EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Cartoonist & Writer, Ariel Schrag
The author of “Potential” and “Awkward” discusses her upcoming debut novel, being a lesbian in America, issues with censorship, and much more.
Ariel Schrag began her comic book career as a young freshman at Berkeley High with “Likewise”, her first graphic memoir. She has since completed a whole series about her high school experience including, “Potential”, “Awkward”, and “Definition”. She even went on to create “Stuck in the Middle”, a comic about her experience in middle school.
Graduating from Berkeley High, Schrag continued on at Columbia University completing a degree in English literature. She has written for HBO’s “How to Make it in America” as well as Showtime’s “The L Word” and continues to work in the television industry as a writing consultant.
Her more current works include writing the screenplay for the up and coming film adaptation of “Potential” and an online comic series with her best friend entitled, “Ariel and Kevin Invade Everything”. Ariel Schrag is awaiting the release of her debut novel “Adam”, which is expected to hit bookstore shelves April 2014.
We recently got the opportunity to speak with Schrag about her graphic memoirs, upcoming novel, being LGBT in America, and much more.
ASHLEY RAMNARAIN (AR): How did a young teenager get started with autobiographical comics in high school?
ARIEL SCHRAG (AS): I had been playing around for comics for a while, had drawn my own fictional stuff as a kid and in eighth grade kind of played around with the idea of a, doing a, strip sort of inspired by for better or for worse. Like a newspaper strip. And I came up with something like live it like me, based on my family, and did like a few of those and then when I entered ninth grade I kind of became more familiar with the alternative comic book scene which was kind of big in Berkeley where I grew up in the early mid nineties and I sort of started to realize that, you know, there were comics beyond newspaper comics and that’s when I had the idea to make an actual comic book based on my high school: first on my freshman year of high school and then after I did that to continue the project every year
Yeah, I think that I had confidence in myself as I’d always been drawing my whole life and it was something, you know, that allowed me to kind of stand out, as a way to make friends – when you go to camp and you don’t know anybody… I would just sit and draw and people would sort of come around. I think it was something that I always had a positive association with.
I think I had some anxieties. I didn’t know if it was going to be good and I’m sure I had the typical doubt that everyone has when you sort of start a project. I think that anxiety is pretty much universal, but I definitely felt really excited by the idea. I really wanted to see it made and that was sort of the main motivation – well, what would it look like if I took these experiences from my freshman year and put them into a comic. That kind of goal of getting to see it finish really propelled me. I didn’t really think – I also really didn’t know who was going to look at it while I was working on it. It wasn’t like I knew that it would be published or anything. So I think that sort of took the pressure off. It was kind of like a really fun thing to do.
AR: Because of your career starting in your high school, did you consider your comics to be sort of a safe haven during your adolescence, especially when discovering your sexuality?
AS: Yeah, I do think that that was kind of happening. It was never deliberate, it was never like, “Oh I’m going to sit down and write about my sexuality so I can understand it” but I do think that is what was sort of subconsciously at work. I think sexuality for all teens, no matter who you’re attracted, to is sort of confusing and exciting because it’s happening for the first time. So I definitely think writing about those experiences was a way to try to understand them or get a grasp on them. I found so much of it so humorous, like a way to express that and share it with other people in kind of the same way that you might tell your friends the same story over and over again. A lot of people like to tell the story of their first kiss or their virginity loss or whatever. I think it was sort of the same thing – that this is really monumental and I want to tell the story.
AR: After high school you went on to study English Literature at Columbia, do you think you will publish material based on your time during university?
AS: I am working on a collection of short comics that I’ve been sort of working on slowly over the past decade – like comics that are one to twenty five pages - that I would eventually like to put together and some of those take place in college. I also have a novel coming out next spring that is fiction, but one of the characters in the book has just finished her freshman year of Columbia. Some of her experiences are taken from mine. But I have no plans to do a series about college. If it’s going to show up anywhere, it will either be in fiction or in these short comics.
AR: In addition to your comics, you've also written for shows like "The L Word" and "How to make it in America" - what inspired the jump from graphics to screen writing?
AS: That was sort of something that I hadn’t set out to do and sort of found its way to me and ended up being something that I ended up loving, that I wouldn’t have known to pursue. The thing that I really loved about comics – well I think part of the reason that I did them - was that they’re so very easy to do. I mean, they’re not “easy” to write and draw but they are easily accessible to make – all you need is typing paper and a pen and you can make a comic. You can go to the photocopy store or put them online and you have a published comic. It was very manageable. I also really loved comics and I like movies and television too, but I don’t think that it ever even occurred to me to pursue that because it’s like, “How do you make a TV show?” That’s something that requires a lot of people and a lot of money and so it never even really was something that I could just do myself. While I was in college I ended up being approached by (something films) a production company about turning one of my comics into a movie and that was sort of my introduction to that world. I got really interested in it and started working with an entertainment lawyer who got me the job on “The L Word”. I only came to those things through my comics, but once I was sort of welcomed into that world, I was excited to be there.
But it wasn’t something that I had set out to do. I don’t know if that’s just my personality. I grew up probably more into reading comics than watching TV or if it was really just the nuts and bolts of it – the fact that I was able to go out and make a comic and wanted to be able to complete something. Now I think everyone owns an IPhone and I think that it’s different. Now it’s much easier to create short form video content and maybe if I was a teenager right now I would be doing that. When I was a teenager making movies was not really something that you could do. I think it was possible but you really had to go after it. Now there’s video editing software that everyone can have – that wasn’t even a conceivable thing. I think the more opportunity that people have to make their own stuff is awesome.