Cartoonist Nate Garcia pursues his lifelong dream of drawing comics full-time

Tasso Hartzog interviews Nate Garcia, who has been drawing and creating comedy fanzines since freshman grade. Nate tells Tasso that he moved to West Philly after graduating from high school in Allentown to pursue his dream of being a comic book artist, working as a cartoonist to pay the bills, and his anthologies and comic books. self-published!

Nate Garcia, speaking to a crowd with a microphone and holding a copy of their comic book, “Muscle Horse”. Courtesy of Nate Garcia.

Last month, Nate Garcia quit his job as a caricaturist at the Philadelphia Zoo to draw comics full-time. It wasn’t his first big change in the pursuit of cartooning: In 2020, after graduating from high school, he moved from his parents’ home in Allentown, Pennsylvania to West Philly in order to work. on zines. Nate self-published the first issue of his personal anthology Cornerim later this year. Since the release of two other issues of Cornerimhe published three comics about Alanzo Sneak, a sneaker-wearing cowboy, and his horse, Sheena, whose muscular horse and, more recently, Gecko. You can find Nate’s work in his online store, on his Instagram, or on the shelves of Partner’s and Son at 6th and Bainbridge. Last week, just days away from his twentieth birthday, I spoke with Nate about his comics – where they came from, why he was making them, and what future work might be in store. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

When did you start making comics? Tell me the origin story.

I started making zines in 2008. My freshman teacher, Kimberly, had all these horrible stories about her roommates and ex-boyfriends and concerts and house shows. She was just telling all these really interesting anecdotes, and I was just making these little stapled books about them. I would give her each one and it would happen so much that she would start leaving folded, pre-made zines in my take-out folder, and I would come back the next day with a full comic.

So an early start.

Yeah, very early. I was really inspired by Bone by Jeff Smith and toy story and the Spider-Man movies. And then I saw Mutants, Monsters and Wonders, Stan Lee in Conversation with Kevin Smith, 2003 DVD. I never really fell in love with superhero comics. I really wanted to hear about the stories of these tortured Marvel artists drawing about 30 pages a week, probably more. I remember feeling this inner competition with Jack Kirby, like, I feel like I have to do this. I have to draw 30 pages a week. I have never done.

I kept doing comics until maybe second grade, and then in third grade I took a break. In fourth grade, I was truly inspired again. I was making up these stories about me and an imaginary friend, Scott. They were called the Nate and Scott comics. Scott didn’t exist. I really wanted a best friend, like on a TV show. Like Phineas and Ferb, they are half-brothers, but best friends. I wanted this. And so I manifested it in a comic. Then in high school I quit because I wanted to play in a band and be cool and stuff. So I wasn’t doing comics at all until 2019, 2020 really kicked and boosted my ass to start working again. I felt fucking free.

What are your biggest artistic influences right now?

My influences are now everywhere. I’m so happy with what I know now. I would hate to be as lost as I was in 2020, not knowing anything. I have read so much now. Specifically, I’m really inspired by old Dan Clowes, the Hernandez brothers and Robert Crumb. I like a lot of new things. What I’m reading right now is pretty much just my friends, like Josh Pettinger Goitre and Jasper Jubenville. I’m really inspired by the work of Simon Hanselmann and the work of Nathan Cowdry as well.

You talked about drawing caricatures. How did that morph into creating comics and how much has that influenced your work? I definitely see stylistic similarities between what you’re doing now and cartoonish drawing.

There is an amusement park called Dorney Park right next to my old house where I lived with my parents. When I was about 13, my mom was doing all these babysitting jobs in the morning, so she would drop me off. I had a season pass, it was kind of like daycare. I wouldn’t go on any rides, just watch cartoonists all day. And they’re just kids too, like 17, 18. I was like, “Fuck, I really want to work here. The following year, I became legal at 14 and got the job. But live cartooning is one of those things where you can be really good at drawing, just like comics, but you put yourself out there and you don’t know how to do shit. It’s hot outside, you draw in front of people and you draw all day. It was not good.

I didn’t go to art school, so I consider these six years as training. You learn to talk to people, to come out of your shell, and you learn to be a horrible sleazy salesman. Your hand hurts so much, and it’s hot, and the marker slips, and you put ink on the paper. There were a lot of rejections and a lot of angry people, but that’s part of learning. And I think it helps a lot with self-doubt and stamina. I’m always uncertain with my comics. Like, I don’t think I’ve ever made one that I’ll ever be one hundred percent satisfied with.

What does your previous job look like to you now?

I’m just constantly, constantly, constantly chasing that perfect one-page ideal that I’m never going to reach. And I never even got close. It’s like a blessing and a curse because that’s really what keeps you going. It could be something so much better and it never is. But sometimes you get a comic in a good place. It’s been said a million times by millions of cartoonists, but I’ll say it again: the best part is when you just enjoy the moment of doing it. Because there is no reward at the end. You always think you do, “I can’t wait to see that book. I can’t wait to see that item. I can’t wait to get it. And you’re always chasing after that. But you you’re not really going to like it. It’s still anticlimactic and it’s still shittier than you think. So just enjoy doing the page in the moment and being in the zone. When I’m in the zone, it’s paradise. It’s always what I’m looking for.

Every last thing I put in the category of first works. It still looks weird to me visually, and what concerns me the most is the story. I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing half the time, and I think it’s really obvious. But that’s why I really like the episodic, evolutionary way of doing things. I really like to think of it like the seasons of a TV show. The first few seasons are weird, but it gets really good in season five. This is where I try to be.

How do you balance this desire to have a visually perfect page and a truly entertaining story?

It’s easy to get caught up in the looks of things. That’s when you start making shitty comics, when you’re too obsessed with visuals. Things that are well designed and look good aren’t always what reads well, and it’s very easy to confuse your brain and start creating unreadable pages. It’s really easy to get caught in this trap. I seek readability, always. I’m not trying to be deep or experimental, I just want it to be funny and entertaining.

Do your parents read your comics?

My favorite part is showing my dad or mom and seeing them flipping through it. After not showing anyone for as long as it takes, and then they see it, it’s rewarding, even if it’s bad. Seeing someone look through is all the reward there will ever be. When you get the book, you are not satisfied, but someone else won’t know what’s wrong. You have two seconds of happiness.

What kind of future projects do you have in mind? What stories, genres or styles do you still want to explore?

I just feel like I haven’t even reached where I want to be with anything. I don’t feel like I won anything. I always want to refine what I’m trying to refine now, which is comics that are fun, entertaining, and readable. Like Scooby Doo on paper, but not so stereotypical.

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