Interview with Tommi Parrish
Attributing labels to things is an internal cataloguing process that allows us to better navigate our surrounding world. This cataloguing and mapping extends to ourselves and our social groups. General feelings of alienation can lead us towards the need for a sense of belonging, in finding a fit, and a meaning for our lives. For me, and a lot of creative types, this has naturally been art.
Tommi Parrish has been an artist whose work I both admire and whose outlook and personal advice I have found to be grounding and true. I am absolutely thrilled and honored to able to work with them.
I love this interview they did with Kim Jooha and I hope you do too. <3
Tommi Interview | Perfect Hair
What’s Perfect Hair about?
Why the title “Perfect Hair”?
There’s something about how frivolous it is that I find really funny, especially considering most of the stuff I make is so dark. There was this huge billboard near my old house that had an image of this glamorous person having an amazing time with some brand of shampoo and in huge letters it yelled ‘PERFECT HAIR?!’ I always loved that billboard, especially when everything was feeling all fucked up.
Why are people’s bodies so big and why do people have no facial features?
Well, drawing is really hard, I've always really loved it but never really been all that good at it. I guess over the years the ways that I'm crappy at drawing have just become my ‘style’. Bodies are hard but faces are the worst, I would get so frustrated that I gradually just stopped drawing them all together. Being a cartoonist has its drawbacks but something that I love desperately about it is that you really can do whatever you want, you are your own boss. Everyone experiences time and memory differently so why wouldn't everyone approach the creating of characters and narrative differently? If I feel like drawing noodle bodies with circular heads and no expressions then that’s exactly what I'm going to do. If I feel like representing time in a way that’s wacky and fractured then I'm going to do that too.
There are a few parallel narratives in the book. How did you come up with each story? Did you develop them together? Were they separate works? Or did you think about the theme first and develop the whole narrative?
The book was originally just going to be one big story about the sex worker and her client but I couldn't focus on the writing and spent months and months planning and panicking about how I hadn't started until I eventually changed my mind. I guess some cartoonists need one long narrative to stay excited throughout the making process and others can’t stand it.
One of the projects I'm in the middle of is a longer, singular story (70/80 is pages) and I’m working out tricks to stay invested. One of my tricks is deciding what I want to get better at, like, sunsets or heavy lighting or certain interiors and focusing heavily on that for a whole scene. A few months ago I got obsessed with learning to paint the colour of things at sunset, how everything has this beautiful pinky glow to it. For almost 7 pages my whole life was learning how to paint that and I loved it. Another one was this brutal bar scene, bars often have this dark red glow to them, kind of a mixture of purple and ochre and the lighting is often low and indirect. That scene fucked me up for ages, I couldn't work out how to do it. You can’t really just add black to a colour when you want it to be darker because then the paint just turns to this dull mud colour. I wasn't super happy with the result but the learning process was fun.
You employ a lot of juxtaposition / contrast / dialectics between pages. One page is abstract drawing, and then the next page is very painterly. One thing I love about Perfect Hair is its variety of styles. They work together to make rhythms within the narrative and emphasize emotion. How did you design them? Like, did you make thumbnails and follow that, or just work page by page?
I’m glad it makes a coherent narrative. l change styles constantly mostly because I get restless, I try to let the tone of the story decide the drawing, different stories just require different approaches.
Is Perfect Hair your first published comic? What other comics have you made beside Perfect Hair?
Australia’s pretty isolated and far away from everything and so I'm relatively new to the North American comics scene. I made a longer book with some people in Melbourne called Casual Network Press a few years ago and earlier this year I released a mini with Still Life. I’ve had shorter things in a bunch of magazines and anthologies, had a lot of shows and self published a heaps but PH is my first proper book with a spine.
Comics / Current Affairs
Your mini comics are printed so well and have a handmade quality. Why? Doesn’t that make less money?
I’m not really sure, I mean, I've made rent with mini’s before but the initial investment is fucking terrifying, like, cold sweat, ‘if I don’t make this back I honestly don’t know what I'm going to do’ kind of terrifying…but I'm always broke or about to be broke and I always somehow work it out, so… I guess it seems worth it?
Also, it’s stupid to pour all this time and energy into making a comic that’s exactly what you want it to be and then to suddenly get lazy when the time comes to print it. if you make a beautiful object with compelling content people will want it, book design is so much fun and there are so many different ways to bind and print why not embrace it as just another aspect of your practice?
You are from Melbourne, Australia. For those unfamiliar with the comics scene in Australia, a few popular comic artists would be Dylan Horrocks, Simon Hanselmann, & HTMLflowers. What was it like to be part of that scene?
I moved countries 5 months ago and this week I started to miss it. I hung out and talked shop and drew with my good buddy Marc Pearson a lot who just started Glom press with Michael Hawkins. Before Lee Lai moved to Canada we’d draw together a few days a week and the last few months before I left I was hanging and drawing with the cartoonist Chris Gooch a bunch who’s a sweetie pie, Sam Wallman is a political cartoonist friend who organises a lot of queer community based books and exhibitions and is straight up killing it right now. Simon and Grant lived down the road from me and we’d draw and hangout and drink. And there’s Merv Heers who’s making great stuff and Sydney based Nicky Minus and Ben Juers and Baily Sharp.
So, the scene was small but supportive and always slowly growing. We’ve all known each other for years and go through periods of meeting up as a group and eating food and drawing together.
You recently moved to Montreal. Why Montreal? Why not Toronto? (LOL)
The scene in Australia is real nice but I was always restless and trying to get away. I've tried a bunch of times to move away over the years but I've always been too broke and too much of a mess to actually do all the forms necessary to make such a big move stick.
Most of the artists I’m excited about live somewhere in North America and basically all of the publishers who print in English. I found myself leaving Melbourne as often as I could and feeling frustrated and suffocated when I had to be stationary. I was desperate to live in a city that wasn't so familiar and so isolated from the rest of the world, a year or so ago I asked a friend if I should leave and she read my tarot and it said yes. That was all I needed, I spent a few miserable months scraping money together and applying for Visas and moved to Canada. The choice to move to Montreal was fairly arbitrary, a close friend Lee Lai lives here so not needing to start totally from scratch was a big plus also I’d been here once before for a few weeks and loved it (I have so many friends who live in Toronto but it’s just way too expensive there for me to make it work.)
How’s Montreal? Would you recommend Montreal to fellow altcomics artists?
1) Montreal rent is so cheap it means I can continue to just draw with all my time and have a wayyyyyy higher standard of living.
2) Montreal has an amazing activist history and is a city that is seemingly exclusively occupied by very sweet gay punks.
3) Every time I come here I fall in love with someone, and I assume that would be the same for everyone.
4) Sadly there is a frustrating lack of cartoonists that live here, there’s JG, Keith Jones, Connor Willumsen, Lee Lai, me and we might get Brie Moreno soon. I know there’s a bunch more Drawn and Quarterly cartoonists that I haven't met yet.
Did you read comics when you were young?
Hmmm not really, when I was a kid I remember tracing X-Men comics that my mum confiscated from her students but they always seemed way too boring and violent to bother actually reading.
How did you start making comics?
It was gradual, illustration had started to feel unsatisfying and hollow and the gallery world is vicious, expensive and full of callous fuckheads. So I guess comics just kind of, I dunno, made sense? For years my primary practice was painting and sculpture, while my drawings had just naturally turned into these clunky abstract comics that I was making in secret. I was so so embarrassed of them, god. since I was a pre-teen I had secret sketchbooks that I drew and wrote in constantly, finally in my early 20’s I returned to Melbourne after a year or so of traveling and I decided I was going to force myself to show people what I was making, regardless of how horrible it felt. Anyway, when I was 23 I did a residency in Argentina where I made a longer comic and I finally accepted that comics where where I want to be.
Favourite comics artist? comics?
Olivier Schrauwen Ben Passmore The weekly anthology XL Annual Lale Westvind Lala Albert Anna Haifisch
Favourite movie, novel, or other arts?
I’m really into Lydia Lunch right now
So far in 2017 i’m working with a few anthologies that I'm excited about also and i have mini’s coming out with ley lines and perfectly acceptable press, i have a compilation book coming out with 2dcloud and a book of all new content being released by Fantagraphics. also early next year i’m traveling back to Australia for a few weeks to deliver some writing workshops to highschool kids.
Thank you for reading and thank you Tommi & Kim! Tomorrow we'll have an interview with Jake Terrell. See you then!