Seasoned, globe-trotting cartoonist Alex Hallatt has worked in longform narrative strips, single-panel gag cartoons, and a host of other forms, but she continues to forge into new territory. Her new ongoing GoComics series, Doodle Diary, is a freeform strip with focus. It's a formatless format that allows her to delve into her subconscious and deliver a variety of material. Since debuting on GC earlier this month, Hallat's explored her personal demons, with plans to cover ever-diverse topics in her hybrid pen, ink, and digital style.
We got in touch with the diary doodler to learn more. Dig into our interview with Alex Hallat, below.
GoComics: Doodle Diary is intended to be a bit of a freeform comic, which gives you some flexibility and room to respond to audience reaction. How did you decide on this format as opposed to a more narrative-based comic or another way of doing things?
Alex Hallatt: I’ve been drawing a syndicated comic, Arctic Circle, for ten years and though I love it, it has the constraints of regular characters and the same setting.
I love the feedback I get with my other GoComics cartoon panel, Human Cull, and think that audience reaction can be invaluable in helping you develop. This was true for me with Comics Sherpa (where Human Cull started), but, even as a professional cartoonist, I never stop learning. Plus I have so many ideas for comics and don’t make enough time to draw them. Doodle Diary gives me an opportunity to put those ideas in front of real comics fans and see what works, or what doesn’t. And the deadlines to upload comics motivate me to draw!
GC: Your current Doodle Diary focus has been drawing personifications of your personal demons. Did you start with a master list that you're working your way through? Or are you coming up with them one at a time?
AH: I have to confess that this was an idea I had a while ago, so I had a little backlog to help get me started. I’ve added to that, but I’ll be changing direction shortly. After My Personal Demons and Human Cull, it will be time to be more positive.
AH: Yes, I love pen and ink. I use a dip pen and indian ink for Arctic Circle, which is a real faff, so I’ve switched to a fountain pen (with Noodler’s ink) for most of the rest of my work. I like areas of flat colour and the computer is ideal for that.
GC: You're an avid traveler and have lived in many parts of the world. Have these experiences factored into your work and your perspective as an artist?
AH: Absolutely. Living in the US in my early 20s helped me appreciate the subtle differences in our senses of humour (I’m English. I also spell ‘humour’ properly). I’ve also drawn (in experience and in line) from my surroundings, and it has taken a long time for my style of writing and line to develop. When I lived in Lyttelton, New Zealand, I had a small exhibition of line drawings and observations of the town. When I was living in the UK, I did the same thing. This year, my observations and drawings of the Basque town of Hondarribia became a whole book. I’m returning to Lyttelton soon and want to use the changed perspective that nine years of travel has given me to inform my future drawings of the town. When I do, Doodle Diary readers will be among the first to see them.
GC: In addition to Doodle Diary, you've worked on a number of other comics spanning a variety of topics, genres, and formats. How have these projects informed your cartoonist evolution and versatility?
AH: There is nothing like a daily syndicated comic strip for helping you evolve as a cartoonist. My drawing has improved immensely and my writing too. Though Arctic Circle is very different in tone to Human Cull, they both have an underlying environmental theme! It would be hard for me to draw an environmentally negligent cartoon and I’ve turned down clients because of that. Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of fantastic clients like the CSIRO in Australia. I draw a full page comic for their kids’ science magazine and I often have to brush up on my science knowledge to make sure I’m getting things right. I don’t mind a challenge, but I see no point now in taking commissions unless I think the work will be fun.
GC: What kind of comics do you like to read when you're not working on yours?
AH: I love the traditional newspaper-type strips and panels: Wallace the Brave, Speed Bump, Rabbits Against Magic, Sherman’s Lagoon, Rhymes With Orange, Phoebe and Her Unicorn are some of the best, and I was so excited to see the return of Bloom County, which I used to read on my pre-internet paper round. But I also enjoy the webcomic-type that do more with the space: Sheldon, and Scenes From a Multiverse spring to mind.
GC: Cartoonists and other creatives have always had to contend with balancing documenting their experiences with simply living in the moment. How do you personally navigate being present in a moment vs. working to document a scene from your life?
AH: People who know I’m a cartoonist often say, "I bet this will be in a cartoon, won’t it?" For me, that’s rarely the case. Usually, my life’s experiences are filtered through my subconscious and only emerge later, in a changed form. When I am experiencing something and think, "This would make a great cartoon," it’s a gift. The exception is when I am actively searching for a cartoon idea and put myself in that headspace. That happened with Human Cull and My Personal Demons. I hope it will happen with the rest of my Doodle Diary. With help from my subconscious.
GC: What can readers expect to see in the coming weeks in Doodle Diary?
I’ve been working on Reasons to Be Cheerful for Inktober and will tidy them up for my Doodle Diary. We’ll see whether the audience enjoys one of my more optimistic comics (or whether I run out of reasons to be cheerful!).