After raising 140% of her initial goal on Kickstarter, New York artist Katari Sporrong took some time to answer our questions about her new comic SPEAK UP. Sporrong’s unique comic takes a look at the life of David Wojnarowicz, and takes a look at the reality of being a starving artist in New York City.
AP2HYC: What is SPEAK UP and who is David Wojnarowicz?
Katari Sporrong: David Wojnarowicz was a big-name New York artist in the 80s. He was an artist in many media: photography, performance, painting, graffiti… And he was a writer. He died of AIDS in 1992, aged 37. In his last couple of years, the gallery that represented him was PPOW in New York. A young man who 16 years later would be my professor at Bennington College worked at PPOW in those last years of Wojnarowicz’s life. Robert Ransick was my professor and mentor at Bennington College. In my senior year, he recommended Wojnarowicz’s memoir, Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration. I’ve now read it 3+ times.
SPEAK UP is the result of that. SPEAK UP is about the struggles that any artist faces in getting out what they really need to say in their work, what they really believe in. This is represented in comparisons between my life and David Wojnarowicz’s. It’s also about the outside efforts that are made to censor artists, as shown by the legal battles fought over David Wojnarowicz’s work both before and after his death. SPEAK UP is about getting past all the internal and external barriers that stop so many artists from making sincere work.
AP2HYC: How did you get into comics?
Sporrong: My dad’s a cartoonist -mostly local stuff but he’s also been a semi-regular in Funny Times for the last 20 years (A Lunar Eclipse by David Sporrong)- so I grew up surrounded by Calvin & Hobbes, Far Side, Peanuts and loads of other comic strips. It took until high school for me to get into comics in book form. I borrowed from friends and friends’ parents everything I could get my hands on: Batman single issues from the 70s and 80s, Essential Spiderman, Ultimate Spiderman, Sin City, Pineapple Man, 30 cent tattered Aquaman/Superman cross-overs… After a while I got tired of all the catching up I had to do on X-Men to keep up with conversations and I started digging into graphic novels more: Watchmen, Black Hole, Sandman, Maus and eventually hundreds more.
Comics feel limitless to me; a known that is still able to surprise me.
Sporrong: That’s hard to say. There were a lot of factors involved. There was a show coming up in Chicago that I wanted to have a book for, but more than that, I’d been toying with the idea of making a comic out of David Wojnarowicz’s story or writings for about a year. It took reading Cynthia Carr’s amazing book, Fire in the Belly, and the beautiful comic, 7 Miles a Second, written by David Wojnarowicz, with art by Marguerite Van Cook and James Romberger to really work out were my part in this story was. The show in Chicago just gave me a deadline to get it out there.
AP2HYC: Why did you decide to tell David Wojnarowicz’s story this way, and why do you believe it’s such an important story to tell?
Sporrong: It was a gradual decision. The more I re-read Close to the Knives, the more I wanted to share David’s writing and story. I wanted to lend the book to everyone I knew, but it’s not an easy read. Once I got to know more objectively about David’s life from Carr’s Fire in the Belly and I finally got my long pre-ordered copy of the reprinted 7 Miles a Second, I knew I had to do more than illustrate David’s writing. David had already done that too well with two extremely talented artists.
So what could I do but show why David’s story matters? And how could I show that without making it about why it matters to me?
But why is it so important to tell? Because I think we need continual reminders that you don’t have to be an artist to struggle to overcome your fears of self-expression. Self-censorship can be as caustic as external censorship. It’s easy to see the battles fought for freedom of speech; it’s harder to see what it takes to speak up in the first place.
AP2HYC: Why did you decide to use Kickstarter to fund your project? How did the campaign go?
Sporrong: I used Kickstarter because I was familiar with it as a crowd-funding platform. Using Kickstarter helped globalize, publicize and give credibility to my project. I don’t just want to get this comic printed, I want it to be accessible to as many people as possible.
The campaign went really well. I was fully-funded in just over two weeks of the project being up. With the extra funds, I’m able to print 300 copies rather than my low-figure 200, which means I’ll be able to send it and shop it around to a lot more stores and publishers.
The best part was the range of people who donated. My boyfriend’s family helped a lot, but mostly it was complete strangers! I had someone send me a message from Australia, another from Canada, wondering if I needed more funds to ship a comic to them.
You know, you finish writing, drawing, editing, and even finish a very small print run: you think you’ve finished something. It’s so amazing to have a project that keeps growing and expanding like this. It’s very exciting.