If you’re heading to TCAF this weekend, stop by the Conundrum Press booth to congratulate Montreal comics artist Meags Fitzgerald, who is up for the Doug Wright Spotlight Award for her debut graphic novel Photobooth: A Biography. Fitzgerald will be signing copies of her book from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, and participating in a panel discussion about “Making Comics History” at the Marriott Hotel, 2:45 p.m. on Sunday.
Q&Q spoke to Fitzgerald about her award-nominated book, and her forthcoming graphic memoir, Long Red Hair.
What does it feel like to be recognized for your first graphic novel? When you work on something for so long by yourself and you don’t really have time to get feedback before you get it out there into the world, you just lose complete perspective on everything. At times, I thought I was wasting my time making this, and I finished it almost begrudgingly. But I wanted to finish it for the sake of photobooths, and to get the message out there about them before they’re completely gone. That really was what pushed me.
For a year pretty much I cut off all friendships and didn’t socialize. I sat and I wrote and I drew and made myself pretty unhappy. To realize it wasn’t a waste of time is pretty satisfying.
Photobooth is a mix of history and personal memoir – was it challenging to put yourself into the book? I always knew that I had to have some of my own personal story in the book to make it more interesting for people who don’t already care about photobooths, and that it would be a difficult subject to get people engrossed in if they were wasn’t a personal side to it.
I actually cut a bunch of stories that I was afraid of having in print. I wasn’t sure I wanted them to exist out in the world forever. If I could go back, I think I would include them now.
I didn’t feel like I was sharing that much of myself – a little more than I would blog about – but then the response from people reading the personal side of the book has been huge. I was surprised how it changed my existing relationships, like with extended family who’ve known me their entire lives but who don’t talk to me on an intimate level. When I started getting emails from strangers and seeing people on YouTube reviewing the book, I realized the impact of the personal story. That’s really inspired my approach to writing Long Red Hair. It’s a lot more personal, and I’m in a much more vulnerable position.
Does the current popularity of graphic memoirs make it easier to share your own stories? I read a lot of graphic memoirs – it’s my favourite kind of comic book and I take inspiration from them. I don’t know what it is about the medium that makes the story so much more captivating – it kind of feels like a biopic, but it’s a bit more intimate because it’s for an audience of one.
When I originally thought I wanted to pursue comics in some way, I started writing fiction, and thought that was what I wanted to do. But when I looked at how long it would take me to illustrate one of these books, I always gave up on the story – it never felt like it was worth that many hundreds of hours.
I also recognize the importance of quiet stories. Long Red Hair is made up of 12 quiet but meaningful stories that all had an impact on shaping my identity.
Who are some of your favourite comics artists? The artist that had the first big impact on my work was definitely Adrian Tomine. Chester Brown; Jillian Tamaki for illustration; Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and David Small’s Stitches are some of my favourite books; and I adore the work of Lilli Carré.
This interview has been edited and condensed.