Leah Hayes on Funeral of the Heart

Back in AP art during high school in the mid-1980s, I vividly remember dabbling in scratchboard (according to m-w.com “a black-surfaced cardboard having an undercoat of white clay on which an effect resembling engraving is achieved by scratching away portions of the surface to produce white lines”) and completely screwing it up. So the fact that Leah Hayes created Funeral of the Heart, a 120-page book drawn on scratchboard, caught my attention (and earned my unceasing respect) rather quickly. Thanks to some assistance from Fantagraphics’ Eric Reynolds, I was able to recently email interview Hayes. Here’s part of Fantagraphics description of the book: “Hayes creates a world of unease and ambiguity populated by obsessive characters, forlorn animals, and mysterious, inanimate objects; odd occurrences, unnerving deaths and unconventional but genuine love bind these characters and their stories together.” In addition to some sample pages, Fantagraphics set up a Flickr slideshow for the book and also offered a 10-page PDF preview. My thanks to Hayes for the interview, and please be sure to also check out her musical projects, Scary Mansion and La Laque.

Tim O’Shea: What made you decide to work with scratchboard for Funeral of the Heart?

Leah Hayes: It happened by accident. I was playing around with Scratchboard at the time that Fantagraphics talked to me about publishing a second book with them. I had written part of one story just for fun, so I decided to go with it.

O’Shea: What is the creative process like for a medium like that, given that I assume revision is near to impossible with scratchboard?

Hayes: Revision was basically not an option. Working on it was treacherous, which also made it exciting. It was also really amazing to work with different tools than I’m used to… the whole book was drawn with a scalpel or an exacto-knife, which is intense when you are used to a Bic pen.

O’Shea: Am I correct in thinking you are heavily influenced by folklore?

Hayes: Yes. I like creation myths and I read lots of Ovid these days.

O’Shea: Would you say your musical work in Scary Mansion and La Laque attracts more people to your art work, or vice versa (your art work makes people check out your music), or the two audiences don’t really influence each other?

Hayes: I think the art+music thing has always worked out in terms of allowing people to see what I’m doing artistically. But I don’t know if they will ever come together in a coherent way. For now it’s a just a side-project, depending on who you’re talking to…the comic people see that I have a band and go, “oh look, I guess she does music”, and the music people see the comic and say, “huh; I guess she draws, too”.

I haven’t met a die-hard Scary Mansion fan who has all of my comics or anything like that. I have never met a die-hard Scary Mansion fan, actually!

O’Shea: Of the collection of stories in Funeral, would you say any story (or stories) were creatively harder to execute than the others? Of the stories in the collection, did you one or two that you find yourself more attached to, or protective of?

Hayes: They are all intensely personal, and they are all autobiographical. Family, lovers, being in love, death, twins, and the confusion of wanting to be successful vs. wanting to be alone…I find myself quite attached to all of these subjects.

O’Shea: You favor the use of banners in your narrative, I’m curious if you can speak to your thinking in the use of them?

Hayes: I think phrases are funnier when they are framed in a waving banner. Like an ad for something stupid that takes itself very seriously.

O’Shea: Your choice of layout on the text is interesting, to say the least. You may have a pagraph or two for narrative and dialogue to accompany the art on the next page. The text rarely filled the page, allowing for a great deal of “black space” (aka white space in scratchboard terms). Did you consider this a bit of a storytelling risk on your part, or was it the only layout choice you could envision?

Hayes: I liked the sparseness of the black page; it made the writing on it seem even sadder, which is what I was going for.

O’Shea: Did you work with an editor on this book? How did that help?

Hayes: Gary Groth (from Fantagraphics) did final edits near the end. I had very few people read it before it was published. The whole book was a quiet, alone sort of thing for me. I don’t consider myself a writer by any means, so I did have friends look at the text so I could edit the storytelling a little bit. Fantagraphics has been wonderfully trusting with these comics… they let me write/draw super weird books that make very little sense and are really sad. It’s very nice of them.

O’Shea: The book is dedicated to a few folks, would you care to discuss the book’s dedications?

Hayes: I don’t know if I could talk about that without crying! They are people who made it possible for me to feel like an artist, and who I owe everything to. Some of them are now gone, which made the book especially sad/important by the end.

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