: Today on Follow Friday, we're going to talk about pit bulls, decoding text messages, Hawai'i, tortoises, poetry, the difference between New York and California, and why you should absolutely judge a book by its cover. That's in a minute with cartoonist Liana Finck.
But first: If you need help starting a podcast or improving a show that you've already launched, then you should check out Lightningpod.fm
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: I'm Eric Johnson. Welcome to Follow Friday, a podcast about who you should follow online. Every week, I talk to creative people about who they follow and why. This is a guided tour to the best people on the internet, led by your favorite writers, podcasters, comedians, and more. You can get bonus episodes every week for as little as a dollar a month at patreon.com/followfriday
Today on the show is Liana Finck, an artist and cartoonist whose work regularly appears in the New Yorker. She's also the author of the memoir, "Passing for Human" and a collection of cartoons called, "Excuse Me." You can find Liana on Instagram
Liana, welcome to Follow Friday!LIANA FINCK
: Thanks. Thanks for having me.ERIC
: So excited to talk to you. As I understand it, you're working on a new graphic novel now that comes out next year called, "Let There Be Light". Is that right?LIANA
: I read a little bit about this, but explain what you're going to be doing in that book. It sounds really interesting.LIANA
: It's an adaptation of the Book of Genesis. Specifically, The Torah with a female God.ERIC
: And there's certain Biblical figures who are re-situated in New York and other places? Is that right?LIANA
: Yeah! How did you know that?ERIC
: Your publisher's ... It's on their website.LIANA
: That's wild. Yeah. I changed the Promised Land to New York because that's my promised land. And in my mind, the Book of Genesis is in three chunks. There's the very beginning, which feels, I think is more ancient, so I had that take place far in the past.
The Book of Abraham to me reads like it's about my grandfather and my great-grandfather. It's was written a lot later than the beginning part. But it's kind of like very, I don't know, the morals of it are very upstanding and "this is how to be a good husband and an upstanding businessman." I find it a little bit tedious. I actually have that take place in the present, but I think of it as like a little bit in the past.
The Book of Joseph is written later and it reads kind of like a Victorian novel to me. It's very like lush and romantic and funny and weird—not weird, like very modern-seeming. So, I have that take place in the future.ERIC
: Well, I'm really looking forward to reading that one. But for now, let's find out who Liana follows online. You can follow along with us today. Every person she recommends will be linked in the show notes and in the transcript at FollowFridayPodcast.com.
Liana, before the show, I gave you a list of categories and I asked you to tell me four people you follow who fit in those categories.
Your first pick is someone who makes you laugh and you said Lizz Hickey, who's on Instagram
, and YouTube
@weirdhelga. So Lizz is a cartoonist and an animator. Explain what Weird Helga is and why you're so into it.LIANA
: Weird Helga is something that Lizz does for BuzzFeed, I think.ERIC
: I think it started there. Yeah. LIANA
: Did it move?ERIC
: I think she does it independently now.LIANA
: Yeah. Okay. Good for her. It's an animated series that is broadcast on social media only, I believe. I'm actually not sure, but that's where I follow it. It's very short video clips. It's pretty much the only video kind of thing I watch because that's not my medium, usually. It takes too much attention.
It's about, there are two sisters. There's Weird Helga and her twin Honey B. Honey B is very basic and normal and Weird Helga is kind of Daria-like. She's "weird." Like, Helga is hairy and smelly and Honey B is very into doing her nails and putting things on her skin and stuff.ERIC
: Yeah. From the couple that I watched, it seems like it's at the intersection of very relatable behavior, but also extremely exaggerated and cartoonish over the top stuff. Do you have a favorite one that you remember?LIANA
: Honestly, I haven't been on Instagram in months. That's just something I remember loving. Yeah. Do I have a favorite one? I like ones involving Helga's dog. She's a pug. I'm trying to remember what was so funny about it. She makes it all this like gourmet food and then it only wants to eat poop. I don't relate
, but my dog would relate and I relate to Helga there.ERIC
: What sort of dog do you have?LIANA
: We call her a mutt, but I think she's really a pit bull. She's wonderful. Her name is Penny. We call her a mutt because we've been on the rental market and it's easier to say you have a mutt.ERIC
: Oh. A realtor or a landlord does not want a pit bull because they think it's all dangerous or something.LIANA
: Mm-hmm. She's at 35-pound mutt. She's actually 40 pounds.ERIC
: Well, you know, round down. They're not going to weigh her. Yeah! (Laughter)
Just to pick one that I really liked from the Weird Helga series: Honey is looking at one of those conspiracy boards like with like, yarn connecting Post-It notes and stuff all over this giant board, and then a bunch of computer monitors. And then she's out in a field underneath a giant satellite pointed at space and someone, I think Helga, asks her, "What are you doing, Honey?" And she says, "I'm trying to figure out the meaning of this text." It's just a text to her from a guy saying "last night was fun. LOL."LIANA
: Oh my God. I love that you can relate equally to Helga and Honey B. We each have a little bit of them in us.ERIC
: So you said this was something that you used to follow a lot when you were more on Instagram, like reading Instagram or looking at Instagram. Has being a fan of Weird Helga affected your work as a cartoonist, or your sense of humor? Do you think it has made you weirder?LIANA
: I would say I was already "weird." I've never been quite Daria-weird. I wish I could be, in that I'm also awkward, but I'm not a nerd. I envy people who fit into the categories of what I aspire to be and am. But, I've known Lizz's work since before I think either of us was on social or at least Instagram. I must have been 25 or so and I think she's about my age.
I remember her showing me her tattoos at a party and I think some of her own characters. She had a frog. I'm forgetting his name, but I was really blown away by how funny and kind of classic and effortlessly funny her cartoons were.
Helga does some stuff that teaches me how to stay simple and get a complex story across. Like you in comics, you get bogged down really easily in just the nuts and bolts of telling a story and then you can't say anything you really want to say because you're so busy trying to figure out what a face looks like or something versus really good at just like passing over the dumb stuff and getting it done efficiently.ERIC
: Here's the essence of it. Here's the most important part of it.LIANA
: Cool. Well, that was Lizz Hickey, who's on Instagram @weirdhelga
Liana, I asked you to tell me about someone that you have a non-romantic crush on. You said Hanya Yanagihara, who is on Instagram @hanyayanagihara
. So, Hanya is the editor-in-chief of the New York Times Style Magazine, also known as T. In your email to me, you said, "I get the feeling she really knows how to live." What did you mean by that?LIANA
: I think a lot of her job involves traveling, so she's always posting photos from different places and they're so beautiful. She seems to know how to hone in on the most interesting thing in a place, which is not a skill I have, but a skill I very much admire.
I know of Hanya Yanagihara because she wrote a couple of books that I really love. I especially loved "A Little Life".ERIC
: What was that about?LIANA
: I would say it's about a group of friends in a slightly alternate universe, like a group of guys who are mostly in the arts, and are kind of at the tops of their fields, as one would be in a kind of opera version of the worlds.
There's some S&M elements that I don't pay as much attention to because I'm so attuned to the fairytale, but, when people don't like the book, that's why. I think when people love the book, it's for the fairytale reasons. She just writes like she's possessed. There's something amazing, so amazing about it.
I feel very embarrassed to like stalk-follow, S-T-A-L-K follow people who aren't posting, just trying to start something like to like peek into their lives. But I think that's what I do with her. I do it with a few people and then I unfollow them repeatedly because I'm embarrassed. But, yeah, I want to know like what in her personality makes her able to write like that. And I still don't know what it is. It's magical. I also stalk her parent's pet turtle, Fred Yanagihara.ERIC
: I was going to ask about this, Fred. She had posted a video of Fred eating his daily head of romaine lettuce and I was immediately bowled over by just how cute he is.LIANA
: He might be a tortoise. He's amazing.ERIC
: Yeah. I'm sorry. Yeah, I have it in my notes here – "19-year-old tortoise."LIANA
: Oh he's a tortoise. Is 19 like very young for a tortoise or not?ERIC
: I would think so. Don't tortoises live to be like hundreds of years old, maybe?LIANA
: I would assume so. He looks old.ERIC
: Welcome to the podcast where two non-tortoise experts explain what tortoises are. Yeah. (Laughing)
Yeah, so Fred is a pet tortoise of one of Hanya's relatives, is that right?LIANA
: Yeah, I think he's her parent's tortoise. They're good glimpses into Hawaii. I've never been there and I liked spying on Hawai'i. So it's kinda nice.ERIC
: Yeah, I guess like a lot of, it seems like she spends some part of her year there with I guess her family in Hawai'i. When you're "stalking" her or other people like her online, are you more drawn to the visuals the lifestyle or ... you were referring to specifically her writing style, right? It's something that really has impressed you. What is it that really draws you to, to someone when you're trying to understand how they live and what you might learn from that.LIANA
: I think I'm interested in what they notice around them. Her writing, for example, is very, very specific. Like she'll — I forget what's it called, a synecdoche? She'll conjure up a world by naming a very small detail and I admire that skill a lot. I think she does that in her Instagram photos too. And I wonder if she does that as an editor, also? I don't know. Yeah. Why do we stalk people? It's kind of weird.ERIC
: I guess there is the whole idea of having a parasocial relationship with someone, right? Where someone you follow online, especially, if you follow them on YouTube or a podcast, you begin to think of them as your friend. But it sounds like that's not really how you feel about Hanya here.LIANA
: No, I don't feel like her friend. I don't know. I think the reason I love books so much is that I really like watching people and learning about them without having to be seen by them. I don't particularly like presenting myself. But Instagram is kind of a little bit too close for comfort sometimes. I think that's why it feels, like, I don't actually stalk her. I just follow her on Instagram. But it feels more like stalking than reading a book does.ERIC
: Yeah. Because the book has probably taken months or years to winnow down exactly what details are in there, whereas Instagram is much more immediate, and maybe a little bit more personal feeling.LIANA
: A book is a gift to strangers. Instagram, it's unclear what Instagram is for. Maybe it's for her friends and family. I don't know.ERIC
: Yeah. Well, if you feel comfortable following her on Instagram, that's Hanya Yanagihara.LIANA
: Yeah. It's a great account.ERIC
: She's on Instagram @hanyayanagihara
. We're going to take a quick break now, but we'll be back in a minute with Liana Finck.
Today's show is brought to you by Follow Friday on Patreon. Starting at just $1 a month, you can get bonus episodes of the podcast every week. This week's episode will be out in the next few days. Shout out to the patron of the week, Yoichi, who hopped on last Friday and immediately got access to bonus episodes with Alasdair Beckett-King, The Auralnauts, Freddie Wong, Mark Chrisler, and Ann Reardon. You can get all of those right away and a bonus follow recommendation from Liana Finck very soon when you go to patreon.com/followfriday
. And you can pledge any amount there, starting at $1. Thank you to all our Patrons for their support at patreon.com/followfriday
Welcome back to Follow Friday. Let's move on to your next follow. I asked you for someone who you're jealous of and you said Chad Murphy, better known as Lord Birthday. He's on Twitter @lordbirthday
and on Instagram @lord_birthday
. Chad is a poet, writer, and also an artist. But his style is much more of, I would say, text-heavy than yours is. So why do you say that you're jealous of him?LIANA
: Well, he does something that I do in a different way and I like the way he solved the problem a lot. So, good jealousy. He tells a big story in a small area of space. He puts his work on Instagram. He puts his work in books, but usually each story is kind of one page.
He's really a kind of poet who puts illustrations in and he merges the words and the pictures in a way I really loved that feels effortless. I like that he goes expansive in his stories. He makes you feel like the greatness of the universe a lot, and the mystery always makes me laugh.ERIC
: I watched a short video interview that he gave where he's talking about the subjects that he chooses to illustrate or to write about. And he says some people might see some of what he writes about [as] sad or depressing, but that he sees it as him not trying to put boundaries on his imagination. Does that ring true for your creative process as well? Do you agree with that philosophy?LIANA
: Yeah, I think that's similar to why I loved Hanya Yanagihara's book, "A Little Life," when some people found it depressing, I find it very cathartic and like, oh, phew, we're talking about these things that we're all thinking about all the time. So I feel that way about his work too, like he'll mention death and sadness and things, but he makes them very funny.ERIC
: And he's written a couple of books and I think you maybe blurbed one of his cartoon collections?LIANA
: Oh, I never checked.ERIC
: When I was looking at his website, I'm pretty sure I saw your name. But he described you in one of his Instagram posts as his "friend, confidant, spirit guide, and mortal Insta-foe, Liana."LIANA
: Whoa! I totally, yeah, I blanked that out. That's so nice.ERIC
: It sounds like the envy is mutual, huh? Do you know each other in real life?LIANA
: Yeah, we do. Like, we were Instagram friends for a long time and I was a little freaked out by him because it was a paranoid moment for me. And he wasn't open about his actual name or who he was. I had no idea who he was and then he told me his name and then I met him. We've met a number of times. He lives in Oregon. He's very nice in a way only a non-New Yorker can possibly be. Big smile.ERIC
: Have you lived in New York your whole life?LIANA
: I've lived in tri-state area my whole life.ERIC
: So you've been trained to expect a certain niceness level in day-to-day life then.LIANA
: Yeah. I'm a New York Jew. I find that New Yorkers are like deeply ... nice? Yeah. We're deeply nice, but also especially living in the city-city, we have to make a shell because it's very crowded. Is San Francisco changing like that? It must be getting more crowded and hectic.ERIC
: It's actually, well, it's, it's interesting. A bunch of folks moved out last year and some of them are now quietly returning because they realized that Miami is very humid and unpleasant for several months out of the year.LIANA
: Oh, God. Yeah, I read an article about that just now.ERIC
: I'm an East Coast transplant. I came from the DC area, moved out here, and I think, yeah, I think I got a little bit nicer, a little bit more smiley, just a bit more chill moving out here. It has that effect on you.LIANA
: Yeah, I love San Francisco.ERIC
: Well that was Chad Murphy, who's on Instagram @lord_birthday
. We have time for one more follow today. Liana, I asked you for someone who inspires you and you said Na Kim, who's on Instagram @na_son
. Na's an illustrator and a book cover designer. They work at the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. I probably butchered at least one of those French names, but, how has she inspired you?LIANA
: She is just wondrous. I've always really loved book covers. I really love graphic design, book cover designing in particular. I went to art college and I concentrated on design at the end, and I was terrible at it. Yeah, it's one of those things that I have great, deep, deep admiration for, and can't really do.
What is it about her work that I love so much? She is always shape-shifting. She always changes styles and she always seems to just get to the heart of the style that she's inhabiting at any given moment. I often just love a book cover and check to see who did it, and she did it. And I never expect that it was her. It's really interesting.ERIC
: That's a unique challenge, I guess, for an artist because you probably spend so much of your time honing one specific style. So to be able to kind of chameleon your way into whatever a specific book demands. That that must be really tricky.LIANA
: Yeah. That's what makes a good book cover designer. Also like sometimes I think she makes the things herself, and sometimes she just knows what artists to choose to have do it. But I think both are skills. Like, I couldn't do that.ERIC
: Yeah. Do you have any pretty strong feelings about the expression, "Don't judge a book by its cover?"LIANA
: I think that's really weird.ERIC
: Okay. I think we're aligned, then. I was about to go on a rant about how stupid it is, but no need to bore you with that. (Laughs)LIANA
: But I'm curious like who made that quote and if they actually believe that or if it just epitomizes as something else that they believe, which is true, like don't judge a person by their face, maybe?ERIC
: Yeah. I feel like you should just say that. Don't judge a person based on what they look like. That seems like a much more direct way of getting there.
So you've released two books so far ... or three books, I guess you've written three books so far. Did you do your own designs for your books?LIANA
: Yeah, I did the covers. I have mixed feelings about doing one's own book cover. I think what makes a really, really great book cover is like a feeling of freedom. Like, you can kind of undermine what's in the book and you can't do that with your own book. You care too much.
I wanted to be a book cover designer before I became a cartoonist. I was on that track. There was like a certain kind of, what was the easiest to do a cover for? It's a book that's like a frenemy book that you kind of love-hate. A book you love is harder to do a cover for, and a book you hate is not fun to do a cover for, either. It's just kind of a book that you're like, "Oh, I want to like get in there and have fun with it."ERIC
: That's fascinating!LIANA
: I'm really proud of two... The first cover was called "A Bintel Brief". It was a good idea, but I think I was too precious about it. It was supposed to be the facade of a tenement building. It was a book about Yiddish New York. My second book, "Passing For Human" used to be called "Light And Shadow," until the title got changed at the last minute and the cover would have been like so good for that. It's a sun and a moon kissing. I think that was a good cover, although some of the words were the wrong sizes. I felt silly about that.
And then the next book cover was really, really hard to make. It was a photographic cover and I just don't have the skills to begin to figure that out. It took a lot of help and work. For the past two books, I've worked with an art director at Random House named Robin Schiff, who is really wonderful.ERIC
: Is there a favorite cover that Na has worked on that you want to highlight? Anything that you remember seeing where it's like, wow, I can't believe like how good this looks, or how enticing it is?LIANA
: So many. She did one with a painting of a robot's head that I love. I forgot what it was. I didn't read it. She did the Tove Ditlevsen covers with—ERIC
: I saw those. The woman's face, and it's like distorted in some weird way?LIANA
: Yeah. There's like a hole in her face and you see through, and I think a great book cover has some mystery to it. Like a great poem. It leaves something unsaid, but not too much.
She makes shoes out of bread. I like that project.ERIC
: I saw this too. Panolo Blahnik, I think it's called. It's already a great idea, but the pun elevates it. Do you want to explain what this Instagram account is about. I guess it's just ... photos of bread shoes?LIANA
: Yeah. Bread shoes. She'll take different shapes of bread and make them look like different brands of shoe. She works with another hero of mine, Rodrigo Corral. He's the art director at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. They have something in common, but they're also both very unique to themselves.ERIC
: That was Na Kim, who's on Instagram at @na_son
. And Panolo Blahnik is on Instagram at @panolo_blahnik
. Liana, thank you for sharing your follow recommendations with us today. Before we go, I want to make sure listeners know how to find you online. Where do you want them to follow you?
LIANA: On Instagram, and I retweet my Instagrams as tweets, but I never go on Twitter. Both, @lianafinck.ERIC
: Follow me on Twitter @heyheyesj
, and this show on Twitter
@followfridaypod. Follow Friday's theme music was written by me and performed by Yona Marie
. Our show art was illustrated by Dodi Hermawan
. That's all for this week. This is Eric Johnson, reminding you to talk about people behind their backs, and when you do, say something nice.
See you next Friday!
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