June 20, 2014

Spotlight: Beth Heinly

Is it 3 o'clock yet?

I’ve never been one to read comics. Either the stories didn’t relate to me, or I just didn’t know what was out there. But Beth Heinly, who makes work under the pseudonym "The 3:00," writes comics so relatable, I couldn’t help but immediately connect to her work. When it comes to stories of awkward conversations, smoking weed with your friends and talking to your cat--yeah, I’ve been there. Being able to connect to an artist's work is what keeps viewers interested and coming back for more, because sometimes, in a way, reading stories that remind you of yourself and your own life make art feel like they could have been written by a friend.

That’s exactly what Beth's work does: she’s awkward and funny and a little strange, and some of her comics read like the thoughts that run through your head you may not say out loud. But we're thankful Beth puts these funny little drawings on paper, because as misery loves company, so does strangeness. We talked to Beth about her comic The 3:00, how she first started drawing, where she finds her inspiration and her true love: cats.

THE LE SIGH: Introduce yourself!

Beth Heinly: Hi, my name is Beth. I live in the city of brotherly love. I'm currently unemployed, "freelancing" and living off my boyfriend - kind of like Kurt Cobain except I'm 32 years-old, female and not into music. I'm a member of a local artist-run gallery, Vox Populi. I feel like I'm writing a cover letter, kill me. Basically, today I feel like a big loser, so maybe not the best time to introduce myself, but this comes into my art making anyway. Drawing comics helps me laugh, which is something I need to get by. Sometimes my jokes are so dry there's an awkward silence I imagine a person is going through after reading them and there are very few people who think that silence is funny. If you're one of those people, hello friend. I also make performance art and curate art shows that all pull into my interest in drawing comics, philosophically teetering between existentialism and nihilism - I know right? - focusing on identity within the realms of comedy, tragedy, theater, television and real life.

TLS: When did you first start getting into art? And more specifically when did you start drawing comics? I love “The 3:00 book” comics you do. They're so relatable, it blows my mind.

BH: I've been drawing since I was four years-old and I've found this is the case for most artists. What I love about drawing now is that it's like being four still. I started to specifically draw comics when I was in the 5th grade. I had two series, one was called "Dan & Judy," which was about a white trash couple who had fifteen kids. And the other was called "Fluffy & Opus," which was the white trash version of Garfield & Odie. I was pretty much trying to understand my place within society. I use humor today in the same way. I also collaborated with my fellow talented classmate Eileen Flietz. We would do drawing jam type of scenarios passing one frame back and forth to each other during class. This collaboration was an important part of how I would continue to want to create.

"The 3:00 book" was born in high school in collaboration with my bestfriend Maureen Cummings. It was literally a composition notebook. In Catholic school, you're only allowed to use composition notebooks, and this aided us in being able to stealthily draw comics for each other during class. We primarily chose to draw during Spanish and Theology. The "3:00" refers to Todd Solondz's "Welcome to the Dollhouse." Today I like to say it relates to Jean-Paul Sarte's quote, "Three o'clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do." Our comics consisted of replaying our weekends and the jokes we shared relating to school, television, music, smoking, our pets and the people in our everyday lives. We were always creating comics through jokes we told each other, shaping a style of humor that was unique. At the time I thought no one was as funny as us. There was nothing on TV or in books that could compare to the unique humor Maureen and I shared within our friendship...that is, until South Park. Shout out to Pats & Eddie too. My goodness, and the Young Ones. The 3:00 book today is an extension of that. I'm still writing little valentines (jokes) to Maureen in them. This history is important because what you're reading is a full, honest, real, like really real, experience. The 3:00 book is my journal, which is why I've decided to refer to it not simply as 3:00 - all the 3:00's are a moment and together they are a book. Here's a Maureen comic from 1997 - Pumpkinhead was a character we created who pees gasoline on people & lights them on fire.

TLS: So the 3:00 book is something you've worked on consistently since high school? Or is it something you came back to years later?

BH: It's something I came back to years later, specifically 2007.

TLS: Did you read comics as a kid at all?

BH: Nope. I did read comics in the Sunday paper; pretty much just Garfield. I felt that comics were primarily superheroes for boys.

TLS: Currently what artists/comics inspire your own work?

BH: Off the top of my head some comic artists based on who I want to either buy comic books off of or have are Ernie Bushmiller, Heather Benjamin, Julian Ceccaldi, Lizz Hickey, Maren Karlson and Peter Gray Hurley. I wouldn't say they inspire my work writing wise. Maybe Ernie Bushmiller and Peter Gray Hurley, but drawing wise all the way.

TLS: How do you work? What's your creative process?

BH: With comics I write down jokes in a book and then I pick one at the end of the week, or I think of something the day before my weekly is due. With stories, I work within a genre, write out a script, then draw, leaving the opportunity to add to the narrative as I go along. With art, I work along the lines of the weekly comics and jot down ideas that come to me. As a curator I'm influenced by the artwork I like and exhibits I go to.

TLS: Your comics are very relatable, everyday scenarios. What percentage of your drawings are based off of things that happen in your own life vs. fictional scenarios you make up? Are you constantly observing things that could be turned into comics?

BH: All of my comics are based off things that happen in my life. I'm actually not a good writer in the sense of creating an original fictional story. And yes, I am constantly observing things within my life that can be turned into comics. With the 3:00 book, it's serial, so I have to write something that can be told in up to eight frames.

TLS: Some of my favorite drawings are the ones of your cat. I take it you're a cat lover?

BH: Yes, I love cats. I've always loved drawing them as well. I currently have two cats, Zion and Leona. Where people say dogs are a man's best friend I say your cat is your soulmate. I also enjoy cat literature. I highly recommend Cleveland Amory's short stories about his cat, Polar Bear. Also William S. Burroughs The Cat Inside. I have yet to read any dog story with the exception of White Fang that accurately mirrors the human experience using a pet.

TLS: Speaking of recommendations, you told me you read THE LE SIGH for zine recommendations. Are there any zines you can recommend to us?

BH: I just got this zine in the mail: "Bros Fall Back" by the Secret Society of Femmes - it's humorous, in your face, feminist, anarchist awesomeness. That's why I'm so passionate about zines. Also I recommend my comic friend Ian Harker's bi-monthly risozine comic series, "Sacred Prism." Ian is not only a talented comic drawer, but he's also a brilliant editor and curator of the alternative comic artists scene. I have Thomas Toye and Benjamin Marra from his store and Mare Odomo's "Internet Comics."

Check out more of Beth's work here.

Beth also has a Supernatural prop replica exhibit up at Vox Populi in Philadelphia this month till June 29th along with artists Kelsey Morse-Brown, Oz DeShaw and Scott Wheelis. Learn more here.

Katie Walck is an art doer, cat lover and believer in aliens. She spends many hours online trying to find the center of the internet/universe. Result: Still looking. Follow her on twitter.