An Interview with Kelcey Parker Ervick
We first met Kelcey while putting together a panel about comics and community for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference in 2020 and recently had the pleasure of catching up with her for a quick interview.
Describe your comics journey--how did you get into making comics?
Aside from my early love of the cartoon section of the newspaper, I was pretty sure I didn’t even like comics, which seemed populated primarily by hyper-muscular and masculine superheroes. I was a fiction writer and creative writing professor, and didn’t give comics much thought. But in my spare time I was experimenting with mixed-media art and journals, which I loved because they combined my two favorite things: visual art and words. Around this time, I discovered Maira Kalman’s Principles of Uncertainty, which pairs her vibrant illustrations with what reads to me like an associative, lyric essay written in her quirky and alive handwriting. “Wait,” I marveled. “You can do that? Write and draw and say funny and profound things all at once?”
Then I discovered Lynda Barry’s teaching Tumblr and her books about teaching comics (Syllabus, What It Is, etc.), which assured me that not only could you do that, but I could do it, and so could—and should—my students. The next thing I knew, my students and I were all making collages and comics of all sorts. I came across poetry comics by people like Bianca Stone and Mita Mahato, whose work reminded me more of the mixed-media art I loved than prose comics did. But then there’s Mira Jacob with her collage-comics and Kristen Radtke with her lyric essay comics! And I found people working in visual storytelling, a term I use for works that are less panel-based but that combine image and text in prose, and that’s the zone I’ve found works best for me. After Maira Kalman, some of my faves are Susanne Reece, Ariel Aberg-Riger, and Julie Delporte.
How did you develop your voice/unique comics style? A lot of your comics we have read are research-driven and autobiographical: how do you decide what to write about?
In 2018 I committed to making a drawing/painting every day, and I developed an art practice that I have continued ever since. By working through a painting every day, I developed my “visual voice” and learned so much about what I like in terms of media and color and style, and what I wanted to “say” visually. By sharing my daily work on Instagram I got feedback and found a community of artists and writers whose work inspires me (some of whom I mentioned above). I published illustrated essays about this experience of daily art-making in The Rumpus in 2018 and again in 2019.
As to the research and autobiography: Two of my published books are about historical women whose stories get pushed to the margins of history: Liliane Kaufmann, who, with her husband, commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater; and Božena Němcová, a Czech fairy tale writer and novelist beloved by Kafka and Kundera. I love the project of unearthing these stories and presenting these figures as complex characters.
Comics offered a new way for me to engage with historical material, which I put to use in my Suffragette City series, which ran at The Rumpus in late 2020 to celebrate the centennial of the 19th amendment and to interrogate the fraught (i.e. racist) history of the fight for women’s suffrage. I often read multiple books for each short comic. I don’t know what took me longer: researching the stories or drawing them!
Are you working on something now?
Yes, two exciting things!
My graphic memoir The Keeper is forthcoming from Avery Books/Penguin in 2022, which is the 50th anniversary of Title IX. The Keeper blends my story of being a goalkeeper in the early years of Title IX with lesser-known sports histories such as the popular Dick Kerr Ladies team in England that got banned in 1921 because soccer was deemed “quite unsuitable” for women. It’s also about how we tend to think of writers and athletes as different species but in fact there are so many similarities. Nabokov and Camus were also goalkeepers!
And as someone who came to comics late and accidentally, and someone who needs a resource for my classroom, I am thrilled to be editing an exciting educational anthology that seeks to be a bridge between creative writing and comics. The forthcoming Field Guide to Graphic Literature features craft essays on topics such as visual language, creating characters, and page/panel composition, along with full-color samples of comics by amazing contributors including: Mira Jacob, Ebony Flowers, Trinidad Escobar, Zeke Peña, Matt Madden, Bianca Stone, and Naoko Fujimoto. My co-editor is the wonderful Tom Hart, cartoonist and founder of the Sequential Artists Workshop, and the book is part of Rose Metal Press’s popular series of hybrid literature field guides.
Kelcey Ervick changed her name to Kelcey Parker a long time ago, and after two books and one divorce, it's a little hard to change back now. So she's going to roll with Kelcey Parker Ervick. She lives in Indiana, so she gets most of her life lessons from John (Cougar) Mellencamp, who went through a similarly weird name-morphosis.
Some would call Ervick her 'maiden name,' but she doesn't really like that term, and her grandfather is from Ervik, Norway and he shares a name with the Viking, Ragnvald of Ervik, so she prefers to call Ervick her 'Viking name.' (Read all about it in her essay, "My Viking Name," in the Colorado Review.)
daily(ish) ART at instagram: @kelcey.parker.ervick
occasional twitter: @kelceyervick
neglected blog: phd in creative writing