7 Questions: CAKE edition with comics creator Rivven Swanson

Rivven Swanson (photo courtesy of Rivven)

We have long left Pride and CAKE month (aka June) behind! Still, I had one more comic creator represented at Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE), which took place at Center on Halsted on June 11 and 12, 2016. The next series of creators who I'll pose 7 Questions will be creators I encounter at Flame Con at the end of this month in New York.

I first met Rivven Swanson at Chicago Zine Fest, which I covered in a previous Geeks OUT! blog post, and then at CAKE representing alongside the Ladydrawers collective. I picked up a couple of Rivven's crude zines, The Hammer Is My Penis, which were set alongside other similar publications including The Notorious VAG and Alot O Butts. They also makes charming little drawings on name tags which I'm still kicking myself for not picking up to put on my phone. Since then, I have discovered that Rivven is a graduate of School of the Art Institute of Chicago where they studied comics and fiber art. When I last saw Rivven, at the In House trunk show, they were vending their zines and knitting brightly colored penises with rice sacks in the testicles. Check out their colorful work at Tumblr, Instagram, and consider supporting their Patreon.

One of Rivven's name tag drawings (image courtesy of Rivven)

I presented Rivven, who prefers just that moniker, and other CAKE tablers with seven questions relevant to the expo and to comics culture at large. Why seven questions? Originally, I had planned to include the small groups' answers into one piece, and the weakest two questions would have been eliminated for a nice, even five questions to see the ceaseless flow of the internet. Instead, the responses I got were so thoughtful they stood on their own. That is how this series began, and moving forward, I will find another group of LGBT creators and put forth a new set of seven questions. Also, check out previous 7 Questions with Jon Drawdoer, Tony Breed, and Isabella Rotman.

1: How does your gender and sexual identity inform your work?

I'm going to probably start out by saying that there really isn't any way that it doesn't inform my work? Like my gender identity and sexuality are intimately tied to how I see the world, my experience living in it, and what I find attractive/beautiful. So of course all of those things are going to alter and impact how I make art, what I make art about, what interests and inspires me. All the different steps of art making are impacted by who I am as a person and you cannot separate my non-binary gender/agender identity and Queer/bisexuality from me as an artist.

2: What else inspires your work?

I get really inspired by things that make me angry. I know that's not super specific but it is true. For instance if I see people fat-shaming bodies that are fat and "ugly" I'll make a whole bunch of pictures of fat bodies and butts and thighs that are beautiful and bright and wonderful. Or lets say people are woefully un-informed about food allergies or chronic illness or mental illness and say some ableist bull shit I'll make a zine talking about it and explaining what those conditions are really like/debunking bigoted nonsense. I work on a spite basis at this point. I have a hard time connecting to my emotions because of my mental illness/neurodivergence but righteous fury, anger at injustice, empathetic rage for others is easy for me to feel. I also get inspired by colorful and shiny things. Anything that is vibrant and glowing. For instance: sunsets, Lisa Frank drawings, quartz crystals and faceted glass, photoshopped pictures from NASA deep space exploration, parrots, and 80s neon signage.

Butts (image courtesy of Rivven)

3: What was some exciting work you found at CAKE 2016?

I really liked The Birth of Linda by Tess Eneli Reid, which is an amazing mini comic about the mother of an Estonia folk hero. I also picked up the fifth installment of Do Not Disturb My Waking Dream by Laura Park which as per usual was beautiful, funny, and sad. As for most exciting exhibitor I really loved the Degenderettes booth and all of their zines and patches were as subversive and fun as they were Queer as hell!

4: Once word of the tragedy at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, FL became known did you observe a change in CAKE on the Sunday?

Yeah it was surreal for me honestly because I learned about what happened while in the car on the way to CAKE that Sunday morning. I found myself scrolling Twitter obsessively trying to figure out what happened and what was still happening. And when I got to the event it seemed like nothing really had changed, I didn't really hear anyone at the booths around me or the attendees talking about it and I didn't want to bring it up, honestly. Like I didn't want to be the one to tell all of them if they didn't already know. I don't know why but it didn't feel right to me. But as the day progressed more people talked about it, I heard attendees mention it quietly to each other, I even managed to walk around and talk to a few other creators/tablers about it. One of which asked me very politely if I would stay with her and talk to her till her friend came back to the booth because she didn't feel safe being alone. (I did). I remember trying to have fun and sell my work/the other Ladydrawers work but it all seemed kinda disconnected. I remember reading on twitter about people feeling unsafe/uncomfortable to go out and party after CAKE so I went straight home and kind of talked about it with my roommates. If I'm being up front I was more concerned about my friends who are QPOC and trans women than myself, like I was anxious (well more than usual) that someone would go after them specifically because they weren't white or cis now more than ever. (Like I always worry about them because of these things but more so after the shooting because I thought other shooters might be inspired/emboldened by the Pulse massacre).

Rivven at their Chicago Zine Fest table (photo courtesy of, well, me)

5: What development coming out of your experience at CAKE are you looking forward to?

Next year's CAKE? I love seeing what all of my former comics classmates and new friends from outside of the US are making in person. I follow what they publish digitally and on their websites but it's different seeing everyone together with all their tables set up and all of their beautiful work out in front of them.

6: Do you consider yourself an out geek, and what makes you enjoy being a geek?

Oh hell yeah! Also a nerd, dork, and a weirdo! I love having passions! I feel like people who don't geek out over anything whether it be Pokemon or tardigrades, Dungeons and Dragons, or slime molds (or like all of the above), people without passions are boring. You can be geeky or nerdy about anything really, to me it just means you love something enough to expend your hard fought for energy on it.

7: What's next in your body of work?

Ohhhh boyyyy that's a tough one for me because I have a lot of ideas and plans in works but not so very much time and energy to execute said adventures. But things that will probably be happening in the future Depression Comix! I'm going to keep making comics/zines about my mental health and causes that matter to me. I'm going to try to get back into silk screening probably at Spudnik Press this Fall. Maybe also learn how to use the Risograph. I really want to liberally use neon inks and most printers will not abide by that. I want to eventually be able to rent a studio specifically to make art in that's not my dining room so that's a future goal for sure.

Dane County Print Explosion comic page, unpublished (image courtesy of Rivven)

Up next: 7 Questions Flame Con edition (see you in late August/early September!)

Gavin Rehfeldt's picture
on August 10, 2016

Native Chicagoan. Former comics slinger. Current comics reader. Bespectacled.