Gariet Cowin and Sean Christensen have a sit-down conversation, as in each of them sits down at their respective computers and Gariet answers Sean’s questions via email
Hey Gariet, I 1st met you back in the day at the now legendary Guapo comics shop. You were a dood & I was a dood and we both read comics, but you weren’t just reading them there, you were selling them! You were like the hand that fed the people! The Guapo days were amazing — can you take a moment and reminisce about some of your fondest memories of that bright orange and green slice of heaven?
Guapo Comics was, for me, a meeting place, a study hall, an art studio, a comics library (yes, I read just about every book in the store), and a community event space. I made tons of friends and discovered so many great comics through Guapo. So first things first, let me give proper credit to the former Guapo owners, Jeremy & Allie Tiedeman, for making Guapo what it was. Jeremy and Allie really recognized that there was something special going on in the Portland minicomics scene, and worked hard to support minicomic artists, and build a strong community around them. I can’t thank them enough for that. I could reminisce about all kinds of great Guapo memories, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll stick to my favorite moment of all: The Baddest Comics Party Ever!
Guapo Comics frequently hosted comics parties and readings, but my favorite were those which accompanied the Maisie Kukoc Award ceremony. And the best of the best was the comics reading in 2009. Not only did a ton of great out-of-town artists show up, which is always a blast, but the reading itself was just about flawless. I can’t even remember all the great artists who read that evening, but I’m pretty sure Hellen Jo, Julia Gfrörer, Tom Neely, and Corinne Mucha all read. If that isn’t amazing enough, Calvin Wong read from Ramble On #1, and accompanied himself with live electric guitar super-shred solos! The real highlight for me though was Jason Martin, who nearly brought me to tears with his reading of “Lucy Marsh.” I’m not sure that I can properly describe the experience, but sitting in the dark, packed in close with many wonderful friends, and watching Jason Martin’s heartbreaking comic unexpectedly come to life, turning into an animation as Jason clicked through the panels… it was an incredible moment.
A while back you were hoping to cover a Sparks song with me that you had hand-picked to get rad on through our mutual love of Sparks. I am largely a fan of their work with Giorgio Moroder & you have a more overall love for their kind of genius. It takes a certain kind of person to feel that kind of thing. What do you think makes you that kind of person? Who do you think you are?
I suppose this is a fairly common feeling, but I’ve always felt slightly out of step with the mainstream. At the same time, when I was growing up, I had almost no exposure to counterculture, high art, “alternative” philosophies… So the artists I gravitated towards were those who worked generally within the mainstream, but who possessed distinct voices, and were perhaps a bit off-beat. I’m talking about Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein, They Might Be Giants… and when I first started reading comics, I was absolutely obsessed with Sam Kieth. If I want to make some simplistic connections here, I’d say that all of these artists created works that were generally accessible, superficially light-hearted or comical, but which often masked an underlying sadness or melancholy. And I guess to some extent that describes me as well.
As for Sparks, how could I not love them?! I am a huge rock music fan, but I hadn’t even heard of Sparks before a couple years ago when I ran across their video for “Something For the Girl with Everything.” It’s so bizarre and unique and fun and catchy. I actually went out and bought a 40-song Sparks anthology, and it blew my mind. Not only does it span nearly 20 years of music, and covers everything from classic rock to disco to new wave, but they have a song called “Angst In My Pants”! I think that speaks for itself.
In your Diary comics you are good at making it personal & not holding back on things that could easily offend friends or embarrass yourself which I think is rad! It takes a lot to have the confidence to show that this is you, and the way you see things. Has this ever gotten you in trouble?
I love this question, Sean! The truth is, of course, that I do hold back quite a bit. I’ll never do a diary comic detailing my sex life, for example. I don’t mind embarrassing myself though. Or rather, I should say that I don’t feel embarrassed about anything that I put in my comics. I don’t know if that’s because I’m comfortable with who I am, or if I just don’t mind if my readers think I’m a bit of a goofball.
I’ve had a few people express displeasure over how I portrayed them in my comic, but I don’t think anybody has been seriously upset about it. Most people recognize that I’m not trying to be malicious or mean-spirited. Just to give one example, there’s a strip that my wife doesn’t like because she thinks it makes her look mean. Personally, I think that the comic makes her look overworked and frustrated and sweet. I was aware when I drew that strip that she might not like it, but the comic isn’t about Orly being in a bad mood. It’s about Orly and me sharing a real, relatable, human experience. If the comic served no purpose other than to make my wife look bad, I wouldn’t have drawn it. That applies to everybody in my comics.
Do you make other comics outside of the diary form?
I do. I put out a short autobio mini-comic called Bee Finger, and a kids mini-comic called Space Loaf. I’ve done a superhero comic. I’ve done some gag strips. Actually, I’m currently working on a comic about skin rashes. So, uh, that’s pretty fun.
Has your diary comic ever helped you in life? Like, is it therapeutic, or like if you have ever had an argument about something, have you been able to use it as proof or evidence in the court of life?
Well, diary comics have helped me in that they provide me with a method for actually completing a comic. One of the biggest reasons that I publish comics so infrequently is that I am never satisfied with my work. I’ll draw something, and then edit it, and then get frustrated and put it aside indefinitely. Even more problematic, though (and more frequent), is when I fail to even begin drawing a story that I wrote, just because I anticipate that I won’t be able to draw it as good as I would like to. Diary comics provide me with a strict schedule — one per day — and they also provide me with an excuse for sub-par art: “It is okay that this drawing doesn’t look as good as I would like, because I was forced to draw it fast.” Drawing diary comics is also great because I have a terrible memory, so they let me revisit a lot of events that I probably would have otherwise forgotten.
As for being therapeutic, I don’t tend to use the comic to work through my feelings. But completing a comic always gives me a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. I love being productive. I don’t think I could use one of my comics as proof or evidence though, because my diary comics don’t necessarily reflect the same reality that those around me are experiencing.
You play a lot of instruments; what is your main jam that you like to really blast into space on?
I’m mostly a guitarist at the moment. The electric guitar is such a phenomenal, expressive, versatile instrument, and I feel like I discover new things about it every time I play! That being said, if I had access to a quality grand piano, I’d probably lock myself up with it and play it until I dropped.
Have you ever watched the rock opera Lisztomania? I did & it made me hate the human race again for a minute but the last 5 minutes of the film has that part where they rocket into the cosmos in a beautiful ship that is run on keyboards and looks like 2 harps and some organ pipes. What would your ideal cosmic travel machine be made up of?
I am sitting on my ideal cosmic travel machine, my friend, and I call it “Earth.” If we’re talking about planet-hopping though, I’ll take any ship that puts me into a cryo-sleep for the duration of the voyage. That sounds great because, you know, I’m a really sleepy dude.
When you make a rock opera, like we all should, what do you think you will make it about?
Oh, it would be about dinosaurs, without a doubt. I envision it taking place in the weeks preceding the extinction-level event that wipes them all out. These dinosaurs, despite being natural enemies, form a bond of friendship as they begin to realize that their 135-million-year reign is coming to a permanent end. I can’t wait for me to write this already!
We also witnessed the magic of Miami Connection together. Can you tell me how this experience has changed your life? This movie made me realize that almost anything is possible, and that we have the power to live awesome as hard as we can and we just have to be tough enough and have a big enough heart to beat all obstacles.
You know, I heard a lot of people talking about Miami Connection in terms of it being “so bad it’s good,” but I don’t buy into that at all. Miami Connection certainly had some things about it that were bad (stiff acting, contrived dialogue), but that’s not what makes it good. It’s good because, and I think you and Ma-Ti the Planeteer will agree with me, it has heart. I came out of that movie feeling so proud for Y.K. Kim and his crew, that they were able to accomplish what they did. I definitely also walked away with the feeling that if I worked hard enough, and really believed in what I was doing, I could accomplish anything. So I think we had a similar experience, in that regard.
You are student teaching right now. When it comes time to jump in there and be a full-force teacher what do you dream of doing? Will you change the world to make it a brighter place for you & for me and the entire human race?
My plan is to teach Physics and Chemistry, preferably at an underserved public high school. In my dreams, you know, I’m working with disadvantaged kids who are in danger of dropping out, and I’m getting them to realize how amazing science is, turning their lives around, helping them realize their potential. Unfortunately, that’s not reality, as much as I wish it were. I certainly would like to change the world to make it a brighter place though. As corny as it might sound, yes that is an actual goal of mine.
Do you see yourself doing some integrative teaching with the natural tools & talents you have, like could you use the church of rock to brighten the future of the children or use the medium of comics to spread the knowledge of ages to the future of the world?
Without a doubt! I’ve already created some lesson plans that help teach concepts of motion through stop-motion animation projects. And I have some ideas about teaching waves using musical instruments. I’m absolutely open to allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of science through the medium of comics as well.