Today we’d like to introduce you to Beth Hetland.
Beth, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I didn’t always know I was going to be a cartoonist, but when I look back, the signs were all there. I was that kid who would carefully snip out and collect my favorite Sunday comic strips from the newspaper to read again. I drew copies of my favorite characters like Garfield, Charlie Brown, Bugs Bunny, and once in High School, a large amount of anime characters.
I went to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) with the intention of being an animator but didn’t really like the tedium of the medium. I ended up taking a class on recommendation called “Comics, Narrative, and the Materialization of Images” that was a Fiber and Material Studies class using comics as a language to discuss narrative and explore screen printing. It blew my mind. I felt like a light clicked on and I may have even said out loud, ‘this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ After that class, it was all comics, all the time.
I earned my graduate degree at The Center for Cartoon Studies which is an all comic-book graduate program in the middle of a small town in Vermont. It was a life-changing experience. I studied with faculty who were cartoonists I admired. My classmates were a cohort of dedicated like-minded people whose feedback pushed me to grow by leaps and bounds. The graduate school environment gave me the necessary time and space to refine my craft. Earning my MFA was an integral step in becoming a Professor at SAIC.
Teaching at SAIC has been a journey all of its own. It is invigorating to see the work that my students make and build classes that I wish had been offered when I attended. One of the most humbling experiences has been to teach the very class that sparked my journey into comics.
Surabhi Ghosh, who was the creator of this class, gave me a leg up as her replacement as she moved on to bigger and better things. Each time I teach this course, I can’t help but feel immense gratitude toward her for the guidance she gave me.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Cartooning can be lonely work. Sitting for hours on end at a desk producing stories that people can read in typically less than 15 minutes is taxing on the heart. Not to mention, comics take a long time.
For me, the writing process is like trudging waist deep in the murky Swamp of Sadness* (the terrible swamp in the Neverending Story) with a backpack full of bowling balls. It’s confusing, exhausting, and doesn’t make a lot of sense to an outsider. To combat the struggle of writing my solo projects, I collaborate with my best friend, Kyle O’Connell.
We worked together in a variety of ways while we were in undergrad, but didn’t start officially collaborating on creative projects until after I needed a break from the demands of graduate school. I asked if he’d like to work on a story for National (Graphic) Novel Writing Month where he wrote and I drew so that we could each do the parts we most liked (note: the aforementioned writing swamp I do not like). We had a blast!
In the process of finishing our book, Cycles, we began talking about our next collaboration. It’s been an incredible 5-year journey working on Half Asleep with Kyle that is coming to a close. I’m currently drawing the final 48 pages of the eighth and final volume which in total clocks in at over 300 pages. We’ve learned a lot along the way, but most importantly is that Team Work Makes the Dream Work (which is a title of a mini-comic we made to address how collaboration works).
Collaborating was an exciting frontier to help battle the inherently lonesome work of cartooning and struggle I feel when writing.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Hooray for Comics story. Tell us more about the business.
As a cartoonist, I wear a lot of hats–designer, storyteller, illustrator, colorist, letterer, book-binder, to name a few, but the list goes on.
Something that sets me apart is that I spend a great deal of time thinking about the necessity for physical books. With the alleged rumors of print being dead, it is important to me to question why my comics live in the tangible world rather than as digital versions.
My comics often employ innovative reader interactions where readers are folding and revealing sections that can only be done with a physical object. By combining the physical and conceptual navigation of the story, I open the access toward meaning on multiple levels.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
Luck is a tricky one to talk about. I think I’m lucky for a lot of things including my supportive family, husband, friends, and collaborator. But I also know that I worked my buns off to carve out time, space, and money to continue to make and produce comics. Putting my butt in the chair is simultaneously the luckiest thing I get to do and one of the hardest things to keep doing.
- Cycles $10
- Fugure: A Family in Three Parts $12
- Team Work Makes the Dream Work $5
- Half Asleep Volumes 1-5 & 7 $8 each
- Half Asleep Volume 6 $12
- Website: www.bethhetland.storenvy.com
- Instagram: @bethhetland
- Twitter: @bethhetland