Panels + Ink: Meags Fitzgerald on Being a Graphic Novelist

by July 13, 2017
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Montreal-based Meags Fitzgerald is an award-winning artist, illustrator, graphic novelist and stop motion animator. FLURT’s Carolyn Stransky spoke with Meags over email to talk about her work, how she got into it and how donations from Patreon help to support her.

Carolyn: What sparked your interest in graphic novels?
Meags: I grew up as an avid comic reader and when I was very young I started writing and drawing my own picture books and comics. In my teens, I read my first literary graphic novels and fell even more in love with the medium. I dreamed of making my own, but had no clue where to begin. In University I studied Fine Art and really enjoyed my program though I felt that the fine art world wasn’t very accessible to most people. In 2012, I got an idea for my first graphic novel and worked on it until it was published in 2014. Comics have been my medium of choice since then. I love that books can be read anywhere, at any time, by anyone.

C: From visual artist to writer to improv comedian to trapeze artist, you seem to wear many hats. Do you have a preferred medium?

M: Though the mediums are distinct they’re all linked, and they all fall under the larger umbrella of visual storytelling. I love making graphic novels, but I’ve learned from years of being an illustrator that drawing all day isn’t healthy for me. To keep some balance in my life, I train almost daily as an aerial artist with the circus and perform improv comedy and live storytelling on a regular basis. When I’m working full-time on illustrating a book, these other interests ensure my physical health and social life don’t get neglected. Having several distinct creative outlets also keeps me inspired and exposes me to new ideas for my books.

I feel very grateful to be in Montreal, where the arts are well respected and supported, and the cost of living is relatively low. This city enables me to make a career out of my passions, which I don’t take for granted.

C: You write non-fiction and autobiographical graphic novels, how does it feel to share the details of your life?
M: I’ve been at times conflicted about what details to share about my own life, especially when it involves something as personal as sexuality. It’s also tricky to condense nuanced and complicated experiences into just a few pages and do those moments justice. While writing I’m often a little uncomfortable with the idea of publishing personal experiences, but ultimately I’m okay with it because books are a little like songs; the audience doesn’t listen to it and wonder about the musician’s life, they interpret the lyrics as they relate to their own life. I think by being transparent and at times vulnerable with my readers, I’m more able to benefit them and create a human connection.

C: Tell us about the new book you’re working on and why you decided to start it.
M: I grew up left-handed and felt like a bit of an outsider as a kid, this led me to an early interest in hands and handedness. The more research I did on the subject, the more remarkable information I found about both left and right-handedness that I think will interest all sorts of people. Handedness is about so much more than what hand you write with, it plays a large roll in how your brain functions and how we each interact with the physical world around us. History has endless fascinating stories of handedness and scientists are now uncovering new details about its mysteries. Last year I actively started working on the book and it should be out in Spring 2019. (Drawing comics takes a long time!)

C: We’re obsessed with your Ambidraw videos. How did you come up with the idea for the series?
M: In 2011, I taught myself to be able to write and draw with both hands when I was experiencing a lot of pain with my dominant hand while I was drawing. I liked the idea of being able to switch back and forth between my hands at will, so I invested a lot of hours into training my right hand. When I was still learning I posted videos of my progress, but I didn’t do much with those videos. Last year, as a fun challenge I started making my Ambidraw videos where I draw with both hands, it’s been a fun weekly project ever since!

C: What is the Patreon process like? Who has been pledging and supporting you?
M: I’ve been on Patreon for about a year now and it’s been a great experience so far. I was already a patron on the crowdfunding platform when I got an email from an employee at Patreon who’d read my books and suggested I become a creator on the site. They guided me through the process and were really awesome. Unlike other similar platforms, Patreon is ongoing so it takes some adjusting to get used to updating it regularly.

All sorts of folks are supporting me, from my grandmother to strangers who use aliases. Most commonly people are pledging $1 to $3 a month, and there are few exceptions who pledge $20 or $30 a month. The extra income makes it possible for me to focus on my own projects and allows people who enjoy my work to contribute to it in a meaningful way, while getting extra little perks like sneak-previews of work in progress.

C: What advice do you have for artists interested in using Patreon or other crowdfunding platforms to fund their work?
M: For myself and a lot of creators, I think the most challenging aspect of using the platform isn’t about updating it regularly or cross-posting on social media but actually it’s about becoming okay with the idea of asking and feeling comfortable with receiving. I know it sounds odd but most of us are more comfortable with giving support than receiving support. To be a successful Patreon creator, you have to feel worthy of the support, feel assured in the work you’re producing and know that it has value to others. Starting out on the site feels like a blind trust fall into a crowd, you may feel vulnerable and it can be awkward but really wonderful connections may come out of it.

Read the rest of the summer 2017 issue or get it in print here. And don’t forget to follow Meags on Instagram @meagsfitzgerald

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