Arts Desk

Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat with Rachel Scheer

One More Page bookstore in Arlington had a notice in its most recent newsletter: "Local writer and collector Rachel Scheer leads a dynamic discussion about the autobiographical comics genre. Guests are invited to participate in a question-and-answer session and a brief drawing and writing activity." The event happens Thursday at 7 p.m. I hadn't heard of Ms. Scheer so I immediately set out to corral her for my "Meet a Local Cartoonist" series.

Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

Rachel Scheer: I started doing autobiographical comics based on my life now, as a 20-something, and my life in high school after rereading my high school diary a couple years ago. Lately I’ve been focused on adapting that diary into comic form in a series of self-published mini comics called In Between Naps: A High School Diary Comic.

WCP: How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

RS: I use black ink pens, then scan the drawings into Photoshop to fill in blacks.

WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

RS: I was born in Atlanta, Ga., in 1984, but my family moved soon after to Arlington, where I grew up.

WCP: Why are you in Washington now?  What neighborhood or area do you live in?

RS: I don’t know! I have no real reason, I just can’t seem to get away. I have a lot of friends here and my parents still live in Arlington and I enjoy hanging out with them. I’ve lived in lots of different parts of D.C., and just recently moved back into Arlington! It’s crazy. I keep worrying that I’ll run into my mom in the grocery store. Not that that would be a bad thing.

WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

RS: None! But I did make a lot of comic strips as a child and was a religious reader of all the comics in the Washington Post, even “the boring ones” like Mark Trail and Apartment 3-G.

WCP: Who are your influences?

RS: Julia Wertz, Gabrielle Bell, Lucy Knisley, Vanessa Davis, Adrian Tomine, Robyn Jordan, Jillian Tamaki, to name a few.

WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

RS: Well, I don’t have a career in comics or anything art-related. I currently work as a first grade reading teacher. I like that a lot, but it doesn’t leave a lot of time (outside of summer vacation) to work on other projects. I do wish I had started doing comics earlier in my life when I had more time. For instance, in college I was mostly just sleeping or reading. I could have been making so many comics!

WCP: What work are you best-known for?

RS: My In Between Naps minicomics are sold at Atomic Books in Baltimore and Desert Island in Brooklyn. Once I won a greeting card contest through the D.C. Jewish Community Center!

WCP: What work are you most proud of?

RS: I really like my In Between Naps project because I think my high school diary is hilarious. I hope other people can relate to it. It’s not overly dramatic or emotional, it’s more droll and matter of fact. I really enjoyed rereading the diary and deciding how to best share it with “the world.” Unlike a lot of autobiographical comic artists I’m definitely not an oversharer, so some things in there will remain secret.

WCP: What would you like to do  or work on in the future?

RS: I’m really excited about a comics project that currently exists only in my head. It will be a minicomic based on my mother’s stories growing up in the '60s in the Bronx versus my own childhood stories from the '90s in the suburbs of D.C. I think it will be fun to hear my mother’s stories and compare our childhoods.

WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

RS: I feel so guilty when I don’t work on comics! Like I said before, I am a full time teacher of small children, which is pretty tiring. There are many weeks where I don’t do any comics. Then I’ll have a week where I’m working on comics almost every day. I try to set small goals for myself and then set aside large chunks of time over breaks from work. I plan to get a lot done this summer.

WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?

RS: I think more and more people are getting into self-published work, whether its handmade and sold in a store, or a digital e-book of some sort you can carry around with you on your iPad. I think autobiographical comics in general have really come to the forefront of comics and graphic novels—it's not all about superheroes and fantasy anymore.

WCP: What local cons do you attend? The Small Press Expo, Intervention, or others? Any comments about attending them?

RS: I’ve attended the Small Press Expo and the MoCCa Fest in New York, but I’ve only tabled at zinefests in D.C. and Richmond. I’ll be tabling at the DC Zinefest this July.

WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?

RS: D.C. is a pretty city, and easy to get around in. It also smells really good compared to other cities.

WCP: Least favorite?

RS: Summer weather.

WCP: What monument or museum do like to take visitors to?

RS: The Hirshhorn, the zoo.

WCP: How about a favorite local restaurant?

RS: Arlington has the best Vietnamese food.

WCP: Do you have a website or blog?

RS: rachelcomics.com.

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