Interview with “Not My Small Diary’s” Delaine Derry Green

Delaine Derry Green has been making autobiographical comics under the title “My Small Diary” for over twenty five years. In addition, she edits the anthology series “Not My Small Diary” where she has published the likes of Shannon Wheeler, Julia Wertz, and Noah Van Sciver. She has just released the 20th issue of “Not My Small Diary” which has the theme “The Power of Music” (and a contribution from your truly). I interviewed Delaine last summer while she was compiling this new issue. Her name is pronounced “Duh-lane” NOT “Dah-lane-ie.”

Thanks for letting me interview you Delaine.

Before reading “My Small Diary” I had always stereotyped diary comics as depressing. Yours seem to largely record fun things you’ve done. Is this intentional or just an expression of your personality?

I’m definitely an optimistic person and I usually like to focus on positive and/or unique occurrences.

It comes across – they’re a lot of fun to read.

From “My Small Diary Comic”

In your “I Am My Own Stereotype” collection of MSD (My Small Diary) you have some dating back to the 80s when you were only a child. What were the first comics you can remember loving? What made you want to start drawing diary comics?

The comics I remember reading and loving while growing up included Mad Magazine, Garfield, Bloom County, Peanuts, Wizard of Id, The Far Side, Luann, and more. As much as I love fictional comics there is just something about non-fiction… it’s more interesting because it’s true. 

What opened your eyes to the potential of non-fiction comics?

I’m not sure what first opened my eyes to non-fiction comics. I know the first time I did autobiographical comics was in high school – about things my friends and I were doing.

The diary comics in “I Am My Own Stereotype: The My Small Diary Collection” are mostly from the 1990s and early 2000s – there are contemporary references to Jeffrey Dahmer, Lollapalooza, Y2K, etc… As a 90s kid myself, they gave me some serious nostalgia! How does it feel to go back and read these comics yourself?

To be honest, I really like re-reading the things I did. I try not to get swept away by nostalgia, but sometimes it feels good. And when I make myself laugh years later… that’s a plus.

It’s such a great feeling when you look back on your old work and are surprised how GOOD it is. So often we only hear about the opposite.

Are you still drawing diary comics or do you focus more on editing these days?

My production of diary comics has slowed down, but it still happens. I have several that have only been published in “Cartoon Loonacy” (a small APA). So maybe I will add on to the My Small Diary collection and do a reprint when my original supply runs out. The beauty of self-publishing – you can make your own rules!

I started following you on twitter after exchanging comics via “Copy That!” Do you see any similarities between social media and diary comics?

I definitely see a connection. especially my comics. The way I did my diaries was very reminiscent of “statuses” on Facebook (before that existed). Each panel of my comic was a separate event or thought. I hope social media hasn’t made me lazier in terms of making my comics, but guess what? It probably has. I love posting every day online and feeling connected to people. Even as a child I loved having pen pals and writing letters.

I liked the status update/off the cuff style of your comics. So much fiction these days over explains EVERYTHING. Every character gets a lengthy backstory where who they are is explicitly detailed for the reader or viewer. To have you mention friends of yours by their first names with no backstory and have to get to know who they are through their interactions with you was very refreshing to me.

I’m so glad you like the more boiled down style of my comics.

So, in addition to drawing your own diary comics you edit an anthology of diary comics.

Yes, I edit and publish a diary anthology (first issue came out in 1996). I am in the midst of collecting work for the 20th issue of Not My Small Diary. The tentative deadline for that issue is this June.

Do you prefer publishing your own work or the work of others?

I enjoy them in different ways. Organizing the anthology is more complicated… I have to wrangle sometimes over 50 different artists, but it’s a definite labor of love. The end

result is always satisfying!

Are there things you get out of editing that you don’t get from solo work? Are there any benefits to publishing an anthology?

I am always delighted by the talent my contributors share with NMSD. I love my regulars and it’s exciting to get new contributors each issue. It’s a lot of fun to assemble – it feels like assembling a mix tape the way one comic segues into the next. I do my best to promote the books once they are printed and get good exposure for all my artists.

Have you ever been completely blown away by someone’s submission? Tell me a few of the best strips you’ve ever published and talk a little about each of them.

I am blown away (and humbled) many times per issue! Mark Campos (R.I.P.) submitted a wordless 2-page comic about a journey to Japan that I think about often… it’s beautiful, my favorite NMSD comic of his. Another wordless wonder is Raina Telgemeier’s comic about being a child and experiencing an exhilarating moment seeing deer in the wild after a sleepy car trip.

Contributed to NMSD by Mark Campos

Does better art make for better diary comics or is it more personal if the art’s a little raw?

I don’t think better art makes for better comics. A good, pure story is important. Quality art is the icing on the cake.

You accept artists with a wide range of styles and skill levels. Do you notice artists work improving over time as they submit to you?

There have been several artists whose art has changed over time. Two jump out at me – Scott Thigpen and Joe Decie. Joe’s first submission to NMSD might be unrecognizable to people who know his current “ink wash” style. I have also been impressed by Kelly Froh’s artistic journey – I love her work and her dedication to celebrating other artists.

How did you feel when you found out that John Porcellino (King Cat Comics) and Misun Oh (Tearjerker Zine) met through NMSD and later married?

I loved the fact that John Porcellino and Misun met through Not My Small Diary! I first met Misun because she ordered My Small Diary and our friendship grew from there. In fact, I have made many friends through the world of Small Diary and that makes the comics they send even more special to me. I’ve been lucky enough to travel and meet many of the artists in person (from coast to coast in the US and even in England!).

Contributed to NMSD by John Porcellino

Community is obviously very important to you, even though comics tend to be a very “lonely” art form – as opposed to music or theater which require much more collaboration. Do you think this influences how cartoonists interact with each other?

Comics can be lonely, but in my experience it doesn’t stop strong connections. Many cartoonists attend comic, zine, and small press shows and make face-to-face connections that way. And with the internet, it’s easier to keep in constant contact.

Is it correct to assume that MSD and NMSD grew out of 90s zine culture?

They did indeed grow out of zine culture. In fact, before I first made Small Diaries, I thought about doing a more zine-like creation with writing and other contributions vs just comics. But I am happy with the direction I took. I am indebted to my early connection to zines like Factsheet 5 (which helped me connect with more zines), Maximum Traffic’s White Buffalo Gazette, The Brave New Tick, and more.

Was it easier to get your work into brick and mortar stores in those days? What are your favorite shops that have carried your work? Are any of them still around?

I don’t feel like it was easier to get into brick & mortar stores in the 90s vs today. The only difference is that some places have disappeared – most notably Tower Records. I and other self-publishers enjoyed being carried there. To this day I am carried in Atomic Books and Quimby’s amongst other stores.

Not only will this interview be carried in an off-line zine, but you mentioned the Cartoon Loonacy APA (Amateur Press Association). Do you think zine culture is making a comeback?

 I think zine culture is still strong. And it’s easier than ever to find out about other zinesters, comic artists, etc because of the internet. I can see where one could get lost in the great expanse of information out there. That’s why it’s important to promote, make connections, get reviewed, etc.

There are many themes that you revisit often in MSD. One of the strongest is music. As a matter of fact the theme of the new issue of NMSD will be “The Power of Music.” What has music meant to your life? Who are your favorite bands?

I guess I am naturally drawn to music even though I have no musical talent. I just love it. Music can connect you with different times, places, and people instantly. Music can be a drug – it seems to get the dopamine levels up! My favorite bands include Big Star, The Kinks, Kraftwerk, and so many more. My top favorites may change through the years, but I still love every band I once loved.

Many cartoonists seem to have a strong connection with music – why do you think that is?

Perhaps there is a connection between the creativity of art and that of music… that could explain the connection. I made a poll for theme choices for NMSD-20 and Music won in a landslide… it really connects with people and gets them excited. I am looking forward to seeing how this issue comes together and shares wonderful and personal stories about music.

How did you first get into music? What was the first song or band that hooked you and how did you hear about them? Describe some of your early show/concert experiences.

I remember going to sleep listening to the record player as a child (as early as 3). I remember having an Osmonds and a Partridge Family album. I had a record player that let you stack multiple albums and each one would drop down and play when the one before was done playing. My first “obsession” was Michael Jackson in the early 80s. I bought all the Jackson 5, Jacksons, and solo Michael stuff I could. One day I heard about a contest on the radio – I could win tickets to see the Jacksons Victory Tour (1984). I used our rotary phone to dial & dial & dial into the radio station. I finally got through and was placed into the big drawing for the tickets. I didn’t win, but my parents ended up buying a ticket for me, another friend got a ticket as well, and my dad took us both to the big stadium show!

I never entered contests like that but in my memory they were ALWAYS on the radio. Also it seemed like every sitcom had at least one episode with a call in contest for tickets as a plot point.

About a year later my focus on Michael Jackson waned and I started getting into different music including the exciting world of punk rock! I loved the Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, The Exploited, The Misfits, and many more. At the same time I also liked Depeche Mode, The Cure, New Order, and similar artists. In college I saw The Cure, The B-52s, Violent Femmes, and other shows. After graduating college my concert schedule increased even more. Most of those experiences show up in my comics.

So you’ve lived in the South for most of your life – Birmingham, AL for a while now if I’m not mistaken. Do you consider yourself a southerner?

Here’s a quick breakdown of where I’ve lived: 1970-78 Ohio, 78-85 Tennessee, 85-present Alabama (including Huntsville (the “Rocket City”), Auburn for college & Bhm from 96-present). I moved around growing up, not because of a military family, but because my dad was finding new and better computer-related jobs. He got his Masters in Computer Science from Ohio State in 1974, during the days of room-sized computers and punch cards. My dad has been in Mensa since I was young and I’ve always enjoying going to Mensa parties & events with them. I even did quite a few illustrations for local Mensa newsletters as a teenager.

Do you have an accent?

The people who are from/live in the south say I don’t have a southern accent. People outside of the south say I have one… so who knows!

What’s it like to have all these “cool” interests but live in a city that’s not considered cool – especially before small city gentrification/hipsterdom?

On the outside looking in, people probably assume anything Alabama-related may be backward or uncool. But it’s not true! I’ve never had problems finding like-minded people. We’ve actually had several cartoonists & artists who had never really been to the south visit & stay with us. As a rule they were very impressed with the city & culture here. We’ve had John Porcellino, Misun Oh (not at the same time!), Dan Stafford, Jerry Sims, Ben Steckler, and more (I still regret not being available when Jason Turner and Sam Spina came through town.) Birmingham regularly votes democrat in elections and our city scored a perfect 100 in LGBTQ support, surpassing the national average of 58 (per the HRC). The city is full of artists, musicians, actors, & cartoonists, as well as great medical and science minds because of UAB. Our diverse group of friends make life great.

I’d like to pick your brain about editing an anthology comic. The greater depth you go into the more useful this’ll be for me and the Copy That! readers 😉 What is your process for soliciting submissions?

In the beginning I had a smaller pool of people I would ask for submissions. As you know, the early-mid 90s meant little to no internet, calls for submissions went out via snail mail, and most of my choices came from zines/comics I bought. Through the years I asked my favorite contributors for suggestions to expand my contributor pool. I have submitted to anthologies in the past and it seems I do things a little different… other comic anthology editors seem to curate more on the front end. They have a more limited pool, ask for story ideas before getting the finished pieces, and ask for progress updates. I am more laid back in this respect. I throw out a wider net, including over 100 people in my invite list – but knowing I usually only get 50 people max.

How do you edit and organize the material?

I do not ask people what they are going to do. I give general guidelines as far as page count and theme. I ask for 1-4 pages but happily accept more pages if the story requires. I don’t prod people until very close to the due date. Because of this, an extension will happen with each issue and I allow later submissions. Since I set the book up myself and get it printed on my own dime, I have the freedom to make my own rules.

Contributed to NMSD by Lucy Knisley

How do you get it printed and once it’s printed how do you go about distributing it?

I set my books up in Adobe InDesign and get the books printed through Lulu (online). I have been very happy with their quality and because I order a large quantity at one time I get price breaks. After I have the books in hand, it’s promotion time. I send the books off to several review-zines and comics reviewers and spread the word in social media.

Ah, The double edged sword of the internet seems to be coming up a lot in this interview! Soliciting submissions, printing books and contacting reviewers online seems to be one of it’s best uses.

How much do you post about a new book coming out? Do you have any sort of plan or schedule for online promotion?

Leading up to a release of NMSD I like to post ‘teasers’ as I get submissions in. For every new comic I receive I will post a panel or two on FB, Twitter and sometimes Instagram. It actually gets my other contributors excited about finishing their pages and gets future readers amped up. Last issue I had a friend give me some help making a ‘press release’ which I had never done before. That seemed to help get the word out even more. Many artists in my books post after a book is released or at least retweet or repost one of my posts to spread the word.

How do you go about getting reviewed online? Indie review sites seem to have a short lifespan – do you have relationships with established sites or do you have to search out new ones every time you print a new book? How many review zines do you follow? “Copy That!” is amazing of course, but what are your other favorites?

Besides ‘Copy That!’ ‘Xerography Debt’ is very helpful. I send my book to multiple reviewers in XD. I also check online before sending out review copies – some review zines come & go so I like to see what is out there at the time (for example, Maximum RocknRoll recently ended its run so no more reviews from them). I welcome suggestions for places to get reviewed! When I get reviewed in print I retype the whole review and post online on Twitter, on FB, my website, etc. so everyone can check it out.

Noooo! Not Maximum Rock and Roll! I’m so glad my mini comics got reviewed twice while they were still around.

I know, I grew up loving MR&R… I recommend sending to Razorcake now.

How big a print run do you generally do? Has it changed over time?

I’ve been ordering around 400 books at once and that seems to last a long time! It has changed over time… I ordered 250-300 in the past and discovered that wasn’t quite enough.

Previously you mentioned Quimby’s and Atomic Books have carried your work in the past. I’ve been to both and they are some of the best book/comic shops I know! How do you get your books into brick and mortar stores? Do you mail your books to them blind and ask the shop to carry them? Do you direct them to the reviews you have received online? Do you ask your contributors to go to their local shops in person to try to get carried?

As far as stores, I don’t send out copies without talking to people working there online first. There is a local comic shop in Birmingham that carries my books, and they do good business. I love them! They’re called Sanctum Tattoos and Comics & I’ve seen books by other people who’ve been in NMSD like Ben Snakepit, Liz Prince, Mari Naomi carried there. There are a few distros that carry my book – like Wasted Ink Zine Distro and Spit and a Half. Also when I travel to new places I take some books with me and find shops that might carry them.

Have you ever considered using kickstarter to raise printing funds or promote and distribute a new book?

Kickstarter is always a possibility, but from what I’ve heard it’s more work than the way I currently do things and I’m able to fund things up front at the moment.

From “My Small Diary Comic”

How about cons? Do you attend or table at them?

I have visited and tabled at several conventions… I went to SPX as a regular patron in 99. I have tabled at APE, Fluke, and LA Zine Fest. The last event I attended and tabled at was LA Zine Fest in 2014! I am due to table again!

What do you get out of attending cons?

Sales aren’t the biggest draw of cons… meeting and hanging out with peers is! It was great seeing so many people at once at these events, especially contributors to NMSD. At APE I got a bunch of NMSD artists to sign a copy of NMSD that they appeared in… kind of like a yearbook. So all in all, it’s more of a social experience and I would like to do more!

Do you have any good con stories?

I guess the best story would be when my husband proposed to me during our visit to SPX in 1999! It was at a French restaurant away from the con events, but afterward we went to an SPX gathering and told everyone the great news! Another good set of events occurred in 2006 – a Museum show called Dear Diary: The Autobiographical Comic Book at the Athens Institute of Contemporary Art in Athens, GA coincided with Fluke (a mini-comics & zine festival). I got to show my comics and a painting I did based on My Small Diary at the museum as well as table at the fest. Seeing Matt Groening at LA Zine Fest, just wandering from table to table like a normal patron, was super cool.

Marriage and Matt Groening seems like a good place to wrap up! It was lovely talking with you Delaine.

All available issues of “My Small Diary Comic” and “Not My Small Diary Comic,” including Issue 20: The Power of Music, may be purchased on Delanie’s Website: http://mysmallwebpage.com/

How to Read the I Ching – In Bars!

The website is dead! Long live the website!

Not only had I not updated in over a year, but a WordPress update completely destroyed the functionality of the webcomic plug-in I had been using. I tried to fix it, but with my rusty html skills I just wound up driving the whole thing off a cliff. It’s just as well. There was a lot of old work on here and it didn’t represent where I was at anymore.

So! A Fresh start. I still may post some “best of” my old strips, but lets start out with this new mini-comic that I just sent out to comic stores.

This is actually part of a larger strip I’m working on about the I Ching, but I’ll let you know about that as it develops.