Ellen Lindner with Strumpet 2 at Hypothetical Island
It was a cold and windy night when I went over to cartoonist Ellen Lindner’s studio, located in a building called Hypothetical Island in Brooklyn, NY. Lindner wrote and illustrated the excellent graphic novel Undertow, and edits the international all-women’s comics anthology The Strumpet. These are all books I enjoy and would recommend, for the record. Ellen is a long-time subscriber of BUST Magazine, too—it's one of her favorites.
When I arrived at the her studio, I was pleasantly surprised with the clean, organized space. Linder shares her studio with four other cartoonists, and the building itself is inhabited by many different types of artists. She graciously brewed some green tea and brought out cookies for me. During the visit, I had a chance to ask Ellen about her experiences in comics that we would like to share with readers of BUST.
Ellen at her desk at in her studio.
Dre: How did you get into comics?
Ellen: I got into comics going to my grandparents' house in Queens. They bought the Daily News, which had a big, beautiful Sunday comics section, and I read the comics in the newspaper, like Dick Tracy and Calvin and Hobbes. Then I got into superhero comics. Growing up on Long Island, the only people I ever saw drawing for fun were the boys sitting in the back of my class, copying Venom and Spiderman from their favorite comics. So for me, drawing and comics became synonymous, and I never questioned the fact that comics [were the same as] what art was. I really loved reading all of the crazy stories that were in comics, and eventually I started making my own.
Dre: How long have you been working in the comics industry?
Ellen: A few years now...I studied art history in college, but I really wanted to do comics the whole time. I lived in Northampton, Massachusetts, which at the time had an amazing comics scene. There was a museum on Main Street called the Words and Pictures Museum, which had all sorts of amazing art. So I was able to keep my interest in comics going. Then I moved to New York City, and after my day job, I was drawing as much as possible and reading a lot of comics. Eventually I met local mover and shaker Dean Haspiel, who introduced me to many other people. I would just turn up at book launches and geek out! Gradually, I started to build a social network of cartoonists. I would do the occasional freelance illustration gig, started doing mini-comics, and eventually I decided I wanted to do as much of my own projects as possible. That is when I started to work on Undertow, my first graphic novel.
Now, in addition to having a new graphic novel in progress - it's a detective story about London in the Twenties - I am editing my own compilation of comics called The Strumpet. I publish comics by women whose work I am really excited about. I lived in London after living in New York, and met many cartoonists there that didn’t have much exposure at all. So most of these artists are from the US or UK, though we also have guests from further afield. I am hoping to spread the word about their talent! So far there are two issues of The Strumpet out, and we are working on the third.
Dre: How can those of us who love comics encourage young ladies who want to draw, write, or just be involved with comics?
Ellen: The best way to encourage someone who loves comics is to give them great comics to read. There are so many amazing stories being told in comics right now, and a lot of them are by women. Some books I would recommend are Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, and Special Exits by Joyce Farmer. Right now is an amazing time to be a part of comics as a medium.
Dre: What is is like sharing your studio with other cartoonists?
Ellen: I really enjoy it. I shared a studio before in London called the Fleece Station. I shared that space with three artists I love: knitter Deadly Knitshade, children's book author Sarah McIntyre and cartoonist par excellent Gary Northfield. It was a very effective creative space: we got a lot of work done, did some cool events in the old police station where the studio was. When I moved back to New York I was looking for something like that. I was working in a cartooning studio in a warehouse in Brooklyn when I found out that the studio next door, the Hypothetical Island, had a vacancy. All the people here were very welcoming. Studios are fun because it is always great to see what people of other backgrounds are working on. Some cartoonists here work at independent publishers, others at Marvel or DC. It is a wonderful place to trade ideas, keep each other's morale high.
Dre: Who are the women in comics you admire?
Ellen: First person that comes to mind is Alison Bechdel. She wrote a comic strip called Dykes to Watch Out For, for various gay and lesbian newspapers across the United States. She has just persisted over so many years, and now she's winning some very well-deserved success. Also, she wrote Fun Home, one of my favorite graphic memoirs. Jessica Abel, who created La Perdida - she was a big influence on me when I moved back to New York. Gabrielle Bell is a cartoonist who has made the career she wants on her own terms - her comics have a rhythm like no one else's. And Patrice Aggs, a comics 'lifer' like no one else- she's worked with everyone from Philip Pullman to her own son, an excellent cartoonist named John Aggs. I love her work, and I'm so proud to have her in The Strumpet.
Dre. What do you feel is the importance of comics that are "aimed for women readers”?
Ellen: When I was growing up, there weren’t that many comics that fell into that category - hence my penchant for the X-Men. This has changed slowly, but it's changing - I wish I'd had Sara Varon or Raina Telgemeier's comics when I was a kid! When you look at other cultures it's more balanced - in Japan, for example, there are so many amazing shojo manga. I feel that books like The Strumpet which foster a community of artists have a role to play in this. As more women come into the comics industry, on both the arts and editorial side, these stories will be told.
Ellen with pages from Strumpet 2 at Bergen Street Comics.
More information about Ellen can be found on her site Littlewhitebird.com, and more information on The Strumpet can be found at strumpetcomic.blogspot.com. Some original pages by The Strumpet Issue 2 contributors Robin Ha, Kat Roberts, and Ellen Lindner are on display at the gallery in Bergen Street Comics for the next two months. I would recommend stopping by to check out the artwork and to pick up The Strumpet #2 at the same time.
Photos by Dre Grigoropol. Images of books via ellenlindner.livejournal.com.