The following feature appears in the May 2016 issue of NYLON.
In Bushwick, Brooklyn, in the basement of a house on a corner lot with a real yard, illustrator Aidan Koch stands in her studio holding a cat named Turtle as she leafs through a set of drawings on a drafting table. We’re here to talk about her new collection of art comics, After Nothing Comes, which spans six years of work originally printed as limited-edition zines. Even the labels “comics” and “zines” are tricky here, so cleverly does Koch dance between the genres. Her characters and settings are soft in texture and illusory, each frame like a fragment of a dream only barely remembered. In one story, the narrative is clear: A pair of girls follow a doe into the woods and pretend to be Walt Whitman and Ernest Hemingway. In another, Koch renders abstract landscapes in watercolor ink and pencil—a tiny human figure is depicted only in smudges. Amid the organized chaos of her small workspace, Koch discusses how her comics come to fruition.
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Walk me through the process of physically making these zines. How do you choose your materials, like paper and binding?
They were just kind of made with whatever was available. I now, for the first time in my life, own a long-arm stapler. I only bought it this year. I always had sewing machines, so that was a really easy way to do it. The whole point of zines is that anyone can make them.
How much planning goes into the narrative of each zine before you start drawing?
I write as I’m putting the imagery together. Sometimes I get ahead of the drawings and I’ll start writing out a whole story, but I don’t have stories planned out too precisely. Having this game of going back and forth between what’s informing what is important, I think. For one zine, I just started drawing and following a character. I had an idea of what I wanted the last page to be, so it was just about seeing how I could get there in different ways.
I noticed there are erasure marks in some of the frames of the comics, where you can actually see a word or drawing that once was there.
I don’t really sketch anything out [in advance]. Showing the hand and slight imperfections gives it more of a personal touch, some traces of humanity.
It also emphasizes the DIY nature of the art form.
I would just draw something and take it to the photocopier. Every copy would turn out different. One time when I was printing, I actually flipped a page in a bunch of the copies I did, but the story still made sense. I didn’t realize that I put it in the wrong place until after the fact. It worked perfectly.
Are the comics autobiographical at all? I see that you have tattoos on your arms of hands that appear in the first zine in the collection.
Those are in my first comic, so it’s totally about me. My longer stories have been pretty straightforward fiction. There are always hints of [me] and I use myself as a model for a lot of poses. I think I naturally get in there somehow.
In addition to your comics, I heard you’ve also done some sculpture recently.
I think a lot of my content, characters, and aesthetic walk this line of being almost precious. There’s a lot of delicacy and beauty, but there is also always something there mentally or emotionally unsatisfied at being only that. My metal work really comes out of that. Much of it is based on or references ancient pieces that I’m really taken with, but then through my own lens and hand are re-rendered in a very raw way. I’ve mostly been making unique jewelry and hair pieces, but for a show coming up next month at Open Space in Baltimore, I’ve made seven brass candleholders that include people, butterflies, and snakes. I’d like to do more of the actual casting myself someday.