Caroline Cash

The comics artist

Twenty-six-year-old punk cartoonist Caroline Cash has already made a name for herself. In 2014, she left Charleston to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and since then, she’s become an integral part of the local comics scene. Between satisfying general education requirements her senior year, she wrote and illustrated her now critically acclaimed debut graphic novel, Girl in the World, which follows different twentysomething girls on uniquely wild nights in Chicago until they all end up at the same party. After graduating in 2019, Cash worked at Quimby’s while aggressively drawing, reading, and networking. It’s paid off. Earlier this year she won Outstanding Minicomic at the Ignatz Awards and left Quimby’s to pursue freelancing full-time. Now Cash is hard at work on a graphic novel about stoner lesbians.

Interview by Micco Caporale

Photos by Matthew Gilson

I’ve always loved comics. I read and drew a ton of comics as a kid. I’d get the paper and read Peanuts first. Every day, it was like, “What’s up, guys? What’s going on here! Oh? Charlie Brown is sad? Classic.” I just loved the art style. I really looked forward to that and Ziggy, Garfield, stuff like that. I read pretty much everything except Sally Forth because I didn’t understand those stories. At nine, I went through a big “drawing guys with spiky hair” phase. Naruto, Rave Master, Shōnen Jump, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokémon: it’s what my local library had!

When I was a teenager, I stopped all that. I was more interested in being, like, a painter or whatever—what I thought was a “real” artist. I went to an arts high school, so that skewed what I thought a “real” artist is. School was like, “This is how you make art. This is how you use a paintbrush. This is how you use color pencils.” I was trying to quickly learn how to be, like, not awful at these different mediums—like how to draw a flower and make it look realistic or whatever. I didn’t think too much about why I was doing it. 

In college, I finally asked myself, “What do I want to make work about?” And that spiraled into being more interested in storytelling and illustration, and then you combine the two and you’re like, “Oh, I think I just want to make comics!” I’m back to wanting to do the same thing I wanted to do when I was nine, you know?

Chicago has a great comics scene. The Internet is great, but it’s helpful to have a local community. I’ve gotten the most out of meeting people. I just print comics and bring them to comic events and give them away. Or I table at Chicago Zine Fest or mail them to different shops around the country. When you meet your favorite cartoonists, it’s so much more memorable than an Instagram comment. You get a chance to talk to them and maybe learn from and hang out with them.

My friend Gabe Howell is a really amazing cartoonist I went to school with, and he was super, super helpful in introducing me to the scene and recommending stuff to read. We would draw comics together a lot, and I took a comics class with Jessica Campbell. Pretty soon I had a semester where I was taking nothing but comics classes. Anytime I had a question there was a professor to answer it. I feel super lucky about that.

SAIC is a hyperconceptual fine arts school. There’s always a group who’s interested in making comics, but there were a lot of people who were like, “Comics aren’t art.” The attitude was kind of, “Why would you say such and such in a comic when you could make an ambient sound piece?” You know? And I’m not going to knock anyone’s performance piece where they cover themselves in milk or whatever. But for me, it felt like there was way more of an emphasis on work like that than anything that could be seen as remotely commercial. But at the same time, there’s a great history of cartoonists in Chicago, and a lot of them have been involved with SAIC, so that attitude always felt a bit silly to me!

“I love when you read a comic and are like, ‘How the heck would you adapt that to a movie?!’”

Caroline Cash

My senior year, I started working on my debut graphic novel, Girl in the World, which Silver Sprocket published. I finished it right around graduation in 2019. Then I got a job at Quimby’s. I just wanted to read more comics and draw more comics and meet people making comics.

Caroline Cash draws inspiration from how Lynda Barry uses comics to combine autobiography and fiction. Credit: Matthew Gilson for Chicago Reader

At the end of August, I left Quimby’s to go full-time freelance. I feel like the best comic cities in the country right now are New York, Minneapolis, Columbus, and Chicago. It’s way easier to have a part-time job or no job and make comics and still pay your rent in some place like the midwest because comics are so time-consuming. Snowy midwestern cities are cheap, and then winter comes and you just hunker down and draw.

Right now I have consistent money coming in from a lot of places, which is good because I want to focus on my next graphic novel. I’ve also got this comic series called Pee Pee Poo Poo. Silver Sprocket publishes it every three or four months. Each one is 32-ish pages, and it’s basically a one-person anthology. Usually, I’ll throw in one or two autobio strips, but most aren’t like that even if they seem like they could be. There’ll be, like, a strip about two girls going to Rainbo Club and having a nice time. Or one about selling photos of your poop for money to random men on the Internet. Then I’ll do one that’s about, like, me smoking weed or how hard taxes are. Neither of those are true. A lot of the ones about me sound like they could be real, but they’re not. I like blurring the line between what’s true and not—like using myself as a character but lying. Lynda Barry uses herself a lot, but she won’t tell you what’s true and what’s not. I think she calls it autofiction . . . 

Pee Pee Poo Poo number 69 just won an Ignatz Award. It was nominated for a few categories, so I got to hear the announcers say “pee pee poo poo” over and over and over, and I loved it. I titled it that way just to hear people say the name. That’s very funny to me.

Comics are just never boring. You can do so much with them that you can’t with other mediums. It’s like a combination of text and image—so you can do more than with just a story or drawing alone. You can really combine those elements any type of way. Animation and video are fun, but I love when a comic doesn’t look like every panel was a screen grab. I love when you read a comic and are like, “How the heck would you adapt that to a movie?!” It’s just not like any art form to me. I’m obsessed.

Credit: Matthew Gilson for Chicago Reader