There’s a certain gritty, self-deprecating vibe to the characters in Lauren Monger’s comics; her main character is Clementine, a punk rock opossum, and the rest of the ensemble includes characters that are equally angst-y and heartwarming, all at once, with bonus points for animal faces. In addition to themes of class, mental illness, and finding your way through the shitstorm that is life, these comics sort of smack you in the face in the best kind of way with their raw presentation and straightforward and vulnerable subject matter, while still managing to be funny and surreally weird slash strangely uplifting.
Read on to find out what inspires L. Mo, how she started making comics, and what other kinds of art she dabbles in.
So what’s the backstory of how you got invited to the As You Were party?
Mitch Clem asked me kind of out of the blue! I remember avidly reading some of his stuff in high school. How could I resist?
Which came first: drawing comics or painting? What was the impetus for making art? Are there any other mediums you are experimenting with or wanna try out in the future?
I’ve been compelled to make stuff, and especially draw, since I can remember. I grew up in the Georgia foothills and spent a lot of time alone, without much in the way of entertainment, besides running around in the woods and reading, so that was just what happened I guess! I later went to art school with the intention of majoring in sequential art, because I was really getting into some of the Vertigo and Dark Horse titles at the time. I didn’t even get a chance to take a sequential class before the painting department brought me to the dark side. I was a little more than two years in (my time at school was very erratic, since I couldn’t afford it most of the time) when I started doing these paintings of these characters. I spent a quarter and some time outside of school painting them, and while I was working on them, I started coming up with little stories and personalities for them. Eventually I pretty much switched entirely to making comics about them instead.
I used to think it would be fun to try animation, but I’m not sure I have the patience for it! Printmaking is probably the big one. I’ve been trying to do some very DIY-style screenprinting lately.
You’ve said in the past that your artwork is inspired not only by your life, but more specifically by mental illness and the lower class. I am assuming these are also experiences you’re familiar with, so to the level that you’re comfortable speaking about them, can you explain how they inform your art and, in turn, what you hope your art can communicate to others about these topics?
Yeah, although I think I failed to elaborate enough on the intentional cartoonish-ness of what I was initially going for with the paintings, with regard to class stuff. They were originally sort of intentionally silly in their presentation. There were some rough times when I was a kid, but I’d say overall [that] my friends’ lives were more of an inspiration than my own life was. Old houses that have gone to shit due to neglect and shortness of money, living with family too long—that sort of feeling—was something I was going to approach, but I’ve changed directions somewhat. That’s better for something properly autobiographical, maybe.
The paintings, at least of these characters, are something I’ve pretty much given up on as I’ve done more writing. I was aiming for just this kind of ridiculously lowbrow sort of thing on huge panels and canvas that I can’t imagine anyone with the money would be willing to buy. I just got kind of mad that painting was so inaccessible. It felt like decorating for rich people, you know? A little misguided. Anyways, that concept feels really flat compared to what I can do through a narrative.
One thing that’s going to keep coming up, though, is the money that’s wasted on distraction and little pleasures, and how it’s hard to make money when you have none. Family tensions and this sort of transient feeling as you begin to realize you need to care. And, in the case of mental illness, still not doing a very good job of caring whether you want to or not. Hopelessness and no discernible future. A lot of people are intimately familiar with some of that, I think.
Would it be fair to say that Clementine is supposed to be a version of you? What made you decide to make her an opossum? (Or do you call her a possum, since you’re from Georgia—I hear they do that in the South?)
Hah, yeah, in a way. She’s a lot like I was when I was around 18-21. I’m not so much in that place anymore, so it’s weird to write her. Kind of cathartic, just pouring out a lot of my own flaws. But she’s also her own person and there are quite a few differences. She spends a lot more time on the manic side of things, I think.
Since these were the first comics I’d ever really tried to stick with, I went with the whole “write what you know” thing pretty hard. I wasn’t really expecting anyone to notice them. A lot of the characters are lifted from friends and acquaintances or combinations of people I’ve known. As I’ve written more, they don’t feel like those people so much anymore. I just straight-up named Kyle after a friend of mine. Thankfully he’s the sort of guy who finds that funny.
As for Clementine being an opossum (maybe I’m a weird Southerner!) it’s kind of a long story, but basically an opossum moved into my house without my permission. She had a bunch of babies and they were really adorable and would come into my room and I’d give them strawberries or whatever. They also brought fleas with them. It was both a magical and terrible time, but I’ve been sort of crazy about opossums ever since.
What is your studio/room/work space like? Do you have any specific rituals you rely upon when you’re making art?
I work in my room, and my living conditions are not the greatest in general, so it’s a total wreck. I try to rearrange things every so often just to keep things interesting. I almost wish I wasn’t a traditional artist sometimes because I have to keep so much stuff. It’s everywhere. I keep a lot of books, too.
I’m not sure about rituals. I have a big calendar on my wall that I write deadlines on and try to keep little lists with little checkboxes on it of stuff I need to get done that day. I try to get to work almost right after I wake up because it’s easier to stay focused that way. Then I’ll have it on hand if I start shitting around on the Internet later, and then I’m like, “Why am I shitting around on the Internet? This is so much better a way for me to spend my time.”
Your contribution to As You Were deals with a lot of heavy stuff, and all of the things you touch on (the patriarchy, the class system, social interaction, self-worth, etc.) are tied in to one another in the form of this systematic oppression. What do you feel is the role of art in inspiring or instigating people to change or consider these issues in ways they might not have before? Does art still have that power to influence and sway in a positive direction? Or do you approach it more on a personal level of self-expression?
I honestly don’t approach these with a whole lot of an agenda. I’m not sure I’m so much interested in making people change their ways as I am in making the people who can relate feel less alone. I’m pretty uneducated and misguided in a lot of areas, and I can be really fatalistic and miserable, so I think if I made comics with a solid agenda, they’d be really shitty and fucked up.
Some people may have thought I was compelling the audience to think Clem’s boss was some sort of asshole, but when I was writing it, I wasn’t thinking he was intentionally trying to denigrate her or whatever, you know? People don’t know what they’re doing half the time. Life just isn’t a black and white thing and sometimes good people are shitty and vice versa. A lot of the main characters are extremely flawed, but I try not to make them unsympathetic because of those flaws. I may not always be successful, but I think that sort of understanding might be one of the major things I’m trying to accomplish. All the same, oppressive systems exist and I try to be aware of them.
As for art itself compelling people to change, well, I think it can be done really well or really poorly. A lot of the time, the audience has to bring themselves to the table when viewing some work, so it can be unwise to make them feel attacked. At other times, in-your-face, no-bullshit stuff is what is needed. It all depends on what you’re aiming for and who your target audience is.
What format does your art come in aside from the Internet and as paintings? Do you distribute your comics or have you been featured in any other collections, and do you have any plans or aspirations to publish a book of your work? Also, what’s the deal with your collab with Space Face Books?
I’ve only been making comics for around a year, and I often feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, but my goal is definitely to get more stuff out in print. I just have a personal preference for holding comics in my hands when I read them. I recently finished my first mini comic with Space Face Books, but I’m not entirely sure when it’ll be out yet. People will just have to stay tuned I guess!
I totally want to make a graphic novel and plenty more mini comics while I’m at it. Whenever I hold other people’s mini comics or zines, I feel like I’ve got little jewels or treasures in my hands, so that’s definitely something I want to continue with.
You’ve cited the filmmaker Jan Švankmajer as an inspiration. What other artists (or things) inspire you and in what ways?
Yeah, I think about film and animation a lot for sure. I just like the way Švankmajer so intimately (and often hilariously) expresses feelings around politics, oppression, and interpersonal relationships. I think about a lot of older stuff I grew up with, too. Namely, Rupert Bear and Beatrix Potter. There’s a lot of literature. I really love a lot of early 20th century authors. Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited has been important to me for a long time, as well as Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel and You Can’t Go Home Again. I think I consider literature more often than I do comics when I’m writing.
I’ve also got a massive soft spot for Romantic painters and a lot of more contemporary types like George Condo, Basquiat, Richard Prince, Keith Haring, and also Kent Williams and Phil Hale; the list goes on forever. A lot of my local peers are pretty inspiring as well.
If your art were a mixtape, what would the tracklist be?
This question makes me nervous! Probably just, like, The Replacements’ entire discography.
If adult things like money, time, and responsibility weren’t factors to consider, what would you do with your life?
I think I’d be pretty happy if I could just live relatively comfortably doing art things. I just like making stuff. I’d be miserable if I couldn’t make stuff, really.