Megan Kelso didn’t always want to be a cartoonist, but she always wanted to be an artist.
She started college with the dream of becoming a photographer. However, she quickly learned that was not her path.
“I grew up loving to draw and write stories,” says Kelso. “But I didn’t make comics as a kid.”
Join Megan Kelso at Third Place Books Ravenna (6504 20th Ave NE) on Tuesday, November 15th at 7 pm as she reads from her newest book Who Will Make the Pancakes: Five Stories. The event is free with advanced registration.
Discovering her path
A college boyfriend recognized her talent and lobbied hard for her to consider becoming a professional comic maker. At first he slipped Superhero comics in front of her by way of inspiration. None of them sparked Kelso. But eventually, he introduced her to Julie Doucet’s Dirty Plotte comic series.
“It blew my mind.” says Kelso. Doucet’s masterpiece was full of strange, fascinating and radical concepts, including coffee pots talking to main characters.
“That was really a turning point for me,” says Kelso. She dipped her toe into the possibility of a life in comics. By age 22, her career was firmly set in that direction.
“It was quite an extraordinary thing to discover,” says Kelso.
Published to acclaim
Kelso’s minicomic Girlhero won a Xeric Foundation grant in 1993 and from there she went on to publish numerous other highly regarded projects. The Squirrel Mother, a book of personal and semi-autobiographical graphic short stories was released in 2006.In 2007, Kelso published a weekly comic strip in The New York Times Magazine titled “Watergate Sue.” Artichoke Tales, a long form graphic novel published in 2010.
In 2019, Kelso, a Seattle native who grew up on Capitol Hill, was selected for a public art commission for Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle. Her “Crow Commute” is a 21-panel mural of etched stainless steel panels which stretches 85 feet and spans Seattle history from 1969 to today.
Just released:Who Will Make the Pancakes
Kelso’s newest book, Who Will Make the Pancakes: Five Stories, was 15 years in the making and hit bookstore shelves November 1.
Although much of Kelso’s work is pulled from her personal experience, the stories in this new collection are fictional and are held together by themes of motherhood, family and love.
Motherhood is explored from all angles and in different styles. “Watergate Sue” (returned here from the New York Magazine series) details a mother’s fixation on the Watergate saga which allows her to neatly sidestep her feelings about being pregnant for a second time.
A collection of styles
The collection includes a whimsical piece about an army of cat servants who are initially helpful to a family, but then nearly cause the family’s downfall. Another is the story of a young teen who uses her “magic lasso” to learn truths about her friends from birds and chipmunks. “The Egg Room” is the story of a woman reviewing the failures of her life after an encounter with a handsome boy at a grocery store and, finally, “Korin Voss” is a story about a single mother in the 1940s.
“’Korin Voss’ is my favorite,” says Kelso. “It’s the longest and most evolved in a strange and interesting way.” It’s also loosely based on Kelso’s grandmother. “Korin Voss,” Kelso says, began as a one-page comic but didn’t stay there.
“I did a 10-page short story and then I realized there was still more there.”
Kelso experimented with different ways of working as she crafted these latest stories. For example, “Watergate Sue” was drawn on the computer. Other stories were drawn using paper and pencil. Each story in this collection is a distinctly different visual approach from clean retro cartoons to subtle watercolors to colored pencil drawings.
Passing comment becomes a title
The title came from a comment Kelso heard on the radio. While she doesn’t remember the exact context, the comment stuck with her.
“Someone has to be at the center of the family and hold it all together,” says Kelso. “It was said in passing but it stuck with me. That is the question at the heart of the question. It is the perfect metaphor for family making.”
A day in the artist’s life
Like many artists, Kelso does not have a typical day. Her work revolves around where she is in the process of making comics. Some days she heads to the library to focus on roughing in a story, putting the ideas down and drawing the first panels.
“It is the hardest part and takes an incredible amount of concentration,” says Kelso. Other days, she stays at home and clears off the dining room table to pencil on tracing paper or ink in her stories while listening to music and podcasts. Kelso does all of this while also taking care of her family and house in South Seattle.
Kelso has one daughter and while their relationship creeps into her work, she tries to keep them separate.
“She is entitled to her own childhood,” says Kelso. Kelso’s childhood, though, is open for exploration.
An artist’s childhood: a mine of ideas
“I have mined my own childhood over and over,” says Kelso. “Weirdly, I don’t feel done. I never get tired of trying to think back to my childhood. It is a tiny fraction of your life but is such a powerful experience.”
Kelso advises parents to do what hers did in order to grow children’s creativity:
Set the stage for creativity
Her own parents always had art supplies and scrap paper around for impromptu artmaking. They never made a big deal out of it. Art was just part of the household supplies and Kelso and her sister were encouraged to do projects on the dining room table.
“Our projects were respected and were allowed to take up space in the house,” says Kelso.
Kelso emphasizes keeping an even keel for kids and not making a big deal out of the results of their efforts or the resulting mess when kids are creating masterpieces. Art is art. Eventually, a messy room gets pulled back together.
“I think that is harder than it sounds for parents, but I do think it is important,” says Kelso.
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