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Animals are sad too – talking with comic creator Adam Meuse

On a trip to Hampden in Baltimore, I stopped by the bookstore Atomic Books and picked up a copy of a book called “Sad Animals” and immediately fell in love. The amount of sadness these animals had really hit home. The fact that such cute, friendly, furry animals could be so sad was deep and I immediately contacted author Adam Meuse for an interview.


When did you know you wanted to pursue art as a career?

I think when I was very little. I have always been drawing and I think it was one year when I was about eight for some reason I wanted to be a marine biologist but other than that I’ve wanted to do cartoons all my life.  


You seem to combine a lot of different media – art, comedy, writing – where did you learn all of these things and what made you bring them together?

Well, I think comics are probably not that unique in this respect but especially comics that are created by individual creators, for them to be successful or at least work for any given person, I know that when I [make a comic] there has to be a relationship, a resonance between the image, the artwork itself, all the visual elements and the story – the sense of humor or just whatever type of comic it is just the sensibility. There are a lot of comics that I may like where I don’t like the artwork but I like the story and the subject matter. There are comics where I like one element but not the other. I think it’s just trying to harmonize the elements and make everything come together.


There seems to be a lot of frustration portrayed in your work. Where does this come from?

I guess my own frustration. I think I may have opened a door for myself. I’ve come to this realization where I don’t think that I will never be self conscious and not frustrated when I make stuff. I think I just had to give into it. I really admire artists that just seem to be forces of nature and just seem to produce and they are their artwork and their artwork is them. It’s just seamless. I’ve never felt that way. Ever. Maybe when I was four or five. I had just pure joy in making things but then even at eight or ten years old the self consciousness comes in and I think I’ve always been making and doing stuff but there has always been this level of anxiety about it. I think I realized that I almost have to make that part of the subject matter and just sort of embrace it. It made things a little easier for me. Rather than be in denial about it or try to work through it maybe I’ll come out the other side but for the time being it feels right to address it. I think a lot of people, 90 percent of people in general, artists in general, feel anxiety about what they’re doing. I’m not the only one of course but I like stuff like that for sure.


How does your family perceive your art career?

They’re very supportive. I think my wife wishes that I had less anxiety about it. No one wants their partner to anxious or frustrated and I think I talk about it less. But they’re very supportive and my two girls – I’ve got a seven and ten year old – they love to draw and we draw together sometimes. They love comics and cartoons. They’re very supportive also.


Why are the animals in “Sad Animals” so sad?

Why are they so sad? Well, I guess it’s pretty obvious that they are stand-ins for people, myself I guess. Originally I was working in a record store and I used to draw on post-it notes and I started drawing sad animals. Later I moved to Richmond and I made this little book for this event at a comic shop and I was hard pressed on what to do so I just said “Sad Animals.” It was just a very quick thing that I did and I think the thoughts that they have and what they are saying – I was just trying to be as honest as I could. I would think of things that I have said to myself and I guess they’re all sort of isolated. They’re basically private moments.  Trying to take things we say to ourselves under our breath when we’re alone or in our heads and I just tried to frame them. So that’s all this is, is this sequence of framed personal moments. Of course the animals are just there to make it more universal and funny. I’m just trying to laugh at myself you know? I think it’s most difficult to laugh at yourself when you’re alone and feeling those things. It’s easier to laugh at yourself when you’re with other people talking about those things or watching a movie or reading a book or whatever. But when you’re by yourself and having these kinds of thoughts it’s not very funny but I think it is kind of funny to frame them and make animals say them.


How do you look at the world – what do you see when you walk outside?

I don’t know. I mean I kind of hope that I don’t. I think we are always sort of [switching] between wanting a unique point of view but also wanting to feel like we’re part of the rest of humanity. I feel like often we don’t though and we often question our sanity. I think as I’ve gotten older it’s sanity and mental health, the stakes get higher. It’s easier to romanticize when you’re young. When you’ve got more obligations and you’ve got loved ones depending on you, you just want to feel connected. I think it’s become more and more important to not see things from my perspective but see things from other perspectives.


You have a comic that says something along the lines of, “I can’t write when I’m sad and I can’t write when I’m happy.” Is this something you relate to? How do you get into the mood to create something?

I think again I’ll be sitting at the drawing board and be stuck. I just realize that having ideas about my ideas and about the process is more often what I’m thinking about than the core idea. I started thinking I could just make comics about making comics. And I think that other artists and people that do anything really, I think people can relate. And there is a lot of stuff out there, again I’m not the only person making comics about making comics but I feel like it’s honest for me. I feel like if I’m sitting down at the drawing board and these are the thoughts I’m having why deny them, why not just give them a voice. That comic you mentioned about when I’m overly happy or overly sad not being able to work, the thought crossed my mind, somebody else must be able to relate to that, it’s true for me it must be true for somebody else. I was like “huh that’s kind of interesting,” it’s something I noticed and it’s kind of funny even if it’s true and frustrating and then that becomes a little comic. Just trying to grab onto those and just seeking some kind of honesty.


As an artist you almost have to market yourself. What experience do you have that enables you to do this? How did you learn to do this?

That’s a great question. I’m a horrible self-promoter. I always felt pretty schizophrenic doing it as the person who makes things and as the person who tells other people about the person who makes things. It’s a whole set of skills. Just because you make things people assume that you are good at sharing those things and it’s a whole different thing. Now it’s more important because […] I’m pretty isolated now and I’m just older and now we’re in the internet age and it’s more important to reach out beyond your community – if you even have one. I think I’ve just learned from watching others and seeing how others do it successfully or do it in a way that doesn’t seem annoying. I think that’s what I try to avoid the most is being annoying. We all know people that promote themselves to the point where you’re just think that they’re narcissistic or just pestering. I don’t want to be that guy who is just like, all the time, “my stuff, my stuff.”  I just think it was a big step. With “Sad Animals” I didn’t even realize that it was possible to reach that audience. I just started, at that time, sending samples to stores and I started developing relationships with individuals stores and people and I honestly think that’s something that is a little bit lost in this day and age. Even in the internet age you’re constantly broadcasting to large groups of people with social media. It still comes down to individual relationships. It really does drive things. It’s not the constant broadcasting online. It may attract some attention but I think what really cements any sort of success or any sort of momentum is building actual relationships even if it is just through correspondence. Once you start talking to individual people I think things happen.