In Passing for Human, New Yorker cartoonist Liana Finck goes in search of her shadow. A graphic memoir about anxiety and awkwardness and guilt and what it is to be human.

It's also a book about sexism and religious stories. And in its own way It is a cartoonist's creation myth.

Finck's style is scratchy and minimalist, but there are depths here to sink into.She also does pages that are nothing but black ink in which you can see the mark-making. The result is strangely compelling.

Here, the cartoonist talks to Graphic Content about comics as therapy, thinking in pictures and the weight of the past.


You've described Passing for Human as a "neurological coming-of-age story". What do you mean by that?

I've flirted with the idea that I'm mildly autistic. I "came out" once when I was 21, and again a few years ago. Researching neurodiversity helped me make sense of my lonely school experience, and of my having had to learn late how to make eye contact and small talk. I️ still think my brain is wired in a slightly unusual way. But so are the brains of everyone I know and respect, so I've stopped taking labels seriously.

Passing for Human is a book that tackles emotional weaknesses and vulnerabilities and social obstacles. Does the mere fact of setting them down on paper help deal with them?

Yes. Completely. I don't know why but talking about a thing can only complicate it for me, whereas putting it on paper transfers it wholly from inside me to outside me.

Does the past still weigh heavily on you?

No. Just kidding. Yes. But less so, the parts of it I offloaded into the book. But there's still plenty I didn't put in, and wish I did.

Stories are seductive, but can they also be dangerous?

Yes. I️ have trouble seeing any difference between art and propaganda. You can't make a great work of art without infusing it with all your flawed, dangerous, time-bound beliefs. On the other hand, I'm not an extremely moral person and don't really mind making propaganda. A story is meant to take people out of themselves, like a drug. It's not meant to save them.

Have you always looked to strip away the image?

That is a slightly oxymoronic idea. But yes. Part of why it was hard for me to make small talk when I was younger is conversation used to just seem like lies to me. A lot of things do. I️ don't like or understand it. My aim in life is to unravel the lies.

Do you think in pictures?

Yes, literally. I have synaesthesia, and see letters, numbers, months of the year, days of the week, personalities of my relatives, sounds, smells, types of pain, and even, I think, ideas, in colour and texture.

Your black pages are gorgeous. I just wonder how long they take to do and how therapeutic it is to fill the page like that?

It takes about four hours to fill a black page and is utterly, hellishly boring to do. By using a very thin pen to fill in whole fields of black, I was making a point about "women's work," the mindless labour of weaving baskets or darning socks. I respect that kind of work a whole lot, but I don't enjoy it so much. I'm easily bored.

Obviously, I like to believe that New Yorker cartoonists all meet up in a kind of Algonquin round table deal on a regular basis. This may be wishful thinking on my part. But I do wonder is there is a real sense of collegiality even if you're not meeting up?

No, your assumption is about right. Before the New Yorker moved downtown a couple years ago, the cartoonists would go out for an interminable weekly lunch at a dark, smoky, old-school restaurant in the Broadway theatre district. Now, only the diehards still go back there for lunch, but there's still a weekly hangout at the office. It's a very special and welcoming community. Sometimes too hangout-y for the tastes of this busy and regimented bee. But I'm glad it exists.

Complete this sentence: "The great thing about graphic novels is …"

They're books that don't submit to the rules of typography. The printing press made the printed word the most convenient way to circulate information for 500 years or so. We've moved past that, for better or for worse. (For worse: The online conspiracy theories that are throwing us all back into the Middle Ages and ushering tyrants into public office. For better: We are communicating with images more and more, which is so exciting. Win some, lose some.)

Do you believe in a thing called love?

I'm not sure. But if there is, it's smooth pink, hollow grey, textured olive green, and then brown.

Passing for Human by Liana Finck is published by Jonathan Cape, £18.99.