Marc Ellerby on Ellerbisms
Marc Ellerby reflects on Ellerbisms, his diary comic that ran from 2007-2012, chronicling his burgeoning career as a comics creator and his relationship with his girlfriend, Anna.
Josh Franks: Why did you decide to create a diary comic?
Marc Ellerby: I was working on a book for Oni Press called Love The Way You Love at the time and was having a bit of a frustrating time with it. I really felt like my work was stinking and so I needed something else to work on alongside it to take my mind off it. So I started up a diary comic as I was really into that early Top Shelf/autobiocore wave of creators like Jeffrey Brown, Liz Prince and Craig Thompson who were all in some way experimenting with diary comics or autobiography and it was a nice, relaxing, dare I say fun way to kill an hour at the end of the working day. I didn't give it much, if any, thought at the start rather than "here's something funny that happened today", which soon went away once I realised I wanted to share more personal short stories.
JF: You were 23 when you began working on Ellerbisms in 2007. Looking back, is there anything you would change about the work? Any missed entries?
ME: Bloody hell. I was 23, wasn't I? It doesn't feel like 10 years ago at all.
When it came to collect the strips for the book I went back and tried to fill in any holes to make it more cohesive, to give it some sense of a narrative structure, which I feel I maybe half-succeeded at, but whatever. I cut a lot of strips out just because they were junk and didn't add anything to the "plot" or overall theme of the book. I think I may have redrawn a couple to stick the landing a bit better. I think if I were to do it over I'd try and make more narratively straightforward rather than a collection of random events, but I also wasn't in the right place to do that at the time; I'm a better writer now than I was ten years ago and I think it would probably have just been a Blankets rip-off, because God knows all of us of a certain age have a Blankets rip-off inside of us (and it's probably best it stays there).
JF: At what point did you realise the collected work was going to be more about your relationship with Anna?
ME: Oh, right from when I started putting the book together. That was the through-line from the strips and - spoilers, I guess - we had just ended the relationship, so I thought that would be a good structure; a relationship told in pictures, y'know, from beginning to end. Also, with the relationship having ended I thought it could help me work through some, um, stuff.
JF: With the relationship being the main undercurrent of the wider narrative Ellerbisms, would you consider the book to be a romance?
ME: Yeah, kind of. It's focus is of a relationship, but it's one that ends, so no it's not a romance in the strict sense of having a happy ending, but romance doesn't always mean a happy ending, right? Sometimes these things go the full distance and sometimes they just stop, but they both start at the same place.
JF: How do you feel about romance as a genre? Why do you think it is marketed as feminine when most stories have relationships at their core?
ME: I like romantic stories, but I wouldn't say I'm an avid romance reader. In terms of the marketing it's wish-fulfilment, isn't it? I don't see it as any different to any other genre. With romance, the reader wants to be in the shoes of the protagonist; they want to be swept off their feet, have the joy the main character is having. With sci-fi or fantasy or action, it's the same thing; the reader wants to fly the spaceship, they want to fight a pack of orcs, get to the bomb just in time. Why's it female-orientated? I'm sure that's just down to publishers playing it safe through years of the outdated idea that women want escapism and that they need a man to do that. Sadly, I'm not sure we're at the stage where LGBTQ relationships are found on the mass market tables in bookshops, but hopefully change is coming.
JF: Could you see yourself creating another diary-comic like Ellerbisms now? What would an average day look like in Ellerbisms 2: Ellerbic Boogaloo?
ME: Well, the thing about Ellerbisms, or at least what made it interesting is that it wasn't planned. I just happened to be doing diary comics and then I started a long-term relationship and that's what gave the project its the focus. It was all an accident. My friends really, really, really want me to start drawing my diary comics again but I'm certain the only reason is because they want to be in them; they want me to draw how funny they all are. If Ellerbisms was running now, it would just be me drawing Rick and Morty comics with some of my "hilarious friends" thrown in for good measure. It sounds absolutely dreadful, haha. I've always said if something was happening in my life where I feel I have something to actually say or I want to document it I'd maybe start doing them again, but diary comics are so restrictive; I want to draw a scene over four pages, not four panels.
Have you read any Michel Rabagliati books from Drawn and Quarterly? They're great; they're semi-autobiographical all funneled through Michel's protagonist called Paul. But they're all stories and events plucked from his life, so I'd like to do something like that. I think we're a good decade or two off from that ever being an idea that I'd consider doing. Diary comics always feel like a young person's game.
JF: Finally, congratulations on your continued work on the Rick and Morty comics. It's easy to see how your style lends itself to their artwork. How did you get involved, and please, do you know anything - ANYTHING at all - about season three of the TV series?
ME: Thanks! So, like I said, I did a book for Oni years ago and when they were putting the pitch to Adult Swim about doing Rick and Morty comics, they put my name and artwork forward to the network because, like you say, my style fits that world quite easily. Eventually I got the go-ahead and two years later here I am, still working on the book. I love it; it's been the best job I've ever had, I can draw comics for a living and it's turned my life around at a time where I was about to throw the drawing career in the bin. I can't thank Ari and James at Oni enough. I feel like I owe them everything.
I know absolutely nothing about season three, sorry. I'm as excited as everyone else to see what they've come up with.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
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