“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.
There are those who find their calling later in life, and there are those who have it in their bones from an early age. Such is the case with Nicole Goux and a life in the arts. From early art classes to studying the old masters to making her way into comics, she has been both an artistic collaborator, as well as the singular voice of her own stories.
First off, the basics…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist/Writer
Your home base: Los Angeles
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: Why comics? What is the appeal for you — personally, creatively, any other -y — of working in this particular medium?
Nicole Goux: I don’t know that this is a particularly unique opinion, but it is very much the combination of visuals and story that appeal to me. Being a person who likes to draw, comics is the most direct way you can share your story. There’s a lot of control you have as an artist to influence the way someone reads a comic, and playing with the formal aspects of comics and the way a reader’s eye crosses a page or takes in information can be really fun. Of course, at the end of the day, the reader is in control, but there is a lot of expression that happens in the way you tell a story on the page that doesn’t happen in other mediums.
KS: Before we get to you as a reader, let’s start with you as a creator… Do you recall the first time the idea of a creative career came to you? Was there some “a-ha” moment of inspiration or was it something that had been simmering?
NG: Oh, I guess simmering is more accurate? I started taking art classes very young, and it was always something I wanted to do, but for the longest time I tried to come up with art-related things that I could make money at. 7-year-old me was already way too practical for my own good. Somewhere in early high school, I realized there really wasn’t anything else I could imagine myself doing, so I shouldn’t cut my dreams short and just went full art student.
KS: What kinds of art did you gravitate toward as a kid, either visual or otherwise?
NG: I was always drawing as a kid. Mostly your basic fare: pencils, crayons, etc. I took various painting classes, but what I always came back to was the giant stack of printer paper my mom would steal from work and a pencil.
KS: Among all that, did you ever dabble in making narrative art? Something like a comic strip, storybook, etc.
NG: It took me a long time to have the confidence to make any narrative work. I think I always wanted to. I tried multiple times to convince my brother and writing friends to write something that I could draw, but those projects always fell through. It wasn’t until after college that I started making real comics with my partner and dipping my toe into writing stories of my own.
KS: Was your brother a writer? Did any other family members have an artistic bent?
NG: Yes, my brother loved writing as a kid and then later went to school for creative writing and film. He doesn’t do it so much anymore, but I think we have a bit of an artistic bent in our bones. My father is a professional musician, and my mother went to school for music and was always taking painting classes when I was a kid.
KS: Do you remember a particular art project from your younger years that felt like an especially significant accomplishment for you at the time — whatever age that was and whether or not anyone else ever saw it?
NG: To be honest, I don’t have a very good memory, but I do have very clearly in my mind a project that my art teacher had me do which was a master study of an Eyvind Earle Sleeping Beauty backgrounds. She was a background painter, and I wanted to be in animation at the time. I was so frustrated by the gouache she had me painting in that I gave up on the medium completely. It wasn’t until the end of college that I rediscovered it and realized it’s definitely my favorite paint to work with. Now I only paint occasionally, but I do think there’s a lesson in there about perseverance or giving up before you’ve given something a true shot.
KS: As far as comics go, what are the earliest ones you remember encountering, either through traditional “floppies,” newspaper strips, collections, or whatever other way?
NG: It was definitely through newspaper strips and compiled comics that we got at the library. My dad had a tear-off Far Side calendar that we would rip off every day, and I remember getting Garfield books pretty early on. When I was a little older, I would read the [funnies] section of the newspaper every day after school. Snacks and comics were my daily routine.
KS: When you were old enough to recognize different artists and their specific styles, who were your first favorites?
NG: I didn’t really follow comics artists at the time. There were strips I read every day— Zits, Baby Blues, and Non-sequiter come to mind. But my parents were really great about encouraging artistic tendencies and took us to a lot of museums. The artists I learned about and aspired to be were mostly fine art painters like Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec. It took me a long time to really think about the people who were behind the comics that I read every day. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I think our society doesn’t really acknowledge “lowbrow” work like comics as art, and it took me until I started reading manga to really realize it.
KS: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums and about the way a reader can find an important story at just the right time. What was a comic book story that really had an impact on you when you were younger?
NG: As a kid I read a lot of slice-of-life shoujo manga, and I desperately wanted to move to Japan and become a mangaka. As I got older and my tastes shifted a bit, I moved away from comics as a medium. I had a very segmented idea of what American comics could be like versus what kinds of stories you could explore in the Japanese market, and I didn’t feel that I fit into the American scene. It wasn’t until after college that I started going to zine shows and seeing the breadth of stories being told. I discovered Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s Skim, and it really changed my idea of what American —or in this case, Canadian— comics had the potential to be.
KS: Looking back, why was that the right material for who you were on your artistic journey at the time?
NG: The style, the storytelling, and the content were all things I had never seen in comics before. The story is sad and funny and feels so real and lived in. It’s slice-of-life and deals with really grounded problems. And most importantly, Jillian’s masterful art was so much closer to the kind of work I wanted to make than anything I’d ever seen before. A real “oh, I could do this” moment.
KS: Circling back to your choice to pursue a career in the arts… Please talk about what your specific concrete steps were for making that happen. You mentioned being an art student — did you “officially” go to art school?
NG: I started taking art classes from a very young age. I’m very lucky to have incredibly supportive parents, and they always had me in some class or another as soon as I started showing interest in it. I was taking private lessons by middle school and doing life drawing by freshman year of high school. I did go to art school, but I didn’t want to go into debt for the rest of my known life, so I chose a local state school with a good art program. After school I floundered a bit because resources and support sort of drop off after you’re out of college.
KS: Did you have a certain career vision in mind during this time?
NG: I knew I wanted to be an illustrator, but freelance was intimidating and in-house positions are rare. I did the usual postcards and emails to every art director I could find with little luck. I found some short-lived design work and an illustration position at Mattel which was also contract work and didn’t last. I struggled to figure out which direction I wanted to go until I started making comics and doing zine shows and fell in love with it. It was a slow and often grueling process to build a bit of a reputation and make connections in the industry, but, eventually, you become a familiar face and people start to know and trust you enough to hire you.
KS: How did your first comics gig come about?
NG: It depends on what you mean by first. What I consider the real first is my self-published comics with Dave Baker. We started making mini comics about road trips and the our first OGN Suicide Forest —which is a home invasion story that all takes place in one room— and printing them ourselves. I consider this the first because nothing that happened after would exist without first being able to put real finished work out into the world for people to see. My first industry job was on Jem and the Holograms for Sarah Gaydos when she was at IDW. I had met Sarah at SDCC the year before and after seeing some of my work, and I think I may have actually done some Jem fanart, She hired me to write and draw a 10-page story for Jem and the Holograms: Dimensions and create the cover for the anthology. I credit Sarah for giving my first “published” work in comics and having faith in an untested to write and draw my own story.
KS: Going from your first gig to your new graphic novel, Pet Peeves, please talk about the origin of the book. Did you start with a premise or with images to find your way in?
NG: It’s not always the case — F*ck Off Squad is the most notable exception— but I usually work premise first to images later. I like knowing what it is I’m designing before I get into the real drawing work, so that the designs match the intent and personalities of the story. Pet Peeves was something that came to me when I was really needing a break from the other longform books I was working on. It was supposed to be quick and fast and traditional — my other work is mostly digital now— but I fell in love with it and realized it deserved more than the 20 pages I had originally imagined it would be.
KS: Can you go into your creative process a bit, specifically the working relationship like between writer Nicole and artist Nicole?
NG: I’m used to working with a collaborator, so there was a lot more vulnerability going into this because you’re completely on your own with no one to bounce your ideas off of. The creative control is great, but I really enjoy the meshing and improving of ideas through collaboration so this did feel pretty foreign to me to work on something so long solo. I had to learn to be a little more flexible and critical with my work, which I guess sounds a bit counterintuitive. It requires a critical eye when you’re the one having to pick apart your own work and see where it needs improvements and changes. It’s rewarding to push and pull a work and find that, at the end, it was all worth it.
KS: Finally, please let readers know what you have out now and anything you have coming in 2024.
NG: My most recent works are, of course, Pet Peeves out from Avery Hill, a story of a post-college music major struggling to find her way who adopts a dog that may be more than he seems, and Forest Hills Bootleg Society with Dave Baker from Simon and Schuster, about a group of high school girls who start selling bootleg anime to the boys at their conservative academy. We’ll see coming up in 2024; I’m working on two very long books that won’t see the light of day for a few years, but I hope to have some smaller work in the coming year.