Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Liz Argall - Fiction and Comics

As a longtime fan of Liz Argall's comic, Things Without Arms and Without Legs, I was thrilled to have her come on the show. Liz told us that when she thinks about worldbuilding, she finds short work more comfortable than long. She says, "I do a lot of world listening," and compared her process to finding a piece of driftwood and shaping it.

We spoke first about Liz's story "Mermaid's Hook," which she wrote while thinking about The Little Mermaid, which she never liked. She said she asked herself, "Where is a person falling from a ship likely to be caught by a mermaid?" She thought about contemporary piracy, and people escaping from one place to another, and then slave ships. Her gut feel was that a prince wouldn't fall from a ship without a search being conducted, so she chose to do a first contact story between a mermaid and someone trying to escape a slave ship. They would not share a language.

Liz told us "I'm a very kinesthetic writer." She visualizes things through an acting and embodiment process.

She told us she loves the idea of the spirit and "ness-ness" of a thing.

I remarked that I'd found the way she gave her mermaid sharklike skin was very interesting. Liz told us that had come from an experience she had in primary school (elementary school), when she was able to touch a wild Port Jackson shark. She says mermaids are often so mammalian, and she didn't want that in her story.

She says the ocean doesn't care if we live or die. Her mermaid was to be a mermaid wholly, more fish than mammal, smooth in one direction and prickly in the other like a shark, which also is pretty metaphorically cool.

Liz says she researches a lot without a sense of plan. What she learns serves as nourishment for ideas, like a compost bin. she does a lot of thinking and building, but then writes quickly. She describes the experience as being like carrying a burning flame.

We also spoke about her Aurealis award-winning story "Falling Leaves," which takes place in a post-apocalyptic Australia. Liz told us she worked a lot on disaster preparedness, which provided material for this story. This one she said was very different from "Mermaid's Hook" in that it was not a quick process. It was a 9 month slog full of anguish, but something unexpected happened five thousand words in and she had to pursue it. She said "I had to attend to the truth of the event." I asked her what that event had been. It was when the character named Charlotte fell and/or threw herself off the building where she'd been talking with her friend.

Liz told us that when she was twelve or thirteen "I didn't have a lot of trust." Liz's friend sat down near her and Liz said she had a reaction of "I hate you," and that became the seed of this story. Ordinarily she says she likes tracing the arc of a life, but although that was how this story started out, its focus really changed. Liz says it was important to attend to the anger, grief, and pain of young girls.

At one point, she says she had to cut five hundred words of how to use hemp plants for carbon sequestration.

At this point we moved on to speaking about Liz's comics experience. She says she wrote indie comics for a long time, and this influenced her style. It taught her what to strip out and what to expand. The density of the form means, Liz says, that "I often go to places that inhabit my body differently."

She was writing for comics at first, and then went to the Clarion workshop and learned to love prose. There was a faster turnaround, and the freedom to go into people's heads. Then a comic artist friend of hers said, "You should draw your own."

At first it was a means to raise money for other causes. She was a migrant, and her husband was on a special visa, also a migrant, and so bound to his job while she was bound to be a dependent spouse. But, Liz says, "I do not thrive if I cannot work."

In her comics work she likes to be present for people and keep space for them. She focuses on feelings and nurturing.

In her comic, "Things Without Arms and Without Legs," the world of the Things is very simple, but still important, and she has to honor it, and honor the nature of the characters. Nothing bad will happen to the pink bunny. Boot is unlovable sometimes, but characters will still love and accept Boot.
The world has been fleshed out gradually over time. It would be possible to stare at the sun without getting hurt. Chuckles the blue unicorn fell from the moon and is not good at eating spaghetti.

Liz does not have a world book for the Things, and doesn't often have story arcs. She knows what kind of things definitely won't happen.

She says Monorail Bunny is a little bit weird. "I drew him creepy so that doesn't help."

Sometimes she writes something deeply personal that she thinks no one will relate to, but it connects with people.

Her comic "A Sad" is her most famous, and it's important because it features a question that people don't often ask.

I remarked that the emotional landscape that Liz describes is a form of worldbuilding we don't often see on the show - and given that I'm always looking for new ways to approach worldbuilding, I found it really fantastic!

Liz says the panel border in comics is a powerful tool, but it often feels disruptive for the space and breath she is looking for in a comic. The world of the Things is a landscape, a place she feels comfortable putting emotion in.

Liz used to live on a farm. She lived there during a drought when they had to truck in water, and then during a flood. Landscape is not just realism but emotion. She told us about an occasion when, much later while she lived in the city, she found a 2-3 foot blue-tongued lizard. She said she thought, "I hope he doesn't get trodden on," and "He looks delicious," and "he feels smooth." Living on the farm gave her a different awareness and a different response to her experiences.

Liz, thank you so much for coming on the show! This was a fascinating discussion, and became very emotional - you were so generous with your time and your feelings.

Today, Dive into Worldbuilding meets at 10am Pacific to talk with author Monica Valentinelli. Join us!




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