By Jane Serenska
“Internet addiction disorder, more commonly called problematic Internet use (PIU), refers to excessive Internet use that interferes with daily life,” (Wikipedia). Try to call to mind someone you know who may suffer from Problematic Internet Use. How would they define “daily life”? What if their daily life is on the internet? Their job, their friends, their culture? In this case, what is the internet interfering with? When we stopped treating “internet” as a proper noun it became a part of daily life. And, haven’t we already learned that everyone is problematic? Either everyone is addicted to the internet or no one’s internet use is perceived as a problem.
Maggie Brennan, Brooklyn-based cartoonist and animator, has integrated the internet into her daily life while maintaining the ability to observe it. Her work reveals the inherent flaw in separating rituals, relationships, and self-image from whatever medium in which they are experienced: No matter how we represent ourselves — cropped in a 1:1 ratio or for a fleeting 24-hour story — our experience can never fully be separated from our bodies and their longing for connection. The internet is not without critique; but neither is any other replacement or adornment for these essentials.
As a multidisciplinary artist with a vested interest in internet culture (much of her work has been published online), Maggie spoke with Hooligan about mental health, resistance, and creativity. Read the interview below.
What are you working on right now?
Right now, I'm working on a bunch of different things. I just started an animation MFA program, so I'm trying to balance school work, freelance work, and personal work. In the realm of comics, I'm working on a story about two teenage girls who meet at their parents' robotics company on a "Take Your Child To Work Day" and, you know, mild chaos ensues. I'm also working on an animated short about an older woman who falls prey to an online romance scam. These both sound extremely dark, but they have some humor in them!
Some themes I really appreciate in your work include female friendship and technology's impact on relationships and self-image ("Your Summer BodBot"). How would you say these ideas are surfacing in your new projects?
Hmm, without giving too much away: This friendship is definitely working off the teen movie trope of Beautiful Popular Girl befriends Social Weirdo. I’m interested in the phase some teens go through where their desire to be admired often manifests in artificiality and toxic relationships (I guess some adults do this as well). I think technology and social media play a huge part in this since follower counts are an actually quantifiable measure of “popularity," as opposed to pre-internet days when it was all about perception and imaginary mythos.
"Panic Attack" really resonated with me in the struggle to balance internal conflicts while resisting injustices affecting so many people right now. How do you balance your values as an artist with stable mental health? Do you see your practice as self-care?
It'd be nice if drawing/writing felt *more* like self-care, but there's always a level of stress and frustration since it is work at the end of the day. I would say the one soothing aspect of it is that I get into a kind of flow state where the world can melt away for a bit. I think it's incredibly important to find the one thing that can just suck you in and help you forget about time and space for a second. Without having mental downtime, it would be impossible to emotionally and practically approach tackling any of the world's woes. All that said, I feel like I should practice what I preach a bit more!
Why is illustration your main medium? What happens in the space between your creativity and the form it ends up taking?
I think I wound up sticking with comics for a long time because there’s some removal from your actual person in the storytelling, compared to music. I mostly sing, and the voice is so tethered to your physical presence -- it makes me a bit anxious to have that level of intimacy with the listener. With comics, unless they’re autobiographical, you kind of forget about the person drawing them. That’s why I’m learning animation. I really want to make more music and play shows, but I’d love to have an animation going while I’m hiding in the shadows, ha.
Definitely gets back to what you said about finding a world where you can escape into your work. Who are you comfortable being in that world with you? How do you envision your audience?
Hmm, I don't necessarily envision a specific audience. I do think a lot about how people parse the things I write or draw, though. I kind of agonize over being misinterpreted. So, in that respect, I feel most comfortable with an audience that gets the tone I'm going for, whether it's serious or satirical.