The Artist in the Nursery Interview: Marian Henley

Marian Henley is a cartoonist and author who’s work has appeared in Glamour, Ms., The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Austin Chronicle, among other places.  She is the author of Maxine, Laughing Gas, and The Shiniest Jewel: A Family Love Story.  She lives in Austin, Texas with her family.

At 49 you were working professionally as an artist full-time, when you decided to become a mother and adopt a baby.  That must have been quite a change!  Can you talk a bit about the ways you had to adapt your life to having a child?  Were there any ideas you had about mothering and/or having a baby previous to bringing your son home, that you found were unrealistic or at least different when you did bring him home?

Adapt my life?  Hmmm.  No, I’d say nuclear annihilation followed by painstaking, piecemeal reconstruction is the best way to describe the adjustment period.  This had nothing to do with William – he was an easy baby and, considering the first twenty-two months of his life had bobbed along quietly and predictably (Russians believe babies do best with strict routine), he adjusted to the zip-zip, zoom-zoom kaleidoscope of life outside the orphanage – with two stranger/parents babbling at him in English – with an ease that I can only describe as heroic.  No, what flattened me was the difficulty of the adoption process itself.  My agency made key blunders at several points, one of which was failing to notify anyone that I was arriving in Moscow.  Alone, exhausted, I waited in vain for my ride and finally consulted the information lady, who blew me off in a puff of cigarette smoke.  A young taxi driver saved my life, perhaps literally, considering that dozens of foreigners “disappear” from that airport every year. Continue reading

The Early Years: High School

meets mr right

Back in 1987-88 I believed I was going to be comic book artist of the highest order. I was obsessed with Tintin, vintage Archie comics, and Love and Rockets. I really REALLY wanted to be Jaime Hernandez, but my attempts at “graphic novels” were short lived because I thought the process of creating a comic book page was TEDIOUSLY SLOW. Then I discover Maxine by Marian Henley and EVERYTHING CHANGED. It was simple and funny and to the point. I loved that she called her book “A Cartoon Novel.” I wanted to create a cartoon novel, and what better muse than the love life (or something like it) of my best friend, Meg. And so was born Meg Meets Mr. Right: a cartoon novel.

Back in those days we spent many a day analyzing the plot lines of Days of Our Lives and discussing various boy dynamics. She had a crush on a boy who literally had NO IDEA that she existed. I don’t mean that they were in different social classes. I mean, he didn’t KNOW her at ALL. I think that was the appeal. That, and he looked like he had walked out of one of her own drawings. He had black hair that he slicked back. Crushes in high school can range from the attainable to the far distant idea of attainable. “JB” had no idea the life that surrounded him, the discussions at length as to what he did or didn’t do as he was spotted crossing the parking lot at lunch time. I used it all for my exciting and lengthy cartoon novel, which was definitely a CARTOON of the whole thing. It was based LOOSELY on fact. As they tell young writers, I wrote what I KNEW, which was teenage girl angst mixed with the ridiculous.

With the success of Meg Meets Mr. Right (five star rave reviews from the only two readers, Meg and myself), there just HAD to be a follow up.
triangle - characters
Meg and The Triangle of Love was NOT ONLY not on binder paper, but it was longer and EXPANDED in scope. It featured more of our REAL LIFE FRIENDS AND FAMILY! This time when Meg had a crush on not one, but TWO boys, who might possibly like her back (oh the possibilities!).
triangle - p12
It was also based on a real situation, but completely EXAGGERATED. In the book I had Meg go to Pajaro Dunes (a beach town on the central coast of California) to GET AWAY FROM IT ALL, when in fact she had gone there as part of her Catholic Confirmation retreat. I mean, that is CREATIVE FICTION, people! What GENIUS!

The fact that I didn’t get my ass kicked by ANY of the people involved remains a miracle. I am BLOWN AWAY by the blind smugness I held in creating such a document. I would NEVER dare to be SO CAVALIER with the love lives of my friends now, but it was a different world I lived in then. It was a world where the most fascinating things to me were boys, clothes, comic books and my best friend. And in it’s own way, it was a big love letter to her. Just as the book says:
many friends

And I was one of them (pictured on the far right).