Cartoonist Liana Finck’s work has been appearing in The New Yorker since 2015. Since then, she’s amassed an impressive following on Instagram (323k at this writing). Her savvy publisher took note and released a book of her Instagram drawings, Excuse Me: Cartoons, Complaints, and Notes to Self featuring 500 of her signature, personal-yet-universal drawings. We talked a bit about the new book and where it fits into her growing catalog.
How did Excuse Me come to be … Passing for Human came out just a year ago, that’s a tight turn around.
My publisher bought Excuse Me about two years ago, before Passing for Human came out, and I️ think I️ started working on it right away. I’d already done all the thinking work, so it was just a matter of book design. You can tell how bad a book designer I️ am by the fact that I️ said “just.” Since the original Instagram drawings were photographed on my iPhone rather than scanned, and since I️ don’t save the originals, I️ decided to redraw everything. I️ drew it all small, as I️ do for the Instagram drawings, and scanned it in very high resolution, and blew it up a little. I’m happy with how it turned out: the cover is nice, and the color, and the paper. I’m grateful to the cover design and book layout people I worked with at Random House (Robbin Schiff and Sarah Feightner, respectively).
How did you go about organizing the drawings in Excuse Me, is there a story through-line or is it more of a traditional “collection”?
At first, I️ wanted to organize the drawings chronologically, like my Instagram feed. I️ ended up organizing them by subject. It still feels chronological to me, though, because since the feed is autobiographical, I️ tend to deal with one subject at a time over a given period: one month, all my cartoons will be about a breakup, one month they’ll all be about writing, one month they’ll be about social overwhelm, etc. I️ tried to tell a story with the organization of cartoons within each chapter. For instance, the “love and dating” chapter begins with early-stage dating, progresses through later-stage dating, on to sex, then to love, and then to breakups.
Passing for Human and Excuse Me both seem very personal, how did the experience of creating each differ? Did you prefer one over the other?
Passing for Human was an autobiographical graphic novel – it took about six years of trial and error to make. (It was harder to make than my first graphic novel, A Bintel Brief, which was less personal, and which I’d outlined for a grant proposal before I️ made it). The cartoons in Excuse Me weren’t made for a book – there was no sitting at a desk staring at the wall; I️ just drew ideas as they came to me and posted them on Instagram. Pure joy. There was a lot of design stuff, though, after the fact. I️ usually equate extensive Photoshop and careful tracing work with freelance projects, rather than creative work, so this was a merging of worlds for me: a helpful one, I think.
Is there anything in Excuse Me that has not appeared on Instagram?
Everything in Excuse Me has been published already, mostly on Instagram, but I’ve also reworked most of the drawings. I️ doubt there’s anyone who’s seen all the drawings on Instagram, so I’m not so worried about boring people with old material – but I️ didn’t realize that it would be hard to get excerpts of the book published, since everything had already been published in some form. I️ kind of expanded on one of the cartoons for an excerpt The New Yorker, and made it look more like something that would appear in print. It was fun to do. I️ learned something.
Does having a book of drawings that you didn’t expect to publish GET published change anything about the way you approach your work on Instagram now?
Not really. I️ do wonder if the drawings in Excuse Me will be read differently on paper than they were on Instagram. Paper is a slower medium than the internet. I️ wonder if they’ll hold up. I️ bet some of them will and some won’t.
Each of your books so far has been very different in essence, do you think you’d do this sort of collection again? Or do you prefer the graphic novel process, or perhaps something completely new for your next?
I’m already mostly finished with my next book. It’s a version of the book of Genesis (from the Torah, not the Christian Bible), with a female God. The character originated in Passing for Human – she’s child-like and sweet, motherly in a way, little-girlish, not stern and in a power trip like the bearded entity we all know and love. The story is about her creation of, and longing to be seen by, her creations, Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc—a bunch of tiny men.
I’d like to do more Instagram collections in the future, if the opportunity arises. I️ hope the part of me that makes graphic novels becomes more like the part of me that makes Instagram cartoons: direct and biting, with an innate sense of proportion and not a crippling amount of self-consciousness.