Welcome to my 'zine tree!

Here in my studio, I've got this wire-y thing hanging above my computer desk chock-full of paper goods that have kept me curious.

Instead of filing one thing away when I wish to add something, I've decided to do these features about some of the creators' works on the tree.

There's a little bit of everything up there - some photography, some stickers, some floppy comics, but most of it is cartoon and comics art and all of it is independently produced.


AG: Hi Julia! I have been familiar with your work for some time — seeing finished video art works submitted to competitions, animation works in progress, and literally hundreds of drawings online and documentation of your performances. In terms of this current work, “Monsters from the valley,” what would you say leads you to making books? Could you provide a short overview of your journey through / relationship to various media?

JULIA: I’ve always been a huge fan of graphic novels, and they’ve played inspirational roles for me throughout my entire art career as an artist. I think one reason graphic novels are so appealing to me is that they reflect the way I try to tell stories with video and animation. With some exceptions, like Craig Thompson’s incredibly ambitious Blankets and Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions, most of the graphic novels that I read are shorter and more abstract than, say, a novel. That’s how I feel about my videos too; I try to get at the essence of a story or even just focus on the feelings and sounds of one particular event, like casting a magic spell to create an unkindness of ravens, or transforming into a spider.

The idea of making my own graphic novel came up for me as I was storyboarding my video works. I basically storyboard by making a comic of the video, though usually the drawings are really quick and just about action and framing. But it’s a process I really enjoy. About 6 years ago I started a comic journal for traveling and filled a few sketchbooks with panels. I tended to make single-page, 6-panel entries and got pretty comfortable with that format. Some of the comic entries were silly cartoons about something funny that happened, or some were about what I saw at a museum or while climbing a hill. I use that 6-panel format for drawings now, sometimes telling a little story, or even just breaking up a single image into 6 boxes to how that affects the way you see that image.

At this point I’ve published two graphic stories: The Loneliest Place, which is about a sci-fi journey of a robotic dog to a black hole in the center of the galaxy, and Monsters from the Valley, a bestiary of monsters I invented. Both are quite short, and both employ full-page graphics rather than comic panels, which limits things like dialogue and passage of time, but allows me to weave text throughout images, create a sense of movement across an entire page, and give more detail to a single moment in time. In this sense, each page is like a single cut from one of my videos, which are frequently without dialogue--just one frame containing the unfolding of an action.


AG: Concerning your works, your website bio states: “Her love affair with science burgeoned as she grew up and developed as an artist, and scientific curiosity emerged as a character in her work,” which is related to your upbringing – one of your parents was a physicist and another, a gardener. More often than not, you deploy the fantastic in your stories and multimedia works. Is there some way you could briefly discuss your work’s reconciliation of fiction (i.e. telepathy, animism, horror) with science?

JULIA: When I was a kid my dad would tell me bedtime stories about black holes, infinity, and the absolute nothing that came before the big bang. He would sometimes create talking characters out of astronomical phenomenon or internal organs. So from a really young age I started associating science with narratives, and I never shook that association. So much of the presentation of scientific research is about presenting a story too; in scientific journals there are papers that take the reader through a process that leads from a question to an solution. There are also many concepts of science and math that seem like fascinating metaphors of human relationships (like the way that matter and antimatter annihilate if they touch) or even just wonderfully zany visuals (“a black hole has no hair”). So creating visual stories about science has always come naturally to me.

I don’t know that science and sci-fi or magic are necessarily reconciled in my work, but rather I think that all of these subjects are about a similar desire to explain why the world is the way it is, and to answer questions about the unknowable. To me, physics can be absolutely magical and sometimes terrifyng. Most of the statements that physics makes about the world around us are hard for us to wrap our heads around and impossible to observe in everyday life. So it feels a bit like a fairytale or a ghost story. The story of the big bang, if you learn about all of its bizarre steps, seems like a crazy epic poem. In fact, I wrote an epic poem about the creation of the universe, translating the four main “characters” of the big bang (the four fundamental forces: electromagnetism, weak nuclear force, strong nuclear force and gravity) into the four chambers of an elk’s stomach, thereby positing that the universe was created by the hungry tummy of an enormous ungulate.

In the Beginning There Was Nothing

Have you ever heard the tale of how the REAL was rent and torn?
From a nothing quiet as an egg the universe was born.
Some call this wild story by the name of the Big Bang
But descendants of a certain Buck call it a different thang, deer.
Call it a different thang.

If you wander deep into my woods you’ll hear the forest part
For an ancient soul who played a role in how it all did start.
If you listen to his whispers, deer, well, surely you’ll be struck
By how the universe was born from hunger of a Buck, deer.
From hunger of a Buck.

First there was nothing.
And the nothing was filled with emptiness.
And the emptiness was hunger.

The hunger was so powerful that it split the nothing into two stomachs: Pull and Gut.
The hunger was SO mighty that it split Gut into Dainty and Ravenous.
And finally, as the hunger spread, it split Dainty into Weak and Light.

Those four stomachs grumbled, growled and howled like a beast.
Ravenous, pull and weak and light were itchin’ for a feast.
There weren’t no food to eat, no sir, just emptiness to munch.
And so of emptiness those tummies made the grandest lunch, deer.
They made the grandest lunch.

Digestion of the emptiness did make an awkward noise.
Like a belch, a moan, a bellow and a sweetly singing voice.
The sound, we found, was coming from a large and hairy frame.
And from the tummies’ snacking a great elk body became, deer.
An elk body became.

The Big Buck became. His body formed by the digestion of the emptiness.
He was hungry. Nay. He was voracious. And he was hot. Ever so hot.
And powered by his deep hunger, he exploded and ripped into the void.

The inflation of his body accelerated
and accelerated
and accelerated
and accelerated
and accelerated
and accelerated….

The Big Buck grew and filled the nothing with his hulking form.
His body cooled and spread; it was the calm before the storm.
The stomach Pull was grumbling and it made the Buck’s fur coil
Those hairy tangles turned to spheres and energy did roil, deer.
Oh energy did roil.

The mats of fur were fused by rumbles made by Weak and Light
And began to glow, oh what a show, oh what a magic sight.
The heat began to rise again and a white hot pulse ensued
And then those balls of elk fuzz up and flared and burst and spewed, deer.
They flared and burst and spewed.

The explosions of light blasted outward like the seeds of an angry dandelion. And those seeds landed here and there in the black, bits of the body of the buck that settled down and became what we now know to be planets. The glow of elk fur stars shone down upon these little sisters. There was steam. And tiny mouths that opened toward the light. And there was more and more becoming.

And soon a special thing occurred that ends our wondrous song.
Tiny mouths that fed upon the light grew big and strong.
The mouths soon grew a coat of fur and bodies long and lean
And when they tired of the light they hungered for the green, deer.
They hungered for the green.

And these were the first deer, my deer, who looked into the night.
And chewed the green while smiling at divine and twinkling lights.
And just like you and me, these deer were staggered and were struck
By how the universe was born from hunger of a Buck, deer.
From hunger of a Buck.
From hunger of a Buck, deer,
From hunger of a Buck.

from Julia's 2015 multimedia project, The Loneliest Place

AG: “Monsters from the Valley,” veers into very dark territory towards the end. Without giving away the ending, when I began reading it, I was delighted --- and by the end I felt somehow fearful and bemused in a way that was saltysweet. What was your intention for printing this book, and in whose hands does it end up?

JULIA: I’ve always had a pretty dark sense of humor, and what I love best is the collision of the sweet and lovely with the dark, creepy and sad. I think that comes out in a lot of my work. Monsters from the Valley definitely gets pretty dark, but most of the creatures are vulnerable too. They are a little too cute and fuzzy to be honestly scary, and they are lonely or longing for something, like the way the hybrid wolf-girl Lisa and Grolla misses their mother. They are all self portraits in a way.

I had recently spent time at an artist residency in upstate New York called Wassaic Project, which takes place in a spooky, historical grain mill. While I was there, I imagined all sorts of monsters lurking in that place and started to sketch them. I ultimately chose one of my little sketch monsters and made a video of him dancing to the beat of a dead girl under the floor beating on the floorboards. I was invited to have a solo exhibition of that video in Brooklyn, and I thought it would be nice to have a physical object to go along with the video piece, in particular something that could be purchased cheaply and brought home with visitors to the show.

So I reached back into my childhood and remembered monsters I had imagined then, and I imagined drawing with my little sister, inventing crazy characters are both comic and sort of horrible. (My sister and I have drawn together our whole lives, and one of my favorite drawing projects with her was a series of fancily garbed, pock-marked, sour and ugly queens from an imagined history.) Creating my monsters was a very unguarded spilling of my imagination, and it was absolutely joyous. It’s not necessarily meant to be a children’s book, though I had a lot of friends who shared the book with their kids. I didn’t have very specific intentions for who would ultimately read it because I didn’t really want to censor any of these monstrous inventions. So some of them are playful and silly, and some are darker and reference suicide and violence and sex. Finding that balance was fun for me--making a book that teeters right on that edge between cute and disturbing.

AG: Would you be willing to name and briefly describe the work of an artist whose work you are admiring a bit right now?

JULIA: I’ve been really enjoying the mixed media works of Heather Merckle. She’s doing an ongoing project in which she goes around the city with a giant sculptural asteroid strapped to her back like a backpack. She rides her bike with it, goes to the grocery store, reads in a park, and it’s hysterical. She also makes beautiful paintings of giant asteroids doing human stuff like going to the pool or the movies, or riding the subway. The work is very playful and funny, if a bit apocalyptic, but it’s also really visually compelling and skillfully made.

I’ve also been following a recent project by Ariel Jackson in which she has been exploring her family’s history as African American farmers in rural Louisiana in the 1950’s. It’s been fascinating seeing the way she deals with her research materially. One of the manifestations of this project is a series of Missing Data Quilts, in which Ariel silkscreens old photos, sometimes very damaged, of her family members on the farm onto fabric and adds her own imagery to them to fill in these bits of history. It’s a moving project.

AG: While I see touches of Edward Gorey, Stephen Gammell, Dame Darcy, and Molly Crabapple in the drawings themselves, the combination of stippling and line with no brushwork traps your style in a purgatory between what I recognize as ‘zine Micron pen drawing, and traditional illustration in terms of the forms and shapes. The character naming convention that you’ve undertaken here is similar to the early cartooning penchant for naming characters after bad habits, but I also could be completely wrong. Why monsters?

JULIA: I think monsters have historically been an embodiment of fears, desires, and human weaknesses. There are lots of medieval monsters in illuminated manuscripts that seem to refer to various sins and punishments. It makes sense that the creation of monsters is a way of purging and organizing the darkest parts of the human psyche. There is probably some of that going on, as I mentioned when I said they were self portraits. However, I also just love inventing creatures and drawing them, and engaging in that magical process of creating something that comes straight from the child-like imagination. In many ways, I was able to indulge in the kind of drawing I did when I was a kid by making this book, and I think that following those urges can be helpful and informative and can lead you to the next place.

AG: Will any of these characters return in other works of yours?

JULIA: I’ve recently been drawing some pretty creepy mermaids in a series of drawings that are loosely connected to my favorite book, Moby Dick. So magical beings are still here with me for the moment. And everything I do has a way of coming back around and possessing me again, so I’m sure some of the monsters from the valley will make their way back into my work at some point!

Visit Julia’s website>>