Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat With Molly Lawless
I first met Molly Lawless and saw her work at a Free Comic Book Day appearance at Fantom Comics, where she and Jim Dougan were selling their minicomic How I Lost My S#?! at the Apple Store. This amusing look at a certain lack of customer service on the part of Apple caused a bit of controversy among a certain apple-flavored Koolaid drinker. Lawless has kept a lower profile in the past couple of years as she's worked on a long graphic story about baseball, but she's recently been posting a Frog & Owl comic strip every day on her blog. Lawless is appearing this week at Busboys & Poets to speak about comics, and answered our usual questions beforehand.
Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
Molly Lawless: My work is on the cartoony-realistic side, and somehow it's turned out to be mostly non-fiction—either historical or autobiographical, with a humorous (I hope) twist. Pretty much always black and white—I haven't quite figured out how to use color to my advantage yet.
WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?
ML: I was born in Boston, Mass., in 1975.
WCP: Why are you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?
ML: I live in the Courthouse/Clarendon area of Arlington, Va. My husband got a job with the IRS (I know, we are very glamorous) about five years ago and that led to the move from Boston.
WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
ML: Not a lot (that may be evident). I majored in English but have taken a few Continuing Ed-style illustration and comics classes. Most of what I'm doing is just a continuation of a life spent doodling.
WCP: Who are your influences?
ML: Well, Charles Schulz, definitely. A lot of books I read when I was a kid—there's this one big cheesy paperback called The Amazing Book of Facts—those cartoons are still burned on my brain. Norman Rockwell, Maurice Sendak. As far as comic artists, the first one I really got into was Dan Clowes. I saw his work and it really resonated—it has that perfect combo of rational realism and absurdity that I love.
WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?
ML: Regrets....let's see, I can't say all those office jobs really helped my comics career, but a girl's gotta pay the rent. I often wish I had gone to art school and recently thought about trying to get a Masters in Illustration but that's kind of expensive. I think I'd get more out of just working really hard. But it would be fun.
WCP: What work are you best-known for?
ML: If anything, I guess I'm best known for my baseball cartoons. I've done a few in this series "Great Moments In Baseball" covering some of the more ridiculous stories from baseball history (mostly really old stuff). I've done a couple of webcomics with Jim Dougan (one for Smith Magazine's "Next Door Neighbor" series, "Return To Sender" and another for ChemSet). I have a compilation of my first few mini-comics that people may have seen, Infandum Ad Infinitum. And in the not-too-distant future I will hopefully be known for my first book, Hit By Pitch, which I'm writing and illustrating for McFarland. It's based on the true story of the only major league player to die from an on field injury, Ray Chapman, and the guy who threw the pitch that killed him, Carl Mays. I'm working on it now so I'm not sure when people should look for it, but it's coming eventually!
WCP: What work are you most proud of?
ML: The work I've done for Hit By Pitch, I'd say. I never thought I'd be able to create something so massive, and the research has been more intense than I would have thought going in. I feel a responsibility as the person bringing these guys back to life, or at least trying to. There's a lot more behind it than anything I've done yet, so hopefully readers will think it was worth it!
WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?
ML: I've done some autobiographical comics that seem to get a laugh, so some more of those. And these old baseball players will continue to haunt me, I have a feeling. So, more of the same, but better. How's that?
WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?
ML: Doodle. For a while I was doing a lot of drawing from photographs just to get the juices flowing, or as I like to say, reminding myself that I can, indeed, draw. It's easy (for me, anyway) to forget that when I'm feeling particularly blocked.
WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?
ML: I'm sure everyone says the web, and they're probably not wrong. I think there will always be a print component, if only evidenced by how big expos like MoCCA and SPX have gotten. But I have no idea. As far as sequential art goes, I'm sure it's here to stay – sorry haters! It will just be harder to make a living at, maybe.
WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?
ML: I love running here. There's one route I do a lot that takes me past, like, every monument. It's amazing that they're all so close, and I love seeing them every time.
WCP: Least favorite?
ML: I hate walking by the FBI building. It makes me want to die—it's the architecture, the same as Boston's City Hall. Brutalism, maybe? Ugh.
WCP: What monument or museum do you take most out-of-town guests to?
ML: My parents were just in town and they were really impressed by the Marine Corps Memorial—Iwo Jima. So I think that might be one I'll take people to that they might not necessarily think of, slightly off the beaten path compared to the Mall monuments. Of course, I just ran the Marine Corps Marathon which finished there and it so that might be why it comes to mind.
WCP: Do you have a website or blog?
ML: Yes, I post just about every (week)day at my blog, Hooray For Mollywood: http://tyrnyx.wordpress.com/
Lawless appears Wednesday at "In Between the Panels," a panel discussion on the D.C. graphic novel scene sponsored by the D.C. chapter of the Women's National Book Association. The panel takes place at Busboys & Poets at 5th & K streets NW from 6 to 8 p.m, and also includes Carolyn Belefski and Matt Dembicki. I'll be moderating.