Caitlin Cass // Comic Book Artist and Print Maker // Buffalo, NY
Caitlin Cass makes comics, drawings and counterfeit historical exhibits that folklorize historic failures and foretell grim futures. Often working under the moniker, The Great Moments in Western Civilization Cooperative, she questions the authority of traditional historical narratives by co-opting their power for her own devices. Caitlin draws and publishes a bimonthly comic periodical called The Great Moments in Western Civilization Postal Constituent. Her comics have also appeared in The Public and The Chicago Reader and online at The Nib. She has exhibited her drawings and counterfeit history exhibits nationally and internationally. Recent counterfeit historical exhibits include How to Fly in America (at Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center) and The Museum of Failure (which she has shown in Buffalo, Rochester and Washington, DC.) Caitlin lives and works in Buffalo, NY and teaches Art at Buffalo Seminary.
1. I began my #CraftWithConscience series as a way to simultaneously promote the work of other makers and to discuss the complicated issues surrounding creative inspiration and developing one’s own visual vocabulary. The internet is an ever growing fixture in many artists’ lives and businesses, could you talk about the role the internet plays in your artistic and professional life?
I make comics primarily for print, but I keep an instagram account and I sell subscriptions to my mail order comic on the internet. I’ve made a few webcomics, but I love the purity of print. I love that printed objects can exist in the world as independent thoughts. The internet is so surrounded by everything all the time. When you are on the internet you always have multiple tabs open. There is all of this white noise. In order to see art online you have to block out a million people screaming. The second you finish looking at something you move onto another tab. It’s hard to take the time to digest anything. Printed ephemera touches individuals in their private, introverted space. There is no substitute for reading a thing in your hands and having a one-on-one experience with it. It becomes part of your life instead of this ethereal thing floating in the abyss of infinite content. I have a love/ hate relationship with the internet. It has helped me sell comics and share my art with a wider audience, but I think I often make stronger connections with people face to face at comics fairs and art shows.
2. Where do you find inspiration for your work? In what ways has the internet and/or social media impacted your design process?
I find inspiration in daily life and in history. My favorite stories are ones that touch on a sort of bumbling human gumption in the face of failure. We are constantly innovating new ways to mess up and it’s horrible and incredible. I couldn’t make work like I do without the internet. This is the most apparent when I make a history comic, having immediate access to books and articles is amazingly helpful when doing research. What’s cool about the internet is that you don’t just have these trustworthy academic sources, you get the whole crusty lot of misinformation. I find this interesting because I try to “folklorize” history with my comics. I spin tall tales based in fact. This kind of behavior is all over the internet, as close as whitehouse.gov. Unlike the president, I don’t use this power to display my contorted sense of right and wrong, I use this power to ask questions and intentionally create ambiguity.
This can be problematic when creating things for the internet. There is such a push to identify “your brand” and streamline what you do so that you don’t confuse your audience. The thing is: life is ambiguous. Ambiguity inspires creative thought, it asks an audience to actively engage and interpret instead of passively looking. I value ambiguity so much that “branding” can be a real challenge. I think the key lies in layering your creative practice so that there is a clear cut surface interpretation with ambiguous undertones, but I’m definitely still working on this.
3. How have you, as an artist, found your creative voice?
The single most helpful thing I did was set up a consistent outlet for sharing my work with an audience. By setting up a subscription comic eight years ago, I became responsible for sending art to actual humans on a regular basis (every month for the first three years and every other for the last five). This forced me to do the work (there were actual eyeballs waiting to look at things I made!) It also allowed me to experiment, because I didn’t feel pressure to succumb to online trends or to the advice of an editor.
This subscription model has a long history in comics and zines. John Porcello who makes King Kat comix has been doing it for almost 30 years. I am not sure what attracted me to this model at first. I studied printmaking in grad school and great books in undergrad so I definitely have an affinity for print culture. So maybe that’s what attracted me. It’s such a warm non-threatening way to share, and keeping to a schedule has helped ensure that I never stop making things. I make non-comic work too, drawings and art installations, but the Postal Constituent offers a sort of back bone for everything I do. It fuels my whole creative practice.
4. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or creative business people?
Find deadlines. For me this meant starting a subscription comic, but you can also invite people to your house for studio visits (even if your studio is your living room), sign up to table at a comic or craft fair, apply to something that requires you to submit new work or have an art show in your apartment. Anything that will force you to get things done. Don’t wait for people to offer you opportunities to make things. Just make things.
5. Do you have any favorite blogs, artists, or Instagram accounts that you’d like to share?
My favorite artist is Chris Ware. Aside from his skill at laying out a beautiful comics page he keeps inventing new ways of structuring pages to more closely reflect the way thoughts and memories form in our heads. You learn more about your mind reading his comics. I also adore Amy Cutler’s poetic drawings, Ilya Kabakov’s installations and the Museum of Jurassic Technology.