Ramsey Beyer shares lived experiences

Katie Bennett

This past summer at the Philadelphia Feminist Zine Fest, I picked up two issues of comix artist Ramsey Beyer’s 15-issue zine, List, after hearing my friends praise her work. One month later, I unearthed them from my backpack at 4 a.m. while in North Carolina on tour with my band, and read them while cowering in the back seat of our van, our sleeping situation for the night looking precarious. I was surprised and comforted by how much familiarity I found in them. She had captured a world I already knew and loved, a world full of quiet moments and aloneness, but also friendship and punk music. The connection I felt to her work, the feeling of being both recognized and lauded for my personhood, is vital.

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While I’m proclaiming some serious adoration for Ramsey’s work, her comix are anything but heavy-handed. And that’s part of what I, and likely her many followers, love about them: she writes directly and openly about her life, with nuance and detail. She writes about what she knows, her favorite spots to get coffee in Philadelphia, her dog Rover, her relationships, and being a 20-something post-grad, sometimes standing on shaky footing.

Ramsey’s work made me believe that she is a real human being. When I reached out to see if I could ask her a few questions about her work for this article, she responded within the hour. It’s that openness and obtainability, she explained to me while sitting on my couch last week in West Philadelphia, that she loves most about being involved in the comix community. She’s been a part of that community for over ten years, starting with the creation of Lists #1, a personal zine of her life, narrated in list-form, that she wrote while attending the Maryland Institute College of Art. She’s since published two books, Little Fish, narrating her experience moving from a small town to attend MICA in the lively city of Baltimore, and Year One, about her first year living, and trying to make a place for herself, in Philadelphia.

Earlier this month we sat in my living room in West Philadelphia and talked about the connection between DIY music and comix, the importance of community within comix, and how people can learn about different types of comix.

ramsey comix

From As You Were # 1 (2012).

What is the difference between comics that end in a “C” and comix that end in an “X”?

Comix that end in an X was a term that came around in the 60’s or 70’s to differentiate from mainstream comics. They’re small press or self-published comics, and are more likely to be more subversive or radical in nature. Superman or Marvel comics, comics that a general audience would be quicker to think of, would be comics that end in a C. I usually just refer to my comics as being indie comics, but they’re definitely what people think of as “comix.”

How did you get into comix?

When I was in college, I saw a group art show at a punk venue filled with work by indie comic artists  that included work by this artist Snakepit and also Nicole Georges. Before that I hadn’t heard about comix, but I walked away from the show thinking “wow, this is cool”.

Sounds like a similar experience to how I discovered some of my favorite bands.

Definitely. There can be big tie-ins between DIY music and comix, and that’s the world I come from with comics, through zines and punk. I think the main connection is the compulsion to share the lived experience. I think people in punk are pretty open to sharing their experiences and trying to relate to one another on a real-level, and get down to the nitty gritty of the experience as a way to learn about people that are coming at things from a different angle. Sort of related to my interest in coming at comix from a punk angle, I haven’t read the greats of indie comix, like Charles Burns. I feel like I admittedly should have, as a comix creator, but I’m more interested in reading from people I know.

I get that – I’m most excited to listen to music made by my friends.

Right, you have a personal connection to it, and I read comix made by my friends in a different way than if I were just reading one of the greats.

How did you meet these friends and become immersed in these communities in the first place, how does that happen for a comix artist? As a musician, I meet people through playing shows, but as a comix artist who comes from a zine background, I’m guessing that happens a lot at zine fests?

Yeah, zine fests, comix fests. And in that way, there are a lot of parallels between comix and music: you go to events, you get to know people event-by-event, you travel to those events and you re-connect with people constantly from around the country, or around the world, and that is exactly the same as playing in a punk band. And that’s a huge draw for me. It all goes back to trying to connect with people on a real level, and know the authors. Even when I go to bigger comix fests, everyone’s excited about the bigger names that will be there, and I’m like, “I just want to see my buds.”

I haven’t read the greats of indie comix, like Charles Burns. I feel like I should have, as a comix creator, but I’m more interested in reading from people I know.

 

Sometimes it feels like comix are still less accessible than punk music, which can’t help but make itself be heard and integrated into situations like at a party or while driving in a car. The internet is also a huge source of promotion for music. I’m assuming this is also the case for comix?

Definitely, I scan my comix in and share them around, on Tumblr, on my website.

I saw you posted that link online for womenwritecomics.tumblr.com.

Yeah, and there’s also a great database online called “Cartoonists of Color”, which was started by Mari Naomi, and I found that on Twitter. Comix are just like any industry, there are huge discrepancies in who has the most mainstream support.

That sounds like a great resource. And I’m sure the history of comix aligns with the social structures of society, in that it is also laden with the quieting of voices of oppressed groups of people. Do you know a little about the history of comix?

I don’t know too much, although I wish I did. I guess because I came at comics through zines, I never really got to know comics before I started making them. I never had that period of just being a fan, where you immerse yourself and do the research. It all feels sort of backwards in a way. I still wonder if I’m even making them ‘the right way.’

Fair enough. I mean, I’m sure people have been drawing forever.

I know that in the written history of comics, they often reference cave paintings as the origins of comics.

Wow, so I guess it all just depends how far back you want to take it, and what you consider “comix.”

Yeah, cave paintings may be a bit of a stretch… But maybe not.

Who are some of your favorite comix artists?

Like I said, I mostly got into reading comix through friends. Have you heard of Nicole Georges? Her book, Calling Dr. Laura, is a pretty heavy personal narrative, and it’s really good. She talks about coming out to her mom, and also how she found out that the person she thought was her dad wasn’t actually her dad.

Like me, Nicole Georges started out writing zines, and she writes a zine called “Invincible Summer”. It was one of the first zines I ever picked up, and it’s what got me interested in indie comix. I read a lot of comix written by women, not intentionally, necessarily, but I guess because it’s what I’m drawn to, like Liz Prince. Keiler Roberts has a really funny, dry sense of humor. She’s from Chicago and mostly writes about being a new mom.

John Porcellino, and his auto-bio indie comix “King Cat Comix”. He’s been doing it for so long, I think King Cat has close to one hundred issues. He also has a lot of books, and runs a comix distro. He’s definitely lauded as one of the greats, but is rooted in punk history. I like how his comix are quiet. “Jeremiah” is beautiful fiction comix by this person Cathy Johnson who is from Columbus and coming up pretty quickly in the comix world. Mitch Clem has a piece that’s great in this comic compilation “As You Were #2” that’s about trying to deal with social anxiety when going to shows.

From Tales of a Punk Rock Nanny (2011).

From Tales of a Punk Rock Nanny (2011).

That sounds like something I could relate to

I think we all could.

Have you ever read the Doris comix? She has a comic motivating people to draw, saying that drawings don’t have to be complex, and you’re never too old to start. I found it really encouraging.

Yeah. That’s the cool thing about zines and comics, they feel so accessible. That’s another parallel between music. Punk musicians aren’t playing the most complicated songs, but that’s part of the draw  of comics and punk music. And even lo-fi recording quality, makes you feel like, “oh, this is something I actually can do.” Superhero comics are so polished and perfectly rendered, and so stylized. It doesn’t feel like something you could start doing.

In my early work, like List #4, you can see how my drawing style started out. It’s kind of different. It was very stripped down, I didn’t even draw hands. But that’s how I got better at drawing, by doing issue after issue. It’s interesting because I have this catalog of ten years of my history, meticulously recorded.

It’s interesting. I was talking to Sam [Cook-Parrott of Radiator Hospital] the other day about how Year One came out over two years ago, and to a lot of people, that’s squarely who I am to them, even though it was two years ago at this point! Like, I feel really different from that point in my life.

But obviously also the same. All of those cumulative things stay with you and become who you are now. But making personal comix definitely does freeze you in time.

More information about Ramsey Beyer’s comix and her two books, Little Fish and Year One, can be found at everydaypants.com.

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