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Artist spotlight: Andrea Tsurumi

Examples of art by Andrea Tsurumi.
Examples of art by Andrea Tsurumi.
Andrea Tsurumi

Creativity is ever-present in the art and design of objects all around us. Yet, although beauty is held in high esteem, the creative individuals who have a gift for artistic craftsmanship are not always appreciated as much as they should be. Currently there is a woeful lack of outlets for up-and-coming, underground, or outside artists to showcase their work. Despite the fact that many of these undiscovered artists have outstanding talent, many of them are little appreciated despite their awe-inspiring abilities. Hence, I decided to start an “Artist Spotlight” series where I will interview various artists in order to gain a deeper insight into what inspires their creativity and what they plan to do with their careers. Andrea Tsurumi is one such artist who agreed to be interviewed.

Andrea Tsurumi uses quirky characters and ideas to amuse viewers.
Andrea Tsurumi

Andrea was born and raised in New York. She received an English BA from Harvard and an MFA in illustration from the School of Visual Arts. Currently she lives in Queens and draws and makes books in Brooklyn. Andrea’s work has received widespread recognition and has been featured in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nib, The Rumpus, Tablet Magazine, Penguin Books, Bloomsbury Children's Books, Bitch Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, Quarter Moon, Oh Comely Magazine, and Suspect Device. She was included in The Best American Comics notables list in 2013.

Below are Andrea’s comments about being an illustrator and cartoonist:

Q: What influenced you to become an illustrator?

I've always loved reading and wanted to tell stories. While I was growing up, storytelling, and especially visual storytelling, struck me as something vitally important and meaningful and has stayed that way ever since. I also drew a lot and was inspired by children’s books, comics, and animation. My family, along with several especially awesome teachers and librarians, exposed me to a lot of incredible books, movies, and art.
Marshall Arisman, the head of SVA's MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program, once said that artists are kids who loved to draw who, unlike most people, just never stopped. I kept drawing, but I also went to college to study English. I took coursework in image-text interaction and humor, among other things. Following that, I worked in publishing, took SVA Continuing Education classes, and made friends with other people who loved illustration and comics. In 2011, I was ready to admit that this was what I wanted to do in life, but needed help getting there, so I enrolled in the Illustration as Visual Essay MFA program. It was two years of nonstop drawing and learning with incredibly talented, diverse, and fascinating people in the same studio.
Now, as a freelance illustrator and cartoonist, one of the best things is being continuously inspired by the work I like and by the experience of drawing and writing itself.

Q: In terms of subject matter, what are your cartoons about and what inspired the ideas for them?

They usually give an absurd angle on ordinary life, often with a healthy dose of surrealism thrown in. The way people live is often strange and funny, so I like reflecting that in my stories. Although many of them feature creatures or animals, they’re all about human behavior. I make a range of work (editorial, book illustrations, comics), but it all usually follows these interests. I’m perpetually fascinated by history because it’s such an enormous reservoir for odd human moments. In both other people’s work and my own, I respond strongly to humor, sympathy, and flaws.

Q: As far as working in illustration, what has been your most rewarding experience so far?

Most of the rewards come from doing the work itself. There’s no feeling like pushing yourself and depicting something or expressing something especially clearly or well, particularly when you surprise yourself. When people read my work and react to it, or it makes them laugh, it completely makes my day. Especially kids, because they’re such honest critics.

Q: How has MoCCA helped your career?

I’ve been attending MoCCA Fest since 2007 and tabling there since 2008. It was the first comics festival I ever attended and it was crucial in introducing me to other artists, motivating me to make and print comics for the event, and teaching me how to sell my work and pitch material. MoCCA, SVA Continuing Education classes, drink-and-draws, comics collectives, and the New York Comics and Picture-Story Symposium introduced me to the great cartooning community that’s otherwise kind of hard to find in this city. Similarly, for illustration, the Society of Illustrators was one of the first and best resources I encountered in New York City; I’ve attended incredible shows and lectures there with other illustrator friends. I already owed a lot to these organizations, and that made winning the MoCCA/Society of Illustrators Award of Excellence for Andrew Jackson Throws a Punch even more of an honor.

Q: What are your ultimate goals for the future?

I want to make children’s books and comics. In addition to building up my drawing practice, I’d like to play with different kinds of storytelling media (interactive tablet books, gifs, art books, installations, etc.). In addition to maintaining a disciplined and productive, solitary drawing lifestyle, I’d also like to develop some process that incorporates creativity and a community. Whether that’s through journalism, performance, research, or collaborations, it’s an appealing challenge. And, if I’m being honest, I really want a dog.

Q: Are there any up and coming projects that you would like to mention?

This fall, Molly Brooks and I are debuting our respective comics about science fiction teen girl detectives at the Small Press Expo, along with the newest issue of Linen Ovens, a comics-poetry anthology that also features Alexander Rothman and Keren Katz. I’m also looking forward to having new work at the Locust Moon Festival in late October and Comics Arts Brooklyn (CAB) in November.
Locust Moon Press is releasing their gorgeous “Little Nemo” tribute anthology “Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream” soon, and I can’t wait to see the full book! I had a lot of fun making a Nemo page about bra-shopping for it. Also, Seven Stories Press is publishing “The Graphic Canon of Children’s Literature” this November, which will include my short adaptation from “The Wind in the Willows” along with an enormous number of fantastic children’s book comics by Keren Katz, Dasha Tolstikova, Molly Brooks, Maëlle Doliveux, and many more.

Q: Where do you hope to be, career wise, in ten years?

In ten years, I would like to have published several children’s picture books and standalone comics for kids and adults.
I would like to have a cult of badgers.
I would like to roll down a hill.

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For more information about Andrea Tsurumi visit her official website:

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