The Q&A: Hartley Lin

By Peggy Roalf   Monday July 2, 2018

Q: Originally from [where?] what are some of your favorite things about living and working in [your current locale]?

A: I’m originally from Toronto and I’ve lived in Montreal for the last long stretch. But recently, my wife and I moved to a rural suburb off the island of Montreal called Saint-Lazare. It’s the equestrian capital of Quebec, or something like that, so we’re surrounded by beautiful horses and wide open fields. As a writer-cartoonist type, I find the relative solitude peaceful. Of course, we miss all the insane food options of the city.


Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between art you create on paper [or other analog medium] versus in the computer?

A: I don’t have any fanciful sketchbook practice even though I do nearly everything on paper. The only sketches I make are studies for illustration jobs or comic scenes. It all has direction. I really envy artists who are more free-spirited and exploratory in their drawings, like Jillian Tamaki and Michael DeForge. That’s the way to be!

I try to limit the computer aspect. I think that doing a whole piece directly into a screen, from concept to finals, fundamentally changes the way you think and draw. The mental commitment is shallower when you’re always able to undo stuff with a keystroke. I think you develop a better sense of foresight using pencils and inks. But I don’t want to sound like a total grump—whatever works for your creativity is best.

Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: I’m pretty useless without my A3-sized scanner. It used to drive me crazy to have to stitch together partial scans of oversized drawings in Photoshop. That ugly business is less frequent now.

Q: How do you know when the art is finished—or when to stop working on it?

A: When I can no longer bear to look at it. At that point I’m just making micro adjustments that aren’t really significant. 

Q: What was your favorite book as a child? What is the best book you’ve recently read?

A: I don’t remember any picture books at all. But in my early teens, it was probably [J.D. Salinger’s] The Catcher in the Rye or Nine Stories. I’m currently reading and enjoying How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee. Sentence to sentence, I think the most impressive writer is the baseball dude, Roger Angell. 

Q: If you had to choose one medium to work in for an entire year, eliminating all others, what medium would you choose?

A: Inks on paper. Black on white. It’s all about simple means to complex ends. Sometimes I convince myself that even colours are an unnecessary flourish. 

Q: What elements of daily life exert the most influence on your work practice?

A: Poor sleeping habits, looking after my beloved dog, bad movies... Everything that adds to or takes away from my anxiety. It’s all part of making art.

Q: What was the [Thunderbolt] painting or drawing or film or otherwise that most affected your approach to art? 

A: When I was about 13, I was taken to a special exhibit of Egon Schiele’s drawings at the Smithsonian. It was mostly studies of prostitutes in various poses. My mom stopped me before going in and said, “I think you’re mature enough to appreciate this.” I don’t know if I was, but it did leave a lasting impression.  

For graphic novels, I always point to Chester Brown’s I Never Liked You as my absolute favourite. It has a magical, finely-tuned logic to its pages. And lots of unspoken sadness.

Q: What was the strangest/most interesting assignment you've taken that had an important impact on your practice, and what changed through the process?

A: As it's described, I don’t think I’ve received this assignment yet—I’m looking forward to it!

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: Maybe an assortment of Greek dishes and tzaziki. Or a perfect bowl of ramen noodles with pork belly. Whatever it is, I would eat so much of it that death would come as a mercy. 

Hartley Lin is a Canadian cartoonist and illustrator who until very recently worked under the pseudonym Ethan Rilly. His comic book series Pope Hats has received various awards, and he has drawn for Slate, The New Yorker, Chronicle, HarperCollins, The Walrus and COMPLEX. His first major graphic novel YOUNG FRANCES is published by AdHouse Books.  
Instagram: @hartley._.lin
Hartley will appear at these comics festivals in the Fall: 
CXC in Columbus, OH on Sept 29-30 
MICE in Cambridge, MA on October 20-21
CAB in Brooklyn, NY on November (date tbd) 



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