TIM RAYMOND teaches high school in South Korea. His fiction is forthcoming in Salt Hill, New South, and other places. He is the co-founder of the Problem House short story contest, and he can be found on Instagram at @timiswriting. His “i am sitting in a room” comic strip can be found on Webtoons.
ON POETRY AND DISAGREEMENT
I think I was interested in comics before I was interested in prose. I used to love webcomics when I was in high school and college. I was especially drawn to Dinosaur Comics and A Softer World, because those felt like comics one could make without any skill in drawing or painting. Those comics had particular constraints that, I felt, really opened up a creative space. ASF was my first experience with comics where I was like, wow, this is poetry, which really just means I saw it as something in which you could think through ideas and feelings. It was exploration—more open than your typical punchline-driven strip.
I started writing fiction when I was 23 or 24. Around that same time, I experimented with three-panel, image-less comics, which felt unsatisfying to me because ultimately they were narrative-driven. I thought about them like they were fiction, like they were a novel. Also, they weren’t about my life. Which, boring. I started drawing (in yellow notebooks, with pens) these comics about whatever my major anxieties at the time were (smoking too much, peeing all the time, etc.) and those felt really cathartic and useful. I got burned out, though, because drawing is hard, and I don’t really care to get better at it. It’s not relaxing for me to draw. It’s frustrating. There’s no meditative quality to it for me.
When I was 30, something clicked, and I started “i am sitting in a room,” a comic about my life with a clear constraint (three panels) and that involves no drawing. Perfect. I stole the title from my friend, who stole it from someone else.
What I think is, I’m writing something aimed at filling out and presenting a character, who is me. That makes it feel like fiction. I use white space in order to play with how the lines are felt or encountered. That makes it feel like poetry. But the panels, which come specifically from the world of comics, determine how I’m able to use the white space. I’ve got the gutters, to use McCloud’s term. I can’t see these as anything but comics.
People disagree sometimes. I’ll get messages from readers and viewers saying my comics aren’t comics. Saying my work doesn’t belong on the Webtoons page because I don’t have any images in the panels. I generally just say, “All right.”
ON ANXIETY AND HALF-SENTENCES
There’s so much anxiety in these comics. And I’ve found that people respond most to those—the ones about the depression, the anxiety, the therapy. I like when people comment or send me messages about how they feel the same. Occasionally, I’ll get messages asking if I’m okay. That kind of thing is sweet, but what I want to say about it is: that I’m channeling the obsession/hopelessness/whatever into an art-thing is a sign that I’m okay. Okay?
I text ideas to myself, so I’ve got this big list of images or feelings right in my phone. If I feel dissatisfied with the world at all, I’ll sit down, open up Paint and my “comic template” file, and try to fit one image or feeling into the panels. If it amounts to something, I’ll post the comic on my Webtoons page. If it amounts to nothing, I just delete it. It’s all very fast. In less than five minutes, I can start and finish the comic and see responses to it online. Very different from the timeline for fiction—weeks to write the story, weeks to submit, months waiting for responses from editors, months until the story comes out. And then it’s possible the story’s too long for people to read fully.
There’s also something to be said about a format that allows like a hundred words at most. A teacher of mine said once that you sometimes just have to say the thing. With the comics, I always just have to say the thing. I don’t have time to say anything but the thing. That’s good for me, though sometimes I still obsess-until-paralysis over half a sentence. Mostly good for me, then?
ON THE WAY OUT AND THROUGH
Shit is fucked up. Trump is here in Korea right now. There were rallies last weekend—both in support and in protest. It’s interesting actually, because a year ago today Trump was elected (on my birthday, gross). That morning I made a comic that said pretty simply to at least go and vote. That one felt weird, because it was more overtly political than any other comic I’d made. And yet, it didn’t lean in any political direction. Just go vote. On the surface, then, these comics don’t seem political. But every action and all art are political, just by their nature, so.
I had a conversation with my friend recently about happy and sad endings, and I felt convinced that artists have a responsibility at this point to steer toward happy endings. That doesn’t mean we all need to make everything perfect. It means imagine a complicated, troubled situation, and end by magnifying the way out or through that situation. I don’t really feel we have space for strictly unhappy endings. Too much is being destroyed in the real life. You won’t find my comics on The Nib, but they are committed to honesty and reaching-out-to-others. They’re trying to discover the way out and through.
When I taught elementary school in Uijeongbu, I asked my students once to make comics. One of the third-grade girls did a three-panel comic about love that was just two people talking. And the conversation was: “Are you crazy?” / “Yes.” / “Me too.” I love that. That inspires me.
Want to be considered for future installments of The New Comics? Send your work to Comics Curator Keith McCleary via the Entropy submissions page.