I first met Fiona Avocado about 6 years ago, in Costa Rica…
We were in a Spanish language school together, and before we departed she gave me one of her comic books. I’d never seen a comic anything like hers before, it was more like an illustrated journal meets grown-up story book, not full of superhero-y stuff but just about a girl and her life. Needless to say I thought it was pretty great. Her art is the kind that makes me feel cozy, and kind of like a kid again.
Fiona is an artist, educator, media maker, and writer, and she lives and works in Minneapolis, MN. She makes comics, zines, prints, and illustrations. She is also a pretty wonderful person, who I feel lucky to have met.
I’m so happy she agreed to doing this written interview with me.
How old were you when you wrote your first comic, and how long have you been selling them?
I took a comic art class when I was in fourth grade and made a comic about Charlie the Elephant and all of his friends. I didn’t make comics again until I was in college, when I started to read a lot of zines. During my junior year of college, I took a course called Comics and Visual Narrative, fell in love with the medium. I have been making comics, or some form of sequential art, ever since. I began selling my comics in 2011, but began tabling at comics and zine fests in 2012.
What is the process like, for you, in creating a new comic? (Does the idea just hit you and then you run with it spontaneously? Or is it more laborious at times?)
It entirely depends on the work. For a majority of my comics, I often do rough sketches, or thumbnails, to give myself an idea of how I want to lay my ideas out. Sometimes my work is more spontaneous, and I will draw 10 random pages, and then draw more pages from there to create a cohesive narrative. It’s a bit non-linear, but I do enjoy working that way.
You also make relief prints and silk screens, as well as single illustration prints— what type of medium appeals to you most and why?
Screenprinting, relief printing, and illustration all have really different qualities, so it’s hard for me to say which one is my favorite. I will say that most of the mediums I work in are intended for reproduction and wide distribution. Screenprinting is probably the most tangible, easy medium in terms of physical distribution, and I really enjoy the process. Relief printing is a bit more challenging but also meditative, and I like the aesthetic. Illustration, for me, offers a lot of space for experimentation and widespread distribution, especially on the internet. A majority of my prints and illustrations can be seen as stand alone pieces, but ideally I aim for my prints to have a sequential theme or connection.
Who are your biggest influences in the creative realm?
My art practice developed when I became interested in socially engaged art, zines, and sharing personal narratives. The Justseeds Artists Cooperative (justseeds.org), a political printmaking collective, were, and continue to be, very influential for me. In terms of cartoonists and illustrators, I’m mostly inspired by indie cartoontists. The graphic novel Blankets by Craig Thompson totally changed my life (fun fact: a big part of it takes place in my hometown in Michigan!) Other cartoonists who inspire me include Lynda Barry, Jillian Tamaki, Alison Bechdel, Nate Powell, Ellen Forney, Hellen Jo, Corrine Mucha, Aidan Koch, Katie Skelly, Yumi Sakugawa, Mari Naomi, and Lala Albert, just to name a few.
Have you ever felt insecure in sharing your work publicly, or does that come naturally for you?
Oh totally, it’s the reason i’m an artist instead of a musician: I can make things and run away while people look at my work, instead of being on stage while everyone is watching!
Personal question… When I first met you I thought you were such a cool chick. Mostly because you made your own zines and seemed to have so much self-confidence, but also because you didn’t shave your legs or underarms. Did you ever feel self-conscious about the decision to be au naturel—in terms of body hair—or has it always been something you’ve felt comfortable with? And how do you see that choice in the wider view of “femininity”?
(note: I acknowledge the absurdity of such a question, as not shaving is actually 100% natural, and to shave is totally bizarre and unnatural. However, our culture dictates that hair-free from the nose down is the way to be if you’re female, thus making your choice to not shave a “radical” one.)
I’ll answer this for you but this doesn’t relate to my art practice. A persons choice whether to shave or not, regardless of gender, should not be a big deal. Sometimes I do shave my legs, mostly because i’m bored, but I usually freak out and let it grow back. I feel really great about making that choice for my body. The idea that the choice to shave is connected to gender representation is total bullshit. There are a lot of women who don’t shave, and many who do shave, and that personal choice does not dictate whether a person is any more or less feminine.
What environment inspires you the most to get into the zone, creatively speaking? (out in nature, in a noisy cafe, sitting at your desk listening to good music, etc..)
I spend a lot of time writing and drawing in coffee shops or at my studio. In terms of creative content, much of my inspiration comes from everyday experiences and interactions.
What other hobbies do you do when you’re not in the mood to make comics?
I ride my bike, I knit, I cook, I travel when time/money allows for it, I hang out with friends, I read. But mostly, my life revolves around my art.
Have you always seen yourself as an artist, or was there an age/point in your life at which you felt comfortable embracing the title of Artist?
One of my former comics instructors recently said something eluding to being an artist and cartoonist is like being a vampire, it is always going to be a part of you. I have always been creative, any time I try to do anything else, writing, journalism, community organizing, teaching, my art always intersects with that work. I’ve always known that I’m an artist, it took me a long time to feel like I was good enough to pursue an art practice as my life’s work. That came with validation from my teachers, community, and peers.
Some of your work is “statement making”, in that it supports or brings awareness to a particular issue in our culture today. What are some of the most important movements/issues that you either support or wish to bring more awareness to?
For me, it’s not about one specific issue, it’s most important to connect different issues and make social change more intersectional. As a queer feminist, I am passionate about rights for women/trans/femme folks, and it’s important to me that the social change and community organizing i’m involved in includes queers, people of color, people of all ages, people with disabilities. Issues I am particularly passionate about include womens rights, especially around reproductive choice and sexual health, environmental justice, racial justice, equitable education, workers rights, renters rights, and food justice, just to name a few.
My work as of late hasn’t been as directly political, but is influenced by everyday life, self reflection, and catharsis. However, as a person who constantly thinks about current events and political issues on a personal, local, and global level, the political and social landscape does inform a lot of my work. Art for awareness sake is great, but what’s better is when art can be used as a catalyst to make people wake up and actually take action in their lives.
Do you have any advice for others who wish to pursue the art of comic-book making?
Do it! There are tons of resources for cartoonists and zinesters, online or in person. If you get the chance, go to a comics or zine fest. There are also tons of amazing cartoonists selling their work on the internet if you need inspiration. Cartoonists are generally really stoked to meet other cartoonists and help each other out.
All artwork courtesy Fiona Avocado, copywrites apply.