Interview: MariNaomi, author of Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

By Lisa Qiu

“I really want to connect to people. I wasn’t going for shocking by any means. I want people to identify with it and share their own stories!”

MariNaomi, author of the autobiographical graphic novel Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22, anticipated varying sorts of feedback when the book was released last month. However, one adjective that has been buzzing around has taken her by surprise: “Shocking.” MariNaomi, 38, divides her book into chronological vignettes by age and romantic endeavor. While the book takes the reader through truthful stories of her crushes, boyfriends, girlfriends, LSD trips, and orgies, her clean black and white aesthetics carry her message through the raw and real emotions of the situations rather than simply of the deeds themselves.

SMITH spoke to MariNaomi while she was in the maelstrom of a feverish book tour while fighting a cold; however, she was just as effervescent and true as the young adult from her work.

What prompted you to do a romantic resume for a memoir over all the other aspects of your life? Was it more for the reader or yourself?
It was 2003 when I started writing it all–I had just broken up with someone. I was getting involved with someone who wasn’t really that great and I thought to myself, How did I get here again? How did I get broken up with again? I like to write the way I like to read. I wanted to write something I would be interested in. When I meet a new person I start grilling them about their love life and those stories have always been fun for me.

What is your process like? Do you write first or doodle first?
The whole process is basically: I figure out what the plot would be and I sketch it out. Then I meet with my writer friends. Once I know I have a good story, I start breaking it down into each panel and sketch out these little stick figures. I use another piece to pencil and make it a bit more finalized, but I’m still changing things. Every so often I’ll use brushes. It’s great using Japanese brush pens to fill in all of the black spaces. I’ll also use really fine point pens for details.

What do you hope readers get from your memoir?
I really want to connect to people. I don’t want people to read it like the Mackenzie Phillips autobiography. I wasn’t going for shocking by any means. Since people have started seeing the book, people have said the word shocking. I wanted people to identify with it and share their own stories!

Who are your influences in the graphic novel world? What was the graphic autobiography that blew you away?
It’s hard to pin down influences, since it’s rare for me to want to imitate another person. However, over the years I have noticed myself being inspired by Mary Fleener, Scott Russo, Chester Brown, Joe Matt, Roberta Gregory, Rob Kirby, Rita Mae Brown, Kurt Vonnegut, Melissa Bank, Armistead Maupin, David Sedaris… I could go on and on.

As for graphic novels that have blown me away, some of my favorites include everything by Dash Shaw, Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman, Chester Brown’s I Never Liked You, Joe Matt’s Peepshow and Poor Bastard, Drinking at the Movies by Julia Wertz, Make Me a Woman by Vanessa Davis… Gosh, I wish I had my bookshelf in front of me right now, since I’m sure I’m forgetting a lot of books!

You said that you’ve been drawing comics since you were a teenager, how did your style evolve?
Actually, I drew my first comic in my mid-twenties. When I started, my sense of perspective was nonexistent, and I was obsessed with stippling and cross-hatching. Nowadays my artwork is more stark. I think I started going in that direction after a few years of over-detailing everything. Maybe it got exhausting, maybe I just wanted to be able to draw faster. I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but I’m happy with how my art looks now.

Which feedback most affects you about your work? Critiques from your family, readers, or professional critics?
I’ve been reading every review I could find. It’s still pretty new–it’s only been out for a week. Every time I get a review that’s not glowing it gets me a little down. Why would critics like my book if they’re looking for a moral story on how teenagers should act? Also, some complain that they wanted it to be wrapped up tightly, but I don’t know how any good memoir does that. Yes, if it’s a biography the person can die at the end but I don’t get to do that [Laughs].

The scariest part was showing it to my parents. There was a lot they didn’t know, like about the drugs and the orgies. We have a great relationship now and no one yelled at me. But my dad was pretty bummed when he found out through my book that I got an abortion, he sent me a sad emoticon over an email. Last October, I gave the very first copy to my dad because I wanted him to be prepared. I was waiting for all shit to go off. He had only read up to the losing the virginity part and he was having a hard time about it.

What would you differently?
Oh, I can’t think like that. Along with everything in art I do, I can’t look back or else I’ll freak out. There’s one panel in the book that I really don’t like because I changed it at the last moment. I know people wouldn’t dwell on this one panel so I shouldn’t either.

How has touring been?
Touring is so much fun! I am completely in awe of my super-talented, hilarious and brilliant tour mates, and it is such an honor to be a part of Sister Spit! I’m documenting each day with an online comic, which I’m posting on Twitter and my Facebook page. Maybe I’ll make it into a chapbook when this is all over. It has been such a unique experience.

Finally, MariNaomi, what’s your Six-Word Memoir?
Please forgive me mom and dad.


BUY Kiss & Tell.

VISIT MariNaomi’s website.

FOLLOW MariNaomi on Twitter.

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