Nib Contributor Spotlight: Maia Kobabe
Maia Kobabe has drawn comics for The Nib about everything from monarch butterflies to neighborhood white supremacists. This week, Maia (who uses the pronouns e, em, eir) celebrates the release of a powerful graphic memoir: Gender Queer. The memoir shares honest, intimate stories about Maia’s relationship to eir gender and sexuality. The memoir is published by Lion Forge and will be excerpted on The Nib next week.
When you started drawing comics, you hated writing about your personal life. Is it still scary to talk about your relationship to gender and your body?
I’ve always loved reading memoir, but until about three years ago I would never have considered writing any myself. I’m a fairly introverted and private person. I also believed that my life wasn’t exciting enough to interest a reader. I haven’t had much external conflict in my life — I grew up white and middle class, in the liberal bubble of the California Bay Area to loving, supportive parents who invested heavily in my education. All of my struggles have been internal — feeling left behind because I was such a slow learner and late bloomer, and struggling to understand myself, both in terms of gender identity and sexuality.
I feel lucky that the world gave me so much time to sort these things out, quietly and at my own pace. When I first started the webcomic series that became the rough-draft of this book, I drew 60 comics then sat on them for months without showing anyone, because I was so nervous about the response. But every time I shared them with someone I would get encouragement, and my confidence was built up by that support.
Writing a memoir is extremely difficult. What did you say to yourself throughout the process to motivate yourself to finish the book?
One of the hardest things about working on the book was working through days of horrifying, depressing, devastating news. I often felt like I should be doing something else, something more “serious” than working on a comic book — registering voters, or protesting, or volunteering for a political campaign… but there’s a reason I chose a career that involves staying home and drawing in my pajamas all day. I would not thrive in a public, outward-facing role. I wrote this book partly because is was the best way I could think of to help address some of the wounds of the world, and I had to remind myself over and over of the chain of logic that had led me to writing it.
Reading about other people exploring their identities helped me, and every time I have written about my own identity, someone has told me that it helped them. I have received more messages than I can count saying things like,”I thought I was the only person in the whole world who felt this way. Thank you for this, because now I feel less alone.” That is what I repeated to keep myself working.
Your sibling, Phoebe, colored the book. How is it collaborating with a family member rather than an unrelated artist?
It was very important to me to work with Phoebe on this book, partly because Phoebe was there for so many of my memories! I didn’t have to explain things like the warm quality of the light in our childhood home, or the color scheme of my high school, or of my first job at the library, because Phoebe has seen all of those places. We had a lot of the same art teachers, so in some areas we have similar aesthetics. It also meant that we got to talk on the phone a lot, which is always a pleasure, even if it’s just about deadlines.
You were raised in rural Northern California. What kind of survival skills will you provide to the comics community post-apocalypse?
I’ve been studying up on my native plants, with a special focus on edible and poisonous plants. I can help other cartoonists avoid poison oak, hemlock and California cucumber, and make sure they don’t try to eat buckeye seeds or acorns that haven’t had the toxins leached out. As long as the apocalypse doesn’t destroy all plant life, I will make salads of manzanita flowers, thistle flowers, dandelion, chickweed, pickleweed, chicory, wood sorrel, sheep sorrel, plantain, and miner’s lettuce!
If you couldn’t be a comics artist, what would you dream of doing for work?
I love public art — I would want to paint murals, or design statues for parks that kids could climb and play on, or plant public gardens. Or I would just spend all of my time picking up trash on beaches.
Check out Gender Queer, which lands in bookstores May 15.