Talking Comics with Tim | Lilli Carré

When I got my hands on Lilli Carré's newest collection of short stories Heads or Tails, what immediately caught my eye was the variety of styles the writer/artist attempted in her tales. During our recent interview about the collection, I focused some of my questions on the choices she made in terms of the colors, lettering and other story elements. I also learned about Carré's thought process when approaching a comic tale versus one of her animation projects. The roots to these stories run deep in Carré's life, and as she notes, the book has an overall theme of "ambivalence, chance, and flip-sides."

Once you've read this conversation, be sure to learn more about Carré's animation projects via Alex Dueben's recent CBR interview. Fantagraphics also offers a 23-page excerpt from the 200-page collection, which was released last fall.

Tim O'Shea: How did you go about picking which stories to include in this collection?

Lilli Carré: I wanted to include the majority of the short stories I’ve produced over the past five years, and so I went through all my stuff and arranged them not chronologically, but by how they each fed into each other. The book contains stories collected from anthologies, some new work, and a few pieces that I reformatted from small run mini-comics, artists books, and drawings that I’ve made over the years. My style changes quite a bit from project to project, so the book has a kind of patchwork quilt feel to it, but I wanted to make sure there was a solid thread between how one story feeds into the next. I also wanted to create some new stories for the book, so Rainbow Moment and Wishy Washy were created specifically for Heads or Tails.

In the first story, "Kingdom,: I was intrigued by what prompted you to use only one color (red) for the story?

I originally printed this little comic as a small letterpress accordion book, which I printed in the same two colors, black and red. I was looking at a lot of examples of fine press printing at the time, like William Morris’ super-ornate and overwhelming borders. I was thinking about different ways borders give comics unique storytelling possibilities in how they break up time and space and act as an integral part of the comics form. Anyway, I was looking at these over-the-top ornate borders used in past fine press printing, and made a little story in which the character within the borders discussed how they defined his space, and eventually becomes swallowed by them. He is in red to distinguish him from the black border that surrounds him. I thought it also served as a good introduction to the rest of the book as well, so I placed it as the first little intro story.

On the flip side, "Into the Night" is produced in black and white, with one exception -- the windows. Had you always planned on approaching it that way, or was that a color choice you made once you had finished the story?

I planned on using the yellow for the lights coming out of people’s windows at night. I’ll admit there is undeniably a Roger Brown influence seeping into this stylistic choice in this comic.

Your coloring choices fascinated me in this book, for instance in "Rainbow Moment," you allowed the colors of the pages to wash over the narrative boxes, but the dialogue balloons remained in white (allowing them to pop off the page). Also each character's mini-tale in the story had their own color, allowing you to do a really fascinating series of panels (each in each character's color) for the last few pages of the story. Can you talk about your decision to approach the story that way.

With "Rainbow Moment," I wanted to create a series of nested stories, and I thought that using color would be an interesting way to do that, something very particular to the narrative possibilities of a comic. I was inspired by Italo Calvino’s book If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, which has a series of interrupted or nested narratives. I was excited by the idea of using a color palette to designate a time and place, to indicate which character is narrating, and then be able to jump between them by just having the color tell the reader which story/timeline they are looking at. Hard to explain in words, I’m realizing ... Heads or Tails has an overall theme of ambivalence, chance, and flip-sides, and this story is focused on in-betweens. The title "Rainbow Moment" is named after what my parents used to call it when I’d have an emotional reaction of crying and laughing at the same time, as I have one of the characters say at the start of the story. All the different nested characters are talking about being frozen in their own in-between moments, and then collide back together at the end, their different stories framed on a single page containing the rainbow palette of panels as it shoots back to the first narrator. On that page, it shows all of the narrators together, within the confines of their own colors and timelines, but together they are all in caught in the same in-between state in that rainbow moment. Again, sort of hard to explain here in words, but hopefully it makes a little sense.

As a storyteller, which aspect of your craft are you more confident or comfortable about -- your art or your ability to write dialogue?

I don’t think of them as being separate as I’m working, really... I don’t know if the dialogue I write or the way I draw is particularly well-crafted or not, but with both the art and dialogue I go with my gut and do what feels natural to me.

Can you talk about your approach in lettering, how do you go about deciding the lettering style you use for certain stories?

I try to make the look of the lettering match the look of the drawing style. "The Thing About Madeline" is much more curly and bendy, and thus the lettering is too. "Rainbow Moment," on the other hand, is flatter, more simplified, graphic, and angular, and so the lettering I did for that is small, straightforward capital letters with no frill at all.

I had not realized that "All in A Day's Work" originally ran in the U.K. newspaper The Guardian. What was it like to get exposure in such a mainstream international publication?

It was very nice! It’s always interesting to get an opportunity that comes with its own prompt. For this piece, I think The Guardian had asked a handful of cartoonists to make a comic that in some way reflects on the state of the world or the day to day. I decided to make a wordless comic that focused on the quotidian details of a single day, starting and ending with a pimple.

Did you change any of the stories from how they originally appeared (given that many were published elsewhere before appearing in this collection)?

As I recall I think I only changed grammatical things here and there, and reformatted a few stories to fit the size and shape of the book. Heads or Tails contains a range of styles, and I really like when you can see an artist grow or change directions within the course of a collection of work, so I decided to not retouch or fiddle with much in my own.

When you come up with an idea for a story, what elements influence if you will pursue the story via comics versus doing it in animation?

I usually put my more fleshed-out narrative ideas into my comics, and my abstract or more experimental work into my animations. I use comics for structured stories, and animation to be more loose, intuitive, and spontaneous with my hand and ideas.

What has you most excited creatively in the new year?

Doing ceramics for the first time ever and getting messy, working on a new animation project, and brainstorming for my next comic, which will be one long story.

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