Meet Todd Webb, who lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and who graces the pages of the — upcoming! — second issue of Illustoria with a gorgeous, reflective piece about the great American painter Georgia O'Keeffe. Todd's comic is drawn, literally and figuratively, from O'Keeffe's own writings — he uses her own words. Webb shared shots of his studio, and his thoughts about creativity, and much more, in the following interview.
What were you like as a kid?
Shy and quiet — picked on a lot, so I kept to myself or a small but close group of friends. My favorite place was the library, and I was always reading or drawing.
What were some of your favorite childhood books?
Early on I read all the Encyclopedia Brown and Hardy Boys books — my dad still had a full set of Tom Swift books too and we read those together when I was really little. I've still got those. I read a lot of Peanuts collections. And Calvin & Hobbes. My dad had a lot of sci fi books so I read a bunch of those at an early age too, but eventually started reading "classics" — Salinger, Hemingway, etc. etc.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist and writer?
When I figured out that Charles Schulz made Peanuts and that was his job — the idea that you could grow up and draw comics for a living instantly overtook my brain, and I never stopped shooting for that goal, though eventually my aim shifted to comic books instead of comic strips.
Who or what inspires you?
Everything — haha. I'm constantly getting ideas from things and people I encounter, see, read about, etc. I like to read poetry. That always gives me weird fun ideas to try out with comics.
When do you feel you're most creative?
It used to be late at night, but as I've grown older I think I tend to do my best work if I get started first thing in the morning. But a big aspect of being creative is being able to make yourself just do the work every day — even if you're not feeling "inspired" — you've still gotta hit the drawing board and make something!
Do you have a favorite type of pen, or brush, or paper for drawing with?
For years now I've been inking with Faber Castell Pitt Artist brush pens. I love them! I usually draw on Strathmore Bristol board. I'll buy a big pad of it and trim the paper to whatever size I need for a specific project.
What advice would you share with young aspiring artists?
Keep at it! And do it because you love it. Make work and show it to artists you admire. Don't be afraid of mistakes and don't think you need to draw a certain way or that you need special supplies. Do the best you can do with what you have!
Why did you draw something about Georgia O'Keefee?
There's a couple reasons. A few years back I got to see her painting "The Lawrence Tree" (which is a great painting of a tree she used to sit beneath on the Lawrence ranch, seen from beneath as if you were looking up through the branches) and I really liked it. So I started to dig through other works of hers I hadn't been familiar with, and that led me to a big collection of her letters, which were a great read as well. I ended up writing a song about the Lawrence Tree painting, as well as one inspired by a letter ("The Lawrence Tree" and "Georgia, 1931" respectively on the Seamonster album Baldessari). So that was one thing. In the interim, I've really enjoyed connecting with other artists and writers and musicians from the past whose work really speaks to me by making something myself inspired by their works, be it a comic, a drawing, or a piece of music. I think engaging with an inspiring piece of work by making a piece of my own helps me process and figure out what it is I like about it so much, and also serves as a way of having a "conversation" with that person who maybe isn't even alive anymore. Anyways, back to Georgia: in reading books about her I realized she was good friends with the photographer Todd Webb (which is my name!) and it was amusing to me when I'd come across a letter of hers addressed to someone with my name. It was pretty surreal. I was already familiar with that Todd Webb's work, because ever since Google was invented, if you search for me, you'd also get results for him (he was very well known, and many of his photos were of Georgia O'Keeffe) So I thought it would be fun to further confuse the internet by putting a work of my own out there about Georgia O'Keeffe.
What was the process like, working from her own words?
Great fun! When I'm working on a piece like this, I really respond to particular writings of the artists that resonate with my own thinking. For years I used to keep a comic strip diary, and so working on a comic like "Georgia in the Desert" feels almost like drawing my own cartoon journal. I may be drawing about someone else and using their words, but it feels very personal to my own thinking. If that makes any sense!
How does the idea of making art from the things you come upon in everyday life — which is a theme of the comic you drew — inform your own work?
Immensely. I think the things we encounter every day we often take for granted, so it's fun to focus a work on something small and seemingly insignificant — we are surrounded by so much wonder and beauty and we often forget to pay it any mind — Georgia painting huge gorgeous abstractions based on the surface of a rock, or a bone, or a flower or a row of clouds is a perfect example of really appreciating your everyday surroundings, whatever they may be.
Tell us a bit about your music?
When I'm not drawing, I'm usually making music. At this point I have two projects: Seamonster is my main outlet, which is poppy semi-electronic songs that I guess sound a bit like girl groups from the 1950s mixed with something like Kraftwerk, haha. Contemporary songwriters like Stephen Merritt (of the Magnetic Fields), Mark Mulcahy (Miracle Legion, Polaris), and Dean Wareham (Galaxie 500) are huge influences. I also recently have started releasing music under the name Oahu, which is quieter ambient electronic experiments in the vein of Brian Eno or someone like William Basinski. Oahu uses lots of synthesizers and tape loops and has no singing. Its good background music for reading.
What work of yours should an Illustoria parent read next?
Chance Operations: it's a collection of shorter experimental comics where I used chance operations (made famous by composer John Cage) and flipped coins to determine where images, colors, and text would go. It reads more like poems than a traditional narrative, and has a little essay explaining the process in more detail.
What work of yours should an Illustoria kiddo read next?
Tuesday Moon: it's the story of a girl named Tuesday who has a rotten day at school, and is paid a visit by the Mann (two n's) in the Moon. They go on an adventure in space together and the moon helps her realize maybe her day wasn't as rotten as she thought it was. Raina Telgemeier, author of Smile, said, "Tuesday Moon is charming, thoughtful, and full of the best kind of whimsy."