I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet and interview the lovely and hilarious Sarah Andersen, the creator of the widely popular Internet comic strip, “Sarah’s Scribbles.” The strip follows the main character, Sarah, as she finds herself in funny and all-too-real situations. Recently, Sarah has released a “Sarah’s Scribbles” book, Adulthood is a Myth. While the themes of the comics focus on the ridiculous and even frustrating situations of adulthood, Sarah provided me with some excellent insights on a variety of wellness topics from taking care of yourself to navigating difficult social situations. A big thanks to Sarah for taking the time to be interviewed for rtor.org
1. “Sarah’s Scribbles” has accumulated quite a following and I think it has to do with how relatable your comics are. A lot of your drawings show what could be called “introvert problems.” Would you say that your fan base is mostly made up of introverts who identify with those common struggles?
Yes, absolutely. I just did a book tour and for the first time I got to meet my readers in person and it was overwhelmingly people would come up to me and say things like “I’m glad you talk about being introverted.” I think online comics, in general, attract an introverted crowd in the first place. I would say that introverts are a large part of my readership.
2. You have a great ability to capture small parts of life that are very relatable yet often overlooked and rarely talked about it. What do you think made you so good at noticing and depicting these things? And when did you first start drawing?
That’s something that has always been interesting to me and I’ve always thought really hard about it because I started taking comics seriously when I was a sophomore in college and I was really struck by how people worked hard to present themselves in a certain way. I didn’t really fit in because I didn’t understand how to do it. I was so convinced that there are larger problems like social awkwardness or anxiety that people were not admitting to. I felt like this is a big secret but it’s definitely there. I was like “I can’t be the only one, this has to be a universal experience.” It’s interesting that social media lets us simultaneously create a facade but it also let’s us talk about the real stuff. It’s a weird dichotomy and it’s hard to know which one you are supposed to look at.
3. When did you start to develop this cartoon character of “Sarah?” And what was the inspiration behind creating this cartoon series?
I started what is now called “Sarah’s Scribbles” sophomore year but I was making comics throughout high school. I always had little comics in my sketchbook about teachers or about little things that happened in class.
4.Since the release of your book Adulthood is a Myth you have been pretty busy especially with travel. I know from my own experience that being introverted requires a certain amount of quiet or alone time. How do you manage to get that me-time in and still take care of yourself when you are so busy?
I think I still struggle with taking care of myself. I wish I could say that I wake up at 7 am, drink a kale smoothie, and go for a run. The truth is I’m still taking baby steps. Waking up on time is a baby step for me. Just trying to do something that keeps you healthy is enough. I tried to quit coffee, I was good for about a year then deadlines happen and I find myself drinking three cups of coffee. It’s definitely a process.
5. Do you have a favorite comic from Adulthood is a Myth?
Yes, for sure. It’s the one where she is talking to her guy and they go through time and she keeps him if he likes her. That has been to date the most viral of any of the comics. At first, I was not sure if I wanted to do that one because it was so sweet and genuine. That one is my magnum opus.
6. Both you and the cartoon “Sarah” seem to be private people, yet your work displays intimate moments in your life. Has it been hard to become a well-known public figure on the Internet when you are so private?
You know this comes at a really interesting time because yesterday there was this post on the front page of 9GAG that said “This is what Sarah Andersen looks like.” 9GAG is known for vicious comments and it was difficult for me to reconcile. I have to figure out what actually bothers me. If someone says something like “I hate these comics” or “I hate Sarah Andersen” that doesn’t truly affect me and I have to remind myself not to take it into consideration. What truly bothers me is criticism that I think is valid such as “I think Sarah Andersen is doing too much of that or needs to change this.” So I have to differentiate, when people talk about me, when do I care. Most people don’t know what I look like and I feel very comfortable putting my work out there but I don’t want my personal life out there. I’m trying to learn how to set boundaries for my own reaction when these types of things happen.
7. On a similar note, there are a few times in the book where people are critiquing or even criticizing your work. In real life, how do you handle criticism –either constructive or not? And do you have any advice for others especially artists like you for handling people making comments on their work?
I would say to other artists that you have to choose what criticism you are going to take seriously and what you should ignore. If someone says they hate your work then there is nothing you can do about it. Decide what’s worth your time.
That’s a good question. It’s really important not to get caught up in appearances and pretense. It’s really hard not to do that when you have all these social media platforms that make it so easy. I think if you are honest, people are going to relate to you even if you are honest about not being the best person. I’m drawn to people who will admit those types of things. You can have it together but it’s so much easier if you are not afraid to just be yourself. I know that sounds like generic advice but it really is one of the hardest things to do.
She is based off of a group of real people. It’s a little bit mean spirited. She’s based on this clique of girls from high school who, at the time, were into the trend of wearing your hair up in a sloppy bun, Uggs, and a school sweatshirt. I was out of touch as a high-schooler, but I think they were particularly out of touch. I don’t want to put all girls in a box or anything, but it was little moments like the ones in the book that came from this group of girls.
10. There is one scene where you have many different ailments from a headache to a broken leg and the advice everyone gives is to just drink water. I write on rtor.org under the blog Just Right Wellness and the goal of my blog is to not give this BS one-size-fits all advice. In your opinion, what’s the best way to respond when someone gives you lame advice?
I think that the big issue in that situation is that someone is not listening. It can be the other person who is not listening to you or it could be that you are not listening to yourself. Sometimes, I’ll intuitively know there is an answer to my problem and I’ll turn outward to other people for advice and they aren’t really listening to me so they don’t give me the best advice. When that happens, I think it’s best to listen to your own intuition. It’s really hard for people to give other people the advice they need because sometimes it’s hard to empathize with specific problems.
11. On the topic of advice, there is one page where bun-head is telling you about her terrible boyfriend and you tell her it might be a good idea to end it yet she soon after posts a photo on social media of her kissing her boyfriend. Why do you think people turn away from good advice and continue doing something that is bad for them?
It’s an interesting question. It makes me so mad when people do that. I think when they complain like that they aren’t look for an answer even if the right answer is in front of them. They just aren’t ready to accept it yet. If they aren’t ready to hear the advice, they won’t take it.
12. Do you think Cartoon Sarah will ever change her mind about adulthood and grow-up to be a “real” adult, whatever that means?
I don’t know. I guess we’ll see. Sometimes people criticize the strip and say it’s too negative and has a negative message. If I figure everything out from anxiety, stress to being healthy, then I guess she will grow up but then there is nothing to write about. I don’t want my strip to be about how amazing and perfect my life is. I want to live a good life and I’m working on everything and I think the process of going through that is what makes the comics funny.
13. Adulthood is super overwhelming and you do a great job of pointing out how complex adult life can be. I really wish other people would realize this and maybe be a little easier on themselves as they learn to handle all the things adulthood will throw at them. What advice do you have for people in that 18-21 age group who are just about to start “adulthood?”
I think it’s a known secret that no one has it figured out. Some people might be doing better than others but it’s alright not to have everything together. You’re still young and you have options and that age is difficult. Enjoy the process of figuring it out instead of being nervous about it.
14. What do you think is next for you and for Sarah’s Scribbles?
I’m finishing my second book and it should be out sometime next March. I’ll be continuing the strip for at least two more years but I have been starting to freelance a lot more. I’ve been doing more illustration work for other comics including an issue of the Invader Zim comic books.
Update: Sarah Andersen’s latest Sarah’s Scribbles book, Big Mushy Happy Lump, is available for pre-order and will be released on March 7, 2017.
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