Wondering if you can pursue your creative passion while having a full-time job? Meet Katie Skelly.
Katie has recently had her mini-comic published into a graphic novel while holding a desk job.
How’d she get started? What’s her work/comic balance? Where does her confidence come from? All that and more on this week’s ‘Prologue Profiles’!
Dan Feld: Episode 6 of Prologue Profiles. My name is Dan Feld. My guest today is Katie Skelly.
Kelly has a full-time desk job. She’s also a cartoonist. Katie’s mini comic, Nurse Nurse, has been published as a graphic novel by Sparkplug Books and is available in comic shops across the country. She’s 27 years old.
Katie Skelly: Hi, this is Katie Skelly. I’m a cartoonist. And you’re listening to Prologue Profiles.
Katie: I work in pen and ink within panels on a page telling a sequential story.
Dan: …And you recently have been published…
Katie: Yes. My first graphic novel just came out from Sparkplug Books, they are a publisher in Portland and it’s called Nurse Nurse.
Dan: How did you get into cartooning?
Katie: I’ve always been making comics since I was a kid. My dad own a newsstand in Pennsylvania and he would frequently bring home back issues of old comics for me to read. And so I would just kind of start drawing my own on whatever paper we had around. Some of it still exist. My mom is still holding onto those [Laughs].
Dan: Are they on the fridge still?
Katie: They’re in a special drawer in our kitchen and I like to go home and look at them. It’s very fun. But I really started getting more serious about comics in high school. I started thinking about going to art school which I eventually didn’t. I did go to a brief art program in Philadelphia for like a month where I learned life drawings, sculpture, printmaking all that kind of stuff very quickly and as well as I said 17-year-old can.
So that was really kind of the foundation for my skills as a draftsperson. Then in college I started doing strips because our school had a daily newspaper, and just started putting those together. It was my first time working with deadlines and things that were getting published.
Dan: And what made you decide to start your own cartoon?
Katie: I’ve been a consumer of comics for years and years and years and going into the local comic shop in Bethlehem Pennsylvania, I didn’t see as many comics as I wanted to read necessarily. I felt like I had read everything that I wanted to and, again, this is like as well as a 17 year old can understand it, so I decided that I really wanted to make a comic that if I went into a comic shop I would want to buy it and read it.
Dan: So Katie, when did Nurse Nurse come about?
Katie: Nurse Nurse came about in 2007. I just graduated from Syracuse, I moved back in with my parents in Pennsylvania and I was quite literary living in their basement. And I’d be going on day trips back and forth to New York pretty much constantly looking for work. Gallery assistant, museum assistant, anything, and I was having a very difficult go of it and I was feeling just this disconnect between my experiences in college and then my experiences in the “real world” it’s like “Why did I go through all of this? What am I doing? I can’t find work”.
It was really heartbreaking to me and then I found this outlet of making comics and I knew that comics had always been a part of my life but I never really used them to understand or as an outlet to understand my own experiences.
Dan: So were you intimidated by starting your own series?
Katie: Yea, definitely [Laughs]. I was worried that I didn’t necessarily have the skills as a draftsman to carry the story that I wanted to do necessarily. I thought about one of my favorite movies which is Barbarella which was made on this little shoestring budget and they were trying to also make a psychedelic science-fiction. And so they kind of used ridiculous cheap props to convey that you are in outer space.
And I started thinking about that and I was like “I can’t necessarily draw a ship as well as someone as Mœbius could but I can invent one that I can draw easily and just set it in the future and then everyone will just believe that what a ship looks like [Laughs]. And so I just kind of took a cue from that, that it doesn’t necessarily have to be super sophisticated.
It wasn’t until I got an email from Dylan Williams at Sparkplug asking if Sparkplug could distribute the mini comics that I kind of realized like I have something here and I should really start taking this seriously and putting out more issues.
Dan: So when did that phone call happen after you had started Nurse Nurse?
Katie: That happened almost immediately after I moved to New York. So maybe like March or April of 2008 so I put out the first issue of Nurse Nurse in Summer 2007. That was a really good feeling. It made me feel like what I was doing was legitimate.
Dan: What’s the basic story of Nurse Nurse?
Katie: It’s a science fiction, it’s set in the year 3030 and it’s about planets being colonized and as those planets are being colonized it’s also sending a type of atmosphere poisoning into the air. And so the people that are sent to space to colonize these planets are kind of being killed by this poisoning. And so…
Dan: …is there a name for the poisoning?
Katie: Um, no. [Laughter] Just atmosphere poisoning. It’s very sophisticated.
Dan: Unknown, terminal poisoning.
Katie: Yea [Laughs] But the nurses are sent to try to help heal these colonists.
Dan: So let’s talk about the characters. So who do we have in Nurse Nurse?
Katie: We have Gemma who is the Head Nurse. We have Lucien who is her ex-boyfriend. They were in medical school together, but he dropped out to become a pirate.
Dan: [Laughs] Oh boys…
Katie: I know, and he has only one eye by the way. We have Trom who is a martian girl and I kind of drew her based on the way that a lot of art school girls look because they can kind of be like martians on earth. Like a little bob haircut and like a big fur coat and everything…
Dan: No comment.
Katie:[Laughs] I love them. I love them, but they’re very other-worldly. There’s Bandit and Pandaface who are space pirates and Bandit is like a Brigitte Nielsen-type character and Pandaface is a person who has a panda head.
Dan: That sounds right. [Laughter] You recently had a book signing…
Katie: Yes, we had a release party for Nurse Nurse which was at Desert Island which is a really, really great comic book shop in Williamsburg in Brooklyn.
Dan: And how was that?
Katie: It was really fun. I had such a good time. And I sold a good number of books and sold some books to the store and that felt really good and then those books that they bought from me sold out about a week later.
Dan: Wow, was that a surprise for you?
Katie: It was, I mean, I didn’t expect them to sell so quickly. I was like “I know that they’ll probably do well in Williamsburg. I feel like it looks like a book you’d really want to buy in Williamsburg [Laughs].
Dan: Now, you also have a full-time job…
Dan: How did you balance writing a graphic novel and working full-time?
Katie: My schedule is waking up at 6.30, drawing until 7.30, going to work, getting home from work after 8, 9 hours and then pretty much drawing until I get tired.
Dan: Were there any moments when you felt really overwhelmed by the process?
Katie: Getting started on a new issue, even though I have ideas in mind, can be really overwhelming because you are trying to remember exactly what happened in the last issue and you are like plotting out plot points.
Literally just kind of a flow chart of, here’s what happened, I have to make sure to wrap up this thing and that thing. And have to make sure it looks good, I got to make sure it’s 24 pages. How am I going to do 24 pages in x amount of time? So that can be definitely overwhelming.
Dan: How do you overcome that?
Katie: You really have to take baby steps at it and you have to learn, you know that procrastination is bad and it’s a way of just kind of putting yourself in like a time debt. It’s really the enemy. So it’s better to just get started than to sit around and feel overwhelmed. And that’s something that I’ve become increasingly better at. Not putting things off and just getting started.
Dan: What if anything about yourself are you trying to improve?
Katie: I’m trying to become a dreader [Flubs, Laughs]…
Dan: I’m trying to dread all the time.
Katie: [Laughs] I’m trying to dread, I’m trying not to dread.
Dan: I’m trying to grow dreads.
Dan: You can just do that if you want, you don’t have to try. Just grow dreads.
Katie: I’m trying to become a better draftsman, draftsperson I guess. And you know for the story that I’m working on now for this new graphic novel which is a long story, I’m going to be drawing a lot of motorcycles. There’s a motorcycle gang in it.
And so I set aside a good couple of weeks to just draw motorcycles. I have sketchbooks that are full of motorcycles because you have to figure out what are the proportions, how does it look when a person is sitting on it, how does it look when you are making a turn on a motorcycle.
And so I’m really trying to get comfortable with the subject matter before I start drawing it. Which is different from Nurse Nurse where I was like “Well I’ll just make everything up and that will be okay”. But this time I want it to be grounded in some kind of reality.
Dan: What fears do you have?
Katie: What fears I have are that I’ll be toiling away, working on a comic and either I’ll never finish it or I will finish it and no one will care about it. It will never get reviewed, no one will read it and those things are pretty illogical and I know that even if it’s just me making a comic and handing it to someone of course people are going to read it no matter what. But those are definitely things that kind of prey on my mind.
Dan: And how do you deal with those voices?
Katie: Cognitive behavioral therapy, it’s really great. To just kind of look at fears in my mind and that are illogical and kind of rewrite them and make me realize that this is not reality.
Dan: So what’s that process?
Katie: What you do is you take the fear that you have in your head kind of like, I just did like I’m afraid no one will ever read my comics and just kind of talk about that as a possibility. Like okay, so no one reads your comics then what? And it’s like well, obviously I would work harder to get it into more people’s hands. It kind of helps you realize like there’s no dead end here.
Dan: While you were making it were there people who were telling you “Why are you spending your time doing this?”
Katie: I was pretty fortunate in that that never really happened to me. My friends are really supportive.
I will say that something that’s been like a positive outcome of me working on myself so much is that any person like that in my life I’ve cut out. I just don’t really put up with people who don’t get it. Because I really don’t need to. There’s no point in surrounding yourself with people who just choose to not be into what you’re doing.
Dan: What advice do you have for someone who has a creative idea they also have a full-time job and they kind of want to pursue their passion?
Katie: You really just have to be realistic with yourself. First of all nothing is going to get done until you do it. But you don’t have to go completely insane trying to manage your time. Just be realistic, do a little bit every day until you get used to having that schedule with a full-time job.
And really you just have to know, and this is something that helped me a lot, is that you’re the only person that can do it. No one will do it for you. You just got to be your best ally.
Dan: So where can we buy Nurse Nurse?
Katie: You can buy it from my publisher Sparkplug books and their website is sparkplugcomicbooks.com.
Dan: Where does the confidence come from to say “I can do this”?
Katie: I’m kind of particularly blessed to have really good friends, a lot of whom are cartoonists who are super encouraging, who want to see good comics. As far as confidence for myself, I spent so many years being a shy person who was not very outgoing, who was kind of perpetually anxious too. And then working on Nurse Nurse and starting to work through some of my own feelings through art was something that was so helpful to me. And so I think it’s kind of like my way of finding confidence. I’m able to finish a page and think it looks really good and that makes me feel good and it makes me want to show the world what I’m working on.
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This post originally appeared at PROLOGUE PROFILES.