AN INTERVIEW WITH HEATHER McADAMS ABOUT LIFE AS AN ARTIST































Olivia Gude: Heather, one of the things I find interesting about you is that you make art in a lot of different ways. You don’t limit yourself to one medium.

Heather McAdams: Yeah, I make comic strips; I make experimental films; I make regular pictures--drawings and collages, some I draw with thread--embroideries. I also do little paintings.

I put together shows. I project my movies and other people’s movies and have acts and skits in between. Some people call it performance art. Some shows have themes; some don’t. I’ve had shows with a country western theme, Halloween shows, lip sync shows.

OG: How often do you have these shows?

HM: I’ve put on shows ever since I was a little kid. On average I do about 30 shows per year.

OG: Where do you hold your shows?

HM: Some I do with my husband Chris. Lots of them are at our store, Record Roundup. We’ve done them all over. We’ve done shows at the Chicago Cultural Center.
I do an annual country music legends calendar. It features pictures, birthdays, and facts about country music stars. We have a show in connection with this. Musicians do songs by the featured stars; we show old film footage. This year we’ll do the show at the Old Town School of Music.


OG: You mentioned your store, Record Roundup. Can you tell me some more about how that fits into your life?

HM: Chris and I started a store three years ago. We collect records, so we started a store we would like to go to. We like LPs on vinyl and 45s better than CDs. We carry comic books, clothes, sheet music, games--all cool used stuff. We even have can openers, but people don’t generally think when they need a can opener to come to Record Roundup. Also, we sell found paintings. I show a lot of my own artwork in the store, mixed up with other artwork I found a thrift stores.

OG: What does Chris do? Is he an artist too?

HM: Chris is a songwriter, musician, and solo artist. Sometimes I play the drums or play a toy accordion or sing a little. I feel guilty that I’m not a better musician to back him up, but that’s not my thing at all.

OG: How do you get the time to make art? Do you make money?

HM: Our shows make money. Our shows are $8.00 for a full two-hour show. We do them twice in one night. Sometimes we do a four-hour show.

I also travel with my films to colleges and universities.


OG: Can you tell us something about your films?

HM: I like shooting films and sounds. I project my films with sounds I’ve recorded elsewhere. It’s mix and match. I don’t shoot sync sound footage. I put things together; I get some really interesting combinations. They’re really funny to me. My films are montages. I look for images and sounds and then put them together and let chance work its wonders. Then I go back and shoot something deliberate to complete the piece.
I’ve made some interesting stuff. I did a documentary of a friend, Bradley Harrison Picklesime, a Kentucky drag queen.

He’s an interesting guy with a lot to say and he’s interesting to look at. I met him when I taught for a year in Kentucky. Then I opened a thrift store in Lexington after I completed my one-year teaching contract.

While in Kentucky I also had a job making dental illustrations for the University of Kentucky, for a contract to teach people in Saudi Arabia how to take better care of their teeth. Actually I made a great one-minute animation for MTV about spilling coffee on my boss’s lap at a meeting of the Dental Auxiliary Training project.


OG: That brings up another thing I wanted to ask you about--your autobiographical comics. Why did you decide to be the main character in your comics?

HM: Well, I was very influenced by the autobiographical comic strip movement. It is weird to see your life in the paper.

I hate to admit it, but I can’t make stuff up anymore like I did as a kid. So it’s a good thing that I’m absolutely fascinated by the small little details of life. I become hyperaware of everyday life. I think my comics are like a gift to the world. It’s like an incredible dinner; it takes all day to make, but only an half-hour to eat. Comics are like that.

Life is so ridiculous; there’s such a wealth of material. A lot of things in my comics are negative things, things we complain about. They make the best comic strip material. Comics can be revenge against people who make me mad or turn a fenderbender into a good thing.


OG: Where do you place your comic strips?

HM: The Chicago Reader has been pretty nice to me. It runs my comic strips on a regular basis.

I have to motivate myself to work. It’s the difficulty of being freelance. It’s like going to the health club. I don’t really have to do this....
I also produced a book of my comic art. It’s a great way to bring together a lot of good stuff.


OG: What about your other art--paintings and drawings?

HM: I’ve just always been doing art. I’ve always loved to make images. My most favorite things that I make are pen-and-ink drawings. I’m into practicing the art of drawing. I’m much more interested in how things come out than I am fearful. Sometimes things come out completely different than I expected and I enjoyed that as much.

Sometimes I’ve been a bit discouraged about my “flat art.” My films and cartoons have gotten the most recognition. I tried to go the gallery route and had shows, but I’ve had more success selling my art in my store--most work goes for $15 to $100. I think my goal is to have everyone in the world own a piece of my work.

I work in all sorts of ways--films, comics, my country calendar. I’ve done some commercial work. I’ve done illustration work for the Chicago Tribune and I’ve had work in the New York Times, in Sassy Magazine, in Nickelodeon Magazine, on book covers...
Personally I don’t like all the new technology. (Though lately, ebay has been great for me. I can make as much money as at some crummy job.) I really like drawing with a pencil. I like to get my hands dirty. I like film, not video. I like records; I like letters; I like history you can hold in your hand. I’m not buying this technology stuff--my life and art reflects into that.


OG: Have you been concerned about making a living?

HM: I try to make money on my art. I’ve gotten grants from the Illinois Arts Council and the regional NEA grants. That’s been important help for me in completing films.
As for making a living, I’ve had a lot of “straight jobs” in my day, trying to do things “right.” I’ve been a waitress, a paste up artist at a newspaper; I’ve worked at a camera shop. I’ve done some short stints teaching at universities. I’ve taught workshops and have done some visiting artist things.

None of that really worked out for me permanently. I had to continue to survive, so I just did what I could to turn my interests into cash.

I haven’t had a regular job in years. I work hard, but I can take any day off I want to. I’m an artist and a collector. There’s also a bit of P.T. Barnum in me. It’s entrepreneurship. When I need money I can make an event happen in a matter of a week--a show or yardsale.


OG: Do you have any advice for young artists?

HM: Golly, I think first and foremost you have to be really curious and really love art. Any kind of financial success is after the fact. I haven’t had a steady income, but I’ve gotten by and I’ve called my own shots.
 
Another great list from Heather McAdams:
Favorite autobiographical comic books and books.


(Editor’s note: There’s lots of great comics by gals on this list.)
In-print books are marked with a *. Out-of-print books are marked with a **, but with Amazon’s (and other) used book services you still have a good chance of getting hold of them.)

Doug Allen:
The Best of Steven: a Collection*

Lynda Barry:
Ernie Pooks and lots of others

Charles Burns:
Hard Boiled Detective Stories, Modern Horrors, The Complete Charles Burns Cartoon Library*

Aline Kominsky Crumb:
Love That Bunch*, Twisted Sisters**, Power Pak, The Complete Dirty Laundry Comics*.

Robert Crumb:
The Complete Crumb: The Early 80s & Weirdo Magazine*, Self Loathing, etc. etc. Too many to list them all; Amazon lists 65 Crumb books!

Dan Clowes:
Eightball*, Lloyd Llewellyn*, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron*

Lloyd Dangle:
Dangle, Next Stop: Troubletown*

Kim Deitch:
Hollywoodland*

Julie Doucet:
Dirty Plotte, My New York Diary*

Michael Dougan:
East Texas

Debbie Dreschler:
Nowhere (1-5), Daddy’s Girl*

Joe Matt:
Peep Show, The Cartoon Diary of Joe Matt

Diane Noomin:
Twisted Sisters**

Harvey Pekar:
The New American Splendor Anthology*, Our Cancer Year*

Richard Sala:
Hypnotic Tales**

Seth:
Palooka-Ville, World War 3 Illustrated: Confrontational Comics*

Art Spiegelman:
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History/Here My Troubles Began*

Chris Ware:
Jimmy Corrigan: the Smartest Kid on Earth*

J.R. Williams:
Bummer



Another Editor’s note: Don’t miss Jimmy Corrigan: the Smartest Kid on Earth.
With so much concern and discussion about bullying in schools, this is a wonderful book to open discussion about how youth treat each other and how that can effect families for generations to come. It’s also one of the most beautifully drawn and innovatively designed “comic books” that I have ever seen.Yet Another Editor’s note: Depending on your outlook not all of these comics are suitable for high school kids, so read them before you bring them to school.