Talking Comics with Tim: Kat Roberts

Robot 6 is fortunate to have Brigid Alverson covering the webcomics scene as well as she does through her Unbound column. But every once and awhile I like to jump into the webcomics mix and provide some coverage as well. Kat Roberts is set to resume (after a hiatus of a few months) her ACT-I-VATE webcomic, Fever Dream. Here is a snippet of Roberts' bio: "...originally from North Carolina, now lives happily in Brooklyn. Her comics have appeared in Roctober, SMITH Magazine and the comix anthology Negative Burn, where she's a frequent contributor. Kat is also member of XOXO Studios in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Aside from lots of drawing and painting, Kat spends her time working as a handbag designer, teaching footwear at FIT and repetitively watching Beat Street with her dance crazed daughter, Ophelia." Fever Dream is described as "Sometimes autobio & sometimes fictitious, these short stories depict everything from the mundane to the absurd."

Tim O'Shea: In developing Fever Dream for ACT-I-VATE, is this a project where you will continue to find and strengthen your narrative voice, or did you have that voice from the get-go on this project?

Kat Roberts: I'm very much still in the process of working out my narrative voice. It's only been in the past year and a half that my stories actually began to feel like my stories to me. The feedback I’ve received from people through my livejournal blog, and now through Act-I-Vate, has been invaluable in my learning how to tell a story, and tell it in a way that will resonate with someone.

O'Shea: What were the influencing factors in joining the ACT-I-VATE group?

Roberts: I've been a loyal reader of the collective since it's initial launch 4 years ago. As many shifts as the contributors have gone through since that time, I’ve always viewed it as being a consistent source for high quality content. When Dean asked me if I’d like to join it really wasn't anything that I had to think about. I was thrilled with the invitation to join such a talented group of creators.

O'Shea: The conversation in the “space” strip, did that come from your own childhood?

Roberts: Totally. The elderly lady shown in the comic is my excellent grandma, Della. She was always telling me things that were a little too big for me as a child. The story in this strip is my favorite example of that. When I visited her in North Carolina this past summer, I gave her the strip as a gift. She didn't remember ever talking to me about any of that, but picked the conversation back up right where she left off the first time. My reaction was pretty much the same low but intense level of panic that I had felt 25 years ago.

O'Shea: In the third panel of this strip I was curious how you opted to execute the "missing" head?

Roberts: With this story being about a guy who has lost in his mind, it made sense to me to have his companion be more of a disembodied voice than a real flesh and blood presence, even though she is actually standing right there with him. She serves as another physically reality that he’s unable to connect with.

O'Shea: The snippet about Fever Dream described it as "Sometimes autobio & sometimes fictitious"--do you prefer to avoid acknowledging which strip is autiobio and which is fictious?

Roberts: I’d rather leave it unstated because I don’t really think it matters what is based on truth and what’s just made up. For the most part, everything I do contains some combination of the two anyway. The fun for me in doing semi auto bio comix is the power to share experiences that are uniquely mine through whatever filter I want. If I had to be totally beholden to telling exactly what happened exactly the way it happened, I'd probably feel a little too exposed to go certain places. Yeah, I realize I’m contradicting myself by having previously said that the “space” strip was a totally true story about my Grandma. She’s one of my favorite people so I’m willing to let her be the exception to my rule.

O'Shea: What have been the biggest creative and/or general benefits to being part of XOXO Studio?

Roberts: There’s really been no downside to being in XOXO Studios. Undoubtedly there are a lot of benefits from being surrounded by talents that I have such respect for, but just being able to work around people that I enjoy is the best part for me. I quit working my full time job in fashion a few years ago, in favor of becoming a full time freelance designer. It was a little terrifying at first to give up the reliability, but eventually the jobs did begin coming in. And, I LOVED working from home… at first. It took about 6 months till I noticed that all of my social interactions had begun to take on a kind of weird feeling. I was a little too eager to talk to people and it made me feel kinda creepy. I’ve since talked to a bunch of people with similar stories. I wouldn’t say I was psyched to hear how cabin fever had begun to wreak havoc on them, too, but it did make me feel better that it wasn’t just me. It appears that this is a pretty common fate for people without an office. Being at XOXO on a frequent basis did a lot to remedy that, though. It’s made all the better by the good fortune of my studio mates all being people that I thoroughly enjoy walking in the room to see. None of us really knew one another that well before sharing the room, so it has turned far better than probably any of us may have suspected.

O'Shea: Do you ever get story ideas or some level of inspiration when you're designing handbags or teaching footwear at FIT?

Roberts: There’s definitely no shortage of characters to inspire me in the fashion industry, but when someone from that world shows up in my comix, it’s a very abstract interpretation of the actual person. So far none of my stories have centered around fashion. I keep the two worlds pretty separate. In fashion, after the initial flurry of creative freedom in the early design phase, my job becomes extremely technical. There’s still a lot of fun to be had in that technical phase, but I believe it makes returning to comix creating feel all the more freeing. They’re both great jobs and the huge differences in execution and thinking involved from one to another seem to keep me from ever feeling burned out on either. It’s been a really pleasing balance.

O'Shea: What's on the horizon for you and Fever Dream?

Roberts: After having taken a little break, I’m glad to again be posting new “Fever Dream” installments at Act-I-Vate. It will be more of the shorter comics and strips I like to do, as well as a few longer narratives. In addition, I have a one-page comic appearing in the first issue of Cousin Corinne’s Reminder. I’m also very excited about my story in the upcoming Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies, a series of indy comic stories that will be appearing in the Image perennial “Savage Dragon” as back up stories. My story will show up a little later in the year, but the series will kick off with Michel Fiffe’s contribution in issue #160.

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