Okay Being Multiple Selves: An Interview with Aidan Koch

Aidan Koch is best known for her comics. Her works have found a home, among other places, in the pages of The Paris Review and The Best American Comics. Koch is also a jeweler, a sculptor, a painter, a keeper of many blogs and a soon-to-be novelist. Sitting out in the yard behind her Brooklyn studio, we discussed her process, the relationships between her practices, and archive-building.


YLM: One of my first questions was whether you start with drawings or with words.

AK: Basically, it’s totally integrated. It depends on what I’m doing, like for short stories I’ll usually start out just drawing and see where it goes. And then for longer stories, I’ll usually map out a loose narrative to follow and then I start drawing based on that concept. So it really is totally cohesive. For me, at least, it’s important to have those things develop together, or else it’s like I’m illustrating words or I’m like… you know, it’s just like an illustration job. And I find there are so many ways to fulfill language through image or vice-versa, so I feel that having it build intuitively back and forth, for me, is really the joy of doing it.

YLM: Do you usually start working with one idea in mind and then build to see where it goes from there, or do you do any storyboarding beforehand?

AK: I don’t do any visual storyboarding at all. I let that just feed off of itself as I work. Visually, I try to find patterns as I’m drawing and then start repeating those patterns and repeating certain images, certain cues, that will usually end up working throughout the story. But I’ll do—I should show you my notebook—usually just on a page in my notebook I’ll do the loose plan for a story, which, for longer stories I usually work in chapters, or sections. So I’ll have it divided up and then loosely say what’s supposed to happen in that part. Kind of just setting it up but letting it visually evolve on its own—like in this chapter I need this one thing to happen, and it can happen however it does.

YLM: When working on something larger, do you start out linearly and then let it morph, or do you sometimes start in the middle of something and then work forwards and backwards?

AK: I’ve only done, what, four longer stories? Three? And they’ve all kind of worked in different ways, where, with the very first book I did, it has a particular linearity to it, but when I was drawing it I only knew what certain things were going to be, so as it was coming together, I did the parts that I knew and then filled in the rest. And I will move things around. With “The Blond Woman” I knew I had the beginning done, and then I had what I wanted to happen at the end, and then I just kind of had to figure out how to get there. So it was concrete start and finish, and then just a random intuitive process in between.

YLM: Looking at your work as a whole, where you release stuff like “After Nothing Comes” which is earlier work, there’s this sense of building your progression as an artist and writer. Overall, do you see a linearity within that, or is it more of a rippling outwards?

AK: I think that book, even when you just look through it, visually you see the linearity. It’s very obvious, weaning away unnecessary elements. I used to use a lot more gestural strokes, or more detail in certain aspects, and then slowly, even just stylistically I decided those things are unnecessary, or not visually interesting to me anymore. So there’s an aesthetic movement throughout that, and I think an aesthetic maturity that happened. And yeah, the same with the books, too. Things just got sparse, or got sparser. And so did some of the stories, or those things went hand in hand. How much detail or information something needed, to work the way I wanted it to.

YLM: One of the things I noticed in your work was that sparseness, or this idea of fragmentation comes up. You have these illustrated moments which are suggestions of a larger narrative but you don’t give the reader the whole thing, just the little moment. At the same time, you have things like the archive on your website, and you keep multiple blogs that are different archives.1 When I look at those things in tandem, there seem to be these two opposite forces, where one is pushing towards fragmentation, and dissolution, and then the other is a stitching together of everything, bringing it all under this same larger constellation. I’m wondering if those are things that you think about in your work, this pushing apart and pulling together, or if it just happens.

AK: I see those things as not being as combative, as being these complementary forces, especially with collecting images. Part of that is being really specific—defining my aesthetic through this curated assemblage, similar to drawing, where it is like this developed craft and assemblage of specific colors, details, types of composition that I find aesthetically intriguing. I feel like collecting images has been a way of training myself into this extremely aesthetic eye. And of understanding what I’m drawn to, and why I’m drawn to those things that inform the visuals that I work with.

YLM: It’s interesting then, that you put that out to the public, because a lot of artists are protective or defensive of what their influences or sources of inspiration are. But then there are artists or other figures that work with this idea of the archive, like Adrian Piper, and her “Adrian Piper Research Archive”—

AK: Sick, I want to look at that!

YLM: — So I want to know how you think about building this archive that’s not just for you, but for other people to view as well.

AK: I maybe egotistically think that if I find it pleasing, other people might find it pleasing. Like I printed books for myself of all those images, just for the joy of having it where I could flip through it. I think that having access to those things, via the internet or physically in books is so valuable, and part of what is the best part of the internet. Getting to revel in that is exciting. And doing it in a way where you’re not just jumbled in the chaos of Instagram and Tumblr and all these other platforms that are so multifunctional. Those platforms drive me crazy because it’s people doing everything on it, where it’s like, personal lives, it’s activism, it’s nice-looking photos, it’s all these things jammed together and I can’t handle it. So just as a calming way for me to divide that stuff up, it’s really valuable and satisfying.

YLM: Do you feel that these archives that you’ve built give some greater insight into your work in any way, or is it just that you can see the two and see what the connections are? Is there a secret key?

AK: [Laughs] No, not really. I guess there’s probably something where you can see what was going through my head. And I started that other thing on my website, the resource library section, which is literally just things I think people should read and look at. Just encouragement. There’s so much incredible content on so many subjects available for free on the internet. And so having that curated down a little is maybe helpful. I don’t know if anyone looks at it, but sometimes maybe they do.

YLM: Within your work, you have a literary side of things that’s the comics and writing, and another side that’s more sculptural, with metal work and things like that. Do these all fall under the same practice for you, or are there divisions you make?

AK: It depends on what it is. I used to have five Tumblrs, three Instagrams. Like I said, in the way I like archiving, it helps me to manage myself and manage my work better if I have things subdivided like that. And I’m okay being multiple selves. I think I’ve always done that. Having done comics for so long, so many people in my life had no idea I did comics, because they’re not part of that community. I feel like I had this self that was a social self and then I had a self that was doing comics.

YLM: Are there any projects you’re working on now that you’re particularly excited about?

AK: Maybe. Yeah, I’ve always got some weird things going. Like technically I have two novels that are partially written. I don’t know if they’ll ever get finished. But I’m trying! It could happen.

YLM: When you go to write a novel, say, versus when you go to draw, is there a different sort of impulse where you’re like “I need to go write, I have this feeling that I need to go do this?” I know personally, sometimes I get this feeling where I’m like “I need to write something” and I can only write when I feel like this, and I’ll go with it while I have that impulse and then leave it.

AK: I don’t know yet because I’m really trying it out, kind of for the first time other than super short stuff. So I’m having a hard time figuring out how to do it. It feels similar to comics in that, in order to keep it going, I have to really immerse myself mentally. I feel like I have to play it out as a movie and then I write that as it’s playing out. So I definitely have to have the proper focus. The progress is slow, but it’s a real goal.

The short comic that I finished for Kuš! is actually part of a narrative that I want to be longer. I still have to figure out the logistics for the rest of the story, but it’s getting closer. But it’s something new, because it’s Sci-Fi, and with Sci-Fi it’s so much more complex, figuring out the dynamics of that situation, so I have to think about that more. But that’s a goal, to work on.

And then I’m starting to publish some stuff for other people, and that is part of this concept, this project I have that’s “the institute for interspecies art and relations” which would all be facilitating work that deals with human-animal relationships in various contexts, and promoting that sort of proliferation in intelligence and conservation efforts. There are so few artists that deal with environment, conservation, animal ethics, but I think it’s so important right now. You know, we’re set to lose what, like 60% of biodiversity or something—it’s so brutal. I don’t know what I can do for that but I think this is maybe a launching point to at least think about it, and work with artists that I know are kind of cross-ways and also try and start working with more biologists and people within the science and genetic and intelligent conservation backgrounds.

—Introduction and Interview by Bix Archer


1 Koch’s different blogs exist as various archives of source material, photographs, articles, and more. Her website contains both an archive of her own work and also a “Research Archive” where Koch includes links to scholarly articles, films, other digital archives, and various other material that she finds compelling.