I first met Alisa Harris last year at the Museum of Comic and Cartooning Arts (MOCCA) festival. She is an animator by day and a cartoonist by night. Although Alisa isn’t a native New Yorker, she has lived in four out of the five boroughs! Her autobiographical cartoons about life and living in New York City are cute and easy to relate to. I met up with her recently to talk about her work and her newest web comic.
Untapped: Let’s get started at the beginning. When did you know you wanted to draw comics and animation?
Alisa: I drew a lot when I was little. A while ago I found the first comic that I drew when I was seven. It was about my mom being pregnant with my brother. It’s really funny, I drew her getting bigger and bigger and cooking barefoot in the kitchen. She is a nurse and was working at the time so I don’t know where I got that from. I was inspired by the Sunday funnies as well; Snoopy and Calvin and Hobbes were my favorites. I also watched a lot of animation, mostly Disney and Looney Tunes. Seeing The Little Mermaid inspired me to become an animator. Excerpt from Urban Nomad #3
Untapped: When did you become more serious about cartooning?
Alisa: Well I started out studying fine art in college. Then I transferred to SVA to study animation. After college I got laid off from an animation job and my roommate convinced me to go to the San Diego Comic Con that summer. I had a tiny part of a table in the small press area. I drew my first mini comic the week before and made copies at Staples. Some people actually bought it! That was the first time I exhibited. I continued to draw comics but it took me a few years before I exhibited again.
Untapped: Are you going to Drink and Draw Like a Lady on Friday?
Alisa: Yes! I love that event. We can talk about comics and not have to worry about getting hit on!
Untapped: You have been in NYC for a few years now, what would miss about NYC if you ever left?
Alisa: I definitely would miss the fact that everything is open late! I love being able to walk to the corner store to get coffee or food when I am working late. It wasn’t until I was in London that I realized the tube closes at midnight. I was like, “What do you mean I can’t get home if I wanted to stay out?”
Excerpt from Annecy travel journal comic
Untapped: I really love your travel journals. How do you keep up with them while experiencing your trip?
Alisa: Thank you! I usually bring a sketchbook with me everywhere I go. If I plan to do a travel comic while I’m away, I spend some time before my trip to draw out panel borders in a sketchbook. My favorite sketchbook for travel comics is a Strathmore 8 x 10 inch drawing pad. They are nice and thin and will get me through a decent week or so of journal pages. The longest travel journal I did was two summers ago when my boyfriend and I went to Switzerland and France for the Annecy Animation Festival. It ended up being over 80 pages long! I brought about 3 small sketchbooks, a travel watercolor case and brush, a pencil and 2 to 3 pens on the trip. I tackled the first few days as I would hourly comics, penciling them every few hours and then inking them at the end of the night. At the Animation Festival I didn’t have time to do that much, so I’d scribble notes and just do some sketches here and there in my regular sketchbook. I also took a ton of photos, which helped out as reference since I finished that part of the journal last summer.
Untapped: The hourly comics seem hard to keep up with too. How long have you been doing them?
Alisa: I think four years now. The first year I scribbled the hourly comics on loose leaf paper. It was hard to do with my job, but it was nice to take a mini break from looking at my screen once an hour to draw. I had to make sure I did something interesting each hour, like getting up from my desk to get tea. Otherwise the comic would be 8 hourly panels of me drawing a comic about drawing the comic. In January 2011 I took this concept one step further, and did one panel every day for the whole month.
Untapped: Oh wow! That’s cool. Did you color them?
Alisa: Yes, I colored them digitally. But I do like to watercolor by hand too. I try to draw with pencils and ink when I can. I don’t always want to come home from a day of animating on my computer just to look at a screen again. I love drawing with pen and pencil but sometimes it’s nice to skip the scanning stage, so digital is a good solution.
Cover Art for Rock On Guide
Untapped: What is your favorite untapped spot in NYC?
Alisa: Spa Castle in Flushing! It’s four stories of pools, saunas and hot tubs. It is amazing! I think it is $35-$45 for a day pass. And now they serve alcohol too! I know friends who travel all the way from Brooklyn to spend the day there. I try to make it there once a year, it’s so relaxing. Speaking of Untapped places I loved the article you guys ran recently about the RKO Keith’s Theatre. I pass it all the time! I always wondered what it looked like inside. I even dreamed of being an urban spelunker going in to explore the place. I also love the Tenement Museum. It is really interesting. There’s one room they kept pretty much untouched from when they bought the building. There are multiple layers of wallpaper just peeling off the wall. The other rooms are made up to look like different periods in history.
Untapped: That sounds so interesting. The city is filled with so many things to learn, everything keeps changing and evolving.
Alisa: Yes, I’m always learning new things about New York, despite living here for over 10 years. The city is a big influence on my Urban Nomad comic series.
Untapped: I have issue three. Can I look forward to issue four soon?
Alisa: Soon. I was going to try to have it done for MoCCA but I’ve been focusing on my new webcomic. I should have issue 4 done for CAKE Chicago in June. But I will have a new issue of Counter Attackfor MoCCA.
Untapped: I can’t wait! So tell me about your new web comic.
Alisa: They are vegetarian recipe comics. I had the idea about three years ago, and have been drawing it for about two years now. I lost momentum when I saw They Draw and Cook was doing something similar, but I’m rolling again and the site launched in March. The recipes are in full color, and I did everything digitally because I thought it would be more efficient.
Untapped: What sparked the idea for the comic three years ago?
Alisa: I was never much of a cook until I moved to New York and had to eat cheaply as a vegetarian. I actually started making comics and cooking around the same time after I graduated. I wanted to create visual, step by step recipes for beginners.
Recipe from Cooking Up Comics
Untapped: I look forward to trying one soon! Where can our Untapped readers follow your work?
Alisa: You can check out my comics and other art at my main site alisaharris.com
The recipe comic is at cookingupcomics.com
I also update my twitter pretty frequently as @cookingupcomics
Alisa will also be at the MOCCA Festival on Saturday, stop by and say hi!
Saturday April 28th & Sunday April 29th
At the Lexington Avenue Armory
68 Lexington Avenue (Between 25th and 26th Streets)
Pre-sale tickets available now for $12 or $18 at the door.
For more information and list of exhibitors visit: moccafest.org