ROAR Spotlight #2: MariNaomi

MariNaomi is the award-winning author and illustrator of Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22 (Harper Perennial, 2011), Dragon’s Breath and Other True Stories (2dcloud/Uncivilized Books, 2014), Turning Japanese (2dcloud, 2016), and I Thought YOU Hated ME (Retrofit Comics, 2016). Her work has appeared in over sixty print publications and has been featured on numerous websites, such as The Rumpus, LA Review of Books, Midnight Breakfast and BuzzFeed.

MariNaomi’s comics and paintings have been featured by such institutions as the Smithsonian, the De Young Museum, the Cartoon Art Museum, the Asian Art Museum, and the Japanese American Museum.

In 2011, Mari toured with the literary roadshow Sister Spit. She is the creator and curator of the Cartoonists of Color Database and the Queer Cartoonists Database. She has taught classes for the California College of the Arts Comics MFA program, and is currently a guest editor at PEN America.

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ROAR: Who is a feminist you wish the world knew more about?

MARINAOMI: The feminist that turned my life around was Inga Muscio, particularly her book Cunt: A Declaration of Independence. That was sort of a gateway drug for me—Inga’s voice was so funny and relatable, and what she was saying felt revolutionary. It made me seek out more feminist work, and led me to be the raging feminist I am today.

Another great feminist is Yoko Ono. Everyone knows her name, but not everyone understands what a brilliant artist she is, or what she has sacrificed to be who she wants to be. I wish more people would look into that.

Another woman I want to bring up is my mother in law, Sue Lake. She is a force of nature: endlessly compassionate, hilarious and inspiring. The stories she has about being a working mother in the seventies will make your hair curl.

ROAR: You are the creator of the Cartoonists of Color database and the Queer Cartoonists Database. Can you tell me a little about what those are and why you created them?

MARINAOMI: It all started out with me researching an article (Writing People of Color) that involved people of color in the comics industry. To my dismay, I realized there was very little information about non-white comics creators online, so I had to gather my information piecemeal through helpful people on social media. When I realized how much others could benefit from the information I’d gathered, it was obvious I had to share it. I started with just a handful of names, and now there are almost a thousand creators in my Cartoonists of Color database!

Once I had a system down for the Cartoonists of Color, I knew I wanted to start a database of queer cartoonists. But I was wary of outing anyone, so I spent some time figuring out how to go about it. In the end, the Queer Cartoonists database is something a queer creator can opt-into, whereas anybody can submit new info to the Cartoonists of Color.

ROAR: What does feminism mean to you?

MARINAOMI: This used to be a tricky question, because while I was always undoubtedly a feminist, it took a long time before I used that word to describe myself. Once upon a time, certain influential men in my life regularly used the word “feminist” as an insult, which turned me off the word as a kid. As I got older and wiser, I saw that tactic for what it is—a defense mechanism because they felt threatened; a way to lift themselves up by putting women down—and now I use the word for what it literally means: that people should be treated as equals, regardless of gender.

Here’s an image I drew.

In a perfect world, that equality would also extend to race, body type, ability, lifestyle, religion, sexuality, earnings and so on. I’m not sure the word “feminism” exactly captures all that, although I wish it would. We need some new words.

ROAR: What is the most rewarding thing you have ever done artistically?

MARINAOMI: Choosing to be a working artist, as opposed to making art as a hobby, has been really challenging, but also extremely rewarding. I’ve been writing since forever, and making comics since the nineties, but it wasn’t until about five years ago that I decided to essentially “quit my day job” (which in reality was a mish-mash of freelance writing work) and focus on comics. I’m proud to say that this past year, my income as a comics creator finally surpassed the poverty income level!

That isn’t to say that I’ve been living in poverty. My husband has a day job with a regular paycheck and benefits—his financial and emotional support is the reason I’ve been able to take the time to get here. I plan on supporting him in the same manner when he gets sick of having a day job, assuming Trumpence hasn’t blown up the planet by then.

ROAR: In your most recent book, I Thought YOU Hated Me, you write about female friendships. Why was that important to you to write about?

MARINAOMI: There just aren’t enough stories out there about real female friendships, you know? There have been so many stories written about women whose friendships revolve around men—competing for them, talking incessantly about them, etc. I’ve always thought it strange that this trope was so prevalent. Now that I realize who was penning all this male-fantasy bullshit, it’s not so strange I guess.

ROAR: What does activism look like to you?

MARINAOMI: Activism is an endless well. To me, leading a life of activism is a matter of being deliberate in how you live. It means sacrificing time, money and energy for those in need. It means putting thought and action into how you exist as a consumer. Volunteering, protesting and sharing art is activism. Not eating factory farmed food is activism. Obliterating the patriarchy one MRA at a time is activism.

ROAR: What next?

MARINAOMI: Right now I’m working on a graphic novel trilogy about some teenagers, and the first book comes out in 2018. All of my books so far are comics memoir, so it’s been interesting to work on fiction. I see what they mean when writers say fiction allows you to be more honest. It also, in comics, allows you to get really visually trippy, which is what I’ve been having fun with.

I’m also working on more memoir—I’ve got more stories to tell than I have time to tell them! Which is a good thing. I feel very lucky.


Ashley Perez lives, writes, and causes trouble in Los Angeles. She has a strong affinity for tattoos, otters, cat mystery books, and actual cats, but has mixed feelings about pants. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. She runs the literary site Arts Collide and does work of all varieties for Women Who Submit, Jaded Ibis Press, Midnight Breakfast,  ROAR, and Why There Are Words. Her work can be found at The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, The Weeklings, Red Light Lit, and others. You can find her on Twitter at @ArtsCollide.

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