Jensine Eckwall is an illustrator based out of Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 2013, and has since worked with the New York Times, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, NYU, and others. She has several middle-grade book covers set to release in 2016 as well as a full-length picture book, Almost A Full Moon, which was written by Hawksley Workman and will be published by Tundra Books. She also makes comics, and has had comics printed by Smoke Signal and Big Planet Comics, among others. Find her on her website, tumblr, or on twitter @WhoisJensine.
What do you do? (Write, draw, edit, publish, promote etc.)
How did you get started doing that?
I’m primarily an illustrator, and do comics sometimes for clients but mostly for smaller projects like anthologies or on my own time. I’ve also worked in arts administration at a museum. I started freelance illustrating when I graduated in 2013, and began making comics again after a very long hiatus after several friends has asked me to make them for anthologies.
What was your first comic? Why that one?
The first real comics I made was a 10-page story called “The Disconnect,” about an arts high school with a door between dimensions in the basement. I made it at SVA’s pre-college cartooning program. I realized that I didn’t want to pursue cartooning professionally, but learned a lot about art-making and my own practice there. The first comic I made after school was the two-page spread “Blood Summer” [nsfw] for the anthology Fluids ‘N Squirts.
The first comic I can remember reading in seriousness was a sci-fi webcomic called Unicorn Jelly, by Jennifer Diane Reitz. I think I found it by image searching unicorns…
Any current or upcoming projects we can find you on?
I have a picture book coming out in September called Almost a Full Moon, written by musician Hawksley Workman. I am also part of a three-person show at Helikon Gallery in Denver in August. You can also find my work on various middle-grade book covers coming out this year, and occasionally in magazines and newspapers.
Favorite inspiration, collaborators, other professionals you’ve worked with if any?
I deeply appreciate every art director who works with me, I’ve had to many great experiences working with various ADs and designers. I recently wrote a book picture book script with my partner Peter Schmidt and am looking forward to developing that further.
Anyone you’d like to collaborate with some day? Why?
I’d really like to collaborate with a fashion designer on prints and concepts for a clothing line.
Favorite genre to read? To work in? Are there any you won’t work in?
In terms of comics, I like them all. I really like stories that center around relationships and self-observation, like in Eleanor Davis’s How to Be Happy. I like genre comics and comics for kids. I think that there are a lot of stories that wouldn’t be appropriate for me to work with, but not necessarily genres.
Have you ever faced adversity/discouragement for being a woman in your field? How did you overcome it?
The adversity I’ve faced has been mostly subtle, but of course it’s there. There is a long history of men supporting each other and networking in male-only spaces that women just don’t have access to socially. It’s been many times that I’ve had to make the decision regarding sexist behavior to either not tolerate it and risk disruption and hurting my career /or/ passively accept it, which continues to confirm its acceptability. It causes a lot of dissonance, especially when I worked in a museum environment, in contact with the public, and dealt with it frequently.
When I first started working and making professional connections, I fretted frequently that men were falsifying interest in my work when their interest was more social or sexual (and about the consequences of rejecting these men who felt I owed them something for supporting me), which was always a possibility. I’ve also felt the need to act judiciously about how public I want my relationships to be, in a way that I don’t think male creators feel like they have to do. I often feel undeserving of the jobs and opportunities I get (as opposed to better than the jobs I get), which I believe has a lot to do with misogynist social conditioning. For similar reasons, it’s difficult to ask for more money or better conditions.
Something I’ve been dealing with is the coding of my work as feminine (which I believe is mostly true) which leads to it being associated more with children’s media and thus having more limited applications. In general, illustration and comics are communities filled with wonderful, supportive people with a low tolerance for bullshit. However, just like any industry, there’s still a lot of mired sexism (and other systemic social issues) to slog through.
Coolest moment you’ve had as a creator?
I’m really grateful every time I get hired for a job or get a positive response to my work. The thing I value the most is when someone offers a comment that they really “got” the work and my intentions with it. I still don’t feel like I’ve made it/made the right choices, that’s still a process.
How do you think the current comics industry is toward women? What can we do to improve it further and create a safe space?
The comics industry is in the challenging position of dealing with sexism both from the old guard and younger creators who feel like women are “taking something away from them.” This gets really frustrating. There is very little acknowledgement of women’s historical contributions to the timeline of comics and still a prevalent tendency to treat women’s stories as second-class. Luckily, people are becoming more and more aware of their own biases and a lot of important conversations are taking place. There are so many amazing women creators who have fought for their places in comics and are getting respect. We need to keep having these conversations, and larger bastions of the industry need to not tolerate damaging behavior as well as support women creators with their dollars.
Who are some of your favorite/most inspirational female characters to read? What about in other media (novels, TV, movies, pop culture)? Why?
I like female characters who are characters. Like, they don’t need to necessarily be good or ideal people, or only have good things happen to them, but as long as they’re portrayed with sensitivity and with the same care as any other character, that’s great.
What do comics mean to you?
Comics are a truly special medium, and are in a unique position of being able to have a single creator tell a story of any possible scope and vision. Comics have a lot of personal significance to me, as the works I read growing up were the stories I felt most inspired and understood by, from webcomics to the goth indies I loved in middle school. Now, I have spend time in the comics community so the network of creators means a lot to me too.
Advice to other female creators in the field?
It’s going to be complicated navigating this field, be strong. In my experiences, the most effective response to sexist behavior when you don’t feel safe engaging is just to not smile and nod. it forces people to be analytical of their behavior instead of the confirmation they’re expecting. That, and “why is that funny.” Create your own spaces and support other marginalized creators- sometimes it can feel easier to be critical of someone you feel closer to than the monoliths of your industry. It’s getting better all the time, do the work and make it work!
What are you currently reading?
I’m excited to read all the books I got this year at TCAF [Toronto Comic Arts Festival] but haven’t had the time to start them yet!!
Want to join the project yourself? Hit me on twitter @Beebidon!