Rolli is a writer, illustrator and cartoonist from Canada. He’s the author of two short story collections (I Am Currently Working on a Novel and God’s Autobio), two books of poems (Mavor’s Bones and Plum Stuff), the middle grade story collection Dr. Franklin’s Staticy Cat and two forthcoming novels – Kabungo (Anansi/ Groundwood, 2016) and The Sea-Wave (Guernica Editions, 2016). His cartoons appear regularly in Reader’s Digest and Harvard Business Review, among others. Find him at rollistuff.com and follow him on Twitter @rolliwrites.
Kettle’s on. What can I get you?
Coffee. Or failing that, very strong tea.
What made you want to become a cartoonist?
I never wanted to be a cartoonist, funnily enough. I did early on want to be an artist—maybe like Van Gogh only with both ears—and a bit later a writer, but cartooning was never a desire of mine, burning or otherwise. I could draw, though, and believed I was clever, and on a whim doodled a few things and sent them off and had success straightaway.
What was your first cartoon about?
A psychic. I sold that one to Reader’s Digest.
Did you face much rejection initially?
Cartoon-wise, no. I made major sales right away. Writing-wise, truck-loads of rejection slips, yes. I still get them. So long as I don’t break my record (a dozen rejections in one day), it doesn’t faze me in the least. I hardly ever huddle under the table and cry anymore.
How do you balance your time between writing poetry, short stories and cartooning?
As best I can. I try to do all my writing in the morning and cartooning in the afternoon. Thankfully, I have a terrific secretary (coffee).
How do the different forms contribute to and feed from one another?
God only knows. I don’t even want to think about it, honestly.
In cartooning, which comes first – the images or the words?
The words, always. But once in a while, the pictures.
What’s been the biggest challenge of your career?
The main challenge for me is getting into the New Yorker! I’ve cracked most of the other big markets, but TNY, not so much. And that’s the one I’d like to work for more than all the others put together. They so far haven’t liked anything I’ve sent them. I’ll keep sending them things, though, if only to amuse myself. You have to have amusement and it’s cheap enough amusement.
What do you enjoy most about being a cartoonist?
Well I’ve never gotten any respect as a writer (reviewers won’t even touch my books) but when people find out I do cartoons for such-and-such a magazine that they read every week, they seem so genuinely happy to have met me. By contrast, whenever people discover I’m a writer (not very often, fortunately) and that I don’t write mysteries or romances, they promptly cross the street and go on crossing streets to avoid me for the rest of their lives. It’s the strangest thing.
Which cartoonists do you particularly admire? Why?
Well, I liked Charles Addams a lot. Do you remember him?
Ooh yes, he was a cartoonist for the New Yorker, and created the Addams Family! Who else to you admire?
Edward Gorey. I think he’s still living. Dark humour – there’s a lot of that in my cartoons and in my writing especially.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I don’t have the slightest idea. A career – particularly in the arts – is a lot like hot coal walking, only without the luxury of a finish line. I’m just trying hard not to get cremated.
What advice would you offer an aspiring cartoonist?
I’ve yet to receive any advice I found remotely helpful, so I don’t bother to dish it out. As with the rest of life, luck seems to be the greatest factor.
What are you working on now?
A novel-in-stories called The Gorgeous Meteor – about a well-to-do family and their robot butler and the Apocalypse. I guess it’s for my own amusement. My children’s novel, Kabungo, is coming out in 2016 with Anansi/Groundwood. That’s about a cavegirl who lives on Main Street.