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Tessa Brunton

Cartoonist in the Spotlight

Twenty-eight-year old Bay Area cartoonist Tessa Brunton is finally having her day in the spotlight. Along with her first-ever exhibition held at the Cartoon Art Museum from March 26th through June 19th, her new book for Sparkplug Comicbooks will be published later this year. We sat down with the witty Brunton to discuss her edgy autobiographical cartoons, upcoming exhibition, and the art of being a female cartoonist.

SF Station (SFS): How did your exhibition at the Cartoon Art Museum come about? And what can we expect?

Tessa Brunton (TB): This is my first exhibition in any gallery or museum. Andrew Farago, the curator of the Cartoon Art Museum, saw my comics when I did a reading at CAM and got in touch. The exhibition is the first thing I feel like I’ve been able to point to and say, “Hey! This isn’t just my 20-something hobby that will evaporate as adulthood takes its course! I’m trying to do this.”

The show features an excerpt from my newly finished book Passage. Specifically, it explores the time my father decided one of my older brothers needed to have a manhood ceremony to celebrate his coming of age. As a then 13-year-old, I viewed this as outlandish and humiliating. The book investigates why I became so infuriated by my parent’s attempts to make this sweet, if unusual, gesture for my brother.

SFS: Can you describe your comics to someone who has never read them? What topics do you delve into?

TB: My comics chronicle daily life with its many little shames and joys to exploit for entertainment. I’d say the bread and butter of my comics are personal struggles like break-ups or trying to live in your 20s with a chronic illness. But I try to get some funnies in there from my misadventures and the foul-mouthed eccentrics in my life.

SFS: Since your comics are autobiographical, do you find it hard to constantly come up with new ideas?

TB: I have lots of ideas. I think the difficult part is deciding if they’d be interesting to anyone else. Like right now, I’m obsessed with finding a way to draw a comic about how much I love the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But I can’t conceive of why that would be interesting to anyone. I’m hoping I’ll find a way.

SFS: What inspired you to start cartooning?

TB As a kid, I grew up reading Mad Magazine and Archie comics and our next door neighbor and family friend was M. K. Brown, an amazing cartoonist. But it wasn’t until I started working at a comic store during college that I basically had a total brain explosion in realizing that comics might be something I could make. I discovered that the comics I loved weren’t all created by people who were incredibly technically proficient. This made them seem more accessible to me since at the time I had the drawing skills of a fourth grader. I started drawing comics all the time.

SFS: You have a great illustration style. Are you a self-taught artist?

TB: Yes,I took an “Art for Non-Majors” class my senior year of college, but that’s it. Every once and a while I get obsessed with going to art school or I invent crazy regimes of figure drawing classes I’ll attend to try to improve my abilities, but I never follow through.

SFS: What do you hope people take away from your comics after reading them?

TB: The comics that have had the most profound effect on me were made by people who weren't afraid to be honest and funny about the dark parts of their lives — cartoonists who’ve written about their failed marriages or messed up childhoods or loneliness in a way that wasn’t self-indulgent, but interesting. I’ve gone through some rough times in the past few years, and those comics really made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I hope people will feel the same way after they’ve read my stuff. Also, it’d be nice to make them laugh.

SFS: What’s next for you?

TB: Even though my book is a mere 32 pages, it took me well over a year to finish. There was many a day when I had to ignore whatever new fantabulous idea I had and force myself to work on the book. I think for a while I’m just going to have fun and draw whatever comics come into my head and see what they turn out to be. That may very well be 50 pages of Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics.

Cartoon Art Museum
March 26th-June 19th