FOR BLACK WOMEN, BLACK PEOPLE, PEOPLE OF COLOR, QUEER FOLKS, AND FOLKS WITH MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES, WITH LOVE

an interview with Lawrence Lindell

by Danielle Wright

ISSUE ELEVEN | FALL 2018

Lawrence Lindell is an artist and musician from California. He is the creator of “From Black Boy With Love” and “From Black Boy With Love Part II”, “Hey. People of Color”, “Couldn’t Afford Therapy, So I Made This” and the web comic "The Section" . He makes comics and teaches comic book classes. He also started the Bay Area cartoonist collective called “The BAYlies.” Upcoming exhibitions include Queer Magic Makers in Oakland, CA on December 1st, 2018 and Comic Arts LA on December 8th, 2018.

Danielle Wright: You’ve probably already answered some of these questions many times but I want to start with basics: Where did you grow up? Tell me about your family and whatever else you want to share around this.

 

Lawrence Lindell: I grew up in Southern California; in Compton, North Long Beach, Paramount, Cerritos, South Central, Inglewood. It’s a lot ‘cause I spent time in different places. I’m from Compton, that’s my home. It’s always been my home, but I’ve moved many places since then. Then I moved to England. When I came back home, the first place I came was Compton. I stayed there until I came to Oakland.

 

DW: When were you in England?

 

LL: 2015.

 

DW: For just that year, or . . . ?

 

LL: Yeah. [chuckles]

 

DW: Is that a story for later? That sounds like . . . okay! [laughter] Y’all can’t see it but Lawrence is nodding yes. Okay, so it sounds like you’ve moved to a lot of places but ended up in Compton. When did you move from there to here?

LL: From Compton to Oakland? 2017.

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#SayHerName. 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

"I’VE ALWAYS LOVED ART. I’VE ALWAYS MADE IT. IT’S ALWAYS BEEN MY KIND OF FREEDOM."

DW: Why here? For school, right?

 

LL: Ah, no.

 

DW: No?

 

LL: CCA was an accident.

 

DW: [laughter]

LL: I used to come to Oakland and the Bay Area in general for shows, comics, music, et cetera. I was coming to Oakland to see my partner twice a month from Compton. I had to leave home because I didn’t want to be there anymore, and I was already up here anyway (and most of my community is here), so I decided to stay. I started working for Streetside Stories, which is in San Francisco. CCA (California College of the Arts) came later.

 

DW: Okay, tell me about Streetside Stories.

 

LL: They send teaching artists into schools and run after-school art programs. I was a comic book teacher.

DW: Did you start doing that as soon as you got here?

 

LL: Mhm. I do comics full-time, but I always have some other type of job; one for the paystub and for backup (even though most of those teaching jobs don’t pay enough). I thought if I move here, psychologically, I know my mind needs to be tricked, like I have to have a job Monday through Friday to make me feel like I’m all right. I like teaching, I like kids, and I like comic books.

 

DW: So do you have any other teaching part-time jobs right now?

 

LL: No, the last thing I did was at Creativity Explored. We’re trying to get CCA to set up a fellowship with me at Chapter 510 in Oakland; that’s an organization dealing with creativity in storytelling and it’s right downtown. CCA sponsors students so that’s how we can get paid.

DW: Okay. I hope it works out.

 

LL: But I mean, in September I have seven shows, so that’s a lot of work.

 

DW: That’s insane.

 

LL: Yeah, I love it.

 

DW: Where are they?

 

LL: So there was SF Zine Fest, then Bay Area Queer Zine Fest. The day before that I was at Berkeley for Amplify, which is a new event for creators of color. That was cool. I leave tomorrow for SPX, which is my biggest show, where I’ll probably make the most money and hopefully get new jobs. And then, after that, there’s SÕL-CON in Columbus, Ohio. The next month I’ll be in Albuquerque and Phoenix. If I can get a show a weekend until the end of the year, that’s a job to me. I can make enough money, too, but I haven’t figured out how to get health insurance yet. That’s the tricky part about being an artist.

 

DW: How do you negotiate traveling that much when the cost of flying isn’t cheap? If you do have other jobs, how do you negotiate spending that much time away?

 

LL: When I was in Compton, I used to work at an elementary school on the west side of L.A., and I would use that paycheck to pay for flying. I got to a point where I found my rhythm, and I knew what books would sell more than the others. That’s how I made my profit; I would print those the most. I’ve been lucky enough . . . I guess it’s not lucky. People have been gracious enough to fly me out. Those special guest invitations are a big help because then you don’t pay for anything.

 

DW: That’s great. I saw on your Instagram that people can Venmo you to support you, whether it’s one dollar a month or five dollars a month, etc. Do you have a good amount of people doing that?

LL: That’s when I started getting realistic about asking for help. I make comics and put them in digital form. I sell them like that, that’s my hustle. It’s like if I were on the corner selling newspapers like they do in my neighborhood, but I’m slinging comics instead. Throw me two bucks, you get a digital comic. Get a hundred people, that’s two hundred, you know?

 

DW: Sure.

LL: I’m making it work, but as artists, I think we’re ashamed to do that. I’m still getting paid for my comics, but it’s not the way I thought it would be and that’s okay. If you don’t want a comic and you just wanna tip me, it’s okay to give me money.

DW: [laughter] Okay. Well, how did you start making art? When and why and why do you still make it?

 

LL:  I’ve always made art, ever since I was a kid. I know that’s almost everyone’s answer, but it’s usually true.

DW: “Usually!”

LL: Yeah, it’s okay to get started later in life, but I started when I was a kid. I just found some of my old prints in my dad’s storage that I made him for Father’s Day.

"I USED TO MAKE PAINTINGS, BUT NO ONE WOULD SEE THEM BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO SHOW THEM IN A GALLERY. WITH COMICS, I COULD LEAVE THEM ANYWHERE, AND SOMEONE WOULD PICK THEM UP."
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"Keep That Ego In Check." 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

DW: How old were you?

 

LL: Second grade.

 

DW: Aw!

 

LL: I started making comics after my parents got divorced, because I found a comic shop. That’s how I coped. I used to make stop-motion animation as well to make my wrestlers fight! I’ve always loved art. I’ve always made it. It’s always been my kind of freedom. That’s why I keep doing it—because what else am I gonna do? I don’t know, I just love it. It’s not even about money. I just do that because we live here and we need money, but I’m gonna make art regardless. If you’re an artist and you stop making art, there has to be something really terrible to make you stop. I can’t imagine not doing it. When I’m making work, I don’t even know that I’m doing it. I just sit down and start drawing.

 

DW: So, why comics?

 

LL: Freedom. Well, there’s supposed to be freedom. Now there’s a lot of stuff happening on the industry side of comics (not on the DIY side). Me? I’m a comic artist, but I’ve never done any comic conventions. SPX is the biggest one because I’m a zine-fest and punk-scene dude. We just make what we wanna make, and it’s an accessible form of information. I put heavy stuff in my books, but the comics are like 32 pages, and they’re really easy for people to read. Comics allow you to read in a way that, if you were picking up a regular book, you just might not be able to. I like reading books and comics, but some people learn visually. There’s such a wide range of what you can do with comics.

 

DW:  I’m always curious why someone will choose one medium over another. Did you try painting drawing, sculpture, and printmaking? If so, what was that like for you?

 

LL: I used to paint a lot, actually. I started off as a “fine artist.” I knew that when I went to undergrad, my major would be fine arts. I was making these large-scale paintings with shapes and colors. I still do this actually; one of these pieces is part of my thesis. I’m working on kind of going back to fine arts, but in comic form.

 

DW: Cool. I can’t wait to see it.

 

LL: I studied animation, too. I guess it’s ‘cause I’m a fan of comic books, so I take everything I’ve learned and put it into comics. Some of my comics aren’t “traditional.” When some people read them, they’re quick to be like, “Oh, this is not really a comic book.” Honestly, comics are my coping mechanism. They’re accessible and easy to make if you have the time. I used to make paintings, but no one would see them because you have to show them in a gallery. With comics, I could leave them anywhere, and someone would pick them up.

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DW: I like that point. When you were saying that people would pick something up and go, “Oh, this isn’t a comic,” what do you think that’s about?

 

LL: Arrogance. Whenever someone says, “Why does someone do that?” it’s arrogance, thinking that, “What I know to be true is the only truth.” I find this to be true with all art forms. Music, too. Even in punk, we have people saying, “That’s not punk.” I think it happens when folks pick something up and it’s not what they expected, so they get mad. But it’s O.K. if a comic is not for you, just put it down and go away, please. I don’t know why people get so mad when they don’t like something. They can just go find something else. I just don’t get it. But it’s arrogance, thinking, “My way is the right way.”

DW: Do you find that the people who tend to do that are white and male, or is it a broader spectrum? That’s who I picture having this sense of right and wrong and wanting to enforce the boundaries or guard the gates. Wanting to hold onto this set of parameters because it feels comfortable, you know?

"THERE’S NO WAY YOU LIVE ANYWHERE IN THIS WORLD AND NOT BE TOUCHED BY WHITE SUPREMACY. IT’S INTERNALIZED IN YOU NO MATTER WHAT YOU SAY, AND EVERY DAY YOU HAVE TO FIGHT AGAINST IT. YOU DON’T JUST WAKE UP AND SAY, 'OH, THIS IS WRONG, SO I’M NOT GOING TO DO IT ANYMORE.' THAT’S NOT HOW YOUR BRAIN WORKS. "

Excerpt from "I Couldn't Afford Therapy, so I Made This." 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

LL: Yes, and then a deeper yes. Yes to all of that. It is usually [white males], but there are also sometimes folks of color who might learn from them. Those folks of color, they’ve had to assimilate to get by, so now they think, “This is the standard.” So it’s everyone, but through the gaze of white folks and white supremacy (like pretty much everything else in this world). Even at something like BCAF, the Black Comics Art Festival in New York and San Francisco, there‘re still old-timey comics folks saying, “this is how you make comics.” They’re all Black, but that’s just the way they learned. It’s that gatekeeping thing, you know? Well, at Zine Fest, we laugh. We’re not a part of that, and we don’t care.

 

DW: That’s funny. I forget the exact quotation, but the gist of it is that you can be an agent of white supremacy regardless of the color of your skin.

 

LL: Right! I think it’s funny when folks will condemn something but not look at themselves first.  There’s no way you can live anywhere in this world and not be touched by white supremacy. It’s internalized in you no matter what you say, and every day you have to fight against it. You don’t just wake up and say, “Oh, this is wrong, so I’m not going to do it anymore.” That’s not how your brain works.

 

DW: Yes! Well, I want to ask you a little bit about your music, too. Tell me about punk and about playing the piano and how long you’ve been making music. Do you play by yourself or with a band? What’s the influence of that on any of the work that you do? How does each area of creativity influence each other?

 

LL: I also started making music when I was young. I have this picture of me in front of my dad’s Casio piano when I was seven months old. My dad plays and my sister sings, so music runs in the family. Art, not as much; but music, definitely. I started as a drummer in the fourth grade—that’s how I got into punk bands. I used to scream and do vocals in hardcore bands in high school. After graduating, I went back to making beats and playing the piano. I just performed with a band at The Multivrs Is Illuminated, a Black and brown punk fest in Oakland and San Francisco. That’s what got me back into comics. Music was my career after I graduated from college. I spent all that time playing live shows and doing fine arts stuff, and then I started tabling at zine fests. I would push my comics on the side, but they were music comics. They were zines with illustrations that included a code to download music. They were a way to push my albums. I realized that I missed making comics, so I’d make a comic here and there so they’d all be intertwined.

 

DW: So how did CCA happen? How much time was there in between undergrad and grad, and why CCA and not somewhere else?

 

LL: CCA was an accident. My partner got into the grad program for an MFA in comics, and I would just be hanging around before I would go teach a class. I would go to their sessions, and I was like, “This is kinda cool . . . I make comics anyway, but there’s this academic side that I’m interested in.” I thought I might apply, but then I didn’t want to give these institutions any more money. They gave me a scholarship, so that’s why I’m there. I’m honest about it. Raising money through Instagram doing portraits, people were literally paying for my college. The institutions gave me a scholarship, and then whatever I didn’t have, I was like “Yo, I need money,” and people were like, “We want you there.” I graduated undergrad in 2011, and in 2017 I applied to go back to grad school. It had been a long time. I was originally going to go back to school in Canada to get my master’s, but I had some mental health stuff happen regarding loans, which I wasn’t ready to deal with. They’d be calling me like, “You know you could go to jail,” and so I just kind of shut down. At that point, I thought I wouldn’t go to grad school, but that I would do music full time. It was a bad time. CCA was perfect, though; it aligned with everything I liked about school and comics, and they overlapped with the community I’m already a part of. My roommate is a professor for undergrad at CCA, so it just felt like being at home.

"WHEN I STOP BEING POPULAR IN THE COMICS WORLD, I’LL STILL MAKE COMIC BOOKS FOR BLACK WOMEN, BLACK PEOPLE, BROWN FOLKS, QUEER FOLKS, FOLKS WITH MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES; CAUSE THOSE ARE THE PEOPLE BUYING MY BOOKS REGARDLESS."

DW: So when do you graduate?

LL: I’m 2020. I keep joking, well not really joking, that I graduate when that fool gets out of office. That’s my graduation present.

DW: Could you talk more about who your work is for and what it’s about?

LL: My work is for Black women, Black people, people of color, queer folks, folks with mental health issues, and me. It’s specifically phrased that way every time you see it. Black women first. Some people are like, “Why don’t you just put Black people?” But no, there’s a specific reason that I have to put Black women and then Black people in that order. So if you’re queer and you’re white, I make work for you but . . .

DW: Get in line?

LL: That’s what I mean! Same with mental health; I understand that we all have it, but there’s a specific order. Folks of color, I’m sorry, but I make work for Black people first. I used to hate saying that because I felt like I sounded mean, but there’s a purpose behind it. Because nothing in this world is made for Black women.

Excerpt from "I Couldn't Afford Therapy, so I Made This." 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

DW: Unless we do it ourselves, usually.

 

LL: There’s a thing happening, especially with the internet in our community, where it’s like everyone’s jumping on “Yeah, Black women! Blah, blah, blah,” but it’s performative. It’s not actually about wanting to support Black women or give space to Black women. It’s about getting those “woke points,” you know? I stopped wanting to be around people when I realized that it’s all a performance. I’m for real. Black women raised me. You know, I got a daddy, and he was around, but I was raised by Black women, straight up. There shouldn’t have to be a reason; it should just be like, “It’s because they’re human beings,” but personally it’s very near and dear to me. I was raised by Black women who did everything for me, even when I didn’t deserve it, so they are at the top. These are reminders so everybody else will know. Then there are folks of color. I’m Black, but I grew up around hella brown people in my neighborhood. Then queer folks, and that’s even before I came out. I don’t know, it’s personal to me. All these folks raised me; they take care of me. These are people that I know, that I see get hurt. That’s who I make work for. If you like it and you’re not those type of people, good for you. If there is something in you that allows you to like something that is not for you and you’re not trying to take it over, that’s growth. Most people can’t do that. They want to complain, “Well, what about me?” Kudos to you if you can find something in work that’s not for you.

 

DW: I think you’ve mostly answered this, but is there anything else you want to say about making work that’s for Black women when that’s not your experience?

 

LL: Yeah, Black women first. I think about my mama, my sisters, I didn’t have any brothers until later. When my parents got divorced, I was raised by my aunts. The reasons are selfish—my whole audience is folks that don’t even like comic books. I just happen to make comics, but I make the work for folks that are excluded (not because that’s a trend, though). When I stop being popular in the comics world, I’ll still make comic books for Black women, Black people, brown folks, queer folks, folks with mental health issues, cause those are the people buying my books regardless. I don’t make comic books for the average comic book person. If they get something out of it, then good for them, but I’m not making work for them no more. There’s no reason I should be able to talk to so many Black comic artists and hear the same story when we all live in different places. We don’t have time for that no more.

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"THERE’S HOPE IN GOING SOMEWHERE LIKE A ZINE FEST AFTER A SHITTY DAY AND THEN PICKING UP A BOOK THAT WAS MEANT FOR YOU."

DW: What do you mean?

 

LL: Being Black and experiencing similar things at cons. One of the most fucked up things I ever heard at a con was from some white man. He picked up my book and was like, “Let me tell you a Black story,” and proceeded to tell me a story about he stopped his dad from being racist because he brought his Black friend around. I was like “Alright! What do you want me to do with this information?” A few friends were like, “We don’t want to be the ‘Black dude’ at the con,” you know? I would’ve been well within my rights to snatch that book out of his hands and say “Yo, you gotta go,” but we’re always cautious of how we’re perceived in that light. There are so many stories and we’re tired. We’re just not doing it for y’all anymore, it’s for us.

 

DW: I’d love to see that as a comic someday.

LL: I did a one-page featuring myself, my partner, and two friends. Our friends were like “Comics is lowkey racist” and we were like “Lowkey?!” Comics is fucked up! But then I realized that’s kind of cruel to say because it’s always the people, really. We are comics, too.

 

DW: I hear that. I always think of it as not how people are intrinsically, but their behavior. Like the people themselves aren’t bad, it’s their behavior that’s bad, you know?

Excerpt from "Check Yo Self." 2018. Courtesy of the artist

LL: I don’t know.

 

DW: Well, I can say that that’s been true for me.

 

LL: The more people I meet, the more I realize that a lot of people have no intentions of changing their bad behaviors. So then it becomes, “Oh, it’s you; it’s not just what you’ve learned.” There’re a lot of intelligent folks who still do messed up things, but they’re trying every day to correct their thinking, speaking from personal experience. That’s what I’ve been struggling with for this whole year—are people just shitty? I used to think that there are systems in place, but there are levels to it. Some people just don’t care.

 

DW: Well, maybe we’ll have to agree to disagree. For me, I need to separate those concepts. It’s not about their being “good” or “bad” people, because I think labeling folks flattens their experience in a dangerous way. It sets up a slippery slope with troubling implications for all of us, but that’s a discussion for another time, (maybe over a beer later). I want to switch gears and talk a bit about mental health, Blackness, and queerness and the intersections of all those things. I was just thinking about how this epidemic of state violence has just been one uninterrupted stream for four or five hundred years in this country. I’m also thinking about how many people experience state violence while they’re having some sort of mental health episode or crisis. I’m wondering about why talking about mental health in Black communities is so sorely necessary but lacking?

 

LL: I hate saying “we,” because it makes it seem like we’re all the same, but I haven’t met one Black person who has picked up my comics about mental health who couldn’t relate. We’re taught not to talk about our mental health. They don’t talk about mental health in the Church because there it’s “Take it to Jesus and pray it away.” We grew up thinking that if something’s wrong, you can pray it away. I’m all for prayer, but you have to do some work, right? Even when I opened up about being bipolar to my family, the first thing out of some of their mouths was “Are you sure? Don’t claim that,” and similar things. I was trying to tell them this is what I go through every day.

I’ve met a lot of folks who have thanked me for my work because it depicts the same thing they were struggling with but were taught to feel ashamed of. Therapy is something that’s seen as being for white people. We have a tendency to label folks as crazy right away. The label “crazy” is damaging and it discourages people from getting help. Who wants to be known as crazy? When I was younger, I would rather have been an asshole than be “crazy.”

DW: Why is that, you think? Why is it easier for folks to think you’re a jerk than for them to think you’re “crazy”?

 

LL: [pause] I don’t know. I think about that, too. I ask those questions through my art. Why are we okay with folks being assholes as opposed to being “crazy?” To me, that sounds crazy. The way we use the term, I think it makes more sense to say the world is actually crazy and we’re just trying to fit into it. It’s weird, people are okay with being jerks because you can say it’s your opinion; but if you’re labeled crazy, you can’t shake that. “Crazy” comes with, “Oh, they walk around talking to themselves.” It’s like, “Yeah, you do too! What do you think you’re doing in your mind right now?” Or even when it comes to being bipolar, there are so many types of bipolar disorder, but one movie will show someone flipping out and the character will say they’re bipolar. Then you’ll tell someone who’s seen that movie and people will be like, “Oh, you’re like that. Better not get you mad.” Until recently, I’ve never known a job that will give you time off for mental health recovery or sick days for mental health. That wasn’t a thing. They could deny your benefits.

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Excerpt from "Check Yo Self." 2018. Courtesy of the artist

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Excerpt from "Check Yo Self." 2018. Courtesy of the artist

DW: Well, talking about Blackness and queerness is often taboo, so how do you navigate that?

 

LL: You can’t be Black and do nothin'. [laughter]

 

DW: [laughter]

 

LL: It’s true! In my experience, a lot of it has to do with church when it comes to queerness and mental health. Which makes sense when you look at how they used religion and the Bible with the enslavement of folks of African descent. I was thinking about that the other day while writing a comic about being bisexual. I hear conversations like, “Well, if a girl sleeps with another girl, I don’t think that makes her gay; just curious. But if you’re a dude and you have sex with another dude, you’re gay.” And I’m like, “What if you’re bisexual?” And they’re like, “If you have sex with another dude, you’re gay.” I don’t know, we just can’t do anything as Black people, even amongst ourselves. For me, I think it comes out of survival, because we already have a target on us. Initially, I think our parents and the folks before them were just trying to protect us. White folks would hang us for just looking at them. Then we internalized it and passed it down. It’s no longer survival.

 

DW: I think it’s a different kind.

 

LL: Yeah. I don’t even talk to my family about my queerness. I mean, they read my comics, and everybody knows. I’m not a secretive person, but we’re not going to go back and forth about what “Jesus said.” I don’t allow space for that. So when I go home, we just chill. They’re funny ‘cause some of them will hint, like my mom or dad will mention, “Oh yeah, I had a co-worker that was gay. They were cool!” You know, the type of thing where they’re trying to bring it up casually.

 

DW: What do you do with that?

 

LL: I just let it go; I don’t really say anything. I know how they feel. I grew up with them, I know how they are. I wish I could say more because there is so much queerness in my family, but I can’t. I’m the person who’s around everyone because I’m quiet. I see everything, even the things I don’t want to know. It’s too bad that some of them will never have the chance to live that truth. I was lucky that I was with the punks because it was understood that I was going to do whatever I wanted to do. So I don’t bring up my queerness. Now Black folks are embracing each other. It's unfortunate because it’s coming from literally being murdered right in front of each others' eyes. It’s what has always happened, but now we see it more because of social media. We feel like we don’t have time to be excluding gay Black people. We have to take care of each other, but it shouldn’t have to come to that for us to come together. I don’t know why we can’t get past that. Religion is a tricky thing. It’s very deep in the Black community. There would be gay folks in my church that would be talking shit about gay people because that’s what you do in church. It's a weird mentality. Church is weird.

 

DW: Do you go to church any more?

 

LL: Not as much, I haven’t been in a while. I still listen to a lot of gospel music. It’s my comfort. I believe in God, just not the way they believe in God. It seems to me that a lot of things were taken away from us and then given back through a white lens (like everything else). It’s not that those things aren’t true to me; it’s just that the way we were taught to practice has nothing to do with us and is actually detrimental to us. I’m reclaiming God back from the way I was taught. But regarding queerness and Blackness, I don’t know if there will ever be a time when that’s openly embraced. Especially in Black men. Even being bisexual/pansexual, I would never tell my partner because there would be this perception that I’m really gay. It’s like, “They’re on the down low.” You wouldn’t believe how many queer folks I meet who are actually bisexual but chose to identify as gay or lesbian because it’s easier.

 

DW: Do you think as time wears on that that will change and more people will feel comfortable pushing against even that binary, you know what I mean?

 

LL: I think so with these younger kids that are coming up. They have the internet, so they’re not as isolated. The kids are ready. I’ve noticed that we’re finding each other more and more, and that helps. Even within the queer community, most of the folks that I hang out with didn’t find out until later that they’re either bi, pansexual, gender-nonconforming, nonbinary, or trans, and those folks tend to gravitate towards each other. So I’m not on the down low, I’m just bisexual.

 

DW: Who are your biggest influences?

 

LL: I don’t know. There’s the artist answer and then there’s the real answer.

 

DW: Can they both be real? Or no?

". . . WE’RE TRYING TO SAVE EACH OTHER’S LIVES."

LL: The “artist answer” is real too, but it’s something I’ve gotten used to saying because people expect you to make a “statement.” So, right now it’s a combination of Malcolm X and James Baldwin. I’m reading both of their books together, and Baldwin has a lot of overlap with his writing about Malcolm. Octavia Butler, too, but that’s about it in terms of what I read every day or what I study. Music-wise, it’s not the bands but the environment. The environment of being in a room full of Black and brown punks, the fact that that's possible and that it's real. The folks I write books for are real. I’m influenced by someone who can get up every day and go through what they go through but still survive. I don’t know how to explain it. Life, people. Black women, Black people. Folks of color. Young people that are starting their own little revolutions of ideas—that inspires me. They haven’t been drained yet. Often, by the time you hit 21 (especially in certain circles), you’re already planning for college, a corporate job, etc. But the young folks who are still dreaming—you can see a spark in their eye when they read something on the table. Even at zine fests, watching folks pick up something on the table and go, [in a voice full of wonder] “What is a ‘ZIGN’?” [laughter].

Excerpt from "I Couldn't Afford Therapy, so I Made This." 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

DW: Stop!! [uproarious laughter]

 

LL: It’s wonderful because it’s so new, it’s so fresh. Obviously, we have to tell them that it’s pronounced “zines,” but after that, they’re going to be like, “Have you heard of zines?” It’s like remembering the first time you got into something. Like when you heard about a band but you pronounced the name wrong and nobody told you, but you found out later. That influences me. There’s hope in that, you know? There’s hope in going somewhere like a zine fest after a shitty day and then picking up a book that was meant for you.

 

DW: That’s right, it’s like a little note across the universe. Is there a piece of work, a book, anything that you’ve made that you’re the proudest of? What is it and why?

LL: I’ll be cocky and say all of it. If I could, I would take everything I’ve made and put it in one big book because that’s how my mind works. Lots of my books were written at the same time, so it wasn’t like one project followed the next. That’s especially true when I’m having like a hyper-manic episode. That’s how I keep it in check: I make one book and the next, usually working simultaneously.


I’m proud of all of it because of what it does for people. I used to put things out and not want to hear anything back from anyone, but I’ve kind of opened up to hearing what people have to say. To hear people say, “Yo, I was going to kill myself but I read this and I didn’t,” that’ll change your life. That’s something to be proud of. That’s what I make work for. I don’t care about, “Oh, he’s a dope comic artist.” Like no, we’re trying to save each other’s lives. It’s not about money; I don’t make a lot of money. Just because you see me on a Facebook video, that doesn’t mean a thing. That doesn’t mean money. But when someone can say, “You saved my life” and they mean it, and you know how that feels because you had a song or something that saved your life; that’s what makes me proud. I got a message from a little girl—a fourth grader. She made her own book, “From Somali Girl, with Love” based off of “From Black Boy, with Love.” How can you not be proud of that? I mean, that’s the type of stuff you do it for.

 

DW: So who else inspires you, or who else do you want to see get more love? Who do you want to give a shout out to?


LL: My partner, Breena Nuñez. I could go all day, but before that, I would say that I want to see Breena get the right kind of “love.” Like I said, I don’t do this for everyone. We don’t need praise from certain folks because it’s not real. So folks who are really into the work, I want to get those connections. Zinefest does a good job of connecting folks who want to be around each other and are genuinely interested in what each other are doing. Dustin Garcia is very involved in the comic scene and used to organize the Latino comics expo. He did a phenomenal job at it. Tanna Tucker does amazing work, and Trinidad Escobar does a lot work and doesn’t get enough credit for it in my opinion. She teaches race and comics and has a memoir out called Crushed. Follow any of the folks of color in the comics scene and it connects to all of us because we tend to find each other. We’ve got each other and we need each other. And my mama, even though we don’t see eye on everything, that’s my mama. My aunties and my sisters, Black women, black people, people of color, queer folks, and folks with mental health issues. As an educator, I believe in repetition, and the more you say it, the deeper it gets stuck in people’s heads. Then people get it and understand it.

Excerpt from "I Couldn't Afford Therapy, so I Made This." 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

Excerpt from "I Couldn't Afford Therapy, so I Made This." 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

DW: One of the things that I see in the work a lot concerns doing things for the “right” reason and not about ego. Will you talk a bit about what you mean by that and what you mean by the word “ego”?

 

LL: Most of the stuff I make now, I was making when I was younger, but I hadn’t done any of the work. When I was younger, I used to talk about integrity and social justice and about being Black and proud, but I hadn’t done any of the work to reprogram my mind about what integrity really means. It was just a word that I was using because I’d heard it in a hardcore song. But now I make work based off of those beliefs because I live them. Before it was like, “This is what we’re supposed to do because this is what makes a ‘good man’ or a ‘good artist.’” I couldn’t be a good man without erasing everything I was taught. I don’t think you should be making work unless you’ve done the work.

 

The world is set up for us to be terrible to each other. I was raised a Baptist, which automatically means gays are bad, trans folks are bad, etc. I didn’t even know what trans meant when I was younger. And when I say ego, I’m proud that that little girl made a book based off of my book, but that doesn’t make me any more important than that little girl. That’s what I mean. It’s easy to get swept away in the compliments. I mean, you’re supposed to be proud, but come back down and remember why you make it, if that’s why you make it. For some folks, it is about that. I can’t be mad at them if that’s what it was about. For me, if I’m about the people, it’s either about the people or I’m not going to do it. It’s about keeping yourself accountable. Not using it as a buzzword, but really thinking about cause and effect, really thinking critically about things. We don’t raise critical thinkers, and I can say that because I work in the school system. School is not about critical thinking.

 

DW: No, unfortunately, it’s not.

 

LL: Ego is tough to balance, because you should be proud of your work but you should also have some compassion and some empathy. It’s an everyday struggle. Some days I’m like, “Man, I don’t gotta sit here and deal with this shit,” you know what I mean? [laughter] Other days I’m like, “So what if I made that? Who cares? I’m just a person like you.” This notion that because I did something that I’m so “great” (and I don’t just say “great”—this is what people have told me, so I’m confident that when I say it), it’s because I’ve gotten confirmation from the people. They’ve allowed me to say, “This work is great.” Just because my work is great, it doesn’t make me a better person. You can do what I’m doing too, if that’s what you want to do, but in the way that you need to do it.

 

DW: That reminds me a little bit about the piece around whether people are intrinsically bad or if it’s their behavior. I see this connection between that right now and what you’re saying. If everyone is no better or no worse, but just is, and if in that way we’re all equal, then that speaks a little bit to what I was saying. That notion that that little girl and you, that y’all are the same. That’s a really beautiful idea.

 

LL: Yeah, get it the way you need to get it but be kind while you’re doing it. Think about others. I know it’s not easy because you’ve got to pay rent and that will cloud your mind. You don’t have time to be thinking about other people . . . but try, even if it’s just a little bit. A lil’, lil’ bit. [laughter] I don’t know, I’ve been thinking about what separates me and people who think like me from the people who don’t, and it just seems practical. You treat others with respect, and not because it’s the thing to do. I’m just me, and I live that truth.

Lawrence Lindell is an artist and musician from California. He is the creator of “From Black Boy With Love” and “From Black Boy With Love Part II”, “Hey. People of Color”, “Couldn’t Afford Therapy, So I Made This” and the web comic "The Section." He makes comics and teaches comic book classes. He also started the BaY Area cartoonist collective called “The BAYlies

Danielle Wright is a visual artist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She earned a B.A. in Visual Arts with an emphasis in Fine Arts at the University of San Francisco in 2007. Her work investigates the language of materials and the delineation between artist and viewer/participant. In addition to her studio practice, she teaches at Creativity Explored, a not-for-profit art gallery and studio in the Mission District of San Francisco.

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