Talking Paper Interview Series: Siobhán Gallagher

Self-portrait courtesy of the artist

Siobhán Gallagher is a Senior Designer with Abrams Kids & Comic Arts in New York City. Raised in Moncton, New Brunswick, Gallagher's personal artwork is influenced by Canadian comic artists like Lynn Johnston, while taking inspiration from her day-to-day NYC experiences. Her humorous take on what grown-up members of The Baby-Sitters Club might look like, dubbed The Jaded Quitters Club, has been featured by Bust, Us Weekly, Huffington Post, and Refinery29.

Gallagher was among the artists who took part in the first edition of Project Comics at Brooklyn Art Library in May 2016, presented by Nomadic Press and curated by Jeremy Nguyen. During a projected presentation of her work, she discussed the creative process for The Jaded Quitters Club, Badass Baby,  Modern Tragedies, and other series. She also showed pages from her self-published zines Contain Yourself and Soothing the Troublemakers, and work from the anthology Saturdéjàvu. Her first book, In A Daze Work, is due out in 2017 from TarcherPerigee. I recently interviewed Gallagher about her art, its influences, her busy Instagram, and bringing her work to festivals, galleries, and Project Comics.

On early influences

Disney's Fantasia 2000 I just love. It's funny, because I don't do any animation, but I really loved one of the vignettes in it that was set to Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," and it was illustrated Al Hirshfeld-style. So that I was obsessed with, and I would always play the VHS tape and pause it on certain parts and try to draw what I saw. Also, Lynn Johnston is a Canadian cartoonist who did For Better or For Worse, and I really love those. I think my aunt let my dad borrow a bunch of her books one summer. So I found just a stack of them and went through them obsessively. That is a cartoon series where the characters age and they’re not in a permanent status of the 11-year-old daughter or whatever. You could see them age and grow up and go through different endeavors. I thought that was really cool. I think that whole series was happening for 20 years, and I only discovered For Better or For Worse when it was like 15 years in. So at that point there was a character, she was born, and you saw her be a toddler, you saw her be five years oldI really liked watching someone age through comics.

Image courtesy of the artist

"That also was a big deal, being allowed to tape whatever I wanted onto my walls, because I would cover every surface and it just became a bedroom of inspiration."

In early high school I was really into pop art, and especially Andy Warhol, because that was interesting. I liked pop art because it was a bridge between fine art and lower class art, almost. I liked art that could be on magazine covers more so than on museum walls. I really loved New Yorker covers. My dad had a coffee table book called something like The Greatest Magazine Covers of All Time, and it went through all of the 1900s. I liked going through that more than I had access to other magazines. So I took that book, and I photocopied every one of my favorite pages and stuck them to my walls. That also was a big deal, being allowed to tape whatever I wanted onto my walls, because I would cover every surface and it just became a bedroom of inspiration. Every wall had either drawings that I did, or things that I obsessively printed out from my home computer (wasting all my parents' money on computer ink), and photocopies of magazine covers. Entertainment Weekly magazines often had little spot illustrations, and sometimes there was neat art in that too.

On book endpapers

From a book designer point of view, the endpapers are the first few pages before the title page of the book. Usually, it’s patterned or has a color. It’s when you try to make an extra little specialty treat for the book. Because the cover is what makes you open it, and the endpapers are usually what makes you further interested in continuing through the book. So it’s like an additional treat to further show a special detail about the book. It’s almost like the book’s wallpaper. My first two years at Penguin, I was in children’s picture book design. So usually in children’s picture books, the artist just picks a little flourish from the inside and just puts that on to the endpapers.

[The endpapers for] Sophie Dahl’s The Man With The Dancing Eyes. As a teen, I saw that it was Roald Dahl’s granddaughter. So immediately I was like, “Oh, the legacy continues.” That book is interesting because it’s a small hardcover illustrated book. Not really for children, though. So as a teen, I think that book was on sale, and that’s why I was able to buy two copies. I got one for my bookshelf and one to remove the cover and frame it and put it on my wall. Because one thing that I love about books, but that I find frustrating, is how when you close a book and put it on your shelf, you can’t see it anymore. I want to be able to take what is hidden and closed up on bookshelves, but then be able to take it and look at it more often on a wall. 

On influential book covers

There’s a specific edition of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time. There’s a specific cover of that book that I was obsessed with as a kid. Then a few months ago, I redrew it just for fun. I love that one. Then there’s a picture book called The Big Pets by Lane Smith. Those illustrations are beautiful. That’s another book that I still have with me, and I have it on a shelf as art instead of tucked away. Those are two off the top of my head that I know and I remember loving. We had a lot of books. I also remember The Berenstain Bears. One of their books was Too Much Junk Food. There’s a title page for that book where the letters of the title are made out of different types of food. That’s another thing that I remember loving.

There was another series of books that I think we have a hundred of that my mom, who used to work at a hospital, got through the hospital somehow. I don’t know what publisher did them, but they were those simple tropes of sharing and learning about certain math things, and my mom would always read that to us. Every book started with a little kid opening the book and then reading the story. From those picture books, when I learned to read, then I was devouring The Baby-Sitters Club.

On The Jaded Quitters Club

There’s lots of books that are in that genre of '80s young adult series titles. Goosebumps is another one, or Sweet Valley High, where it’s easy because there’s a formula. Goosebumps easily could have a parody for it. But Baby-Sitters Club was fun to do because of the wordplay. That was how I came up with it. I liked thinking of Baby-Sitters Club present-day. Then the rhyme Jaded Quitters Clubit’s funny because it's not clever. It’s like a dumb joke. But it was really fun to do because the formula made it easy to repeat.

"I’m a lazy person, and so I like to think of those characters who in their teens were like, “We’re gonna put on a fundraiser, and we’re gonna take care of all these children, and make little kits for them, and prepare and overdo whatever we have to do!” So very entrepreneurial, active, eager young ladies."

The first was Claudia And The Spoon That Was Just Ugh Too Far to Reach because that is the ultimate laziness that I know we all have. I’m a lazy person, and so I like to think of those characters who in their teens were like, “We’re gonna put on a fundraiser, and we’re gonna take care of all these children, and make little kits for them, and prepare and overdo whatever we have to do!” So very entrepreneurial, active, eager young ladies. I just thought it was funny. When does that eagerness run out for them? Timeline-wise, early '80s was when the Baby-Sitters Club took place, so the characters were probably born in the 1970s, and right now they’re middle-aged. I just ignored that and thought, “Let’s pretend they’re my age. What are they doing now?” Post-college kind of Broad City life. Mallory and the Sassy Online PersonaI think that one's my favorite. And because I was obsessed with the books, I know what the characters look like based on the original book covers and the descriptions. So physically, I just made them look like adult versions of who those characters were. But every one of those scenarios are pulled from my lazy life. They’re all based on me, for sure.

The Jaded Quitters Club is one project that seems to have gotten a lot of attention in the online media. Someone reached out to me from Stylist in the UK. They did an article about a bunch of different female artists who use social media as a platform to show their work, and they focus on women’s issues. Not so much straightforward, direct feminism, like equality, but more the nuances of what it is to be a woman, and the non-glamour side of it, and the honesty of emotions. That was, I think, one of the coolest articles because it had me and a few other artists from all over the world who are all dealing with similar issues like anxiety, or just frustration with certain things. We all did it from different perspectives and in different ways. So that was really cool because I would’ve liked that article anyway. But it was just neat to be incorporated into this piece with so many other great artists whom I admire. 

On drawing herself

I started really drawing actively like two-and-a-half years ago because I hadn’t drawn for a while. When I went to art school it was for design, so I wasn’t doing a lot of the illustration. So a few years ago, when I started getting into it again, it was kind of a journey of figuring out who I am. As far as aesthetically what needs to be in a self-portrait, and what do I feel comfortable drawing, and what features are necessary versus what you don’t need to be thereI don’t always draw noses on people. It’s weird drawing yourself. It’s kind of confessional because then people see it and they think, “Oh, you draw yourself way skinnier than you really are,” or “You’re not that short and fat. What are you doing?”

Self-portrait courtesy of the artist

I feel like I’ve always been a little self-aware of my own hair. Just very aware that I don’t have the shiny, straight, perfect hair that is usually associated with a chic lady. So I try to make the non-chic qualities that I feel like I possess accessible, but also just make it pretty in its own way. Illustrations of women don’t have to be the standard beauty. I try to take what I know is my own poofy mess and make it pretty in its own way.

On her Badass Baby series

Badass BabyI started drawing him because I think babies are funny, and cute, and weird, and round, and fun shapes just physically. But I made him tattooed to try to make him a really cool guy because I just thought it was funny to think there are certain qualities (especially in 2016, and especially in Brooklyn) that are the checkmarks of hipness. It’s like if you have tattoos, and you are an outspoken feminist (and these are not bad things), and you wear Stussy and certain brands, certain types of pantsput those together and you are automatically considered a cool person. So I thought it was funny that you put all those together, and it’s a baby. The baby never speaks. The little caption at the bottom is always the viewer talking to the baby.

Image courtesy of the artist

It’s a funny thingI know that if I draw something related to boobs or dogs, it’s going to get lots of Instagram likes automatically. So sometimes when I draw those for fun, it feels almost pandering. But Badass Baby, I just think it’s genuinely funny. A baby who is super cool and lives this life that you don’t actually really see him live, but you just hear about it from the viewer’s perspective. It’s always like the viewer is running into him again on the street for the first time in a few weeks, and they're catching up, and you're learning about the baby’s endeavors. Compared to the Jaded Quitters Club, it has not gotten a big response. But it’s fun for me. I think it’s stupid and weird and funny.

On Apartmeant to be

I like tracking timelines, I guess, but in a kind of non-narrative way. I don’t know if that’s a crutch because I haven’t done many straightforward panel narratives. [Apartmeant to Be]the male and femaleI like drawing things that are semi-open to interpretation. This was a two-page comic for Desert Island Smoke Signal. I just loved Desert Island Smoke Signal ever since I moved here. They’re a cool newspaper-style quarterly. I think every season it comes out, and this was issue 25. It’s really just like smoke signalsa collection of different comic artists doing whatever they want, basically. There’s never any specific theme, and this was the first time that I submitted something to it.

On NYC work and her return to drawing

I’m the newest person [at Abrams], and I'm still trying to get my bearings. But so far, it has been a mix of receiving a breakdown manuscript from an editor of what the book is about, what kind of vibe they want for the cover, and then keeping track of artists who might be good to hire for freelance. Then I’ve been doing illustrations for books myself, laying out different comics.

Image courtesy of the artist

"I am kind of lazy, so any material that needs a setup and a cleanup, I don’t really deal with. I do all my drawing just lying in bed."

I moved to New York in 2013 from Canada. For the first nine months of living here, I was just terrified of getting fired and getting deported. So I was focusing only on not getting fired and just doing a good job at work in the office. My [Penguin Random House] position was a lot of office work and less creative design. Once I got accustomed to the job, I needed an outlet of doing creativity for myself, so I started drawing again. I was also depressed and I just needed an outlet from my mind, basically. It was kind of like a rough beginning of figuring out like, “How do I draw, again?" and "What do I even want to draw?" and "What am I trying to say with my work?" and "Am I trying to say anything?” I started leaning towards humor in drawings more than a fine arts perspective. Then it kind of just became a daily obsession. Now I can’t go a day without drawing something.

I use pencil, eraser, and then nib-tip markers. I tried doing watercolors, but I don’t think I’m very good at it. I am kind of lazy, so any material that needs a setup and a cleanup, I don’t really deal with. I do all my drawing just lying in bed. So nothing messy or hard to put away after. Very just straightforward.

Everything is black and white, and then anything that's colored is done digitally. It’s funny because in university when I did illustration, it was always illustrator vectorized. So it was always in color and always digital, which is now kind of the opposite of what I do. It’s all hand-drawn and mostly black and white.

On her upcoming book

It is called In A Daze Work: A Pick Your Path Journey Through the Daily Grind. It’s an illustrated choose-your-own-adventure story for adults all in the span of an average day. So at the very beginning, you wake up, you drift from unconsciousness into realizing what day it is, and then you decide what day of the week. The first prompt question you're asked is, "Is it a weekend or a weekday?" Then if it’s a weekend, you go to page 74 or whatever. If it’s a weekday, go to the next page. From there, all of the weekend scenarios, which is half the book, you are illustrated as a dude, and all of the weekday scenarios, you are illustrated as a female. But both characters look exactly the same. They have a little baseball cap and a long t-shirt dress looking thing. But the girl just has longer hair.

Image courtesy of the artist

It’s humor-based and it’s 160 pages, all illustrated. I tried to go through all of the most mundane activities that everyone goes through in a day like, "You’re getting ready in the morning, and there’s a pimple! Do you deal with that?" Then subway drama, showing up late for work, going on a bad date, doing laundry, getting coffee. 

On comics festivals and gallery showings

There are so many [comics festivals] all over America, especially. So far I’ve only done Comic Arts Brooklyn, which is in the fall; and MoCCA (which is Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art Festival), and that’s in the spring. Those are two that I’m going to be doing again this year, as well as TCAF, Toronto Comic Arts Festival. The one that I did last year for CAB, I brought two zines that I have self-published, where I got a printer to print them for me. I’ve done a few mini-zines like Badass Baby that I just printed and stapled myself. Modern Tragedies was another series that I did, which was similar to what my book deals withall of the annoying shit that happens in an average day. Modern Tragedies was illustrated in the style of those Greek vases of the figures who are in dramatic positions. But it was all relatable, simple, annoying dramas of a day. So for my first fest, that’s what I brought, two nicely printed zines and then two DIYs that I just stapled myself. Then at Comic Arts Brooklyn this year, I’ll be bringing the same stuff on top of just more zines that I’ve done myself, more self-published stuff.

Image courtesy of the artist

I thought [attending a festival] was going to be kind of tiresome or frustrating because people would ignore me and not look at my stuff. But it’s really cool. The only festivals that I’ve gone to or took part in have been in New York. So it’s been a really cool range of senior citizens being interested in my work, to little kids, to parents who have babies with them. It’s really nice to be able to talk to someone who’s interested in my work. There were a few times at MoCCA this past spring where people would come over to my table and have remembered me from the last festival, and they were excited to look at my new stuff. It makes me a little bit emotional in a really nice way.

The [gallery show] that I had the most fun doing was one at Chinatown Soup, which is a little gallery on Orchard Street, that I did in the fall. It was a group show. I think [my digital and tactile art] are two just unique distinctly separate experiences, whether it’s on Instagram on your phone, or on your computer, or on a gallery wall. They’re both cool to me. I do like that whatever I post online I can control how it’s shown. I can Photoshop something out or up the contrast or something, whereas you don’t have that control as much in an exhibition. I’m not the curator, so I can’t decide what it goes next to. So both are distinct but nice experiences.

On using Instagram

"I've had a diary since I was seven, and I obsessively keep track of every little dumb thing that I do."

I started to like Instagram more when I stopped thinking that its only use was to showcase “Look at what fun I’m having at this social event,” and more as almost diary entries. I've had a diary since I was seven, and I obsessively keep track of every little dumb thing that I do. Any experience that I have, I’ve always documented it. So this is kind of a fun public way to do it in a relatable platform. What I've noticed that I really like is if I draw something that’s kind of confessional and what I think is an embarrassing flaw, or just a comment on something that I’m thinking of, so many other people start commenting on it like, “Same,” or they tag friends who can relate and it becomes like we’re all in this together. What I thought was an individual embarrassing moment becomes a communal experience, almost. So I like being able to share those feelings with people who can relate and understand as well.

As a teenager, I didn’t have Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, or anything. There were certain blogs that I loved like LiveJournal. I just remember always loving photos of art or scans. It doesn’t matter to me that it’s just on someone’s screen that they can just thumb through, because it’s a way of expressing something all over the world that can be reached the same way by everybody through the same medium.

On Project Comics

I think I had seen Stranger Than Bushwick online, and I had just seen [Jeremy Nguyen] on Twitter, and he connected with me. We first interacted in real life at MoCCA Fest because he came up to my table. So that was nice. We first met online, and then introductions in real life, and then he reached out and asked me to be a part of [Project Comics].

Photo by Christian Niedan

I really liked that because it was a show-and-tell. I had done things like that before. But usually what I've done in the pastit's been me trying to pitch something, almost like I'm trying to tell a crowd a distinct story, or proving a point or something. So I liked how, for that event, it was just a collection of my stuff that I could be standing beside and look at next to. What I liked about that more than the experience of posting online or seeing at a gallery is the audience’s reactions were very nice and audible. I wasn’t really expecting saying "next slide," and then having a ten-second period of silence while people were reading, and then laughter. That was nice.

On Canadian artists and animated ambitions

"Late at night on Teletoon, during commercial breaks, they would show short animated films that were all Canadian. Those are amazing."

Lynn Johnston who did For Better or For Worseshe’s Canadian. I think the fact that she was Canadian was always kind of a big deal in my mind. Mark Bell is another great comic artist. In America, you guys had Nickelodeon for the cartoons, and we had Teletoon. Late at night on Teletoon, during commercial breaks, they would show short animated films that were all Canadian. Those are amazing. There was one called The Cat Came Back. I used to always watch that as a kid. 

I have no experience with animation at all, but I’ve always loved it, and I’ve always wished that I could do something, whether it’s a music video for fun or just an intricate GIF. That’s definitely a goal of mine to pursue. It seems to take a long time. I have a lot of my own projects on the go right now, so I haven’t been able to dedicate time to learning how to animate something, but I definitely want to.