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  • The Way We Get By
  • Cara Bean (bio)

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With this installment of "From the Field" we introduce a new occasional feature we are calling "The Way We Get By" (named after a song by my favorite band), in which we talk to cartoonists about how they balance the pressures and demands of the creative life, how they make ends meet, and how they navigate the crossroads that a creative life—and life in general—brings our way. We will check up with cartoonists at different places in their careers, here and online, in the years to come.

For our first installment, I checked in with Cara Bean at the 2017 Small Press Expo (SPX) in Bethesda, Maryland. For more than decade, Cara has been a high school art teacher in Massachusetts and a cartoonist, and I wanted to talk to her about how she balanced these two demanding callings.

—Jared Gardner [End Page 117]

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JG:

When I look at your comics, one of the things that is clear is that you have found a way to bring your "day job" (pretending for a moment that teaching ends at the end of the day) into your comics, and vice versa.

Cara Bean:

That's a shift that happened to me in the last three or four years. When I first started teaching, comics was my escape from teaching. For example, the Gorilla Year series—I would never show that to students. It was my own private world. I got up early to draw before teaching. But they were largely separate things.

And then I decided to take a year off and went to SAW [Sequential Art Workshop], and I got to be a student and have Tom Hart and Leela Corman as teachers … and they were just themselves. Their teaching and their art were one and the same, no separation. And that was exciting to see. I really did loosen up, and I realized how valuable it was for my students to see me working, and for them to read my work, and that it was okay to dialogue more about process. Instead of only showing famous artists, I decided to bring in my work and share it with them. It was a relaxation inside of my teaching.

JG:

Was anything lost when you gave up that separation?

CB:

Well, they started to want to draw with me too much, and I do like to draw by myself. I was using the mornings because I thought nobody likes to get up early, but then students started to get up early to join me [in the art room], which was [End Page 118] awesome … but the artist part of me was like, "Get out of here!" (laughs). But I love them, so it's fine.

And then last year was such a fucking-oh-my-god year. The election really broke me down. I was emotional at school, I couldn't help it. You couldn't not be your hurt self. That bonded and opened us. That Sanctuary City comic came out of that. My students were being stronger than me and doing really brave things, and I thought: I have to write this down. And show it to them.

JG:

I try to keep my politics out of my classrooms. I mean, I'm a middle-aged Jewish English professor, so they can probably guess. This past year has turned a lot upside down for me as well. But you have to find a way to keep going. And that's where the arts and humanities come in …

CB:

The students are scrappy, and they want to fight. They have an energy that makes me think, "Oh, I want to hitch my wagon to you. Help me out here!"

JG:

Did that sabbatical at SAW change your sense of yourself as a cartoonist?

CB:

I definitely think so. When I first thought about taking the year off, I thought, "I'm going to make a graphic novel. I'm going to have all this time." And that's not what happened. Instead I got to really open...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-5205
Print ISSN
2473-5191
Pages
pp. 117-128
Launched on MUSE
2018-04-04
Open Access
No
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