May. 3, 2014  

We The Journalists: Leela Corman

Leela Corman studied painting, printmaking and illustration at Massachusetts College of Art.  Her book Queen’s Day  earned her a Xeric Award in 1999 and was called “music to my eyes” by Scott McCloud.  

By Dina Weinstein

Leela CormanCorman has illustrated books for major publishers on crafts, fashion, gardening, dating and other topics, and for clients such as The New York Times, New York Press, BUST Magazine, Thirteen/WNET, and many more. Corman and her husband, Tom Hart, are the founders of The Sequential Artists Workshop, a non-profit organization dedicated to the prosperity and promotion of comic art and artists, offering instruction in comic art, graphic novels and visual storytelling in vibrant Gainesville, Florida, where she is also an adjunct instructor of illustration at University of Florida.  Her graphic novel Unterzakhn, published in 2012 by Schocken/Pantheon, has been nominated for the L.A. Times Book Award, The Eisner Award, and Le Prix Artemisia, and won Le Prix Millepages 2012. Her recent shorter comics have appeared on-line at Symbolia and Tablet.

SPJ Florida: Do you consider yourself a journalist?

Leela Corman: I don’t consider what I do journalistic. It’s more research-driven. A subset of what I do is my autobiographical work. But I’m picky about what autobiographical stories I tell. As they say – it chooses you. The story I did with the [American belly dancer in Egypt] Luna of Cairo. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and was in Cairo on a Fulbright to write a book and stayed. The piece came out of one of Luna’s Facebook posts where she wrote: “Luckily a fight broke out down the street.” Her stories from Cairo are so insane. Sometimes they are enraging. I can’t imagine living there. It’s so chaotic.

Who are the people to know creating non-fiction comics?

Sarah Glidden author of How To Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less. She has a comic called Rolling Blackouts coming out on the experience of Iraqi refugees and related fallout from the Iraq war. Vanessa Davis is one of the best autobiographical cartoonist. Her book is Make Me A Woman. She’s great. She knows how to pull observation from daily life and she’s a great artist. Lauren Weinstein (Inside Vineland, Girl Stories and Goddess of War) is totally fantastical and autobiographical. Another is Marjane Satrapi, the author of Persepolis.There’s also David B. author of Epileptic about growing up with an epileptic brother. There’s a whole world of non-fiction comics out there. Josh Neufeld does great work especially his work on New Orleans, A.D. New Orleans After The Deluge.

Other  really crucial names in comics journalism: Joe Sacco (Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde, Footnotes in Gaza) is THE gold standard. Jess Ruliffson is a newer artist who works with Iraq war veterans and PTSD.

Why do you think there is a rise in the number of serious comics?

People like comics. People always like visual stories. People are curious. People are nosy. And Hollywood’s not giving us good stories.

What is your method of creating your comics?

I follow a thread. The key is watching a lot of films and dissecting them and investigating good episodic writing. I build character slowly in ways that makes sense. I like to carefully choose every image. But I also allow accidental things to happen.

How about illustrating for publications? How do you approach that?

It’s pretty straightforward. I read the article. When I read the text certain images jump out at me.

How does the internet and social media play a role in your career?

I came into the profession with the internet. It is and has been indispensable. I was on staff as an illustrator at the PBS station in NYC Channel 13. I get a lot of work through the internet. My comics for Symbolia and Tablet are on the internet. Many of these venues did not exist before the internet. It’s been great for me and good to promote myself. I have a website and a portfolio online and that has gotten me a lot of work. At the same time it is very important to work in print. It’s important to me to be a published author. It was really nice to work with people in the book publishing world [for my graphic novel Unterzakhn]. It was a professional team. It was great to work with people who love books.

I’ve had to [wage this] battle for the past 20 years, trying to explain comics is another art form that involves making pictures and telling stories. It’s no different to go to a film or to read a novel. It used to be that doors would slam in my face because I wanted to make comics. That’s not happening any more. I want everyone who has a story to tell it. Any story can work in that format. For me it’s been a steep learning curve. Comics is actually harder than classical drawing. I am still learning how to tell a story.

Advice to students interested in illustrating and comics?

Take figure drawing classes until your fingers fall off.

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