A Cat Wakes Up in a World of Darkness – Catlamp

Cerb is a Haida illustrator and comic artist, and sometimes also writes poetry. They live in the southwest US right now, but are from British Columbia. They like crafting art and stories with a message, drawing from experiences as a two-spirit person, a lesbian, being multiply disabled, and a survivor of many things. Or they just make things with nice colours and Pokemon. They are the creator of Catlamp.

Synopsis: A cat wakes up in a world of darkness. The only other light source in the world, a talking lamp, tells the cat that they woke up a few days ago and hasn’t seen the sun rise. The cat and the lamp decide to team up to find the sun – and other answers about this strange world.

Did you go to school for either art or writing? If so, what school?
Nope! I’m self-taught.

What is the main genre of your comic? What appeals to you about that genre?
I guess I would call it adventure, or fantasy? Weird fantasy? I really love media that breaks the rules of the genre its set in, or that uses inventive, less direct methods of storytelling. Undertale, Haida manga, and the book The Lathe of Heaven are things that come to mind for me that really inspire me that way. I love things that are unique and sort of entrust the experience and the emotions with the reader. Adventure-like stories appeal to me the most of that kind of media just because I’m a sucker for epic tales with big messages, conflicts, and complex characters.

Are there any other genres that apply to your comic?
Horror? Kind of? I kinda draw on horror and surreal aesthetics for the comic, but it’s definitely not grisly or macabre in any way.

What was your inspiration for the story?
It actually started as a Pokemon universe I came up with, probably about 7 or 8 years ago, but at the urging of one of my closest friends, I turned it into an original concept. I worked out the beginning – that Lick (cat) wakes up, and finds Dusty (lamp) in a nearby building – and then I hit a block with it that I couldn’t write past for about 5 years.

I sat with the concept in my head throughout high school, where I went through some intense mental health struggles. I developed schizophrenia and had my first psychosis break. The prodome leading up to that and the episode itself really alters your thinking and worldview, and while I was really contending with recovery and trying to find some stability in my life, I found art to be an incredibly powerful outlet for my experiences and thought patterns, which I didn’t really see reflected much in the media I’d consumed up to that point. A couple of years after my schizophrenic onset, I realized the direction I wanted to go with Catlamp, and that was – to compress it by a lot – to kinda make it about survivorship in seemingly untenable circumstances.

Do you have any favorite artists or writers who influenced your style?
I constantly find new people who inspire me, so it’s hard to say off the top of my head, and I kind of pointed towards some people already. But Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, the brilliant Native artists that I’m friends and acquaintances with – those are the people I keep in mind when I think about how to develop my art these days.

How long does it take you to complete one page?
It depends on my particular energy ration that day, but usually a couple days of focused, uninterrupted work.

What is your process like for creating comic pages from start to finish? What tools do you use?
I use Paint Tool SAI for basically everything, and then GIMP to write the dialogue text. I do them in batches at a time – I sketch a few pages, then I do baby steps with putting down flats and blending on all of them. And then I’ll usually focus on a couple at a time getting them finished. The entire script has been written already, so I don’t need to worry about what I’m gonna do for a page unless I think something needs to be rewritten.

Is your comic a finished work? If no, how long do you think you think it’s going to be when it’s complete? Is there a definitive ending or will you just keep going for as long as possible?
It’s not, and I’m just after halfway through the script and it’s taken me a year and a couple months – so probably at least another year. That’s not including the year I spent before that actually writing the story and revising the script, though.

Catlamp has a completely defined ending, but I’d love to try something someday where I have a more open-ended comic, with some kind of structure for the story and the themes but where I can write it more depending on my current thoughts. I have a couple story ideas for something like that.

How long did it take you to plan the comic before even beginning to physically create it?
I went into it a bit already, but it took me a few years after hatching the concept to even know what I wanted to do with it, and then about a year and then some to write the story and figure out what I wanted the story to be about and say.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced during the course of making of your comic? If you could go back in time to the point where you just started making it and give yourself a pep talk, what would you say?
I think it was being confident that my story was worth telling and making, even if I was worried that I couldn’t execute everything perfectly. I try to tell myself that everything has flaws, and people love many things that aren’t super polished or perfect because it spoke to them in a deeper way. I would say to myself that it’s about the deeper meaning, and not necessarily the surface polish, that makes something truly fulfilling.

What is your favorite part about working on your comic?
I like that it helps me feel connected with people, like I can have an affect on the world by putting this out there and people being like, “this really spoke to me”, or “this was so cute / funny / good”. I like realizing that I can reach out to people and affect them.

What is the most difficult part about working on your comic? How do you overcome it?
The executive dysfunction can really get to me sometimes, but that’s a general art problem I have. I’ve learned that it’s totally okay to have your own workflows in order to help get past it – I’ve found it really helpful to take things in very small steps, break them down into bite-size pieces so I don’t feel overwhelmed.

Do you have a favorite character to write for? If so, why? Tell us more about them!
Even though there are only two characters, it’s still so hard to choose, haha! I think I like writing Lick just a bit more because they have a real impish energy to them. It’s fun projecting my experience with cats in general onto them, so that in the downtimes of the comic, they’re mischievous and bantering with Dusty.

Which character gives you the most difficulty to write for?
Probably also Lick, funny enough – they have a very lighthearted, happy-go-lucky side, and then a troubled, contemplative, sometimes even irritable side that feels like it’s hard to balance sometimes.

Do you have a favorite character to draw?
There are things I like about drawing both of them – Dusty’s face shape comes super naturally to me, so it’s pretty easy, and I like drawing Lick because I enjoy thinking about how an emotion would manifest in a cat’s way of expression.

Which character gives you the most difficulty to draw?
Dusty’s frame is inorganic / mechanical and doesn’t change, which makes it kind of a slog. I can also get frustrated drawing Lick sometimes if the pose or expression is ambitious.

Where can we find you? (update notifs & other important alerts!)

Anything else you want the people to know about yourself or your comic?
Can’t think of anything else right now, thanks for keeping me busy during stay-at-home orders 🙂

Have you read Catlamp yet? Let us know what you think in the comments! Or, hey, go to the creator’s site and show some love ?

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