CIC: For many, a volcanic eruption would be frightening, but for Yuri, it’s an invigorating and inspiring event. What makes you feel connected to the natural world? Have you ever witnessed a natural event that inspired you?

RH: I mostly grew up in Japan, where there are many earthquakes. The most recent major earthquake that I’ve experienced was the one in 2011. I was living in Tokyo at the time and although it’s pretty far from the Northeastern region where it originated, we still had a lot of aftershocks. One time I was sleeping with my right ear on a pillow and heard a loud rumbling sound that woke me up in the middle of the night. A few seconds later my whole apartment shook, and I realized that what I just heard was the force of an earthquake traveling through the ground.

Although the frequent aftershocks were scary and the news about the tsunami, nuclear disaster, and other damages was truly devastating, I somehow felt invigorated at the same time. Suddenly my neighbors seemed nicer and friendlier. Everyone was willing to do something helpful, and we knew that even just smiling and saying hello would be something significant in difficult times. There was an amazing sense of belonging and community. It really depended on each of us to help and rebuild, and that empowered the ordinary people, I think. That was an important experience for me and also an inspiration for this story with Yuri.


CIC: What kinds of stories are you drawn to? What is appealing about those stories?

RH: I really like reading or hearing stories about a particular place. Any place has its own history, memory, and landscape that is different from anywhere else, and I like learning about those things. I’m especially drawn to stories with some kind of surreal element. Not like a scary ghost, but maybe like a talking dog. Because animals make everything better!


CIC: When you’re in a creative slump, how do you pick yourself back up and find new motivation?

RH: I try to rest a lot. I can’t make anything when I’m physically tired, but I don’t always realize how tired I am. So when I feel frustrated about not being creative enough, I let myself sleep like twelve hours and do nothing during the day. Just eat and sleep and take a bath. After a couple of days like that, I’m usually refreshed and ready to work again.


CIC: If you could meet yourself as a beginning artist, what advice would you offer yourself?

RH: “Try different tools and find what you like!” Because I was using Copic markers and acrylics at the beginning and for some reason thought that they were the only options. Also, “Reach out to people, even just a few people!” Because not reaching out at all doesn’t get me jobs. I still feel like a beginning artist sometimes, so I keep telling my self these things.

CIC: If you could turn into any creature at will, what would you want to be?

RH: A roadrunner. I want to be able to run like the wind and also fly. Just to tease coyotes.


In this issue, we're chatting with author Russell Nichols about his piece, "Man of Straw."


Russell Nichols is a speculative fiction writer and endangered journalist from Richmond, California. His story about a black vampire on trial in Boston was included in the Best of Apex Magazine: Volume 1. Find his work in Terraform, Nightmare Magazine's POC Destroy Horror special issue and other anthologies. He left the States in 2011 to wander the world, living out of a backpack with his wife. Look for him at russellnichols.com.


CICADA: Thanks for chatting with us, Russell! Can you give us an intro to yourself and your work?

RUSSELL NICHOLS: Of course. I’m a natural-born writer, originally from Richmond, California. My wife and I sold our stuff back in 2011 and we’ve been vagabonding around the world since then. The stories I tell take many forms as screenplays, stage plays, speculative fiction and nonfiction. I’m a journalist by trade, a nomadic reporter unstuck in time, looking back to the future.


CIC: “Man of Straw” is definitely set in the future, with its bionic birds and government-sanctioned cloning, but it is also a terrifyingly close and recognizable future in a lot of ways. How did you go about building the world for this story? How does setting this story in the future help you examine existing systems of oppression?

RN: My first trip to this world was a few years ago, for a story called “u wont remember dying.” It was a shorter experimental piece set in a hospital, so I didn’t have time to explore the area. When I went back for this follow-up story, I was able to zoom in on details that stood out to me, reflecting themes of reality vs. artificiality, endangerment, fear, and so forth.

A near-future setting like this one allows me to look at things from a different angle. It’s like a distorted mirror and, as a journalist, I’m constantly asking questions about how systems of oppression could evolve and what that might mean for the most vulnerable. Then I bring the answers back, tragic as they may be, to hold up to the present.


CIC: Once he is discovered putting up the scarecrows, Marcus says, “That’s how they see me. Might as well own it, know what I’m saying?” Can you talk a bit more about the parallels between Marcus and the scarecrows?

RN: Marcus would be the one to ask, but I haven’t seen or spoken to him since he went missing. From the outside looking in, I saw Marcus as a man grasping for identity. Here he was, murdered by a cop, then resurrected days later. This is post-trauma on a whole 'nother level. How do you process that? How do you deal with that survivor’s guilt?

Without the necessary support, I think he began to fixate on how bigots saw him. He internalized their fear of him, their judgment of him, reciting straw man arguments that he was “brainless” and so couldn’t get hired for a job, for example.

But again, this is just one man’s opinion. Maybe Marcus meant something completely different when he said that. Unless he turns up, we’ll never know.


CIC: You describe yourself as an Afrofuturist writer—tell us a bit about what Afrofuturism means to you and to your work. What voices within that movement are particularly exciting to you right now?

RN: Art Curator Ingrid LaFleur defines Afrofuturism as “a way of imagining possible futures through a black cultural lens." This has always been critical to our survival. If you can’t see yourself in the future, you can believe you don’t have one. That said, we can’t talk about tomorrow without the context of yesterdays. It’s this cycle of time that has Afrofuturist voices ride on, from W. E. B. Du Bois to Octavia Butler, from Sun Ra to Janelle Monáe, and so many more. Right now I’m listening to music by Flying Lotus, watching films by Wanuri Kahiu and appreciating art by Tim Fielder. For me, Afrofuturism means using science and technology like two turntables, mixing the past and future to spin new stories in the beat of the moment.


CIC: Writers often write and rewrite and pick at a draft endlessly. How do you know when to call a piece “done”?

RN: I’m from the school of thought that a piece is never done. But I know interviews can’t last forever. We’re all working with limited time here. I’ve got deadlines to meet and there’s only so many questions I can ask. Some characters want to go on and on, telling me their life stories, and I have to cut them off. Some run out of things to say early. Others run out into the night, never to be heard from again, and the ending writes itself.


CIC: You mentioned that you and your wife have been “vagabonding around the world” since 2011. What’s one of your favorite experiences you’ve had since you started traveling?

RN: That's tough, picking just one. But a definite highlight was staying with an Indian camel driver and his family in Rajasthan. It was this remote village in the Thar Desert, cut off from everything. Never seen so many stars in my life.



Check out Inés Estrada's comic in our March/April 2018 issue!


CICADA: Thanks for chatting with us! Tell us a bit about yourself and your work.

Inés Estrada: Hey! I'm Inés Estrada, I'm from Mexico City, where I grew up and lived until I was 25. I started making stickers with my drawings when I was in high school and never stopped. Drawing can sometimes feel like a very isolating activity, so whenever I can I love to travel and do stuff outside. I currently live with my partner in San Antonio, Texas.

CIC: Your comic about monster identities features a couple of really striking characters. Where do you get inspiration for your character designs?

IE: Thank you! I really like drawing furry characters, they come easier to me than drawing people. I've noticed a lot of artists start with the eyes but I usually draw the bangs or the ears first because they're the most fun for me. My process is very impulsive and intuitive. I mostly just go at it without much thought. 

CIC: What were some of the first comics you remember reading? Do you think they still influence your work?

IE: The first comics I read were cheap bootlegs of Woody Woodpecker, Tom and Jerry, and Droopy that were made in Mexico. These were badly drawn and always ended with them eating tacos. They definitely inspired me to not take comics too seriously and just start drawing them however I could.

CIC: You run an online shop called Gatosaurio (gatosaurio.com). Can you talk a bit about the relationship between your shop and your personal work? Do you have any advice for young artists who are considering turning their work into a small business?

IE: I don't see much of a distinction between my personal work and the products I make. Sometime I do make designs specifically to be made into a product but other times I just look at the drawings I've made and think like, "oh, this would be a good print," or sticker, or whatever. I always tell aspiring artists to start with stickers: they're cheap to make and a great way to spread your work. Just make a selection of your favorite drawings, sketches, photos of sculptures or whatever you have; get some sticker paper for your printer or go to a local copy shop, print out a sheet, and cut them out with scissors. Then go around your school and sell them or put them up on your social media. It's easy! Don't be shy and try it out!

CIC: Do you have any exciting projects on the horizon?

IE: I'm very excited to say that my graphic novel Alienation will be published by Fantagraphics in 2019! That's gonna be cool.


Thanks, Inés!