“I feel like for little-kid-me, this would be the equivalent of living in a water park,” says Chicago-based illustrator Laura Park. “I get to draw all day! It was something I always loved doing. Sometimes you have to give yourself the freedom of just enjoying what you do.”
CP: How did you begin doing illustration?
LP: I’ve always drawn ever since I was a kid, but I got into illustration in a really backwards way. I was posting things online and got asked to do illustration for the Reader. It was for an article about Rosie O’Donnell. This was exciting because I had never been asked before and it was for a paper. They said, “We can send a courier to get the artwork!” I remember that was the most exciting bit for me—a courier was coming to pick up my artwork! I waited and waited, and I was kind of upset when it was just this guy in street clothes. I had expected a whole thing, you know, a little cap, maybe a bow tie…I don’t know what I was picturing, probably something from a movie or a long-dead industry. I handed the illustrations to him and he was like, “Thanks, whatever.” Then he wandered off.
The Reader asked me to do a few more illustrations after that, and other groups began asking me. It happened gradually. Then the job I had worked at for ten years collapsed, right when the illustration work picked up. I didn’t set out to be a freelance illustrator, but it’s ended up that way.
CP: How is working on commissioned illustrations different from the work you do for yourself?
LP: Like most kinds of freelancing, people hire you for a certain skill set. They want you to apply those skills to something very specific that they want. You put as much of yourself into it as possible, but sometimes you just have to take an idea you don’t really like and do the best you can with it. There are some really amazing illustrators, though, who always manage to deliver compelling images. Jillian Tamaki—I don’t know how she does what she does—and Lilli Carré. You don’t mistake their images for someone else’s…there’s so much of them in the idea.
CP: What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on?
LP: I’m really happy with the stories I did for MOME. I love short stories. Novels are the format now—it’s a selling format. You can have graphic novels in a bookstore, because non-comics people might buy them. Whenever you can get a comic from the comic shop into a bookstore, it’ll make more money. But short stories are kind of magical to me. My favorite writer is Flannery O’Connor. She has novels, but her short stories are the ones that linger and itch away through you.
CP: How does living in Chicago affect your stories?
LP: I love Chicago. I love the history of it, and the weird little pockets that you run into. With my comics, I try to make it clear where I am. I like the streets to look like Chicago. I like that in other people’s work as well—it gives you a place to go and sit while you experience the story.
I did a story about anxiety that wasn’t really about Chicago, but was very specific to my neighborhood. All the streets were drawn like the actual streets. I wanted to look back on it as this document of a particular time and place in my life. I like to put really specific details in my comics, so when I look back I can remember where I was at the time.
CP: You’re also part of a collaborative comics-making group called Trubble Club here in Chicago. Can you tell us more about that?
LP: I’m a very proud member of Trubble Club! It forces you to draw things you don’t normally draw and come up with jokes you wouldn’t normally make. My favorite moments are when people come up with really clever ways to link things together and form the story. Jeremy Tinder is good at making everything come together in a nice way. It’s nice, too, to have some social thing. Comics, by their nature, are very isolating, and illustration can be the same way. You’re drawing, writing, laying out the final product. You’re the one person doing it. It’s nice to break that up by going to the group.
CP: What are you working on right now?
LP: I’m working on a picture book for Random House and a young adult book for Little, Brown & Co. I’ve also been doing illustration for these coffee people who are amazing, Tonx Coffee. It’s a subscription coffee service where they roast the beans and send them off to you right away. I’m doing comics for The Believer, too. It’s kind of nuts. With freelance work, though, it’s feast or famine. I’m kind of scattered all over the place.
Our February banner art from Laura is part of a commission of favorite Chicago places: