Tommi Parrish Tells the Truth About The Lie and How We Told It

Comics Features Tommi Parrish
Tommi Parrish Tells the Truth About The Lie and How We Told It

The cover of Tommi Parrish’s new book (and sort-of major label debut) The Lie and How We Told It doesn’t really tell you anything about its plot, but it does tell you plenty about what Parrish’s work feels like. It resists being put in boxes, and this scene of a couple of dozen people at a club (men, women, ambiguously gendered folks; people who are enjoying themselves, people who are not; people who are on the make; people reading, drinking, smoking, dancing, flirting, working; looking at each other or looking past one another; in their own heads and very much out of their heads; and then more on top of that) spills off the edges. Some of them show through the words that make up the title and Parrish’s name, but a bit of cigarette smoke crosses a “W” and a beer bottle pokes through the hole of a lowercase “d.”

Parrish’s stuff isn’t all that clearly worked out, but it’s often about things that aren’t so well defined, especially sex and relationships, which get muddy in a hurry. The interior—which features the reunion of two high school friends who wander around, chatting, interspersed with black-and-white line drawings that make up a book within the book—has similar things going on, and Parrish doesn’t clean up the edges of the panels. Everything is bleeding into or over everything else, and you can’t tell what’s a top and what’s a bottom (double meaning very much implied!). The Lie and How We Told It, like Perfect Hair (their previous book, put out by 2d cloud), doesn’t feel quite grown up yet, but it’s lively and full of visual moments that wake you up whenever you start focusing exclusively on the narrative. Parrish answered Paste’s questions over email, including confirming that winter in Montreal is as terrifying as you’d imagine.


The Lie and How We Told It Cover Art by Tommi Parrish

Paste: So you’re from Australia, right, but now you’re in Montreal? How did you end up there, and what’s it like?b> Tommi Parrish: I did a crowdfunder so I could come over and tour my book Perfect Hair and I got a two-year visa just in case, and I just kind of stayed. I didn’t really know anyone in Canada, but my best friend Lee Lai had moved to Montreal a few months before, and I miss her so much I followed her. Moving countries is fucking hard. Winters go for like six months here, everyone speaks French and it’s so cold outside that you’ll actually die if you’re outside for longer than 15 minutes, but I love it. I’m living off art right now so I barely need to leave the house anyway, every second person’s a gay punk, rent is half what it was in Melbourne and all of North America is like two hours away. There aren’t that many other places to go in Australia and so I was still living in Melbourne (the city I grew up in) and wow I was starting to hate it. I knew too many people, and my whole family could contact me whenever they wanted.

Paste: Six months of winter sounds like the worst thing ever (I live in Athens, Georgia, where we don’t get much of a real winter). How do you cope? Did you have to buy a whole new wardrobe?
Parrish: It’s so fucked up, I can’t even tell you… The dogs don’t even want to go outside. One of my partners is a bike messenger and works outside all winter. Fucking nightmare. Some days I walk to the cafe at the end of my street and it’s a total ordeal just getting enough layers on to be able to leave the house. My winter clothes are all inherited from pals though, which is nice.

People go NUTS in the spring. It’s pretty fun. Like everyone hermits in the winter and then gets super slutty all summer.

Paste: Tell me a little bit about how you started making comics and what you read growing up. Did you go to school for this?
Parrish: I started when I was old (compared to a lot of cartoonists). My drawings started to become comics when I was 21 because a friend showed me a Powr Mastrs book by CF. Until I was 23 I made comics in secret while I made paintings and sculptures for art school. I dropped out of design school when I was 19 and failed art school when I was 23 so I kinda went to for school for it? I realise now that school isn’t really for me, but it took a while.

Paste: I think your figures (big, blocky, ambiguously gendered but not sexless by any means) are really interesting and distinctive. Are they what you started out drawing or, if not, how did they evolve, especially the relative smallness of their heads?
Parrish: I draw the way I do because drawing any other way feels wrong

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The Lie and How We Told It Interior Art by Tommi Parrish

Paste: Talk to me about how you make a page, from start to finish, complete with what materials you use. How long does it take?
Parrish: Each page takes from a day to three days to paint, usually one to draw and from a few days to a few months to write. I use gouache paint and nice thick paper to accommodate for a bunch of watery paint layers.

Paste: Do you know Simon Hanselmann (who provided a blurb for the back of your new book)? I feel like y’all would have a lot to talk about.
Parrish: The comics scene in Melbourne is pretty isolated so people hang out. Simon and Grant (html flowers) lived a few blocks away from me at Grant’s mums house. Me and Grant dated for one second one-million years ago and from there the three of us would draw together and get drunk together. I’m mostly sober now because I find to hard to moderate, but I would get wasted with them and stumble home drunk the next day. We’re grown-up kids who have wobbly mental health, have never not been broke, just want to make comics all the time and hate jobs. So there’s always been a solidarity there.

Paste: How did you decide on that big painting for the cover (which I assume is set in the same bar that some of the story takes place in)? It’s super gorgeous, with all that pattern, but it’s also very different from the interior pages in that way.
Parrish: I just drew that for the inside pages, but my friends kept saying how much they liked it so it turned into the front and back cover.

Paste: One artistic approach that I see a lot in your work is a kind of fascination with translucence and opacity, with things being one when they should be the other. What do you think is interesting about that?
Parrish: Brecht Evens and Eleanor Davis do transparency really well. I mostly just feel like the visible layers give an image this beautiful depth and color that nothing else does. It’s been really fun learning how to use paint. I mean, I’m still learning, but I’m always trying to stretch and bend what it can do.

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The Lie and How We Told It Interior Art by Tommi Parrish

Paste: Who are some of your non-comics artistic influences? Like, Fernando Botero maybe? What about comics influences?
Parrish: I love Ray Johnson’s collages, Van Gogh’s sketched landscapes and David Hockney’s colors. I’ve been looking at Evens’ painting for a while now, and I think Anna Haifisch’s dry humor is actually perfect and Lale Westwood’s movement is incredible.

Paste: Hockney is the best. I got to interview Evens and he also talked a lot about Hockney and what a genius he is. Those colors just kind of sweep you away. Do you spend a lot of time in museums or galleries?
Parrish: Hmmm, not really anymore. I mean I like lots of different types of art, but museums are expensive and annoying to get to and visiting them would cut into my work day. I go to galleries if a friend’s having a show, but mostly I look at books in libraries. Evens is sick, I want to meet him some time.

Paste: Not only Evens’ visual style but the way his characters kind of meander through these beautifully worked out scenes definitely reminds me of your work. How conscious are you of your physical environment on a day-to-day basis? Are you a bit of a wanderer? Or do you just get bored drawing stuff set in the same place over and over.
Parrish: I suppose I wander a little. Usually wherever I’m drawing becomes my whole world for a few months to a year or so. I get itchy as hell when I don’t travel, which luckily I do for art a bunch of times a year now. I try to keep my eyes open regardless of whether I’m barely leaving the house or I’m in a new city sleeping on couches and seeing new things. The world is full of patterns and colors that are perfect to paint.

But yeah, for years and years now my life has had a pretty similar routine only occasionally in different places: I sit and I draw and I sleep.

Paste: Your author bio says you live in a house with two dogs, two cats and six other humans. Do you also work in the same house? How do you hear yourself think?
Parrish: Because I can’t do double rent I don’t have a separate studio. I go to the library and cafes pretty often when I need space and quiet. The place is a collective show space so it’s pretty chaotic and there’s no privacy really. It was a lot a lot when I first moved in. I felt kind of shell shocked by the constant noise and people, but it feels good now. I don’t want to be the kind of artist who isolates. I want a life that’s full of people and movement, even if it’s exhausting, even if I get less work done now. It feels worth it, but yes, it’s fucking exhausting for sure.

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The Lie and How We Told It Interior Art by Tommi Parrish

Paste: Which took longer in this book, the painted pages or the ones in pen and ink, which feel a lot more tightly controlled?
Parrish: The painted pages took waaaaayyyy longer.

Paste: Do you thumbnail out your stuff ahead of time? How much revising do you do?
Parrish: I write and rewrite and thumbnail everything. I struggle with writing a whole script from start to finish if it’s longer, like I need to switch from writing to drawing to painting to stay engaged with the process. I feel like it makes my stories feel inconsistent and writing the whole story before I start drawing is something I want to work on getting better at.

Paste: The kind of central event of The Lie consists of it’s protagonist finding a comic book in the bushes. Was that inspired by personal experience? What’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever found on the street?
Parrish: That idea mostly came from a section in this horrible jock comic called Watchmen. It also stemmed from and a bunch of conversations I had with my friend Marc about bookmaking while we were on a long train ride.

When I was a kid I found a thick silver-ish ring on the ground and I convinced myself that it was magic. I wore it on my thumb untill I had filled out enough to put it on different fingers without it falling off. I eventually put it on a chain and then even later it was one of the few things I brought to Canada. I don’t think it’s magic any more but it’s still cool.

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