Mari Naomi: Raunchy and Animal-loving, but So Much More

Ladydrawer fave Mari Naomi launched a new webcomic today, “Said While Talking“. Her other online work, “Smoke in Your Eyes” on The Rumpus and “Frisco al Fresco” on SF Bay‘s website, display a range of skills as the explore local culture (she lives in the Bay Area) and serious, literary memoir. This last is the artist’s forte, as evidenced in her Harper Perennial book, the sexy-but-cute Kiss & Tell, a skill honed over years in the self-published series Estrus Comics.

I asked Mari Naomi to answer a few quick questions about the new project over email.

When Tapas Media approached me, I had a whole school of pitches swimming around in my brain. I took a look at the comics on their site, the stuff their audience seems to respond to, and opted to share my more relatable stories. “Said while Talking” is a collection of conversations I’ve had with various people, and it jumps back and forth in time. The stories have a wide range: cute/weird/gross/humiliating/funny/thoughtful. When put together, I intend to paint a deeper picture of my perception of humanity. It’s a concept that has been brewing inside of me for a while. I’m really excited that it found a home.

I was never a big fan of reading comics online, so I stayed away from the web comic thing for a while. I finally opted to try it out so I could promote my book, Kiss & Tell. I was surprised at how addictive it can be. Every day I post a new comic, I wait with bated breath to see what people’s reactions will be. Will people like it? Will they comment on it? (That type of instant feedback is my favorite.) Will it rile people up? Will people be silent about it but pass it around? I find the whole process fascinating. Whether or not an online comic is a success depends on so many factors, and timing seems to be a big one. If a story is relevant that day, it’ll get passed around like crazy, whether it’s a great story or not. But if I post a great story (or what I deem to be a great story) on the wrong day, or even at the wrong time of day, it will fade away into the ether. It’s kind of like book publishing, but on a much faster turnaround. A book gets three months to “make it,” but a web post gets 24-hours, if you’re lucky. But then, if a comic makes it, it can be passed around indefinitely, just like a book. I haven’t figured out the alchemy just yet, but I’m working on it.

You’ve also joined the faculty at CCA and taken a comics editing gig at The Rumpus. Why is so much coming together now?

So much of the stuff that’s been happening has been in the works for a while. I feel like I’ve spent a lot of 2012 just waiting for things to happen. It was hard after the excitement of 2011 (when my book came out, I did the Sister Spit tour, for example.). Fourteen years of nothing, and then BANG! 2011! When the craziness died down it wasn’t a relief, it was maddening. I was still pumped up and ready for more. So I made a conscious decision that 2013 would be my year to settle back into my comfort of obscurity. And then all this stuff happened. I guess my lesson learned is that I have to just go with it. But that’s easier said than done, huh?

One of the best things about Kiss & Tell was that it presented fairly raunchy material as comprehensible—desirable—and even “clean” for most ages. By which I mean, you didn’t revel in dirtiness, although you could have. Something about this approach felt decidedly queer. Is that an identity you feel is evident in your work?

I’ve got a raunchy sense of humor, but my making stuff clean is probably more a testament to my shyness about sharing the details of my sex life than anything else. My most explicit comic to date is going to come out this fall in Rob Kirby’s anthology, QU33R. It’s a sixteen-page, full-color story about a threesome I had with two ladies (although really it’s about how emotionally unavailable I was at the time). Even that sex scene is a little tame, I’ve since been told, but showing how it all happened, well … I couldn’t stop blushing, especially when I was water coloring nipples. I wanted to be respectful.

As for my identity, everything I write is dictated by who I am: bisexual, promiscuous-when-single/monogamist-when-coupled, feminist, Asian-American, raunchy, squeamish-about-violence, San Franciscan, pro-choice, Atheist, animal lover—not necessarily in that order. It all goes in there, whether I mean it to or not. That said, relationships and sexuality have been favored subjects of mine. I should probably try to avoid focusing too much on any of those things, though. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as “that raunchy, animal-loving cartoonist,” you know?

You’re in a long-term relationship with a very nice man—Hi Gary!—Does it feel strange to make comics about other sex partners? Do you ever find yourself not wanting to explore something in the immersive narrative that comics creates?

Gary is so cool with that stuff. This is a question I/we hear most at my readings, directed at him: “How do you deal with the content of your wife’s stories?” But the funny thing is, the comics are the whole reason we connected romantically in the first place. We were work pals before that, and when we were catching up over LinkedIn, I sent him links to some of my comics. He later told me that the honesty I exhibited in these stories was what intrigued him, and it went from there.

But I do occasionally worry about making him feel weird in some of the details. Like in that threesome comic with the ladies, I was a little nervous showing it to him. But I do make a conscious decision to not let that affect me. And that nervousness is for nothing, since it never seems to bother him at all.

How is this new project funded? Tell me about your economic stability. Also: what means of support of your work feels the most meaningful to you?

Tapas Media signed me up on a twenty-episode contract, with a payment advance and royalties if their revenue exceeds what they’ve already paid me. They’ve got a good vision for their product. I hope it really takes off.

As for economic stability, I have another career in the writing field that’s flexible enough to let me do what I want most of the time. Lately the comics work has been edging out that other career, though, which is pretty awesome.

But comics are a lot of hard work, whereas my other job was easy money. I literally can’t remember the last day I didn’t work, which has led me to make my new year’s resolution: Take at least one day off per month. Gary is very excited at the prospect, although I must admit it makes me a little nervous. What will I do with my hands if I’m not holding a pen?

My favorite support is when people take the time respond to my comics, either by comments, emails, letters or whatnot. It means so much to me when people go out of their way to do that, as the whole point of this endeavor is to connect with other people.

And of course, when they buy my books and zines, or leave a review on Goodreads or Amazon, I’m over the moon.