28. The Making of a Comic: 'All About Me' by Tiffany Babb
A writer, poet, and cultural critic reveals lessons learned in making comics
Howdy Brave Being,
Welcome back to The Making of a Comic. Joining me today is comics writer and artist Tiffany Babb of the diary comic, All About Me. But there’s a lot more that she juggles, including being a cultural critic, contributing to the Eisner-award winning magazine PanelxPanel, The A.V. Club, and The Comics Journal. She’s also a poet and is recently celebrating the release of her poetry book A List of Things I’ve Lost, an exploration of weather, death, and memory. Plus, she’s a dog mom! Tiffany joins me today to chat about her many roles. Let’s hop to it!
Comics Writer and Artist
Brittany Matter: Tell us about your slice-of-your-life comic strip on Tapas, All About Me.
Tiffany Babb: I started All About Me a little over a year and a half ago. We were about half a year into the pandemic, and I wanted to set up a regular art practice, something that was a bare minimum to make sure I was at least doing a little art every week. Making something new. I was always interested in the writing part of comics, and I love making visual art, but I had always avoided the idea of making my own comics. Until I didn’t. I think that’s the big lesson, sometimes you just have to make the thing and see how it turns out. It’s one of the favorite things I work on now.
BM: What's your favorite way to plot out a comic, whether it's a strip or sequential?
TB: It depends on what the comic is trying to do. Plotting out a four-panel gag is super different than scripting a longer comic. With a four-panel gag, I’m always drawing as I write. You have to map the humor out visually. For a longer comic, I start with dialogue, because that’s how I can most easily map out emotional beats.
BM: When it comes to writing sequential comics and working with an artist, what's your favorite part about that collaborative process?
TB: Really, a script is just the scaffolding, and the artist builds the actual house around it. The actual storytelling in comics is completely controlled and executed by the artist. I may come up with the plot and the general breakdown and what should be on the page, but how you see what’s happening and how it works on the page is completely down to the artist and their vision. Plus, working with artists is amazing because you’ve got a whole other brain in the process. Two heads are better than one.
BM: What subjects do you typically explore in your essays?
TB: It depends what I’m writing about. Recently, I wrote an article on The Bishop’s Wife and what the movie is saying about the role of a perfect woman. A month or so I wrote about Tick, Tick... Boom and the existential crisis of turning thirty as an artist. I also like to write about queer stories or the queering of stories. And, of course, I love writing about the structure of comics and the many different aspects of seriality. I think, when it comes to cultural criticism, I just follow my instincts. If something interests me, I keep digging until I figure out why.
As for fiction and comics, I like genre stuff—romance, horror, sci fi. I love kids lit as well, middle grade in particular. Middle grade is right when kids start to read on their own and choose their own books, and that’s really special.
BM: How has contributing to PanelxPanel contributed to your growth as a comics creator or writer in general?
TB: PanelxPanel is one of my favorite places to write. First of all, Hass is a great editor with an awesome vision for what comics journalism should look like. And it also happens that his vision for comics journalism fits my personal tastes and interests perfectly. I try to write for a diverse collection of outlets and publications, but it’s great having a general home. Hass has been so supportive over the years, giving me chances to guest edit the magazine, which has been a blast, and now giving me some space to take on editorial duties as well.
BM: What other essays are on your to-do list for this year?
TB: I’m not sure yet. I’d love to write about Ella Enchanted, that’s a movie that’s been on my mind recently. I have the early stirrings of a book idea about the surprisingly similar structures of detective stories and romances, so I’m hoping to publish a few essays in that realm as well.
BM: What inspired your latest book of poetry, A List of Things I've Lost?
TB: Well, the book is mostly about memory and childhood, about losing my father and the time my grandmother was in the hospital. But I think the book really started when I first moved to New York. I had gone to college only about an hour away from home, so New York was the furthest I had really been from my family for more than a year or so. The distance between me and where I had grown up plus my first experience with changing seasons really started to grow into the first draft of this book.
BM: Which poets, or writers in general, have influenced your poetry the most?
TB: For poets, Solmaz Sharif, Chen Chen, Kaveh Akbar, and Ocean Vuong are high up on the list. For prose writers, I love EB White, Borges, and Edwidge Danticat. And, above all, Stephen Sondheim.
BM: When writing poetry, is there a mood that you have to be in or is it more like it strikes like a bolt of lightning?
TB: I am a very strict believer in writing as a craft. I think that if you want to take it seriously, you have to do the work regularly. Now, this doesn’t mean every writer has to write every day or anything. Everyone decides what fits their own life best. But I do believe that really getting good at your craft takes dedication and perseverance, and that mood or inspiration has little or nothing to do with it.
Get the Scoop on Tiffany
BM: What are you reading right now?
TB: I’m currently on a little bit of a John Le Carré kick, so I just finished The Secret Pilgrim and I’m reading another one of the Smiley books, The Honourable Schoolboy. I also recently finished reading Pumpkin by Julie Murphy and Less by Andrew Sean Greer.
BM: What are your favorite themes to explore across your work?
TB: I like adaptation. I like interpretation. I like how one thing can mean many things at once, and I like bringing out and playing with those meanings. I’m sure, from one perspective, my work can seem a little eclectic, and I guess it is. But at the bottom of things, I’m interested in how meaning is made.
BM: I recall from our live interview together for ADVENTURES EVERYWHERE that you have a dog. Tell us about them!
TB: Haha! Yes! Her name is Gracie, and we just adopted her this year. She’s eleven and wonderful, and we love her very much.
BM: What are you working on lately?
TB: Lots of cultural criticism, which I am always excited to write. There are a couple comics projects simmering, and I’m working on a podcast too!
BM: Incredible, you’re a busy bee! I can’t wait to hear more about those comics projects and continue to follow your work.
Speaking of following, dear readers, don’t forget to follow Tiffany @explodingarrow, check out all the episodes of All About Me, and order her poetry book, A List of Things I’ve Lost, which is a stunning and resonant body of work that I cannot recommend highly enough.