Ellen Lindner is the wonderful creator of the self-published comic Undertow. Using her past experiences as an Art History undergrad and New York City as inspiration for her work, this Do-It-Yourself artist is a firm believer in just that, doing stuff for yourself. Her work proves that sometimes waiting on a publisher just isn’t what needs to be done; it’s taking the initiative. Here is the interview with the talented Ellen Lindner:
What was your first published work, and how did you get that opportunity?
My first published work was a one-page comics in Skineater Comics, a small but incredibly professionally produced zine edited by Chris Shadoian, a cartoonist living near where I went to college in Northampton, Massachusetts. I was volunteering at the Words and Pictures Museum at the time, a now sadly defunct institution showcasing the collection of Ninja Turtles creator Kevin Eastman, and my boyfriend knew Chris. It was really nice of him to give me the opportunity – I didn’t have a clue how to do comics! Or anything, really. But then, as now, a deadline was a very powerful motivator.
How did you find art school to be beneficial to you? Did you have a lot of networking opportunities?
I didn’t attend art school, per se, until I was in my late twenties – I spent my college years immersed in the world of art history (I recently made a comic about this time with my friend Barnaby Richards -
) drawing and painting when I could. When I did make it to an actual art school it was for my Master’s degree in illustration, which I obtained at Camberwell College of Art here in South London. Camberwell has a good reputation in the UK but the benefits of my course were mostly to do with the tutor, a fantastic woman called Janet Woolley. She has spent her career at the pinnacle of the illustration world, and was a very inspiring presence. While at Camberwell networking was not a priority – but I did meet my wonderful studiomate, the children’s book illustrator (and ace cartoonist) Sarah McIntyre. We weren’t especially close at Camberwell, but Sarah started to get much more involved in the comics scene as her degree progressed and so we started to hang out more. She’s now someone I really rely on for thoughts on comics and cartooning – Sarah’s a true genius when it comes to visual expression.
Was the process of being the writer and the artist for Undertow pretty organic for you, or did you find certain aspects challenging?
I find all of comics pretty challenging, but I don’t see that as a personal thing – people who can just crank comics out are few and far between. Most cartoonists I know find the whole thing a fairly vexed process. But what’s the fun in doing something that’s just easy? Undertow grew out of getting to know New York – and mourning the wholescale, continuous trashing of its history, of which Coney Island is a terribly sad example. Undertow also reflects the photography, comics and film I was interested in at the time, a mix of Bruce Davidson, Godard and romance stories from the fifties. So to that extent it was very organic – it felt like something I knew I had to do, if only to learn how to tell my kind of story.
What made you want to self publish Undertow?
I self-published Undertow because I was having a hard time finding a publisher – at some point I decided that I needed to finish it, and to finish it I’d need to publish it myself. It debut’ed at the Thing, London’s premier minicomics festival at the time. It was so exciting to be able to sell it, after years of serializing it online, and releasing tiny bits in minicomics. Like anyone, I wish I’d had a publisher to take care of me, and make the process a lot easier – especially distribution. I now have a contract with a publisher here in London to reprint it – so keep an eye out for the new and improved edition! But I learned so much through the self-publishing process – I feel much more self-sufficient as a result, and wouldn’t change the way things happened for anything.
Your website is really open and friendly about doing work with all kinds of people, giving an open link for your agent and an Etsy page for commissions. Do you find this to be helpful for making connections, or do you get a lot of strange requests?
I get the odd strange request but mostly it just makes me accessible – and being easy to find is a major professional advantage. I’m definitely open to a wide variety of projects – over the last year I’ve done a short comics adaptation of Anna Karenina, an educational story about spies, and a strip for PlayStation about an evil can of hairspray, in addition to my personal work. I’m flexible. But most of my connections come in the form of face-to-face networking, or as it used to be known, meeting people and making friends!
You‘ve worked for a lot of different projects, do prefer that? Do you ever find yourself wanting to just work for one company?
Of course it would be neat to be part of a company – I have an idea of the Marvel bullpen, or Peggy’s art minions on Mad Men. Mostly it would be fantastic to know where my money is coming from every month. But working with a wide range of clients is crucial for a developing artist like me – it gets you ready to embrace challenges, not to shy away from them.
How do you handle artists‘ block? Do you find giving yourself a break to beneficial or do you just power through it?
Funny you should say that – I’m suffering from a bit of artists’ block right now! When that happens I normally find that I need to set aside a day or two to focus exclusively on the project that’s got me feeling confused – often artist’s block, for me, means that something’s not going right with the project. For example, at the moment I know I have a bit of extra research to do for a strip – but I’m still forcing myself to do layout! That’s madness – I deserve my block! I have a feeling that once I do that research, my block will evaporate and I’ll be able to get on with things.
What is your method for improving your art?
My method is generally to try and draw as much as possible – I have a 45 minute bus ride to my studio and I try to spend it on warm-up sketches, then I work on whatever project I have going on at my studio, and then usually computer work in the evening. I am moving to New York in the winter and hope it will inspire me to get started on something I used to do quite a bit of, and found very beneficial – sketching people on the subway. Maybe even some life drawing! A big thing, though, is to force myself, every once in a while, to spend an evening just reading comics – it brings you out of yourself and diversifies your visual approach.
Any advice for aspiring comic/graphic novel artists?
Be patient – comics are an infinitely complicated art form, and getting to be truly great takes a lifetime. That’s what I tell myself, anyway! Oh yes – and never be afraid to DIY. You are your own greatest ally.
Thanks again to Ellen Lindner for the interview, you can check out her site and Undertow below.