Interview: J.T. Yost!  »

J.T. Yost is a cartoonist and portrait artist. His book Old Man Winter, which won the prestigious Xeric grant, features a mix of humorous and heartbreaking stories, animal rights-related and otherwise. Another, considerably lighter work of his is the minicomic “Tales of Good Ol’ Snoop Doggy Dogg,” a book filled predominantly with comics based on dreams Yost has had about everybody’s favorite stoner. The January/February issue of VegNews wisely includes Yost in their feature on vegan fiction writers (along with a plug for Vegansaurus! and a piece on Chicago by Laura! Everyone subscribe now because it’s on holiday sale & you need excellent last minute xmas gifts!), and we’re giving him some bonus spotlight time here!

How long have you been vegan?
I became a vegetarian after biting into a fried chicken drumstick at Mrs. Winner’s (a southern fried chicken chain) in 1990. Although I’d been eating meat without much thought for the duration of my life thus far, that day was different. I flashed back to a Bloom County comic I’d read in which Opus the penguin berates a KFC cashier for frying his brethren and serving them as food. At that moment, I made the connection that the crispy skin I was biting into used to belong to a living being. I was repulsed and never touched the stuff again.

Oh, wait, you asked how long I’ve been vegan. I went vegan in 1992.

Are you vegan for health, environmental, animal rights reasons, or a combination?
It started out purely for animal rights reasons. My parents were worried about my being vegetarian, so I did lots of research to make sure it was a healthy way to live. After reading John Robbins’ Diet For a New America which details animals’ treatment in factory farms as well as delving into the healthful benefits of a vegan diet, I decided to become a full-fledged card-carrying vegan (still haven’t received my card). Since then, most every book I’ve read that deals with health, environmental and/or animal rights in relation to veganism only further reinforces my decision.

How has being vegan influenced your comics?
It’s funny. When I was in fifth or sixth grade, I used to draw these serialized comic strips. I remember one of the first ones I did dealt with a bunch of lab animals that had various deformities or psychological problems. That doesn’t sound very funny, does it? Anyhow, I’ve always had an affinity for animals, and they’ve always figured prominently in my work.

I was introduced to the work of my all-time favorite comic artist and greatest inspiration Chris Ware by a roommate in college. He caused that “Ah-ha!” moment in which I realized that comics did not have to be simply funny or entertaining. They could be powerful, subtle and emotionally resonant. I’m not a confrontational person, and although I’ve done my share of protests I’ve never felt comfortable getting the message out that way. Comics provide an ideal outlet for me.

Do you find people have a different reaction to reading a vegan message in comics format, as opposed to say, reading a leaflet, or watching a documentary?
Yes. For one thing, I think most people feel compelled to read a comic put in front of them, whereas a pamphlet with graphic photos may be off putting. I mean, those pamphlets can connect as well, but each person reacts differently to different types of media. Some of my comics have been used as vegan outreach, which is flattering.

My worry is that my vegan-themed comics tend to be heavy-handed. I’ve certainly been accused of that in reviews, and I have to agree. I’m trying to find a way to tone it down without watering it down or losing the message. I want the story to be compelling to everyone, not just those who already have an interest in animal welfare.

Why do you dream about Snoop Dogg so much?
I wish I knew so that I could dream about him even more! I always enjoy our virtual hanging out sessions. In fact, after I finished the comic you’re referring to, I had yet another dream about Snoop. I’ve had other celebrity guests in my dreams, but none have ever revisited me. I had to exorcise demons from Roseanne Barr’s four headboards (she had four beds). Dick Cheney tried to poison me. Tom Waits, MC Hammer, Henry Rollins, The Golden Girls, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Bill Cosby…they’ve all made appearances in my dreams.

Even though I don’t smoke weed, I think Snoop and I would get along well. I listen to The Chronic and Doggy Style fairly often. I only drink out of my Tha Doggfather glass even though Snoop’s face has been all but worn off. I guess he’s just in my consciousness.

Who are some of your favorite cartoonists, vegan/vegetarian or not?
Well, I can count the vegan cartoonists on one hand – Dan Piraro, Patrick McDonnell (not sure if he’s vegan, but he’s definitely an animal welfare activist), Berkley Breathed, [Ed.: past interviewee!] Jesse Reklaw and [another] one of your past interviewees Susie Cagle. I’m sure there are others, but those are the ones that come to mind.

There are too many amazing comic artists out there, so I’ll just list a handful. Ken Dahl’s Monsters was the best thing I’ve read this year.

There are the big hitters like James Kochalka, Jeffrey Brown, Seth, Ralph Steadman, Daniel Clowes, Lynda Barry, Craig Thompson, Edward Gorey, R. Crumb, Joe Sacco, B. Kliban and of course Charles Schulz.

There are the relatively known up-and-comers like Jordan Crane, Brian Ralph, Julia Wertz, Renee French, Lewis Trondheim, Guy Delisle, Dupuy & Berberian, Aaron Renier, Scott Campbell, Nate Doyle and Laura Park.

Then there are people who should be widely known, but may not be like Tom Neely, Ben Snakepit, Graham Annable, John Pham, Kazimir Strzepek, Kevin Cannon, Michel Rabagliati, John Kerschbaum, Aaron Renier, Victor Kerlow, Adam Kidder, Sophia Wiedeman, L. Nichols, Nate Doyle, Matt Wiegle and James Turek.

I could go on and on…

What is your favorite animal?
You just witnessed my inability to pare down my favorites. I’ve always been a cat person, but I harbor not-so-secret aspirations to care for a giant hog as well. I’m not sure how that would work logistically in my small Brooklyn apartment. I’d also be in heaven working at a primate sanctuary.

You also paint pet portraits! Have you painted any particularly amazing/crazy animals?
Most of my oil portraits are pretty straightforward, although I did get to paint a lop-eared bunny wearing a pirate’s hat. I have more freedom with my anthropomorphic “peculiar”portraits. Heavy-metal cats, pugs as Antony & Cleopatra, a black lab dining on a buffet of toilet paper, socks and bras…stuff like that. The weirdest request was to depict a male dog with long flowing blond hair driving an air-boat through the swamp.

Do you have any cute pets of your own?
We currently have a Chihuahua and a cat who I’m guessing has some Maine Coon in her. Unfortunately, I had to put down my other cat, Linus, recently. He was the sweetest and most silly looking cat I’ve ever had. He was what they call a “pet-quality” Persian, which is a nice way of saying that he looked absolutely insane.

Favorite vegan food to make?
I don’t know that I have a “signature dish.” I like to constantly try new things. I suppose the dish I’ve been making the longest is something I lovingly call “bean gruel.” You sauté some garlic and onions until they caramelize, throw in some cumin and good salsa, mix in refried beans and whole black beans, fresh steamed corn off the cob, fresh cilantro and squeeze half a lemon into it just before removing from the stove. It’s good as a dip, over rice or spread between two flour tortillas and fry to make a Mexican pizza.

Favorite vegan dish at a restaurant/favorite vegan restaurant?
Red Bamboo in Manhattan is my favorite vegan restaurant. [Ed.: Bad news, then!] We had them cater our wedding (well, we picked up a bunch of food from them and brought it to the wedding). They specialize in soul food. For the best vegan desserts, you have to travel to Sticky Fingers Bakery in Washington D.C. They provided our wedding cake (and I drew their logo!). Luckily, the owners are good friends of mine, so they were coming to the wedding anyway (which cut down on delivery costs!).

Based on food options alone, which is your favorite comics show to travel to?
To tell the truth, I haven’t traveled too far for comic shows. This year I’ve sold at MoCCA in Manhattan, King Con here in Brooklyn and SPX in Maryland. Foodwise, I know what I’m in for at MoCCA and King Con. Luckily, there is a great Asian vegan restaurant right next to the conference center at SPX. I lived in Austin for a few years, and they now have a comic fest (“Staple,” I think). I’d love to go to that sometime to revisit all the great Mexican and vegan food I used to indulge in. If I could afford it, I’d fly out for APE and maybe you all could recommend some restaurants!

Any eating tips for traveling cartoonists?
I used to tour in various bands, and am therefore permanently burned out on Taco Bell and Subway, your two basic choices in highway dining. I have heard that you can now order a bean burrito (or taco) “fresco” at Taco Bell (no cheese, add salsa), which eliminates a lot of clunky explanation.

If you are able to avoid fast food, I don’t think it’s terribly hard to find vegetarian options anymore. When I first started out, people generally thought “vegan” was another planet or something. These days, most every restaurant offers at least one veggie option, and they don’t even look at you funny or spit in your food (that I know of).

Basically, you can always find something to eat at Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian, Middle Eastern and Mexican restaurants. American, French, and Italian restaurants can be a bit tougher.

Do you have one drawing tip to share?
Never accept wooden nickels, but always accept non-photo blue pencils.

Do you have a day job, or do you draw comics full-time?
None of my jobs pay well, so I “spread the wealth,” if you will. I received a grant to self-publish my first comic collection, so I now run a very tiny comic publishing company. I do traditional oil portraits of both pets and people, “peculiar” portraits in inks & watercolors, and a variety of hand-carved and painted block prints, mostly of dogs. I also do editorial illustration, logos, children’s book illustration, and holiday cards. One day a week I work at Utrecht Art Supply, and one day a week I work as an artist assistant to my father-in-law, Burton Silverman. In addition, I sometimes get freelance work doing storyboards.

What exciting upcoming projects can we look forward to?
Since I last spoke with you, I put out a 44 page mini-comic called “Losers Weepers #1.” It’s the first chapter in a series that creates a narrative based around some of my real-life finds (journals, notes, letters, etc.) from the streets. In vega- related news, I’m adapting Gail Eisnitz’s Slaughterhouse into a graphic novel. She was kind enough to supply me with a giant stack of affidavits and interviews with slaughterhouse workers that she used to write her incredibly powerful book.

Also, I don’t know if this counts as a “project,” but we’re having a little girl in the next few weeks (due date is 12/21)!

Any questions for Vegansaurus? Anything!
Who’s zooming whom? Asking Aretha Franklin constitutes cheating.

A: The fish jumped off the hook(?)!

* In light of our upcoming baby birth, I don’t have time to draw the Vegansaurus-themed sketch I’d planned (Vegansaurus patiently explaining to Barney the Dinosaur that children are not part of a vegan diet). With my apologies, please accept this page of primates that I drew at last month’s King Con.

We’ll take a raincheck on that sketch! We still want/need it! Thanks, J.T.!


Interview: Jesse Reklaw  »

Since 1995, Jesse Reklaw has been publishing his comic strip Slow Wave online and in syndication. He adapts reader-submitted dreams into the comic strip format, with often bizarre yet familiar results. The Night of Your Life, released last year, is a hardcover collection of these dream comics, and makes a great gift! He has been nominated for the Ignatz award five times, and won it in 2008 for his fantasy-themed minicomic, Bluefuzz the Hero. Jesse has also recently completed a year-long experiment in a daily diary comic, which is available in its entirety on Flickr, and also as a set of minicomics self-reproachingly entitled Ten Thousand Things to Do. Once you read it and understand that Jesse also teaches, paints rad watercolors, participates in art shows, and plays in a band called Fun Yeti, that title begins to make a little bit more sense.

How long have you been vegan?
Since 1991… 18 years I guess?!?!! I’m old…

Are you vegan for health, environmental, animal rights reasons, or a combination?
All those and more. If there’s a vegan gene, I think I have it. Whenever someone asks me why I’m vegan, I just think: “Why aren’t YOU vegan?” But I don’t say anything. It makes so much sense for me, but I don’t know if I can articulate it to others.

Do you ever include a vegan message in your comics?
Not directly. I can’t help but include in my comics extensions of my personal philosophy, which does extend to veganism, but that also includes a hefty dose of cynicism. I just don’t have it in me to be an evangelist.

What’s your favorite animal?
Humans? I dunno. I regularly have nightmares about being torn apart by bears, so i guess they don’t make the top of my list. Cats (small cats) are pretty great. I like their independence, playfulness, and intense love. Cows seem really sweet too, but I haven’t spent a lot of time with them.

Favorite vegan food to make?
Salad! Lettuce, toasted pumpkin seeds or almonds, artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, and anything else available that looks good. I dress it with the juice of one lime, a few squirts of flax oil, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper.

Favorite vegan dish at a restaurant/fave vegan restaurant?
Portland has some great southern vegan cooking, which I’d never had before moving here three years ago. The vegan “fish and chips” (battered and fired tofu steak with french fries and dipping sauce) at the Vita Cafe is pretty addictive.

Based on food options alone, which is your favorite comics show to travel to?
Staying home in Portland for the Stumptown Comics Fest!

Any eating tips for traveling cartoonists?
Bring snacks, especially if you’re going to be in transit, on a road trip, or at an airport for a long time. I usually bring some Luna Bars (or something like that) and a bag of toasted almonds mixed with raisins or dates.

Do you have one drawing tip to share?
Draw every day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. The next time you sit down to draw, everything will be easier. Drawing is like working out or stretching for an athlete. If you skip a few days (or a week, or a month), it hurts, and it’s hard to get back into the routine.

What’s one thing about making comics that you’re really good at?
Being overconfident, screwing up royally, and learning everything backwards.

Do you have a day job, or do you draw comics full-time? If not, why not?
I wish i could draw comics full-time, or at least half the time, and spend the rest of the week relaxing my back and hand pains. I guess I draw comics about 10–15 hours a week. I teach a little and do various illustration jobs to make ends meet. (There’s no time left to deal with the pains.)

Do you ever get dreams submissions for Slow Wave that you’re morally opposed to drawing? Like a hunter dreaming about killing Bambi, or someone winning one of those contests where they eat a ten-pound hamburger and it’s free?
Sometimes i get some dreams that sort of make fun of vegetarianism, or some other -ism that I’m fond of. But if the dream is really, really funny and makes a good point that challenges my ideas and helps me be more balanced and compassionate, then I enjoy drawing it. (Usually people that disagree with me aren’t funny or smart though. Ha ha! Kidding!)

What inspired Bluefuzz?
I’m not totally sure. I think the love of fantasy that i scraped out of my brain-pan around age 18 left a little mold spore that blossomed over the years into a post-modern fantasy world that, despite my justifying it as a parody, is basically a fantasy romp.

Will Bluefuzz have further adventures?
I keep writing little 6–8 page stories or writing gags that I either submit to magazines or else save up for a larger story later. I’m not sure exactly what form it will eventually take, but there will be something. Right now I’m trying to focus and finish the other two stories I’ve been working on for the past five years.

Did doing the diary strip changed the way you look at things? Like do you notice the inexorable passage of time more, or something? Or has it made you realize things about yourself that maybe you didn’t notice before?
The diary strip was great for working out some concerns I had about representing myself in autobiography. I got to try out various ideas, see what worked, and what didn’t. Otherwise it was kind of a time-sink. It did make me happier to finish something every day though. Or at least have something to do when I was feeling dull and listless. I’m already too old to notice the inexorable passage of time.

Tell us about all your cute pets! It seems like Littles is your favorite. How do you think  Smokey feels about that?
We have two cats we adopted as adults from the Oregon Humane Society: Smokey (8-year-old, shy male) and Littles (6-year-old, dominant female). Littles doesn’t need to feel like she’s the favorite, she just assumes she is. Smokey needs lots of special attention, and sometimes needs for Littles to be locked in another room so he can get attention without being jealously attacked. I also like to pet all the awesome cats in my neighborhood, but I try to keep that a secret from our cats at home.

What exciting upcoming projects can we look forward to? Because we do look forward to them.
I’ve been working on a 180+ page comics memoir called Couch Tag since 2005. I finally found a publisher for it (Fantagraphics books in Seattle), and it should be out in late 2010 or 2011. I’m pretty excited. I have hecka work to do in the next six months though. In the meantime, I might try to sucker someone into publishing my 365-page comics diary, Ten Thousand Things to Do.

Any questions for Vegansaurus? Anything!
Why don’t more restaurants in SF/Oakland/Berkeley have a vegan option (or two)?

I wish I knew! Obviously the Bay Area just isn’t awesome like Portland is.

You can buy Jesse’s comics and art at his website, or on Amazon. Thanks, Jesse!

Photo of Jesse Reklaw by Nate Beaty.


Interview: Susie Cagle!  »

Susie Cagle’s new comic book, Nine Gallons, details her experiences—equal parts hilarious and bewildering—as a volunteer for Food Not Bombs. She also writes for lots of awesome publications, including The Daily Cross Hatch. In addition to all that, Susie is SUPER FUCKING FUNNY. If you don’t follow her on twitter, you’re missing out on one of the most charming, funny, smart, and fantastic things on the entire internet. THE ENTIRE INTERNET, PEOPLE. THAT  INCLUDES R.KELLY VIDEOS AND KEYBOARD CAT (he’s a cat! playing a keyboard! HILARIOUS!). Susie recently moved back to the bay area so let’s welcome her by saying all sort of nice things in the comments section, okay!?

How long have you been vegan?
Four years..? Before that I was vegetarian for… six years? something like that. But I’ve had some cheegan moments, I admit—it hasn’t really been easy going, especially on long road trips. (Yes, please, bring on the hate comments.)

Are you vegan for health, environmental, animal rights reasons, or a combination?
I guess it’s a combination, but primarily environmental and animal rights reasons. I’ve always liked to call myself a Reluctant Vegan, because of and despite many different factors; I don’t think food politics are black and white, I don’t think it’s healthy to look at anything that way, especially issues so complicated. I mean, veganism isn’t sustainable on a worldwide scale; I wish vegans were more willing to talk about things like that. And I’m still pretty freaked out by the vegan cult and anyone talking about “cleansing.” I think vegan outreach kind of sucks for these reasons—food choices are very personal, deeply ingrained in culture and upbringing, and they won’t be easily changed, even when people are presented with facts. As a journalist, I should know that presenting people with facts doesn’t do much good. I think if you want to make real strides, they should be presented with tiramisu cupcakes. But I guess I got a little off-topic there.

Vegetarianism (or some may say near-vegetarianism) is sustainable worldwide, as it uses resources that exist; if cows, goats and chickens were no longer factory farmed but just roamed the countryside, it would be better for the planet for us to use their extra milk and eggs (eggs especially since chickens produce lots). Same for wool, or things like ahimsa silk (from abandoned silk worm nests). But if you’re an abolitionist vegan, it would still be completely wrong to you on moral, animal rights grounds. This is where my whole Reluctant Vegan thing sort of comes into play—I think it’s the best answer to the current situation we’re in, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the best answer ever for all circumstances and for all times. I mean, is living on a diet of prepackaged vegan treats that’ve been shipped across the country better for the planet than drinking the milk from your well-treated cow on your own farm? That might not be the most fair comparison, I’m just playing devil’s advocate. (This is why I often wear used leather instead of buying new PVC products that often degrade faster and require more new purchases.) Then it gets into cultural differences, like what about native tribes in Brazil? Should they not fish in their rivers? Should they survive on rice and grass and import tofu and seitan at a great cost to themselves and the planet? The logical extensions of these arguments become problematic. Plus then this gets into the fact that a lot of prominent vegans I know whose names I really can’t use have told me they would or do eat eggs from their friends’ chickens…

I’d love to spark some debate on these things though since I think it’s important to constantly reevaluate your political beliefs. And maybe that’s the difference for me: I see veganism as a political choice, whereas I know some other people see it as closer to a moral or even spiritual choice. Maybe, though, that’s because I identify more closely with environmental concerns than just with animal rights.

In “Nine Gallons,” you volunteer with Food Not Bombs and the experience was…interesting. Has anyone from FNB seen the comic? What do you think of them now? Would you encourage people to volunteer there? Is the soup really edible?
A couple of volunteers have seen the book, but no one who’s actually in it has seen it yet, as far as I know. (Though I’ve been told that they were portrayed very true-to-life… Yikes.) I think Food Not Bombs is great, and I would absolutely encourage everyone to volunteer with them. Why go to a government-run food bank when you could volunteer with wacky anarchists and salvage food that will otherwise be thrown away? I hope when the story is completed people will see that there’s a lot of good to be done there, especially if you’re also a person in need and if you already know where the good dumpsters are. And yes, the soup is really edible, though some batches are certainly better than others.

How has being vegan influenced your comics?
I’ve done a fair number of vegan comics, like this one about the FBI infiltrating vegan potlucks that no one believes is based on this story about FBI agents in Minneapolis trying to infiltrate the radical community. I think sometimes people think I’m just making this shit up, even when I say “true stories.” There’s also some conversation about veganism later on in “Nine Gallons.” I’ve written a lot more comics about industrial food production, factory farming and modern food science I’d like to do in the future too.

Who is your favorite cartoonist, vegan or not? it’s okay to say Jonas. In fact, it’s best if you do. KIDDING!
Aw man, I have lots of favorite cartoonists… I’m going to suggest some people that maybe your readers are less likely to have heard of already. I think Hellen Jo is a watercoloring force to be reckoned with. Ken Dahl draws like a motherfucker. Eleanor Davis is completely underrated. In terms of storytelling specifically, I really like Chester Brown, and Guy Delisle and Joe Sacco’s reportage stuff. There are a lot more, but I’m on deadline… And if you’re looking for more vegan comics, J.T. Yost is really great. You guys should interview him too! [Ed.: Forthcoming!]

What is your favorite animal?
Otters holding hands; runners-up: kittens in a tissue box.

Favorite vegan food to make?
Apricot almond cupcakes from VCTOTW. Dreena Burton’s chocolate chip cookies, because they’re done in 15 minutes, start to finish. And seitan riblets, easiest seitan dish I’ve ever made.

Favorite vegan dish at a restaurant/favorite vegan restaurant?
Crispy nuggets at Vegetarian Palate in Brooklyn, hands down. (Ed.: FUCK YEAH DELICIOUS CRISPY NUGGETS FROM VEGETARIAN PALATE!!)

Based on food options alone, which is your favorite comics show to travel to?
Well, I’ve never been to the vegan hipster mecca that is Portland, Oregon so I’m not sure I can give a complete answer. But I think New York offers an astonishingly wide range of foods.

Any eating tips for traveling cartoonists?
Primal Strips (Ed.: FUCK YEAH DELICIOUS PRIMAL STRIPS!!!)are a great thing to have on hand. They’re like 10 grams of protein for $1 or something, maybe $1.50 with inflation. And just do your research — consult the hive mind. Lots of places that don’t seem veg friendly totally are. I used to manage the restaurant database for SuperVegan when I lived in New York and I was always running across random vegan treats at unexpected spots.

Do you have one drawing tip to share?
Just keep doing it—you’ll get better, and the more you do it, the faster you’ll get better.

Do you have a day job, or do you draw comics full-time?
Well, neither. I’m currently a victim of the economic downturn and its particular wrath on journalism. I’m freelancing for a few different places, but this has given me a lot of time to be drawing comics.

I have to ask you about your dad. What influence did his career have on your own path as a cartoonist?
Wait, does that mean you’re going to post that picture of me in the bath? Please don’t! (My father is an editorial cartoonist; before that he was a commercial illustrator for many years, including a long stint with the Henson company drawing, as he puts it, “pigs and frogs.”) I think my father has been a big influence on me in terms of his ambitiousness and his determination to do his own projects; I definitely have that headstrong perspective, sometimes to a fault. One of my most vivid memories as a kid was his always reminding me that he’s never had a real job; of course, one my other most vivid memories as a kid was thinking that we were always one Zillions cover from economic ruin. But I think just being around so many cartoonists growing up gave me the bug—our annual family vacation was to the National Cartoonists Society Convention, after all.

Do you guys ever get together and draw comics? What feedback has he given you on your work?
When I was little my father would give me drawing lessons all the time; I have some of these old gouache paintings from when I was eight or nine, and they’re kind of amazing. But he really cracked the whip, and I stopped drawing for a good 10 years because I felt like I just wasn’t good enough at it. The guy is a harsh critic, which can be a double-edged sword—he has a lot of really great points, but he’s not so cognizant of his delivery. To be fair, he’s very critical of his own work too, and he often asks for my input on gags.

You have a cat, right? Tell us about her! Any other cute pets?
Hannah! My cat followed my friend home a year and a half ago in Brooklyn, and my roommate and I had originally meant to just foster her. I was never really a cat person, I thought they were kind of boring and I was afraid of their claws. But then one night I woke up to her spooning me, and it was all over. She is three years old, her favorite game is fetch and her favorite treat is tomato paste. I still don’t think I’m a cat person, though, because I think Hannah thinks she is a dog.

What exciting upcoming projects can we look forward to? Because we do look forward to them.
I’m going to be the cartoonist in residence at the Charles Schulz museum on Saturday Oct. 10, I will have a new “This is What Concerns Me” minicomic for APE about recession woes, Nine Gallons the graphic novel will, if all goes according to plan knock on wood oh my god please please please, be out next June. AND THEN I can start on this monster of a book that I’ve been writing for the last six months about California history—cults, Manifest Destiny, serial killers, natural disasters—you know, the fun stuff.

Any questions for Vegansaurus? Anything!
How do you guys get all that sweet free shit?!

A: Begging, naturally! Thanks, Susie!

Susie’s comics are available for purchase at her website. GO BUY THEM ALL NOW.


Interview: Minty Lewis  »

Melanie “Minty” Lewis’ wonderful new book, P.S. Comics, is a collection of her minicomics to date. Minty’s tales of “Fruit Pals” and “Yorkie Roommates” are cute but heartbreaking accounts of everyday melodrama, which earned her an Ignatz award in 2007. She also recently created the most freaking cutest ever iGoogle theme, which you should all install immediately. Minty lives in Berkeley and is vegetarian.

How long have you been vegetarian?
Since I was 11.

Are you vegetarian for health, environmental, animal rights reasons, or a combination?
Originally I decided to become a vegetarian for animal rights reasons. I wasn’t that well informed about the health and environmental reasons for not eating meat when I was 11, but the more I learn, the more my decision is reinforced.

Do you ever include a vegetarian message in your comics?
I’ve always imagined Apple as a vegetarian—he’s such a sensitive creature and so aware of how his actions affect those around him, how could he not be? That said, I don’t think there are any “Fruit Pals” stories where dietary choices are at the forefront of the drama, although I do have a comic where Ruffles (the cat) experiences angst when she finds out that Fancy Feast is made from dead animals. I don’t really see my comics as an appropriate forum for vegetarian propaganda, but at the same time I can’t imagine creating a scene where a good-hearted character brazenly eats a hamburger or a self-centered jerk orders a vegan meal. That’s not to say that those characters don’t exist in real life; I just think it would be distracting to have that dissonance in a character unless it’s a driving element of the story.

There’s actually a panel in one my earliest comics that always makes me feel guilty: Apple is eating dinner, and there’s a drumstick on his plate. I think I drew the drumstick because it’s an iconic shape and so many vegetarian meals just look like a pile of slop, but I worry that Apple will have a meat-eating reputation just because of my cartooning laziness. That’s a veat drumstick, OK?

What is your favorite animal?
I really love dogs, specifically terriers. I also like capybaras very much, because they sort of look like terriers. I found out from wikipedia that people used to eat capybaras during Lent because the Catholic Church classified them as fish in the 16th century. Isn’t that convenient for them?

Can you draw animals really well? Can you draw Laura as an animal? Will you do a portrait of my pit bull Hazel for free? Yes?
I draw animals better than I draw people. I can draw Laura as an animal. I can also do a portrait of your pit bull for free. I can combine Laura and your pit bull into… “Laurel.” Beautiful.

Favorite vegan food to make?
This is the simplest and most delicious tomato sauce on planet Earth. It takes kind of a long time to prepare all the garlic and tomato, and it probably seems like I am not very creative for recommending something so straightforward, but honestly I wish I had a friend like me to recommend this to me. I put it on everything, pasta is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s better on the second day after all the flavors have inter-absorbed, etc.

Favorite vegan dish at a restaurant/fave vegan restaurant?
I regularly crave the veggie combo at Cafe Colucci in Oakland, so many different flavors and vegetables in one meal. Cha-Ya in Berkeley (haven’t tried the one in SF) also offers highly delicious food, everything they serve tastes so fresh. They have the best miso soup I’ve ever had, and I really like the fried portobello mushroom thing that’s served with kiwi sauce. I was skeptical at first, but it’s good.

Based on food options alone, which is your favorite comics show to travel to?
I only went to the Portland Zine Symposium once, but it was at Portland State University and they had a farmers’ market right outside the entrance, so that was pretty neat. Portland has tons of cheap vegetarian options all over the place. You don’t even have to try.

Any eating tips for traveling cartoonists?
Bring nuts, and don’t expect any good eating options near convention centers.

Do you have one drawing tip to share?
If you just keep practicing, you will get better and you will develop your own style naturally. It doesn’t seem like there are any shortcuts on the path to becoming a truly good drawer. However, if you would like to take the easy route and simply mask bad drawing, there are lots of tricks I have learned: hide hands behind objects, draw fruit people instead of human people, keep your characters in easy-to-draw situations (avoid crowds and ferris wheels), seat characters at round tables instead of rectangular tables, copy other people’s artwork…

Do you have a day job, or do you draw comics full-time? If not, why not?
I do not have a day job, nor do I draw comics full-time. I freelance irregularly as a graphic designer and, more recently, a proofreader. While I recognize that I may be rationalizing, I think it’s best that I don’t draw comics full-time—it seems like an important part of the creation process for me involves allowing ideas time to percolate. Also I manage my time better when I have multiple things to do.

Why is Apple so awesome and also so depressing? Is he a comment on the human condition?
He is what he is, which is all of us.

Why is Banana such a creepy dick? And what’s up with Kumquat? Is it a coincidence that “kumquat” rhymes with “dumb twat”? Discuss.
I have kind of a soft spot for Banana. Sure he’s a creepy dick, but he has an enviable outlook on life. Imagine being so carefree that you can drink by the creek until you pass out in the middle of the workday! As for Kumquat, it hadn’t crossed my mind that her name rhymes with “dumb twat,” but that’s brilliant.

Do you think Pear and Apple will end up together? I don’t.
Doubtful. There was maybe a small window of opportunity once, but at this point they’re familiar enough to know that they’re incompatible to their cores (get it? ha ha! it’s true, though).

What is your favorite fruit? Do you regularly eat apples? Is that a little weird for you?
Peaches are my favorite fruit, but only when they are exactly ripe. We have an apple tree that yields perfectly crisp and flavorful apples, so I am a fervent apple-eater for a few months each year. Eating apples is not weird for me unless they have eyes. My husband and I had lemons and limes with googly eyes glued on them as part of the centerpieces at our wedding, and the florist suggested that this might prevent drunken guests from eating them. She said that drunken guests always eat fruit from the centerpieces at weddings, even lemons and limes.

What inspired “Yorkie Roommates”?
My dear departed yorkie, Lucy Fourpaws, inspired “Yorkie Roomies.” When I was in college, I lived in a house with four other girls, and she would eat the crotches from our dirty underwear out of separation anxiety whenever we left her home alone. One time we found a turd composed entirely of brightly-patterned underwear bits! As Lucy’s owner, I felt responsible for her actions and regularly bought new underwear for the house and/or reimbursed my housemates for their losses. Eventually we all learned to use a hamper with a lid, but not until many underpants were lost. A few years after college, several of my roommates admitted that some of their pairs with smaller holes were still in rotation.

Tell us about all your cute pets!
Otis is the terrier of the house. We got him from the Milo Foundation a couple of years ago—I suspect that they tricked us by making us meet him at a park instead of in their showroom where he surely would have growled and bitten us through his cage. It all worked out though! He’s a sweet little rascal as long as you aren’t a stranger coming in the door!

Rufflz is the white cat with crossed eyes and splayed hind legs, also from the Milo Foundation where her name was originally “Beijing.” She enjoys hiding behind foxtail ferns and making noises.

Pearl is the gray cat with the great big gut. She was originally a barn cat in Maryland, but Damien (my husband) rescued her and fattened her up. She actually lost a lot of weight when she first moved to California from New York, but she did not lose the skin that held the weight. We later found out that the weight loss was from the neighbor’s terrorist cat stressing her out. When he moved away, her flap filled in again.

Elvis is the black cat, also a rescued Maryland barn cat. He disappears for most of the day, and only returns for food and affection at night.

Who did you have to bribe to get a cover blurb from Jack Handey on your new book PS Comics? Are you guys penpals now? Can I have his number?
I sent him my comics and a letter, and he wrote me back with a cover blurb. Getting an email from Jack Handey was the most intoxicating moment of my life! He was super nice, but I got a vibe that long-term correspondence was not in our future.

Do you have a favorite “Deep Thoughts”?
"The crows seemed to be calling his name, thought Caw." I think about that "Deep Thought" once a week, on average. Mostly when there are crows. I also like "The face of a child can say it all, especially the mouth part of the face."

What exciting upcoming projects can we look forward to? Because we do look forward to them.
Right now I’m in the very early stages of two graphic-novel-length stories. One is a “Fruit Pals” story in which Apple starts volunteering with The Gorilla Foundation after quitting his job. I’m also writing a story that Damien will illustrate called “Leisure Cove,” about a terrier that moves home to work at her parents’ furniture store in Florida while she pursues her dream of creating a successful interior design blog. Also, in non-meat-eating news, I’m going to design a poster & various press materials for my friend’s “Vegetarian Thursdays” campaign (so everyone would eat vegetarian on Thursdays, schools and restaurants would only serve vegetarian food on Thursdays, etc.).

Any questions for Vegansaurus? Anything!
Why don’t you have a podcast? I would listen.

Actually, we do! Kind of! There’s only one post in it so far, and it’s a video. But still. Beggars can’t be choosers!

You can find more of Minty Lewis’ comics at her site,

Thanks, Minty!

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