We hope your Fourth of July weekend is off to a fun and safe start! Today’s Meet Your Creator post features Eleri Mai Harris, whose comic, Eleri Mai Harris Cartoons, provides nonfiction illustrations for political junkies and history nerds.
My name is Eleri Mai Harris, and I am a journalist masquerading as a cartoonist.
I’ve been drawing my whole life. My mother is an artist, and as children, my siblings and I always received art supplies as gifts -- they were tax deductible. But until 2012, I earned my living as a radio producer for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Down Under equivalent of NPR or the BBC.
In Australia, there isn't a great long-form comics tradition. The best-known Australian cartoonists are editorial cartoonists, like Pat Oliphant. So I've been a comics fan for years, drawn comics all the time for fun and worked in a newsroom alongside a cartoonist who used to joke I was a better artist than he was, but the pressure of daily editorial cartooning scared the hell out of me. And I didn't know of any cartoonists who made nonfiction comics that weren’t autobiographical or editorial pieces.
I grew up in Hobart, Tasmania, in the pre-webcomic era, reading Tintin, Asterix, the Far Side, B.C., Wizard of Id, Tank Girl, Betty and Veronica and a ton of manga. My parents had the local paper delivered, so I read all the political cartoons and gag strips there. I left the island at 17 to study political science at the University of Melbourne, got a graduate degree in journalism from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and made terrible cartoons in cafes with friends on weekends.
Then, in 2010, I moved from Melbourne to Canberra (Australia's capital) to take a new job as a political reporter. A good friend had given me a copy of Joe Sacco's "The Fixer" as a going-away present. The day I left, I found myself in a living room full of boxes with an hour or so to kill. The book was in my bag, so I pulled it out. I read the whole thing in one setting, and it blew my mind.
Sacco's work was exactly the direction I wanted to take with comics -- he invented the genre of reportage comics or comics journalism. I quickly found fresh journalism comics online from people like Sarah Glidden, Susie Cagle and Wendy MacNaughton and started rethinking where I was going with my career.
In August 2012, I took the plunge and moved to the United States to attend the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. The program was amazing, inspiring and completely transformative. In the past two years, I’ve grown so much as an artist, writing and drawing nonfiction comics. I graduated recently with my Masters in Fine Arts and was the student commencement speaker at the ceremony.
My studio is in a spare room in the big old Vermont house I live in. My housemates call it my "command station," with piles of paper, ink and notepads everywhere. I like to work in watercolour wash and ink, and I am not a tidy person.
While the idea of daily editorial comics is still utterly terrifying to me, on GoComics I’m trying something new, a weekly comic called Little Big Politics that will showcase tiny but important pieces of political life and history around the world.