Kristen Radtke’s graphic, video, and prose work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, TriQuarterly, Ninth Letter, Gulf Coast, Brevity, Fourth Genre, and others. She has an MFA from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program and currently lives in Louisville, where she is the marketing director for Sarabande Books. She is at work on a collection of graphic essays.
Artists who collaborate with Creative Nonfiction generally read the essays first, then come up with their illustrations. How did this process work for you?
I read each essay until a specific image struck me as possible to translate into an illustration, then took note and came back to choose which I thought might be most representative.
Did certain phrases or ideas stick out? Do you have a favorite essay in this issue?
I enjoyed all of the essays, but I think that the self awareness and movement between introspection and scene in Mary Helen Kennerly’s “Shacked Up” is masterful.
What first drew you to graphic essays/multimedia forms?
I find writing pretty exhausting. Drawing started as a way to clear my head when I couldn’t write anymore. I loved the relationship between text and image in really masterful graphic and multimedia essays, and the ways in which they complicated one another.
What similarities do you see between the creation of literary and visual works of art?
I think the best visual and literary art works to communicate and convey an argument or idea. Every artist is probably working at driving something out.
Do you see a theme or recurring thing that you’re driving out? Not necessarily just in your work with CNF, but in your body of graphic creations as a whole?
I’m working on a collection of graphic essays about aftermath and abandoned places, so I find myself really drawn to how we as humans address and deal with decay and change, and how we’re working to sustain life through the things we create in the wake of that change.
Do you think there’s something about your ideas or the things you’re interested in that necessarily can’t be expressed with text only? In other words, do some ideas demand a multimedia approach?
This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I don’t think any ideas really demand a multimedia approach, but rather think sometimes, for a specific writer or artist, it’s the only way he or she might be able to exercise those ideas in a way that makes sense to him or her. There are so many ways to reach the same end. I think we all just have to employ the tools that make the most sense to us as artists.
Do you encounter resistance from “traditional” writers to your multimedia work?
It seems that most readers of contemporary nonfiction are embracing forms that may be considered nontraditional. I think sometimes illustrated work is considered less serious or intellectual than prose, and some publications are turned off by the idea that something looks like a “comic,” and is therefore not literature. But overall, I think it’s a rather exciting time to be working in multiple forms. Knowing you may not be taken seriously can offer a certain kind of freedom.
Why black and white?
I’m working on a collection of graphic essays, and so black and white is more a default mode than anything else. I like the simplicity of line drawings, and the challenge of creating something that seems dimensional within such a limited palette.
What kinds of things do you consider when deciding on the size and shape of a panel?
Oftentimes the decisions are more practical than creative, except when I play around with cropping an image in the interest of tension, or when an object will break a frame. In the case of this issue of Creative Nonfiction, I left the size of each image up to the designer’s discretion.
What’s your creative process usually like? If you had to give it a label (something like evolving doodles, energetic emission) what would it be?
I try to move fluidly between graphic and prose as much as possible. Oftentimes with a video I’ll write an essay first and then craft visuals to couple that narration, but on the page I like the idea of images and text communicating within the creation as well as the reading/viewing process.
Everyone has different qualifications for what makes a piece of art great. What are yours?
I don’t know that I’d necessarily consider my illustrations art, but rather something that works in conjunction with literary art. That conversation, maybe, is where the art happens. I’d say great art is something that keeps evolving, that you can come back to and discover a newness each time.