For someone who illustrates the personifications of planets, Unearthed Comics creator Sara Zimmerman is quite grounded. Her Mother Earth is very much a mother, her Sun has a daughter and her Moon... well it hasn't mooned anyone yet, but with her sense of humor it may only be a matter of time.
And that's what fans love about Zimmerman's comics -- they harness the power of cartooning to supersize the core of humankind's shared experience with everything from childcare to caffeine. Read on for the artist's take on how she endeavors to make Unearthed Comics work beneath, on top of, and above the surface.
GC: I read that you started Unearthed Comics to sort of channel and spread positivity (after experiencing a rough patch). Is that still part of your mission statement? What kind of effect has that had on you as a person and as a creator?
SZ: Yes! In between the humor, inspired thought and motivational images, the internet definitely has some pockets of negativity. Though I can also get sucked into that negativity sometimes, I try to use my comics as a means to either transform that negativity into something funny or move it into something more empowering. This process is sometimes difficult. Yet, the act of practicing making good out of bad is great for my own life. I think that if I can change bad into good with my comics, then I am creating a great place to practice that success, which in turn gives me courage to apply that same process when life presents me with other challenges.
GC: You've been drawing Unearthed Comics for five-ish years now. How has your approach to physically drawing the comic evolved over time?
SZ: I still use pen and paper for my drawings, scanning them in and then working them in Photoshop and Illustrator. Yet, my overall look and feel of the characters has rounded out since I first started. I had a split-faced theme I used in my human characters at the beginning, as a means to symbolize the true self and false self coming together. That was way too ambiguous for many viewers who weren’t familiar with cubism or Picasso. I ditched that approach, as well as some older fonts and some other small details. I still create a stylistically flat comic to keep things simple, but have expanded my color palette and softened the overall backgrounds.
GC: The personification of planets, stars and other celestial bodies in Unearthed Comics lends itself to all kinds of gags and commentary. Have you ever found the premise limiting (or maybe too free) when you have a specific idea? How do you address these kinds of creative challenges?
SZ: Though I absolutely love having my Earth, Moon and Sun characters, I do find it limiting in terms of touching on all types of trials and tribulations humans experience in a terrestrial setting. I deal with this by:
• expanding my genres and characters to have some human characters for my parenting, business/tech comics, and self-help comics
• personifying mountains, animals, and trees for my environmental, nature and science comics.
I often come back to my curator, Marilyn Earth, and science-like comics. Yet, I really like the freedom of touching on things that are important to me. It’s a lot to juggle, but my fans are accustomed to me bouncing around.
GC: Which of your characters do you most identify with? Or does it vary from day-to-day?
SZ: I relate to many parts of many of my characters based on what mood I am in. Though, if I have to choose one, I mainly relate to the human female character who is trying to be a good mother while being very responsible, but tries to be playful and yet accidentally messes up. Luckily, my daughter likes that character, too.
CG: Do you have an internal "voice cast" for your characters? If so, who do you hear when you write them?
SZ: I had a malamute named Dakota who was such a rascal! He played like he was dumb, but he was such a smart dog, always manipulating the situation to either escape or find food no matter what the consequence was. My husband and I have used a goofy voice to vocalize what we imagined his thoughts were. I often find myself thinking in that voice when one of my narcissistic mountains or trees or oceans intends to have fun but unintentionally does something damaging to someone else.
CG: Comic fans are a passionate lot. Given Unearthed Comics' astronomy bent, do you ever get funny comments about how/why certain character behaviors muddle with physics?
SZ: Yes! It used to make me giggle when people would get so upset that the ratio to the Earth and Moon was incorrect, or if the Earth was speaking too close to a black hole, etc. I used to respond with something like “You’re right, but at least I got her outfit correct.” Now, I just get a little sad thinking that these people are having such a tough time in their life that they can’t just get past how non-scientifically-correct things are and just enjoy a laugh. So now I just let it go or let my other fans respond for me. (And then really hope that a little bit of joy enters their life. Life is too short to not enjoy it!).
CG: Earth can frequently be seen drinking coffee in Unearthed Comics. What's your caffeine intake like these days?
SZ: Uhhh… well, it’s more than I would like to report (mainly because my best friend, who is also my acupuncturist, is probably going to read this and she recommends I cut back). But, my husband is an amazing barista and has our espresso machine dialed so it’s difficult for me NOT to share more than 2-3 lattes a day with him. It’s my main vice and makes me incredibly productive, so I’m okay with it.
GC: In addition to comics, you and your family are into the outdoors. Assuming you could survive extra-planetary conditions, which character from Unearthed Comics' surface do you wish you could try climbing/snowboarding/etc. on?
SZ: If there were no real physical consequences, I’d probably mountain bike Saturn’s rings, surf some celestial wave, and climb the Asteroid belt.