Zine Supreme #2: Amara Leipzig
Welcome to Zine Supreme, a series in which I ask women and gender non-conforming folks making magic happen through the written and printed word about their work. Today's interview is with Amara Leipzig, a non-binary Los Angeles-based illustrator and comic-maker who wants you to think long and hard about gender and the human experience.
What prompted you to become a creator? How did you start making zines?
I stayed inside a lot as a kid. I’ve always been pretty introverted, so I’d sit at home and trace pages from my picture books and draw in my journals. Drawing just always seemed like a better idea, or at least somehow easier, than being active or social. I shifted towards taking art seriously and thinking it could be a life pursuit when I went to LA County High School for the Arts, this great public arts school in East LA. Then I started college in Chicago. There’s such a vibrant and empowered comics and zine community there – it’s exciting and really inspired me. The first zine I made was terrible. It was called “THIS IS THE TRUTH” and was a huge mess of anti-capitalism writing that wasn’t very well thought out and came off as super condescending. In a sense I knew it was going to be terrible, so I didn’t put my name anywhere on it. It’s like my painting teacher said in high school: get your first tattoo somewhere that you won’t have to see everyday. Not that you will hate your first tattoo, just that you may not love it. And so, maybe by not putting my name on it, it was easier to let “THIS IS THE TRUTH” fade into the background, as a huge learning experience that functioned as little else.
But then I found comics! I took a comics class with Jeremy Tinder and it reminded me how much I loved going to comics shops as a kid and reading the Sunday funnies and how my best friend, Josh Grapes, and I would write comics together. I am a printmaker, so I’ve always been interested in reproduction… there’s something about all these copies getting out into the world, finding themselves into the hands of strangers, being able to connect. I didn’t want my art to be stuck on a gallery wall, I wanted it to be held in people’s hands. Approaching comics as an adult, I was so excited by the medium as a really interesting art form, as well as the accessible aspect of a bunch of Xeroxed paper stapled together! So ever since then, I’ve mostly made comics.
What are your intentions as a creator? What do you hope to achieve when you make a comic?
It’s hard for me to pin down my intentions because I think they are different for every comic. I like telling stories, and there is a certain type of experience that I love as a reader, and I often aim for that. One of the last comics I wrote, The Fifth Window, was probably the hardest comic for me to write so far. I was offered this mini-comic deal from Dan at Kilgore Books and was super excited about it, but the opportunity came at a time that I had a pretty full plate already. I wrote this story probably 6 different times in full. I think the problem was that I kept starting with an intention. I’d be like, “I want this comic to be about this theme,” or “I should sit down and create an interesting character, then go from there,” and those roads would just lead nowhere. It wasn’t until 6 or 7 months later, when I moved back to LA, that I sat down and wrote the story in like a week.
This isn’t to say that I don’t have intentions for my work; there is a lot of stuff that I really want to write about! Like, I want to create more stories about characters that aren’t cis white dudes, because who needs more of those? And I want to be informed and making art about relevant shit, like the injustices of our country and how humans are destroying the planet. I don’t want to be making stuff that is pretty and sexy, but also meaningless. But deciding all this and then sitting down to create – it’s just hard. I think it’s been way easier to see what flows out of me, then look at it critically and think, “What is this saying? Is it problematic? What themes here excite me so that I can build on them?” and then, when I’m ready to start showing it, talk about it with others.
How do you feel your identities impact your work?
Well, I definitely would be writing really different work if I was a different person. I mean, that’s an obvious statement. The thing is, I don’t aim to make work that is intentionally about queer issues or Jewish issues or short person issues or a big nosed issues or white-female-passing issues. I don’t want my work to be confined to my identity and therefore have someone feel, “Oh well I don’t think I’ll pick up that comic because that’s for queer people and I don’t even know what queer means.” Or “I don’t think I’ll pick up that comic because it’s about Jewish stuff.” Or even worse, “This comic is by a queer person! I bet if I read it they will teach me everything I need to know about that.” It’s like… dude… educate yourself on that shit if you want to be educated, that’s awesome and you should, but I’m here because I like telling stories.
That being said, as a queer city-dwelling Jew, I do think that I’m interested in exploring stuff like perception and identity and human connection in a way that is academically queer and Amara-specific. I do like writing and drawing gender non-specific characters, because I see myself in them and I think they are interesting and relatable. The great thing about gender non-specific characters is that the person reading that character, unless they are very aware of queer identities, will often just read their own gender into the character, and therefore have a better chance of relating to them! I also think the fact that I am queer makes me want to grow as a writer, to be able to write characters that aren’t like me and draw bodies that aren’t like mine.
What materials do you use in your zines, and what’s your creative process like?
My creative process is a lot of research, free writing, and banging my head against the wall. I like penciling on really cheap, shitty paper. I usually ink on a separate paper, by light boxing. Then, I do a lot of editing in Photoshop. I usually consider the finished piece the digital file. Maybe I would consider the finished piece the printed work if I had the money and studio space to reproduce it however I want. I often toss the originals.
What’s the hardest part of this work - and why is it worth it?
As an artist that mostly makes comics, I already know that I am committed to an art form that isn’t going to make me money. That is hands down, easily, the hardest part. But it’s also good – it forces me to think about what kind of life is possible in capitalism that would still make me happiest, and urges me to get off my ass and make it happen. But sometimes it’s a lot easier to just go to that part time job and when I have free time, sit at home and draw, because that part is the most fun.
Which of your zines or zines you’ve been a part of is your own favorite, and why?
Night Blanket is about my road trip across the Southwestern desert into Los Angeles. Coming back through that landscape, it really reminded me that the desert isn’t just beautiful – it’s pretty fucking deadly. There is a kind of homecoming I experienced, but also a lot of fear and awe. Once I was back in LA, it made me want to research people who have gone missing there. The desert is this surrealist mindscape where it feels like anything can happen, and so disappearing into that is especially compelling to me. The result is part comic, part poem, part zine, with lots of drawings made with brush pen and some gouache paintings at the end.
The Fifth Window is about a hermit/monk who lives alone in an island, afflicted with visions. There is a tower on the island and the monk is drawn by obsession to fill its windows with stained glass depicting the visions. The comic is about creating the final window of the tower. It’s about perception and reality, but mostly about the compulsion to create and the pain that comes with a creative block. I played around with bit tones and different styles, which was lots of fun. There are emojis instead of speech sometimes and different lettering for different characters, a nod Todd Klein for his work in the Sandman series. I think it’s my best work so far.
Carmen Rios is the Managing Editor at Argot Magazine, Digital Editor at Ms., Community Director and Feminism Editor at Autostraddle, and a Contributor at Everyday Feminism. Her words have been published by BuzzFeed, BITCH, ElixHER, MEL, and Feministing, among others, and she was once a blogger and activist with the SPARK Movement, a writer at Mic, and Managing Editor of THE LINE Campaign blog. Carmen's successful work for over eight years in digital feminism—as a writer, social media maven, and activist leader—has earned her the titles of “digital native,” “intimidating to some,” and “vapid and uninteresting.” She's too honest on Twitter , too vague on Tumblr and consistently uses the same Instagram filter.
You can also find her at carmenfuckingrios.com