Lara Kaminoff on How To Pick a Fight

How To Pick a Fight is the energetic graphic novel about scrappy young Jimmy who dreams of becoming a pro wrestler. He is ignored and unappreciated in his eleven-strong house – so he runs away and starts his journey to become world-famous featherweight, Jimmy Ruckus, and he’s prepared to start a fight with anyone and anything that gets in his way.

We sat down with creator Lara Kaminoff to talk about how the book came to be…

Nobrow: When did you start creating and why?

Lara Kaminoff: I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by art, making things has always felt natural and inevitable. My dad was a performer (“silent comedy acrobat” according to his card) and has always been a curious, tinkering type with endless tools, projects, and half-drunk cups of tea filling the house. My mom is a teacher and devourer of books–she’d read aloud for hours while my brother and I drew at the kitchen table and then show true delight when presented with our creations. I longed for that flash of pleasure at a thing I made (I’d still like a pat on the head please) and I’ve always loved the problem-solving side of getting from point A to point B, whether that’s climbing a tree, communicating an idea, or going from concept to comic page.

N: What inspired the story of How To Pick a Fight

LK: Jimmy and I have a lot in common: we both have chaotic, high-energy personalities that look suspiciously similar to an ADHD checklist, we’re impulsive, big haired, set unrealistic goals for ourselves, and struggled early on in school. I was very small for my age and found it nearly impossible to focus on homework–more than anything, I wanted to be taken seriously. I still remember the fury of getting mistaken for someone much younger or being picked up and dangled aloft by bigger kids (before they inevitably got kicked).

I’ve calmed down a lot since then but I still fight to hang onto a scrap of that fierce, striving self. For me, How to Pick a Fight is about that longing to exceed the limits of your little body or your little life.

N: Can you tell us a bit more about the journey of How To Pick a Fight from idea to published book? How long did it take to write? 

LK: The title started floating around in my head back in 2012 and Jimmy Ruckus made his debut in my very first zine a year later: a black and white 12-pager that involved our irascible hero sneaking into a circus. In 2016, after digging myself deeper into Seattle’s underground comix scene, I got a 4Culture grant to expand the story into a gouache-painted, 80-page graphic novelette written all in verse. It didn’t turn out great, but part of the grant requirements were to submit to publishers so I sent off the manuscript with no expectations.

Two years later I was jumping on my bed reading an email from Nobrow asking me to repitch the book. From there it was a crash course in digital art (prior to this book, I’d only worked traditionally), design, and time management (many thanks to the patient and endlessly helpful team at Nobrow). The final book was completed in 2021, nearly a decade after the idea started rattling around the ole’ brainbox.

N: What keeps you motivated? 

LK: About half-way through the book’s creation the pandemic hit, George Floyd was murdered, and BLM protests errupted. It was hard to sit down to a project that was supposed to be lighthearted and rollicking when the world was (and is) reckoning with plague, capitalism, environmental catastrophe, and white supremacy. There was a lot of time spent lying on the floor, marching in the streets, and questioning the purpose of art and the point of getting up in the morning.

I think motivation is something most of us have wrestled with (particularly  in the last couple years) but ultimately fun and silliness is necessary. We can’t trudge through our days with our eyes pinned to the dirt or our aching shoulders pressed to the slow wheel of change. It’s important to pause and laugh, to see where we are and imagine where we’re going. Art is an important instrument of encouragement, relief, and aspiration, even if it’s just doodling on the back of a receipt (maybe especially if it’s doodling on the back of a receipt). 

Also, fear of failure, ha!

N: Now the book is out and in the hands of readers – what do you hope your readers take away from the novel?

LK: I hope they don’t think it’s a sad story. I want the book to be a sort of reminder that it is far less important to have it all figured out or be successful in some linear, quantifiable way than it is to keep going. Keep making meaning in the ways that are meaningful to you, keep finding solidarity and purpose in a world of fracture and oppression and narrow notions of victory. Jimmy is the fighting spirit! 

N: What has been your favourite part about creating How To Pick a Fight

LK: I thought for the longest time that it was the exhausting, frustrating, fulfilling “making-of” I’d always love best but, since Jimmy hit the shelves, I’ve been humbled and heartwarmed by the kind responses I’ve received from readers–it feels really good to entrust my favourite little pompadour-topped weirdo to their tender hands.

N: Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring comic creators?

LK: Find your creative community! You will inevitably spend a lot of time alone at your desk but I think we too often fetishize the lonesome art martyr (artyr?). Free yourself from your hermitage! From “holy heck, check out the shape of that panel!” to “I dunno if this scene is working…” to “have you tried this Procreate brush?” to “let’s go dancing!” there are so many wonderful ways to grow in good company. Try tabling at comics fests, finding friends in the scene, reaching out to folks online. I’m not saying “be an extrovert” that’s madness, but it’s important to take a walk outside your own head once in a while. 

PS The only difference between an aspiring comic creator and a comic creator is that one of them is makin comics. The more comics you make, the better your comics will be and you only need three things to get started: you and a pen and a piece of paper. So what are you waiting for?

How To Pick a Fight

Lara Kaminoff

From his own family, his schoolwork, wild animals and pirates, scrappy young Jimmy is challenging the world one small fight at a time, but can his hopes and dreams take him all the way to stellar success? Or will his fists finally get him into too much trouble? Lara Kaminoff’s graphic novel about the human spirit is funny and touching, with anti-hero Jimmy punching his way right into readers’ hearts.