Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat with Ava Ann Vrooman
Ava Ann Vrooman was at the Small Press Expo with minicomics versions of her webcomic. She happened to be at the table next to Richard Thompson, so when I serendipitously found out that she lives in Fairfax County, I immediately pounced with the usual questionnaire.
Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
Ava Ann Vrooman: I draw a weekly web comic called the a2alien. My background is in fine art and design so I've been experimenting with using the alien as a focal point for some of my other creative endeavors. In addition, I collaborate with Robert Harvey to create screen prints of the alien. The a2alien comic is also published in mini-comic form.
WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?
AAV: I was lucky to grow up near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. As for which decade, let's just say I watched Mr. Rogers, played with an Atari 2600, and learned to program on an Apple IIe.
WCP: Why are you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?
AAV: I've been in the D.C. area for over 10 years now and am not really sure why anymore. It's a great place; there is always something new and interesting to do. So, why not Washington?
WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
AAV: Honestly, none. I've always loved to draw and have my share of art teacher horror stories just like everyone else. The skills I do have came from sketching endlessly while sitting in a coffee shop until the wee hours of the morning. One of the better courses I've taken was a figure drawing class at the Torpedo Factory. Around that same time, I read The Non-Designer's Design Book by Robin Williams and applied her system of named observation to my work, which improved my characters. As for formal education, the closest I can claim is an MFA in digital art from George Mason, but cartooning was not a part of that curriculum.
WCP: Who are your influences?
AAV: I collected Garfield books growing up and loved Donald Duck cartoons, so Jim Davis and Dick Lundy. My mother and I bonded over Lynn Johnston's For Better or For Worse and who doesn't love Shulz's Peanuts. Currently, I read a slew of web comics including: Squarecat (Jennifer Omand); Death and the Maiden (Nina Ruzicka); Marooned (Tom Dell'Aringa); Bad Machinery (John Allison); Fuzznuts! (Chris Wall and DJ Granstaff); Martin: Angry Owl (Amy Crosthwaite); World of Hurt (Jay Potts); and Station V3 (Tom T). And, I loved Rene Engström's work Anders Loves Maria.
WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?
AAV: Because I'm still getting started in my artistic career, I can't say there is anything I would change, yet. Like many artists with day jobs, I attempt to keep on track by maintaining a steady schedule for creating. It is all too easy to let regular day to day tasks take over my free time leaving no time for cartooning or other artistic pursuits.
WCP: What work are you best-known for?
AAV: The a2alien as he's the only consistent work I have out there. I'm pretty sure no one remembers the short lived strip I had published while still in college.
WCP: What work are you most proud of?
AAV: That's a tough one. Looking at things I've created even a year ago I see many imperfections and alterations I would like to make. I'm more proud of getting my art out there than any one piece itself.
WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?
AAV: I have a few additional comic characters and storyline ideas that I would like to work on in the future; but, for now, I want to concentrate on the a2alien. Originally, my goal was to avoid dialogue at all in the a2alien, but I'm dabbling with using sparse dialogue to enrich the storyline.
WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?
AAV: It depends on the day. Sometimes, I'll work on chores to clear my space and my mind, other times I'll think back over the past few weeks and try to cull a story from something silly that happened with friends.
WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?
AAV: I think there will continue to be many web comic artists who aren't seen, a few who gain popularity, and a very few who are dedicated and work hard enough to make a living from it. Comics are an art and a form of expression; they aren't going to disappear anytime soon.
WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?
AAV: The best part about living near D.C. is the plethora of food choices and activities. Did you know there's a Swedish School (Svenska Skolan) in Falls Church? That's something that doesn't exist just anywhere.
WCP: Least favorite?
AAV: Traffic, of course!
WCP: What monument or museum do you take most out-of-town guests to?
AAV: The Canadian Embassy—the fountain is really beautiful and the area above it acts as an echo chamber. People always have a good time saying silly things or tap dancing with their echo.
WCP: Do you have a website or blog?
AAV: But of course! It is a2alien.com.