Between the Panels: Cartoonist Corinne Halbert on Self-Publishing, Early Inspiration, and Comic Strip Felines

“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.

It’s no coincidence that the name Robert Crumb came up in conversation with Corinne Halbert. Like Crumb and other cartoonists making subversive “comix” outside the mainstream, Halbert channels her voice and style into works that represent a singular vision. For readers with an interest in the macabre, this is a creator to watch.  


First off, the basics…
 
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): I’m a painter, illustrator, and cartoonist. I do the writing, drawing, inking, and lettering for my own comics.
 
Your home base: Chicago, IL
 
Website: corinnehalbert.com
 
Social Media

Instagram: @corinnehalbert
 
Twitter: @corinnehalbert
 


 


Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: As an artist, what attracts you to working in the comics form specifically?

Corinne Halbert: I love to draw and comics are often my favorite thing to read. Also, I got a BFA in film/video during my undergrad, and my attraction to sequential storytelling in film eventually translated into sequential storytelling on the page.

KS: Looking back at your artistic path, can you pinpoint what you’d mark as your first “serious” endeavor? By that I mean something you yourself would label that way, not what the outside world might think.

CH: I’ve been drawing since I was three years old and have been completely obsessed with art for as long as I can remember. My grandparents helped raise me and were always incredibly supportive of my passion for art. I would live with them on Cape Cod during the summers, and when I was 14, I started taking painting classes with Jamie Wolf at Cotuit Center for the Arts. He was an amazing mentor and the very first still life he had me paint felt like the first “serious” piece of art. It was a large watercolor painting of some plants and objects placed in front of someone else’s large oil painting. I was so proud with how my piece turned out and he was really supportive. He always told me I was a monster painter who couldn’t put the paintbrush down, even if I wanted to. It was so good for my confidence.

KS: Was your whole family supportive when it came to those pursuits?

CH: Absolutely! I have always felt extremely lucky as to how supportive my family was about my passion for art. My grandparents and mom were always putting me in art classes and buying me art supplies which really helped to foster my career path in such a beautiful way. They were fully supportive of my decision to go to art school. I basically dreamed of going to art school since I was a little kid.

KS: Was there any career consideration other than the arts?

CH: The ocean and all its mystery and rich sea life have always been fascinating to me, so there was a period of time that I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was young. As an adult, if for some reason I freaked out and quit art, I could see myself pursuing something in the field of psychology.

KS:  Over time, your work has appeared in different channels, from gallery exhibits to zines. When did you start working in the zine format?

CH: I made my first self-published comic, Hate Baby #1, in 2009. It was shortly after reading Black Hole and I had started going to Quimby’s Bookstore in Chicago which is jam-packed with awesome zines. So, it was a catalyst of those two things: seeing zines in the physical world and reading work that blew my mind.




KS: Once you decided you wanted to take that leap, what were the first steps to making it a physical reality?

CH: Once I finished the artwork, I just headed to the FedEx Kinko’s on North Ave in Wicker Park! Had no idea what I was doing the first time, so I'm sure I bugged the employees a million times to help me. Looking at all the self-published zines and comics in Quimby's was definitely the catalyst I needed to finally print my own comics. I've always thought that someone should make a documentary about that FedEx Kinko’s — pretty sure [artist/singer] Wesley Willis used to make photocopies there. A ton of amazing Chicago artists have used that location to print zines, band flyers, and who knows what else!

KS: Which brings us to Acid Nun. One of our previous guests (Jim Rugg) referred to this as an “outlaw comic.” For readers who may not be familiar with it, could you give the Netflix-style blurb?

CH: An acid-fueled nightmare pulsating with sultry sin, psychotic breaks, inner demons, psychic visions, and bloody, sexy incantations. Is it a love story? Or a young woman’s path to the Baph and inner healing? Guess you’ll have to read the full story to find out!



 
KS: Fantastic blurb. Which came first: the story itself or the notion to do it in a comic format?

CH: I’ve been painting the Acid Nun character and Baphomet in my pieces for over five years now, and it just clicked that I should make a comic with character I truly enjoy rendering. Most of my art centers around me enjoying making my art; [I] feel like I get the best results when I’m having fun.

KS: Was the comic-making process different for you than the zine process? Or were they more similar than different?

CH: I sort of consider them the same in a way because a self-published comic can also be considered a zine. I’ve really only self-published comics and drawing zines. I’ve contributed to my husband's fanzine, Printsploitaion, over the years, as well as a number of other people's zines, comics, and comics anthologies.

KS: Moving away from you as a creator for a moment, what’s your background as a comics reader? Did comics find you (or vice versa) at an early age, or later on?

CH: I always read and looked forward to the Sunday funnies in the newspaper and was completely obsessed with Saturday morning cartoons.

KS: What were your can’t-miss Saturday morning shows each week?

CH: Oh, man! I loved them all! I loved all the old Looney Tunes and Hanna Barbera stuff. Scooby-Doo, Bobby's World, Rugrats, pretty much every Nickelodeon show. When I saw Ren & Stimpy for the first time, when I was in sixth grade, my mind melted inside my skull with glee! If I had to pick one, most influential cartoon it would have to be Ren & Stimpy. The artwork, the weirdness, the gross zoom-in shots, the music, the humor… That show really was operating on a level like no other at the time it was airing.

The first comic I got really into was Garfield. I had all of those landscape TPBs with different color covers that were published in the early '80s. I read a lot of Crumb and work by underground cartoonists in high school.

KS: Where did teenage Corinne find Crumb and other works like his?

CH: I'm from Massachusetts and used to go into Boston with my friends anytime I got the chance in high school. Nothing was more exciting than getting out of the suburbs and into the city as a teen. There was a mall in Harvard Square that had really cool record stores, body jewelry/goth and apparel shops we liked to frequent and it was really close to Million Year Picnic. It's hard for me to remember clearly that far back, but I believe I picked up most of those books there or at the Newbury Comics that opened near my mom's house at some point in the mid to late '90s.




KS: You had your favorites on TV, but did you gravitate to any particular titles or characters when it came to comics?

CH: [I] loved all the cartoon cats, as I mentioned before Garfield but also Heathcliff. Peanuts has always been admired, Snoopy and Charlie Brown being obvious faves. I was always deeply fascinated by Ziggy in the paper; don’t think I understood the content till I was a little older but always spent a lot of time looking at those panels. Gary Larson is a genius and I’ve always enjoyed The Far Side.

As an adult, I tend to like horror comics, so some of my favorite characters are from Junji Ito’s universe and Pim and Francie by Al Columbia. Eliza from Black Hole is another favorite.

Fanbase Press launched the #StoriesMatter initiative last year to highlight the impact that stories can have on their audience.  What’s a particular comic story that really stuck with you from the time you found it?

CH: When I was in my mid to late 20s, I read Charles Burns’ Black Hole and that’s what truly inspired me to make my own comics. I loved how dark and different his style and storytelling were, and I was extremely attracted to the high-contrast, black-and-white look he is able to achieve. It ties into my love of cinema with its noirish aesthetic. People had been suggesting I make comics for years because of my drawing style, but it didn’t truly click until I read Black Hole

KS: I may have led right into this, but… Hypothetically: You can stand over the shoulder of any artist from comics history for one day, asking questions, watching them work, fetching coffee, whatever they need. Which genius do you choose?

CH: Definitely Charles Burns. He seems pretty levelheaded, so I feel like we could communicate clearly. Would love to ask him [a] million questions about his process, inspiration, where he gets his ideas, his influences, favorite horror movies, and on and on and on.... And it would be the thrill of my life to watch him draw.




KS: Please tell us a little about your current workspace or studio setup.

CH: My husband and I own a house in Chicago, IL, with technically five bedrooms because we have a finished basement. So, he has his studio downstairs and mine is in the second bedroom on the main floor. I absolutely adore my studio — it’s so wonderful having my own space. I work at a drafting table, and my studio is packed with a large portion of my book and ephemera collection and some of my favorite original art that I’ve collected as well.

KS: Are you pro or con on listening to music, or any other background noise, while you work? 

CH: Absolutely pro. I need either music, a podcast, or YouTube video going in the background, so I can zone out and get into a flow state. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of psychedelic garage from the '60s, but it could be anything from Nick Drake to some extreme gnarly Black Metal. Some of my favorite bands I love are Swans, Black Sabbath, The Misfits, Gwar, and Pink Floyd.

KS: What’s a hobby of yours totally unrelated to your main pursuits? Something that gets you totally away from the drawing board.

CH: Tarot is a newer passion for me. I suppose it is connected to art because of the designs on the cards, but it’s a completely different skill set reading them. I also love taking long walks in nature and listening to music.




KS: To spread some love at the end, please give us a comic or graphic novel from any era that you look at with admiration.

CH: The Drifting Classroom by Kazuo Umezu because it’s just so phenomenal on every front. The storytelling, the artwork, the pacing, the drama. It’s the complete package, and it’s one of my favorite series ever drawn.
 
KS: Finally, tell us what you’re working on now, and what we should be on the lookout for in 2021 or beyond.

CH: I’m currently working on issue #2 of Acid Nun and plan to create three single issues. I’m thrilled to be working with a publisher who will be putting it out as a collected book, most likely in 2022. Will self-publish the single issues, but they’ll be publishing Acid Nun as my first graphic novel and I couldn’t be more excited.

Look out for my six-page comic, “The Tower,” that will be published in a new comics anthology called Freak Buck due out Fall or Winter 2021. Very excited to have several paintings in the BLAB, group art show at Copro Gallery in Santa Monica, CA, this September.
 
 
 

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