Dad Interview with Micah Liesenfeld
Name: Micah Liesenfeld
Comics: Ninja Guy, Feldspar, Snow World, Space Car Junkie
QRD – How old were you when you first realized you wanted to be a cartoonist?
Micah – I was about 11 years old. I had read comics in the paper many years before this, but I discovered actual comic books at a grocery store the summer of 1989. Flipping through them, I had a hard time finding one I liked (finally settling on a comic about baseball called The Little Red Birds by Goodex Comics). I told my mom I was disappointed that everything else seemed to be about fighting. “Well, why don’t you make your own?” Was her response. I started drawing comics that summer. By 1990, I had made almost 80 comics.
QRD – What are a few highlights of your cartooning career?
Micah – I was the cartoonist for my school papers from middle school until the end of high school; but once in college, I didn’t really pursue it as a career. I had discovered the small press & the DIY movement through Factsheet 5 my senior year in high school & I pretty much just liked that I could publish myself from then on. The people I met through the mail included folks like Billy McKay, Delaine Derry Green, Carrie McNinch, Steve Willis & a slew of others. It was like having pen pals on steroids! We traded comics, mix tapes, & ephemera. We doodled on our letters & envelopes. It was a simple satisfaction just to finally sit down with my long arm stapler & get that first copy of something I had been working on pressed & into my hands. The reviews of my stuff in things like A Readers Guide to the Underground Press were mediocre at best, but I was satisfied just to have a few people that liked to trade & share a joke or a story with.
QRD – At what age did you decide you wanted to become a father?
Micah – That came much later. My father was an abusive alcoholic & it was a relief to finally be away from him. After college I pretty much had to find out who I was. I backpacked around Europe, tried various things, found good mentors, & slowly started to become someone I was proud to be. I was single for many years, not dating or anything other than just learning who I was. I did an art project where I drew a picture of a small figure walking somewhere every day for 366 days (a leap year), & I called the project Trudger (the set can be viewed here: https://flic.kr/s/aHsiTWGJjz ). It was basically me walking through life. At some point I thought, “This singular existence needs to be joined up with someone!” & so I started building my life around the idea that I would be sharing it. I bought a house. I then really started visioning myself walking down the stairs of that house someday to the sound of little voices in the living room. I now have two children (ages 5 & 2) & that vision I had actually happens in this very same house.
QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your family has had on your career?
Micah – The experience of becoming a father & having a family is breathtaking. Before when I was single, I had maybe a galaxy full of ideas to pull from for my art & now I have a multi-verse. Much of it is still untapped. Life is being lived. Art is being created in a hit-&-run mode right now. About a week ago, I painted every day for a full week, but the sessions never lasted more than a minute. In some cases, it took me longer to clean the brush than it did to actually make the mark on the canvas.
QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your career has had on your family?
Micah – We influence each other. There are things I’m into that I probably wouldn’t be interested in before I met my wife. My wife recently started painting & we enjoy collecting art together as well. My kids get in on the action & I love watching my son paint or create robot costumes out of his sister’s diaper boxes. We’ve recently started a project, my wife, her sister, & I, to have a space where we offer bath & body products, jewelry, & art. Much of our profit goes towards funding research for a cure for Ataxia Telangiectasia, a rare genetic disease that our daughter has. It’s so rare that only about 500 kids in the U.S. have it & we really see a lot of potential for a cure to be found in the near future through the research being funded by the A-T Children’s Project. Without that cure, kids like her slowly lose their quality of life & usually don’t live past their 20s.
QRD – Have your children effected the comics you make &/or read?
Micah – Not really because I’ve always been drawn towards comics that are for both kids & adults. I read comics with my 5 year old son at bedtime sometimes. It’s usually some throwback to the 80’s like Planet Terry from Star Comics or Speed Racer from Now Comics. We both really dig Popeye. He was bored to tears by a Don Rosa Uncle Scrooge comic I read him once. Maybe he’ll be ready for the highbrow stuff like that when he’s 6.
QRD – Have you had problems with the lack of steady money from an artistic career providing the security you feel necessary in your household?
Micah – No because I don’t rely on it. I made a conscious decision after completing my art degree to not make money doing art. I do it for the same reason my grandmother made quilts with her sisters. For the pleasure of doing it, & for the comradery of company, & the snacks. There should always be snacks when artists get together to make art (& if there aren’t, then you’re in the wrong group!).
QRD – Given the limitations a family has on going on the convention circuit, would you have showed more earlier in life if you’d known?
Micah – Being known is low on my priority list. It used to be pretty high when I was younger & it really got in the way of enjoying the process. Now, I just enjoy the process of a story that I can pace out by panel & page. I enjoy setting the beat & knowing a friend is going to laugh when they turn the page. I spent 3 years making my last comic & I think maybe 5 people have seen it so far? I’m happy with that. There is a local small press convention in St. Louis that I’ve tabled at in recent years & will probably do so again this year (https://www.stlouissmallpressexpo.com/). I see people at that convention that are trying to make it, & I’m happy for them, but sad for the ones that are desperate to make it. Even though I’ve tabled, I just go to trade with other creators. Some people do, but a lot of the newer ones seem puzzled by this gesture. But they’ve got their journey just like I’ve got mine. I’ve discovered some pretty great work by going. Dimitri Jackson of Blackwax Boulevard is one. Another was Alex Nall.
QRD – Do you think being a father or a cartoonist has a greater impact on your community?
Micah – Being a father, definitely. I’ve influenced a couple of lives that are going to go on & have an impact in some way, shape, or form to this planet. How engaged I am with them & how deeply I care about our time together will have a lasting impact on them & others that they go on to influence. It’s my legacy. Being a cartoonist influences others to create & I love doing that. It is something that I find very satisfying when after I’ve given someone a comic, I find out that they are starting to make their own? That’s my goal with comics…. To get everyone doing it until it’s nothing but a pass time that people do instead of watching TV.
QRD – Would you rather see your children eventually become cartoonists or parents?
Micah – I have no set agenda for these two. They are going to surprise me & I am really looking forward to seeing what they grow up to do. God willing, my daughter will have the opportunity to grow up. But I don’t try to think about that too much. We are living in the moment. Carpe diem.
QRD – Both family & comics seem like things that will take up as much of your time as you’re willing to put in. How do you end up dividing your time?
Micah – When on a business trip for my day job, I usually pack some drawing supplies & paper. I have gotten issues of Ninja Guy completed in various hotels around the country. Otherwise, I wait for that late night or early morning when the kids are asleep & try to do just a little bit of something. I don’t watch much TV & I’m not into sports. When people ask me, “How do you find the time?” I just tell them that I make time for what really matters. I know that if I was told I had 30 days to live, I’d spend those 30 days living life with my family, & when they went to sleep at night, I’d try to bang out a last joke or two (or maybe even something meaningful).
QRD – What do your kids think of your comics?
Micah – My son did finally notice that I did comics the other day. He saw a comic that I had created where I had illustrated a story a 9 year old had given to me (my best friend’s son). My son read the comic & his response was, “Cool….” That made me happy. I’m cool for a nanosecond in his life right now. I also like to make really absurd comics & pack them in his school lunches sometimes. I did one for him called Mr. Pickle. He liked the surprise, but I think he would have preferred candy.
QRD – Do you think you could ever do a comic project with your children?
Micah – Oh yes, definitely. I’ve collaborated with others on comics quite a bit both young & old, & I’m really good at getting people to do comics that have never done them before. Ninja Guy actually started out as a “game” that I created for that purpose. It was a binder filled with blank panels that I would take with me to parties & gatherings. I would draw a panel with Ninja Guy doing something & pass it to someone else in the room to do the next panel. The binder would get passed around & around the room. I have volumes & volumes of really absurd Ninja Guy comics written & illustrated by lots & lots of people.
QRD – Any words of advice to young people?
Micah – Before I give any advice out to young people, I like to say that I really like what the kids are doing in the small press scene these days. There is some really great work going on right now & it’s a really neat scene to walk around & experience. Some of my favorites are from folks like Leda Zawacki, Amy Wibowo, & the folks doing The Moon Zine. So on to what I’ve learned from both young & old comix makers: You don’t have to be great at drawing to make a great comic book. Some of the funniest comics I’ve read are scratched out awkwardly. Some really emotionally moving comics are done by people who are better writers than illustrators. Just sit down & see if you enjoy making books. If you do, then it doesn’t matter if it’s going to get noticed or go viral or get you a job. Just enjoy it. Life is too short to be worrying about who is following or liking you. Explore the world, find yourself, & be at peace in your own skin.
QRD – Anything else?
Micah – We have a website for our bath, body, jewelry & art project that I mentioned (art work is not yet loaded, but will be soon!). It’s https://www.gnaturale.com/ The proceeds go to benefit kids with A-T. To learn more about this disease, you can visit the A-T Children’s Project’s website https://www.atcp.org/