Cartoonist Robin Ha Found Comfort in Community Art Projects

Q(uar) & A is a series of interviews with some of our favorite storytellers and creators about how they’re living while in lockdown.

Robin Ha (she/her) is a Korean-American cartoonist based in Washington, D.C. She is the author of the graphic novel memoir Almost American Girl and NYT bestselling cookbook graphic novel Cook Korean! A Comic Book With Recipes.

An excerpt from Almost American Girl

Where are you currently sheltering in place?

I am in my apartment with my partner Michael in Washington, D.C.

 What does your face mask look like? 

At first, I wore a white plain cloth mask from Korea which I had for decades. Then my mom gave me a handmade one that her coworker made, which has a blue floral pattern.

Do you follow any kind of routine at this moment? 

I have never been good at keeping a routine, and it’s been especially hard to keep any kind of schedule during the quarantine. I don’t know how the time just slips through my finger so quickly every day.

What are some pieces of entertainment that you have consumed and loved during this time? 

In the beginning, I couldn’t keep my focus long enough to get past a few minutes of reading or watching anything. My brain felt too foggy to process any new information. Then I got used to the new norm, and I binge-watched a few shows. My favorite show so far is The OA on Netflix which is pure escapist fun. I am sad to hear the news that this show got canceled, but some fans speculate that it might be a hoax. I am hoping they’ll surprise us with the third season soon. 

An excerpt from Almost American Girl

Are you working on anything during this time? And if you’re having trouble “creating” things at the moment, how are you getting around it?

I have been working on writing the story for my next graphic novel and when I get stuck in writing, I make art for fun which I don’t get to do when I am pressed for deadlines with my cartooning work. I ordered some new art supplies online and had fun making a lot of mess in my studio. 

But I’ve kind of lost my interest in making art for fun recently. It’s hard to feel creative when our society seems to be in so much turmoil. So I’ve directed my free time in doing more community support and also trying to listen rather than trying to have an output as an artist all the time. It is hard not to feel anxious and guilty about not being “productive.” But I think I need time to process all that is happening before I can make any meaningful art. 

The rise of racism against Asian-Americans during the pandemic has been traumatic and it made me realize that I’d been living in a bubble. And everything that is happening with the Black Lives Matter movement has motivated me to educate myself with civil rights history and Black literature. 

Have you taken up any new hobbies? 

I got into baking, like so many other people during the quarantine. Korean cooking doesn’t really involve baking and I have always been a bit afraid of using the oven. But during the quarantine, my partner and I got into baking bread and I don’t think we’ll go back to buying it premade. 

I also got into making collages and Gelli printing, which is a mono-printing method. I wanted to experiment with art that doesn’t involve drawing because I draw for work all the time and wanted to just get messy and have fun making art. 

What’s the best meal you’ve eaten so far during quar? What’s the worst?

My partner treated me with take-out sushi for my birthday a few weeks ago. It was the first sushi I had since January and sushi was the food that I missed the most since the pandemic began. It was amazing!

I can’t really think of the worst food I had. My partner and I are pretty seasoned home cooks and we are really good eaters. Eating the same few dishes that we cook all the time did get boring after a while, and we are glad to have our favorite restaurants in the neighborhood opening up for curbside pick up. 

What’s your current iPhone wallpaper and what’s the story behind it? 

My wallpaper is an illustration by Nancy Ekholm Burkert, from a children’s book The Scroobius Pip. I first saw this art at a friend’s house and fell in love with it. So I Googled it and found the book that it was originally from. The book is written by Ogden Nash and Edward Lear and it’s such a fun book to read and all the illustrations in it are gorgeous. I wish I had read it when I was a kid.

What’s the best quar purchase you’ve made so far? 

I bought the DVD of Disney’s Bambi and watched it from start to finish for the first time during the quarantine. I don’t know why I suddenly wanted to watch this movie but wow, I am so glad I finally watched it. It is a glorious celebration of the beauty of nature and animation as an art form. I think being stuck in an apartment in the city made me crave looking at nature. I’ve watched it multiple times since I got it in April.

Who are the writers, storytellers, or makers who are bringing you great joy right now?

I loved reading books by Maya Angelou, Steph Cha, Cathy Park Hong, and Dean Atta. I’ve been especially enjoying Maya Angelou’s work. She is such a phenomenal woman and I am sad that she is no longer with us. I’d love to hear what she would say about what is happening in America right now. 

Any unexpectedly memorable moments so far?

This isn’t a happy memorable moment, but I will never forget seeing the military lining up the streets and people rioting and the police beating and tear-gassing protestors. I have lived in D.C. for the last five years and have seen many protests, but I have never seen it become violent like this before. And seeing people lining up around the block to vote on the primary election was also something I’ve never seen in D.C. until now.

Do you have a favorite photo you’ve taken since lockdown?

This photo was taken at a community poster making event for Black Lives Matter. It was moving to see so many people pulling their resources and talents together for something they believed in. I felt proud to be part of such a vibrant creative community.

Follow Robin on Twitter @RobinHaART and on Instagram @RobinHaART.