It’s easy to get off the path with Sophie Franz. She’s a bright-eyed, deep thinker and answers my questions with care, but her ideas make rabbit trails from theories about the way people project themselves into comic books, to commentary on her own productivity wheel-spinning, and to attempts at explaining what she’s getting at with her work.
“I want to create a feeling and then I want there to be a story that is generated from that feeling,” Franz says when asked about the blue monkey-like animals on the cover of her new, self-published art book Orange Thief. “You know how dreams don’t really have a story, but it feels like there’s one when you’re in them? This is a place that feels sort of familiar to me: a courtyard where the chaos of nature is very regimented by trees planted between these orderly tiles.”
Franz grew up a half-hour away from Portland. She teaches comics, cartooning, and painting at the Multnomah Arts Center. Years ago I spied her open sketchbook at a drawing night, and since then I’ve eagerly awaited anything she puts out. In 2016, Franz published an eerie short comic, The Experts, on DC small press Retrofit Comics, but in conversation she expresses concern over maintaining a static style for a longer book. Given this reticence, Franz’ choice to adapt her sketchbooks makes sense, and though I’m not a proponent of published sketchbooks, for Franz I’ll allow it. The pages are out-of-control luminous in their imagination, and Franz employs an impressive proficiency in a staggering number of styles throughout, each idea flowing into the next.
“Damn these infernal breast allergies,” thinks a red-eyed wolf in a plaid yellow suit coat as he stares at a blue-haired woman. Below him a child slurps up a man’s brains like spaghetti while the spaghetti-brained man sighs, “Ugh.”
Each page feels heavy with complexity, so I press Franz again, trying to get some concrete insight into the blue creatures on the cover. She counters with a story about the ominous nature of orderly trees: “My dad used to take us on these bike rides in the sloughs behind Scappoose, where trees are planted for paper. There would never be any cars and it felt very abandoned. Then there would be these forests of perfectly lined trees that you could, at the right angle, see completely through. It felt like something could walk behind a tree and then not come out the other side.”