March 26, 2017
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Kate Kasenow

Self-Portrait

Kate Kasenow was finishing her master’s degree at Savannah College of Art and Design in 2010 when an editor of Archaia Entertainment called. Archaia is a graphic novel publisher, and for Kasenow, the editor’s offer — to finish a green-lighted book that an illustrator already had begun — was irresistible, although somewhat problematic.

A SCAD professor recommended Kasenow, and the Newburgh native basked in the professional opportunity pre-graduation despite her two design classes and two jobs. She needed to complete 90 pages within nine weeks. “I wasn’t really thinking about the repercussions” she says, if the project flopped. “It was very, very stressful, but we got it done.”

When it debuted in 2011, the graphic novel, An Elegy for Amelia Johnson, showed readers an illustration-heavy book without superheroes and science fiction. Instead, they connected with the story’s main character, a young cancer patient who sends her two best friends on a cross-country mission to deliver her final messages to loved ones. The piece earned praise and received media coverage from outlets including USA Today.

And then Kasenow graduated.

I never really latched on to anything else the way I did with art.

I would read Calvin and Hobbes because my dad was really into Calvin and Hobbes. I would always steal his books and take them to my room. The artist Bill Watterson, I really liked his stuff, but I didn’t really understand what it was when I was a kid. I didn’t make a distinction between drawing and comics. I just liked to look at things.

I didn’t want to try to do something where I wasn’t going to have fun. My parents, Kim and Paul, really supported me during (my decision to go to art school). They said, “If that’s what you want, go for it.”

When I sat down with my advisor after my first year at college, he asked me, “Have you decided what kind of area you want to be in?” I said, “I really like drawing, but I also really like telling stories. I don’t know how to combine those.” He said, “We have a major that does that.” That’s it, then!

I had never really read a lot of comics. I had never
really drawn any.

There are so many different genres. I learned about
superhero comics, and I learned about manga comics from Asia. There are independent comics, which are more along the lines of what I do now. I started reading a lot more comics, and now I have quite the library.

Graphic novels make the idea of a story bigger than what’s in the superhero comics and in the Sunday funnies that everyone thinks of as comics.

One of my favorite graphic novels of all time is called Three Shadows. It’s nothing you would ever think of having to do with superheroes. It’s a very down-to-earth story about loss. That’s what I think independent comics have over the superhero comics: They try to tackle more serious and realistic issues.

My style always is going to be changing and evolving based on my influences, so I don’t think my style says anything by itself. I’m just trying to tell the story as successfully as possible.

One day (my editor) emailed me and said, “USA Today is doing a story and wants to ask you some questions.” I was so surprised. Because when I was working on this project, I came in the middle, and I felt like it was really weird to be ghosting someone else. But I had faith in the project, and I really liked the story and certainly the script.

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