Will Betke-Brunswick is a cartoonist and a recent graduate of the California College of the Arts MFA in Comics program. Will’s work has appeared in the new print edition of “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves”; “How to Wait: An Anthology of Transition”; and the websites INTO and Autostraddle. A former high school math teacher, Will lives in Boulder, Colorado.
SunLit: Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?
Betke-Brunswick: The book opens with a story about a fifth grade peer getting a ride to soccer with a cooler classmate who listens to the radio in the car. My mom and I always listened to audiobooks. This was the first piece I wrote for the book, and it was part of a comic about growing up and trying to make friends with the popular girls. Even though it was about friendship, it was really about unconditional love from my mom. I wanted to create an entire book about that parent-child love.
SunLit: Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?
Betke-Brunswick: This excerpt is from the chapter titled, “MAY.” My family is settling into the reality that my mom has cancer, and she sees her totally bald head for the first time. I leave college to attend a math program near my home so I can be close to my mom for trips to the hospital and hanging out. The flashback in this chapter shows my mom writing a note that says I can wear my baseball cap in the school photo, which is a big win for a baby genderqueer.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
I picked this chapter since it shows the juxtaposition of my mom’s illness and her humor, as she ranks the hospital art and names her portable chemo pack Baby Igor.
SunLit: Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you sat down to write? And once you did begin to write, did the work take you in any unexpected directions?
Betke-Brunswick: I am inspired by Lynda Barry, Nicole J Georges, Lawrence Lindell, Stef Choi, and Emma Hunsinger. They each create beautiful, honest comics.
Their comics showed me that I also wanted to create comics that balance humor and darkness and are filled with love.
SunLit: Are there lessons you take away from each experience of writing a book? And if so, what did the process of writing this book add to your knowledge and understanding of your craft and/or the subject matter?
Betke-Brunswick: This is my first book! It built my confidence, voice, and trust in my editors and publisher. I gained even more appreciation for the many queer cartoonists who helped me create my story. I learned a lot about the publishing process, and the timing of it all.
“A Pros and Cons List for Strong Feelings”
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SunLit present new excerpts from some of the best Colorado authors that not only spin engaging narratives but also illuminate who we are as a community. Read more.
It was two and a half years between pitching my awesome agent and my book’s publication day. I also learned to keep self publishing my comics and zines in the meantime. It was helpful to have other projects I was working on during some of the waiting time.
SunLit: What were the biggest challenges you faced in writing this book?
Betke-Brunswick: The biggest challenges I faced were life events happening during the time I was writing the book. The COVID-19 pandemic began, my beloved dog died, and I got married. Each of these events derailed me in some way from getting everything done.
But my book is about messy life happening (family arguments, coming out, final exams) at the same time as a bigger event is taking place (my mom’s illness and death) so the mirroring felt appropriate.
SunLit: If you could pick just one thing – a theme, lesson, emotion or realization — that readers would take from this book, what would that be?
Betke-Brunswick: I hope readers take away a love of the form. Comics are an amazing way to share a story of sad and funny moments. Comics let me make all the characters penguins, tell the story through dialogue only, and play with pacing and multiple timelines.
SunLit: In a highly politicized atmosphere where books, and people’s access to them, has become increasingly contentious, what would you add to the conversation about books, libraries and generally the availability of literature in the public sphere?
Betke-Brunswick: My working life orbits around the Boulder Public Library. I make art in the makerspace, draw comics at my favorite table by the window, tutor math in the study rooms, and work behind the desk answering questions and making library cards. Libraries are my world.
Every day I learn about new resources the library provides to our community. When you take out a state park pass, it comes with a backpack and binoculars! Teens get free snacks! Librarians will recommend books based on your favorite Taylor Swift song! I see people get free tax help, free tech help, a place to charge their phone, and access to information.
SunLit: Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?
Betke-Brunswick: I always want to be a morning person, but I get most of my comics done in the afternoon and evening. I can ink or letter a comic in the morning, but I need some late afternoon light to start really thinking.
I draw thumbnails and first drafts with a pen in lined notebooks, so I can’t spend time fixing and fiddling. I’m just working on layout and dialogue at this point. Then I transfer these drawings to my iPad to draw the characters and backgrounds.
SunLit: What book events do you have coming up?
Betke-Brunswick: I’ll be talking with queer teens as part of Boulder Library’s Book Queeries program in July. And then later in the summer I’ll be at the Denver Zine Fest and Cartoon Crossroads Columbus.
SunLit: Tell us about your next project.
Betke-Brunswick: I’m working on a zine with Glenda Russell about her work fighting against Amendment 2. Amendment 2 was an anti-LGB amendment that passed in Colorado in 1992. With anti trans and anti queer politics across the country right now, I am working to learn from Glenda about our queer history and ways we have fought against this in the past.
Quick hits: A quirky collection of questions
SunLit: Do you look forward to the actual work of writing or is it a chore that you dread but must do to achieve good things?
Betke-Brunswick: As a cartoonist, there are very distinct parts of the process. I look forward to creating thumbnails, but I don’t get excited about lettering. Inking is somewhere in the middle.
SunLit: What’s the first piece of writing – at any age – that you remember being proud of? Betke-Brunswick: I wrote a poem about ladybugs in second grade.
SunLit: When you look back at your early professional writing, how do you feel about it? Impressed? Embarrassed? Satisfied? Wish you could have a do-over?
Betke-Brunswick: Mixed! I try to give myself grace. I am always improving.
SunLit: What three writers, from any era, can you imagine having over for a great discussion about literature and writing? And why?
Betke-Brunswick: Justin Hall, Rupert Kinnard, and Tom of Finland. I just want to listen to the three of them talk about gay comics! Justin Hall is so outgoing and gregarious, I wouldn’t have to worry about the conversation flowing smoothly because I know it would be fun and lively.
SunLit: Do you have a favorite quote about writing?
Betke-Brunswick: Lynda Barry’s teacher Marilyn told her that her opinion of her art is none of her business. I think about that all the time when I am about to judge my art. Then I take a step back and just let it exist.
SunLit: What does the current collection of books on your home shelves tell visitors about you?
Betke-Brunswick: I check out more books from the library than I will possibly read in a three-week lending period. My partner has a one in, one out rule because our apartment is small.
SunLit: Soundtrack or silence? What’s the audio background that helps you write?
Betke-Brunswick: Silence. Sometimes I put in earplugs under my noise canceling headphones.
SunLit: What event, and at what age, convinced you that you wanted to be a writer?
Betke-Brunswick: Reading Maus in my grandparents’ study. They were Holocaust survivors and I felt so connected to that book. I was probably 12 years old.
SunLit: As an author, what do you most fear?
Betke-Brunswick: Telling a story in my memoir comics that isn’t mine to tell.
SunLit: Also as an author, what brings you the greatest satisfaction?
Betke-Brunswick: Four panel comics. They are pithy and symmetric and can tell a whole story.