Mari Naomi is one of the most prolific bay area artists we know-- just when we think she's going to rest for a while she unveils a new set of kick ass clown sumo wrestler watercolors, or tells us she's going to be on TV, at a reading, or putting up a new show. We not only admire her humming bird like motion, we adore her art. Mari will be reading at a Pet Noir event on April 5th at the SF public Library. You can also find volume four of her comic Estrus in stores now. Read on to learn why we're such big fans of this native bay area artist.
I know you do a wide variety of art, from paintings and comics to collage and writing. Which came first and when did it all start?
Although I've always loved drawing and painting, my first passion was story-telling, so for a long time I put the bulk of my creative energy into honing my writing skills. In the mid-nineties, I came across Scott Russo's zine, Jizz. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen, an extremely personal compilation of comics, letters, one-offs...basically whatever he wanted to put in its pages. I was immediately hooked on sequential art as a storytelling method.
In 1997, I decided to try my hand at autobiographical comics. I had a few stories published in Slave Labor's Action Girl and eventually I started putting together my own collection, Estrus Comics.
In 2002, I was invited to exhibit artwork from some of my comics at the Pond Gallery as part of Ladyfest Bay Area. The Ladyfest gals had extra space available in the Spanganga Gallery and asked if I had any paintings I'd like to add to a feminist show. I didn't at the time, but it seemed like a great reason to start painting again, so I committed to a date then got out the painting I’d been working on.
About this painting: Every couple of months for the last six or so years, I brought it out with the intention of finishing it, but would end up only staring at it then putting it back in the closet, afraid I'd ruin it. I was totally blocked, and for days I maintained this familiar holding pattern. But then something happened.
One day, I received some bad news about someone very close to me. Totally freaked out, with nowhere else to direct that panicky energy, I took out my canvas and started painting maniacally. I finished the painting in one sitting, which as it turned out was the release I needed, because over the next year I painted over fifty new pieces. The story has an especially happy ending, as not only did I get my mojo back, but my loved one turned out to be fine, and we all lived happily ever after.
Can you talk a little bit about your comic Estrus?
Estrus is mostly a collection of embarrassing autobiographical comics about my love life. I've been self-publishing it since 1998, and I've put out four issues so far. A while back I got the idea of writing a different comic for each romantic interest I've had, starting with my first kiss in kindergarten. I call these comics “Ex-Factor: A Romantic Résumé.”
The first batch of these stories appeared in part 1 of Estrus 4. Estrus 5 will be entirely comprised of Ex-Factor stories, and eventually I'd like to put a graphic novel together. That'll take a while, though.
Do you ever worry some of your exes will read your comics and get angry or object to how you portrayed things? I know that's a fear of mine when I write about the past.
One story I recently finished but haven't published yet didn't sit well with one of my exes. He was upset that this one incident defined our entire relationship. But that wasn't it at all; I just thought it was an interesting and funny story. Obviously there was a lot more to our relationship than what would fit on one page, and the challenge has been in deciding which details and events to include in each story.
I also showed a story to a high-school ex who got very remorseful and apologetic. I thought that was interesting. I mean, we were teenagers back then and I’ve been over it for a long time!