Marie D’Abreo grew up in Worthing, but at the age of 19, she emigrated to the United States and studied at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where Marie obtained her Bachelor of Fine Arts. Upon graduation, Marie D’Abreo transitioned from scenic painter to graphic designer and later moved to the West Coast. Marie D’Abreo has been going down the design path ever since, and openly admits to not letting go of her love for drawing, painting – and is now making graphic novels. Over the last 10 years, Marie D’Abreo lived through the rise and fall of San Francisco, a couple of times, having worked at dotcoms, agencies and banks, had some art shows, painted a couple of murals, made some very quirky animation, and published graphic novels. Please enjoy my interview with Marie D’Abreo.
How do you describe your occupation?
I’m an author and illustrator. I come from an animation background and have also worked for many years as a graphic designer. So that all helps with making comics, which are essentially movies in storyboard form!
Talk us through a typical day for you…
When I’m working on a book, I get up at the crack of nine-ish and make some chai tea, read the so-called news and make an omelette. Then I contemplate my two pages for the day, usually while horizontal on my couch looking out at the trees. Next comes the long commute (of a few feet) over to my drawing table. I take plenty of breaks while working – taking short walks, or Skyping or texting friends or family. Yes, I like to work alone, but a complete recluse I am not! I tend not to plan, so evenings are either spontaneous dinners or movies with friends. Or taking quiet time listening to or reading spiritual/psychological stuff, and doing my version of meditation.
What are you reading at the moment and what made you want to read it?
Currently working my way through both the graphic novel The Story of My Tits by Jennifer Hayden (it’s quite long and detailed) and a spiritual text I am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj (even longer and abstruse). Maybe I like to keep things varied.
Can you remember the first book you read by yourself?
I suspect that would be along the lines of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle? Although it was probably the Dick and Jane stuff: “See Spot run!” I really liked the illustrations from the older versions. Later on, I enjoyed Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. In part for the lovely old-world illustrations, and the dark feel. I also had a wonderful pop-up version of Puss in Boots, which I read over and over, and played with the moving parts.
Are you a page folder or a bookmarker?
Never shall I fold the corner of a precious graphic novel! Self-help books and trashy James Patterson paperbacks to be read on the plane, on the other hand – that’s totally fine.
When did you fall in love with reading?
In part, I’d have to credit my brother Robert for that, who’s four years older than I. On the way home from school we’d often walk to Worthing library (where I grew up in England), sit on these big red cushions in the children’s area and he’d read me Dr Seuss and all sorts, with great expressiveness. I’d giggle a lot. Then I’d pick out my own books, especially liking the ones with pen and ink drawings, such as the older versions of Rudyard Kipling’s books or The Moomins. (This was the 70s). Later, in high school, I loved to read Dickens, in part for the beautiful etchings throughout the editions I had, and of course his wildly entertaining characters.
If you could gift yourself books at age 16 and age 25 – what would they be and why?
Wow, for one thing, I’d probably get that 16-year-old some kind of self-help book on loving herself, poor dear! Something that would give some practical guidance in the psychology/spiritual realm. I guess she did find her way to the section that was once called ‘Occult’! But there’s a lot more out there now. I’d probably hand her A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle or There is Nothing Wrong with You by Cheri Huber. At 25? I’d say The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron may have come in handy, in order to relax around the creative process.
What are perfect reading conditions for you?
My couch, some fleecy blankets, good lighting and quiet.
For someone starting out in your career, which three books would you make required reading and why?
One would be Maus by Art Spiegelman. That was groundbreaking for me. Up until that point, I had no idea that a ‘comic’ could be more than an amusing tale, but a journey into someone’s personal and deeply moving world. I was riveted. Another would be Like A Velvet Glove Cast in Iron by Daniel Clowes, for its quirky surrealism and rawness. And lastly, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. I’m a sucker for autobiographies, especially cross-cultural ones — and I hope to add myself to that genre some day.
If you could invite 5 authors (dead or alive) to a dinner party – who would they be and why?
Virgina Woolf: I’d have to ask her “So what the heck was that part about?”, thereby making a fool of myself. Beatrix Potter: I could learn a lot from her brilliance in writing and drawing. As well as ask her the names of pretty much any flower or bird, I assume. Camille Paglia: I just want see what the heck would come out of her mouth. I think the four of us would be enough. I have a small dining table. (Ok, well I could make room for Franz Kafka and Roald Dahl… I mean, come on!)
What was the last book you purchased, and why did you buy it?
Art Forms in Nature by Ernst Haeckel. I just stare at the drawings. There’s something deeply meditative that comes through his work.
What is your favourite thing about reading?
I get to be a shapeshifter, or at least that’s how it feels.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir by Tom Hart. Oh boy. I had to read some, then put it down, take breaks. Go cry in bed for a while. Eat something. Then come back and read some more. It’s both beautifully constructed and heartbreaking.
If you could insert yourself into any book, which would you pick and why?
Oh, please put me in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. I love that world! It’s cozy and sweet, with a touch of irreverence. It’s full of heart, without so much as a hint of the saccharine. And there are no iPhones.
Name a book that you feel everyone would benefit from reading and explain why.
Impossible to say really. Not everyone can read a book and get benefit from it. And it depends what you’re seeking at that moment: happiness, escape, enlightenment, education, fun…? Some people hate The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. That one stayed with me though. (In fact, I’m overdue for a re-read). It’s poetic and real all at once. Perhaps it captures the restlessness and uncertainty in all of us, not just teenagers. Eventually, you have to learn not to be a phony, to be yourself. Holden Caulfield loved that word ‘phony’… and decades later I love it too. ‘Cuz there’s a lot of phoniness out there, and inside us. The bravest thing you can do is be real.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life? What impact did it have?
Tough one. No single book. Since one book effects me at different phases of life. I would say The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle sparked a new kind of inner journey, a kind of mind expansion. The Arrival by Shaun Tan for the sheer visual impact and otherworldliness.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
Almost everything by David Sedaris. I have a treasured trio of his. And I’d like to check out the Irish author Edna O’Brien soon.
Which book sat on your shelf are you most excited about reading next and why?
I actually can’t wait to go round the local comics store, Isotope, in San Francisco after I publish my new graphic novel. There are plenty of old and new ones I want to discover and dive into. But for now, no comics for me. I need to focus on my own, and not get distracted!