Alaska, at least as far as I know, hasn’t exactly been regarded as birthplace of notable cartoonists in the same manner that, say, New York or Ohio have been.
Now the 49th state can add at least one name to its roster, Anna Bongiovanni. The Fairbanks native, now transplanted to Minnesota, released her debut Out of Hollow Water through the small-press publisher 2D Cloud. It’s a rather haunting trio of short stories, told in simple, one-panel-per-page fashion, to detail various emotional, familial and even sexual trauma. Bongiovanni, however, relies upon folklore and fairy-tale tropes to give her stories an eerie, otherworldly feel that makes these stories both alien and universal at the same time. It’s a pretty impressive debut.
I talked with Bongiovanni over email during the holidays about her new book and its origins.
Chris Mautner: First of all, tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you get interested in drawing? How were you introduced to comics and what made you decide to start making your own?
Ann Bongiovanni: I was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska. I never got into comics until my parents just happened to buy an Archie comic from the grocery store. Then I was hooked, like obsessed, with Archie comics. Luckily, I calmed down and – while Archie holds a special nostalgic place in my heart – I am not nearly as crazed about the series as I once was. For a few years, I attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and tried to major in elementary education, but all I ever did was draw comics. It’s what I did in-between homework assignments and during lectures. Instead of going to parties, I was drawing in my dorm room alone. I don’t really know what that says about me (yikes), but I couldn’t really think about anything other than telling my own stories. It didn’t help that I really dislike children and wanted nothing to do with them. My parents convinced me to try attending the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2007 and get a BFA in comic art, and I’ve been drawing comics ever since.
Along a similar note, who are your main influences?
This is always a tough question for me to answer, because I have so many and they vary and change over time. And some of my main influences aren’t cartoonists. For a long time I was obsessed with saints and the stories behind their sainthood and feel like this affects a lot of my work. I’m also really drawn to Anne Sexton and her poetry (where the title Out of Hollow Water came from). I’ve always been drawn to minicomics and people who self-publish their own work. I’m currently really in love with Cathy Johnson’s work, as well as Julia Gfrörer, the Doris zines, Hellen Jo and Anders Nilsen.
The three stories in Out of Hollow Water all deal in some manner with the negative aspects of sex, sexuality or sexual trauma, i.e. a bad/abusive relationship, unwanted pregnancy and molestation. Were you consciously attempting to weave these themes together when working on the book or did it happen organically?
I try very hard not to think about the meaning of a comic while I’m drawing it. I never start with the thought “I’m going to work with these themes,” the stories develop and then the themes sort of emerge. I want to draw without getting muddled with thinking, “What’s the point of this? What am I trying to say?” I avoid thoughts like those because they just get in the way of creating something subconscious or vomiting whatever is bothering me at the time out onto a page. And then at the end, I’m usually a little freaked out by what came out of it. I’m a little freaked out by Out of Hollow Water.
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