Interview: Kelcey Ervick
The first time I heard the term “graphic literature” was at a workshop while attending a local writing conference. A professor from Fresno led us through an exercise he often assigned to get his students’ creativity flowing. Using a newspaper as our canvas and having a myriad of pictures, markers, and other items from which to create, he instructed us to make a graphic poem that we would then present to the rest of the group. Since then, I’ve continued playing with the art form, from using old family photos for collage to restructuring my own medical records into poetry that highlights life with chronic illness. There is a freedom in graphic literature I’ve yet to find in any other form of art.
That’s why, when given the opportunity to interview Kelcey Ervick, editor along with Tom Hart of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Graphic Literature, I had to say yes. The Field Guide is a wealth of information, totaling 241 pages on a topic that is rarely discussed in the writing world and analyzing it in a way that only broadens its meaning. The guide is organized into three subcategories: graphic narratives, poetry comics, and literary collage. In its entirety, it includes contributions from twenty-seven artists (as well as Ervick and Hart) who give testimony on the subject—how they were introduced to graphic literature, a favorite exercise they use to create, and an example of their work that illustrates their craft in action. By the end of the book, the reader is ready to create, backed by the knowledge each page contains.
In this conversation—which took place over email—Kelcey Ervick and I talk about the process of putting together a field guide, how she was introduced to graphic literature, and the endless avenues an artist can take on their journey to becoming a graphic artist.
Rebecca Loggia: First of all, The Field Guide truly feels like a labor of love from you and Tom Hart! How was the process of starting such a big project and watching it all come together?
RL: One of my favorite lines in the book: “These are just the kind of thoughts that get you into trouble because, if you’re like me, the next thing you know, you’re the one creating the thing you want.” Marnie Galloway also mentions the “choice-paralysis panic.” As an artist, have there been moments when you feel overwhelmed by the type of art you want to create? Is there a favorite exercise from this book that you could suggest for someone who might feel overwhelmed or stuck in the creative process?
RL: Early in the book, Hart mentions graphic literature as a more “accessible” means to creating given the ability to mix various mediums (including social media/digital art). As both a creator and instructor, do you feel graphic literature—above other artistic mediums—is more accessible to those in marginalized communities? And if so, how so?
RL: David Dodd Lee talks about searching for materials for his collages in flea markets while Oliver Bendorf mentions skimming through photograph bins at vintage shops. Is there any one place you find yourself going back to time and time again to find inspiration or gather materials?
RL: Can you share with us an interesting experience you had while creating this book?
RL: David Lee states that he rarely begins with a specific “message” in mind when beginning a piece. Do you find yourself often starting with a message or just finding it as you go?
RL: Lauren Haldeman talks about imposter syndrome and the sheer panic of sharing poems with others in a desire to prove she “wasn’t a hoax” as an artist. At the end of the book, you also mention that you were new to the world of graphic novels when you first started teaching about them. Did you struggle with that same sense of imposter syndrome when you started diving into this genre? And if so, how do you overcome it?
KELCEY ERVICK is the author and illustrator of the graphic memoir, The Keeper: Soccer, Me, and the Law That Changed Women’s Lives, winner of a 2023 Ohioana Book Award. She is coeditor, with Tom Hart, of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Graphic Literature. Kelcey is the author of three previous award-winning books, and her comics have appeared in The Rumpus, The Believer, The Washington Post, and Lit Hub. She has a PhD from the University of Cincinnati and is a professor of English and creative writing at Indiana University South Bend. She writes and draws about the ups, downs, and loop-de-loops of the creative life at The Habit of Art on Substack. Find her on Instagram @kelcey.parker.ervick.
REBECCA LOGGIA has been writing stories since childhood, eventually earning a degree in creative writing at Arizona State University. Her work has been published in Allegory Ridge, Dogwood: A Journal of Poetry and Prose, Harmony Magazine, Open Minds Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her essay, “How to Rewrite a Medical Record,” placed second in Hypertext’s 2023 Doro Böehme Contest (Nonfiction), and her poem “Infirmary” placed third in the 2017 Phoenix Sister Cities International Writers with Disabilities Competition. She is a reader for CRAFT and a teaching artist for the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. She lives in Arizona with her dog, where they cherish each sunset and dream of other worlds. Find her on Instagram @_bexoxoxo_.