Interview with Danica Novgorodoff

by Claire Pincumbe

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Much of your work is so clearly and wonderfully researched—I’m thinking specifically of The Undertaking of Lily Chen. What part does research usually play in your writing process? What kind of research went into the creation of “Beauty”? I’m particularly curious if this piece was inspired by an article or piece of information in the way Lily Chen was, or if research and/or influences followed the idea.

In “Beauty,” I was describing an imagined future—a world that no longer has natural spaces

I usually come up with the spark of idea through an experience or reading I’ve done, and then begin to formulate a story in my mind and on paper. I follow that up with research, and continue to research as I go. It’s not terribly systematic and I wish I had a more organized method, but I mostly collect information as I go, as the story develops and tells me what I need to know about the places, people, and issues I’m writing about. Lily Chen, for example, was inspired both by my first visit to China and by an article I read in the Economist about ghost marriages in China. Based on that limited knowledge, I wrote a draft of the story, then went back to do a lot more research. “Beauty” was less of a research-inspired piece, and more emotionally driven. I’ve been living in New York City for about 15 years now and constantly long for the life in nature that I’m missing out on. Since creating “Beauty” I’ve done a lot more research on climate change and am working on a pitch for a new graphic novel that’s a more straightforward, fact-driven exploration of the issue. In “Beauty,” I was describing an imagined future—a world that no longer has natural spaces, and a world in which I had a daughter—which I now do. She just turned one and I’m terrified about what our planet is going to look like as she grows up.

The artistic form of “Beauty” is much looser than the more fixed, geometric panels of your more narrative works. Did this untethered style grow naturally from the subject matter, or do you tend to use certain graphic forms for certain types of projects?

This style grew naturally from the subject matter—because it’s an emotionally driven piece I wanted the more open format to reflect that. In this piece I was also looking for a break from my usual methodical process, and wanted to create something that felt more like poetry than prose, both textually and visually.

What inspires you? What and/or who are your influences both in and outside the world of graphic literature?

The style [for “Beauty”] grew naturally from the subject matter—because it’s an emotionally driven piece I wanted the more open format to reflect that.

I read a lot of contemporary fiction and nonfiction, a bit of poetry, and I especially like literary works that interweave visual elements in unusual ways. I read a lot of children’s books to my daughter these days! I also love to look at fine art as often as possible and, living in NYC, have access to incredible museums, galleries, book art, street art, and more.

Your use of color is always so striking and, I feel, very distinct to your work. Though your drawing style changes across your body of work, I’ve noticed a consistent use of grays, greens, and especially vivid yellows. Do you find you’re drawn to certain colors and color palette?

A blueish-grey watercolor wash has become my favorite color in the past several years. It’s a neutral color, but still so rich, and can bleed into a very vivid blue. It also contrasts beautifully with a bright orange, yellow or red. That seems to have become my go-to palette. Then the green is just because I love to draw landscapes most of all. I’m about to start a new graphic novel project that takes place in an urban setting and has a lot of ghostly characters, so I think the blue-grey will work well for both concrete and apparitions.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading a lot of books and articles about climate change and nature (The Sixth Extinction, The End of Nature, Braiding Sweetgrass, Amity and Prosperity, Climate Changed…), and trying to balance the existential dread that causes me with some Buddhist readings, good fiction and picture books.


DANICA NOVGORODOFF is an artist, writer, graphic novelist, and horse wrangler from Kentucky who currently lives in Brooklyn. Her graphic novels include The Undertaking of Lily Chen, Refresh Refresh, Slow Storm, and A Late Freeze. She was awarded a 2015 New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship in Literature, and was named Sarabande’s 2016 writer-in-residence.