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Ali Cantarella: Hasty Pastry, and All Things Sweet About being an Up-and-Coming Comic Book Artist

We're re-publishing Monica's interview with Ali Cantrella from 2014's innaugural North West Indiana Comic Con! Enjoy!

I’ve been to so many cons for the past couple of years, and the amateur artist in me just can’t help but be curious on what it’s like to be a comic book artist. There’s only a few female comic book artists out there, and this got me searching for answers on what it’s like to start out in the industry.

With the help of my friend Sam (from Kraken Print) , she introduced me to Ali Cantarella. Ali is new into the comic book industry and is slowly generating a following on her comic book series, Hasty Pastry.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ali at the NWI Comic Con for the first time, and it was such a treat!

Here’s my interview with the enormously talented Miss Ali Cantarella-

M: Tell us something about yourself, Ali!

A: I was born and raised in Michigan, where my home life included a French bulldog, a Boston-terrier-frenchie mutt mix, and for a short time, a pug! So my affinity for squishy-faced dogs started early–as did my love of art. From a young age I remember watching my older brother draw characters from cartoons we would watch. I started by copying him. My mother also taught me to read very young, so I always had a love for books and stories. Eventually, all three factors came together into The Hasty Pastry!

Right now, I live in the Irving Park neighborhood of Chicago, and I’ve lived in Chicago for just shy of four years now! I do freelance work on the side, such as children’s books and portraits, and I go to anime and comic conventions to sell my comic book and get my name out there more. Aside from comic art, I enjoy cooking, knitting, sewing, looking up pictures of dogs on google and biking around the beautiful city of Chicago!

M: What’s it like starting out in the comic book industry?

A: I was lucky in that I started in Chicago, which is a large city with many comic shops and several large conventions held hear yearly. I made it a point to go to as many art and networking events as I could, and to actual show off my art and do networking. I would say my biggest advantage in starting out was the wonderful people I befriended through many of these events. I was able to learn a lot from other comic artists, sharing tips and tricks in groups, seeing what works and what doesn’t work, sharing experiences. All those things made starting out in comics fun and successful. It is a lot of work, but the resources are definitely there.

M: What has been your biggest challenge so far being a comic book creator?

A: Self-publishing requires a lot of upfront investment from the creator, in the form of both time and money. When I was ready to create and print the first edition of “The Hasty Pastry”, I received funding through a grant from my college, and a successful Kickstarter campaign. Both of these funding sources were a lot of work, and while they paid for supplies and materials, they did not pay for my time, so I still had to balance a full time food service job with the struggle of creating my book. Eventually, this resulted in me quitting my job for the final 3 months of creating the comic. For these 3 months, I forced myself to use my time wisely, as time management was my other biggest challenge. I had a schedule i would try to follow every single day, starting with waking up at 6 am, allowing time for eating, exercise, some networking and some e-mailing, but with most time spent working on my comic and ending at midnight. Then up at 6 am to do it all again. In the end, the biggest challenge is committing to your project. Money can become tight and time can seem to evaporate away, but if you truly believe in your work, and don’t give up on it, great things will be achieved.

M: Can you tell a bit of history behind Hasty Pastry, your inspiration for the story lines and characters.

A: The Hasty Pastry is mostly based off of the 2 years I worked at a Panera here in Chicago. Working there, I met so many varieties of people and characters. Many of the characters are amalgamations of the wonderful (and, sometimes, not so wonderful!) people that I met over my time there. Cat is a projection of myself, but she is a much more positive and rule-focused employee than I ever was! As I started to develop characters, i took bits and pieces of certain employees, certain customers, and they manifested character traits of their own. As for the story-lines, some of them are direct instances that actually happened to me! But some are stories friends told me from their own workplaces, or I observed by being a customer in a different store, and thus, the stories grow.

M: What I absolutely love about your work is that I can relate to the stories, since I have experienced the same things when I worked at a coffee shop. What has been the craziest experience that Cat ever had working at Hasty Pastry?

A: In the first book, Cat does have some pretty wild experiences. I have plans for 3 more books, and I can’t say what her craziest experience will be YET. I wouldn’t want to spoil anything . . . but I can say new characters are always being incorporated, and most of the time, they don’t bring Cat and Pugsly anything but trouble!

M: Being a former Barista, I’m curious to know what kind of drink would best describe each of the characters -Cat, El ,Kara and Pugsly?

A: This is such a fun question! I always think about what pastries or baked goods they might like, but never the drinks. I think Cat would be something deceptively complex, like a latte, but made with soy milk instead, and with a flavor such as almond, served in a paper cup so it can be taken on the go! Cat is very type A, fast paced, and rule oriented, but she can also be very sweet and naive. El is a down to earth, but compassionate, character, so she might be more like a bitter-sweet dark hot chocolate (served in an earth friendly ceramic mug, of course!). Kara is quite showy and over the top — She’s more likely to be a bright pink white-chocolate-raspberry blended drink plenty of sprinkles on top. And, while dogs definitely shouldn’t get near coffee or chocolate, I can see Pugsly being some kind of really silly, tiny, high energy drink. Like a shot of espresso topped with whipped cream and chocolate!

M: Aside from Hasty Pastry, do you have any other projects/comic books that you’re currently working on?

A: My main art branding falls under The Wet Stain, a moniker I use to encompass all my artwork, including the Hasty Pastry. But this also includes explorations with tea, coffee, wine, liquor, beer, and other beverages, along with water color and ink to make works that are both abstract and formative. I also recently have been interested in Henna design, so a lot of those motifs are showing up in my work too.

M: What can we expect from Hasty Pastry for 2014? Will you be adding new characters? Is Cat finally going to be a manager? And with the crazy winter weather in Chicago, did Cat and Pugsly ever get to buy all the sweaters that they need to keep them warm (LOL!)?

A: Hmm, while I can’t spoil what’s going to happen with Cat and her promotion aspirations, I can definitely let you know there are going to be new characters, including those from the neighboring stores, like the handsome young manager of the pizza place next door . . . !

M: What has been the best thing about being one of the few female comic book creators out there?

A: There are a lot of comic artists who draw about feminist issues, or focus on female growth and perspective. Since my comic does none of those things, I often don’t consider my gender as a very important factor in my creation process. However, I can’t deny that when I meet a fellow female comic artist, I feel a special kindred with them. To be a female in this field is to be a minority. There is no denying that. And to do anything, against the grain, against the odds, is a challenge, weather that is your intention or not It has been really wonderful getting to meet other female artists in my field, and seeing their focus, their drive, and their incredible talent, overcoming the expectations of female artists, and overcoming the expected comic book themes with new, innovative works of their own.

M: What advise can you say to the young ladies out there who are interested in being a comic book creator?

A: For good or for bad, being a minority in a field means getting a bit of special attention. It is important to always stay positive, recognize you are a minority in a very male populated field, but don’t let that change you (or your art!). Remember that, female or male, the merit of your works rests on the quality of the art, the flow of the story, and the ability to capture readers’ attention! If you want to create comics, than my greatest advice is to do just that! You are capable, you are passionate, and you have a story to tell.

Watch out for Ali on your nearest Comic Book Conventions this year (mostly in the Chicagoland area) and check out her websites!

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