Exploring the art of prose


Interview: Kelcey Ervick

Image is the book cover for THE ROSE METAL PRESS FIELD GUIDE TO GRAPHIC LITERATURE, edited by Kelcey Ervick and Tom Hart; title card for the new (graphic) interview with Rebecca Loggia.


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


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?

Kelcey Ervick:

Image is a sketch of the book cover for THE FIELD GUIDE TO GRAPHIC LITERATURE with the following accompanying text stylized as if written by hand: "It was definitely a labor of love. If it wasn’t, I don’t know if it would have gotten finished! We worked on this through Covid and other delays, and the finish line always seemed a long way off. Then it all came together rather quickly when suddenly all these essays we’d edited, all the art we’d filed, and all the supplemental material we’d created were gathered into a proof copy, and we were like, whoa, it’s HAPPENING."


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?


Image is a sketch of a stylized lowercase "h" (in the vein of an illuminated manuscript) with the following words highlighted: blank page, INTUITION CHECK, and Oliver Baez Bendorf's. Accompanying text: "I wrote that line in the context of desperately wanting a book like this and realizing I’d have to be the one to make it. It’s a different kind of choice paralysis than Marnie talks about with the BLANK PAGE (the blank page says, I dare ya!). But I think the solution is the same: start making marks and trust your intuition. For all the delays and setbacks we encountered, I never felt like I’d made a mistake making the book. So for someone who’s overwhelmed or stuck? I’d advise an INTUITION CHECK. Is it something you believe in and want to keep doing? If not, let it go. If so, push through. You’ll find the solution as you go. In the book I love Oliver Baez Bendorf’s mixed-media collages on vintage photos or Nick Francis Potter’s abstract comics. Both will help you break free and have fun!"


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?

KE:Image is a sketch of a stack of banned books with spines showing. Accompanying text: "Absolutely. And as I allude to in my historical introduction, I believe that accessibility and demand are directly proportional to the frequency with which graphic books about marginalized characters are banned by those who feel threatened by such stories."


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?


Image is a drawing of a vintage phone and birds on a river. Accompanying text: "In 2018 I wanted to get serious about making graphic literature, so I started painting every day. I learned pretty quickly where I found inspiration because that’s what I found myself drawing: vintage machines like my 1940s Bakelite phone, and anything from nature. I live along the St. Joseph River in Indiana and am obsessed with the river’s birds and turtles and beavers and wildflowers."


RL: Can you share with us an interesting experience you had while creating this book?


Image is a sketch for the book cover of THE KEEPER. Accompanying text: "Well, one unexpected development was that, while the book was in progress, I sold my graphic memoir, THE KEEPER, on proposal. So I found myself making my first graphic memoir while editing a book about making graphic literature!" Image is hyperlinked to Penguin Random House.


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?


Image is a sketch of a recipe and several recipe cards. The word DULLNESS is highlighted in gray. Accompanying text: "Oof, starting with a message seems like a recipe for DULLNESS (MESSAGE: 2 cups Big Words, 3 tablespoons IDEAS, 3/4 cup Clichés, 1 teaspoon YAWN, stir until you fall asleep.) And I say this as someone who writes about historical injustices! No matter what you write about, there should be some sort of discovery in the process."


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?


Image is a sketch of a woman's pleasant face with a speech bubble that says, IN THE ARENA GETTING YOUR ASS KICKED. Accompanying text: "Gosh, yes and no. As a creator, I really try to push back on the whole idea of IMPOSTER SYNDROME. Sure, it’s important to acknowledge the experience and body of work of those who are established in a particular field, but thinking of ourselves as “imposters” is artistically limiting and psychologically debilitating. We are PEOPLE not IMPOSTERS. I’d rather think of it in terms of active PARTICIPATION, or, as BRENÈ BROWN puts it: If you’re getting your ass kicked, you’re no imposter." The words IMPOSTER SYNDROME, PEOPLE not IMPOSTERS, and PARTICIPATION are highlighted in the text. Image is hyperlinked to DARING GREATLY.


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_.