7 Questions: CAKE edition with Isabella Rotman

The world of Rotman (image courtesy of Rotman)

We have officially left Pride and CAKE month (aka June) behind! Welcome to Pitchfork Music Festival month (aka July), a month dear to this music maven’s heart. Let us continue our look at some fabulously talented LGBT comic creators who were represented at the recent Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE), which took place at Center on Halsted on June 11 and 12.

Isabella Rotman is, for me, an outlier. There are several queer comics creators we wish to celebrate here, but Rotman has put out a series of products, not just comics through Radiator Press, that are unparalleled. While putting forth an agenda for queer sexual health, she has addressed the larger issue of human sexual health. What is the concern of the queer community should be the concern of the greater population, done. What transfixes me to her work is the quality by which she produces and exhibits it. She shares many comics, mini comics included, and, whoah, matchbooks. She has even entered into the enamel pin craze which has so gripped the alt comics community. I haven’t seen her perform live comics readings but I’m sure they’re as phenomenal as she is. I implore you to visit her many web sites as they are all fantastic resources.

I presented Rotman 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 after this gathering of CAKE-represented creators have taken a round of questions, I will find another group of LGBT creators and put forth a new set of seven questions. These creators include a number I met through my coverage of Token 3 and Chicago Zine Fest back in April. Also, check out previous 7 Questions with Jon Drawdoer and Tony Breed.

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

In an ideal world I would love to say my gender and sexual identity doesn't inform my work, but of course that isn't the case. The goal of my introspective "catharsis" comics (Burn Your Demons, DIG, etc.) is to break a feeling down to its most fundamental parts. By taking away the details of an issue and replacing those details with metaphor I hope to make a comic that a large swathe of people can identify with, not just people who have had similar experiences to the personal experiences I am writing about. However, beyond that I can't change the fact that the issues I work through in my comics happened to me because who I am. Being a queer woman is something that effects and informs the vast majority of my life, so of course it comes out in my work. I only hope that one doesn't have to be of a similar identity to connect to it.

It should also go without saying that all of my educational comics are highly informed by being queer. I am committed to making sexual health work that is useful to everyone, especially LGBTQ communities. So much sexual health information in the past has focused far too exclusively on a heteronormative audience, it's about time we talked about more than one kind of sex.

One of Rotman's informative comics (image courtesy of Rotman)

2: What else inspires your work?

In general my self reflective comics are long drawn out exercises in working through an issue, so I guess I'm inspired by trying to figure my life out? In general I don't really "get myself" on the feelings front. I have to work pretty hard and spend a lot of time to actually know how I feel about something. So yeah, loneliness, self-reflection, personal relationships, and just trying to make sense of things, really.

Beyond that, I am super inspired by places, nature, the ocean, plants, animals, mythology, and fellow artists.

Topics for my educational comics are chosen by an intersection of what I think needs to be taught (or taught in a different way,) and what I feel qualified to research and teach in comics form.

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

I really enjoyed Meags Fitzgerald's "Long Red Hair," which is a memoir comic about being queer and playing witches and lots of other things I connect to.

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

This news hit me hard in ways I have not finished processing. I'm not really ready to talk about it yet. What I can say is that I was affected, sad, worried, and scared. People around me were affected, sad, worried, and scared. I was grateful to be at CAKE, because CAKE feels like a family reunion for me, and I was lucky to be in a room of chosen family where I feel loved and I feel safe.

Rotman's table at CAKE (she sent it upside down, so I'm keeping it that way) (photo courtesy of Rotman)

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

Cheers to more of those warm and fuzzy friendships.

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

I mean, yeah. Donald Glover has a Comedy Central stand up special where he says "If you like strange, specific stuff, that's a nerd." So yes, I'm an indie comics nerd. I'm also a sex education, plant and animal, and gardening nerd but that's beyond the point. I love my weird specific interests. I love indie comics. If you have weird specific interests that you love, good for you. You have something that brings you joy.

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

There are many pots on many burners. Fingers crossed, I'm going to put out another issue of Burn Your Demons at SPX in September. I'm also going to continue working with RAD Remedy to release more issues of Dr. RAD's Queer Health Show. The next issue will be about navigating health insurance. As for the other pots, most of those are secrets for now.

A goofy wolf head from Rotman's site that I like (image courtesy of Rotman)

Next week: TBD

Gavin Rehfeldt's picture
on July 13, 2016

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