Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the release of your indie comics zine, Pep Talks for Broke(n) People! For those who may be unfamiliar with the project, what can you tell us about its premise?
Caits Meissner: Thank you so much for having me, Barbra! This zine is a compilation of illustrated “pep talks”—tender dialogues between loved ones (and sometimes within my own head) that provide the daily cheerleading needed to survive this thing called being human (which seems to become more and more difficult by the day in the current pandemic era). The writing and drawing is accessible, open-hearted, and—a friend gave me this language when I worried the project was too cute—tender. I like to think the book is an imperfect labor of love, and in its pages, I hope, readers find a place to feel a bit more at ease with their own imperfection.
BD: What was the inspiration behind this 80-page zine, and what can you tell us about your creative process in bringing the zine to life?
CM: Truly, myself at fifteen.
Last year, I began to post images on Instagram of the local library copy machine-propelled zines I made in high school—now 20 years ago!—under the tag #tbtbabycaits. These painstakingly crafted booklets of art and writing were my lifeline, and my identity was wrapped up in their creation, along with the involved process trading them on the early Internet. I laugh thinking of my hometown postal worker marveling at my multicolored harvest of cut-n’-paste mail. I belonged to a disparate and widespread underground of rogue creators who learned the ethics, practice, and methods of our chosen form through word of mouth and trial-by-fire. There was a D.I.Y. energy that the social media-propelled Internet has both, paradoxically, made more possible, and in many ways, blunted. This defiant, punk, raw creative engagement took sticky fingers and glue and guts to birth into the hands of other young weirdos. And part of the fun of finding that community was all in the search—like digging out a gem of a record in your friend’s grandpa’s basement. It wasn’t easy to come by, therefore, it was instantly cherished.
As I stumbled through a recent bout of depression, I desired to find my way towards that same world-crumbling process, where I was sucked into the blissed-out portal and rhythm of my own creative action, sifting through images and writing on my bedroom floor, allowing reality to fall away. I honestly had not drawn much in years, but found it to be a remedy, the only place I could find a sense of comfort. No deep sense of ambition is attached to my comix/drawings, not the same way I feel with my poetry—which somehow became inherently, and frustratingly hooked to the idea of being seen and valued by the literary scene, which is a great tangled mess of insecurity and ego and talent—and that allowed me to find a pure relief in the creative process. I think that energy translates to the pages of the project, and I hope keeps propelling me towards what feels welcoming, honest, and true.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Pep Talks for Broke(n) People will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that these stories were important for you to bring to life?
CM: I write in the zine’s intro that I believe (at base level, this is surely an oversimplification) so much of the world’s violence is staked in a feeling of not belonging. In these pages, I invite the reader to feel as if they belong instantly in the pages, by the simple virtue of arriving. Mostly, I just want people to feel that there is some measure of kindness to be found in the text, and in that open beauty, a kind of relief might be found. A sweetness. An unfolding joy.
BD: Creating indie comics involves a lot of hard work, time, and dedication that is often hidden behind the scenes. After working and sharing so much of yourself in this project, what can you tell us about your experience in finally being able to share it with readers?
CM: I think that there is an undue expectation and burden we often heap on ourselves as creators to sell each object we make, when so much of the really deep joy and satisfaction is to be found in the journey. It becomes almost cliche to say so, because it’s a fact we’re all aware of, but can become mixed up in the bombardment of hyper-capitalist messaging about where our worth arrives from—a series of deeply ingrained ideas that are being profoundly challenged by COVID-19. And yes, the project was a lot of work. And I don’t want my message to be misconstrued: I really believe we must figure out how to pay artists!
But for this particular project, for myself, I felt so resistant to normal routes of sale. (It must be mentioned that my full-time job afforded me the luxury to not rely on its sale, as well.) I didn’t want to be attached to pushing a product so much as celebrating a vibe. And so, I decided to use it as a remedy, the same way drawing aided my healing from depression, the zine and the way I chose to launch it into the world was a way to cope with the grief of losing my mom in August 2019. I decided to expand the zine release to include a participatory art show, because I needed to bring joy around me while the pain was fresh and wet. (It still is.)
The show included a giant coloring wall made of a comic called “The Day We Turned Into Rainbows” that children and adults alike filled in with markers, standing shoulder to shoulder. Clouds made from recycled material strung from the ceiling, plastic pearls raining down over paper clouds with crowd-sourced “pep talks for rainy days.” A human-sized big foot walked off the page of the zine and onto the wall, backed by a drop of sequined cloth and strewn with upcycled fake flowers and leaves. To be soaked in a room packed with color, many children, friends, family, and poems was a dream come true: like a giant hug. I aimed to create a space of “supreme belonging” at this art show/zine release and when I look at the photos, I really feel a part of something co-created and beautiful.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
CM: Yes! I have an ongoing monthly Sunday comix series throughout 2020, posting on the literary journal Hobart, called NEW YORK STRANGE. The illustrated vignette series captures moments of special connections I’ve witnessed or experiences between strangers in this wild and beautiful city I’ve lived in for 17 years. Most recently, of course, the comic featured a COVID-19 edition. You can read the series here.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Pep Talks for Broke(n) People and your other work?
CM: You can order Pep Talks For Broke(n) People via my website or directly from one of the bookstores listed on it (who get full profit from the sale, my tiny contribution in the time of COVID-shut downs). I send monthly mailings (Sign up and get 100 free writing prompts!). I use Instagram and Twitter and, sometimes, even Facebook. I’d love to meet you here, there, and everywhere.