Contributor Spotlight: Adrienne Celt

Adrienne Celt’s illustrations appear in Vol. 33.1 of The Southeast Review. Purchase the issue here.


Adrienne Celt

Tell us about your comics. What inspired them?

When I was younger, I had a hard time pinning myself down to one artistic discipline, and so I tried them all: drawing, sculpture, photography, literature, drama. I received a fair amount of encouragement, and then in college my sense of humor sort of tricked me into focusing on a comic strip (which was the nascent version of the strip I draw today).

What happened was, I found out that our college paper would pay anyone who drew a comic twenty dollars a week for their efforts, and I thought, “Great! I need twenty dollars.” So I started drawing these sketchy, inexpert, postmodern animals and felt pretty good about the fact that I got paid to do it. But in the end, I really enjoyed the process and got invested. So as I say, I suckered myself in.

After college I had less free time, and so the strip fell by the wayside for many years. But comics are some of my earliest influences—we always had Calvin & Hobbes around the house when I was growing up—and I guess I couldn’t shake them so easily. When I was in graduate school for writing (which is my first love), I started drawing again just for fun. My husband and a few of my friends liked what I came up with and told me I should put the comics online. So I did.


Why are you interested in the secret lives and thoughts of animals?

Why wouldn’t I be interested in secret lives and thoughts? Secrets are so much more interesting and influential than the basic, forward-facing versions of things.

But why animals? Well, for one thing I like drawing them: they’re endlessly varied, and full of pathos. If you’ve ever taught a creative writing class, you know that the one type of story that students will really lose their minds over is a story where a dog dies.

More than that, there’s something about animal behavior and physicality that human beings find very easy to project their own thoughts and fears onto. And I think that’s interesting. Why do we look to the world outside ourselves to understand ourselves? Maybe because it’s not so far outside ourselves as we think.


You’re also a writer—how do you find your creative writing differs from or relates to your comics?

The interplay between them goes on very much underneath the surface. Sometimes I’ll take a line or image that I needed to cut from a story or novel and work it into a comic—the comics can be a home for my literary orphans, in that way. But usually, the impulse to draw and the impulse to write are very different. My comics are generally simpler and more totemic than my fiction, but they’re both coming from the same brain. I like getting to exercise those two sides in different places. It’s restful.

(And it gives me an opportunity to make puns.)


Tell us about your novel.

It’s called The Daughters, and will be published by W.W. Norton/Liveright in 2015. Needless to say, I’m very excited about this.

Right now I’m a little too deep inside the editorial process to summarize neatly, so let me say that it involves an opera singer, the fallout of survivor’s guilt across generations (from World War II-era Poland to contemporary Chicago), the relationship between mothers and daughters, and a deal with the devil. I hope that’s enticing.

I would love to do a graphic novel someday, and am currently talking with Matthew Gavin-Frank (another Liveright author) about collaborating on a short-form graphic project to do with his recent, brilliant book about searching for the giant squid, Preparing the Ghost. So we’ll see what comes of that. In the long term I would love to do a graphic novel someday, and I even have a plot in mind (and about a third of a script for it, thanks to a screenwriting class from my MFA days).


Where do you turn for inspiration? (A writer, artist, artwork, a place?)

This differs depending on the day, and depending on what I’m writing or drawing. For comics, definitely Bill Watterson (of Calvin & Hobbes), always. And there are a lot of great webcomics out there that I read religiously, like Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant and Meredith Gran’s Octopus Pie (though do not be fooled, no actual octopi star). I love Celine Loup’s comic Honey, which is not a webcomic per se, but which you can read online. (Because you are lucky, human.)

In a broader sense, I could most easily tell you what books I have stacked next to my computer, because those are the ones I’ve been turning to lately. A non-exhaustive list includes: Nabokov’s Pnin, Karen Green’s Bough Down, J.M. Ledgard’s Submergence, Christian Wiman’s Every Riven Thing, Helen Humphreys’ Wild Dogs. I also just read the first book in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan trilogy, and like everyone else, I’m somewhere between smitten and obsessed.


What do you hope readers come away from your work thinking or feeling?

Their own secret thoughts and feelings.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers and artists? It could be a piece of craft advice, or life advice is always welcome!  

The best advice I can think of is to just keep going—work hard, educate yourself (whatever that means to you), and try not to compare yourself too much to other people. (That last one is hard, but it helps.) Read a lot, look at a lot of art, sit in the mountains and think quietly. Take long walks. Rest your eyes.


What are you working on right now?

Ironically, what I should be working on right now is a comic.



Adrienne Celt’s debut novel The Daughters will be published by W.W. Norton/Liveright in 2015. Her short fiction can be found in Esquire, The Kenyon Review, Puerto del Sol, The Southeast Review, Carve Magazine, Blackbird, storySouth, and other journals. Her comics and essays have appeared recently in The Rumpus, The Toast, The Millions, Lemonhound, Hobart, BarrelhouseGigantic Sequins, and online at Her Twitter is @celtadri.