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About Paul K. Tunis
Paul K. Tunis is from the desert and eats baby carrots even though they make him sneeze. He holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence.

Laika & Qubit – No. 1 by Paul K. Tunis (http://deathbyorphans.com)

So, you’re a visual artist and writer. That’s weird.

It’s true. I’m not particularly great at either but when I do them simultaneously it’s like patting my head and rubbing my belly, some are impressed and some find it silly.

Can you describe your relationship to image in words/poetry?

Images are mostly words you get to invent. A picture is not worth a thousand words so much as it is worth one very specific word that isn’t in any language. An image communicates something that was either too specific or would take too many words. We find these distinctions everywhere. Anytime you use your phone to send a picture instead of a text you’re making a choice on the limits of words.

Can you describe your relationship to words/poetry in an image?

Can you provide a brief personal history of your development as a writer/visual artist? For the longest time, the two were polarized in my head, was this the same for you? How are you both?

I’ve always enjoyed making stories and like most children that meant drawing and I suppose never stopped.  At seven, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and a fine motor skill impairment.  Fortunately, nobody thought to tell me and I continued to draw and write without any shame around it.

My mother finally mentioned my disabilities off-hand in conversation when I was thirteen.  I didn’t understand who she was talking about because I was known as the geeky-reading-drawing-kid by most.

Since I’m stubborn I continued work at be a drawing writer.  Though I do feel that my ultimate need to draw and write simultaneously is the result of my insecurities of my limits at both.

I don’t always find art and images meeting well together.  They will hurt each other just as often as they help, leaving you constantly fighting for a balance.  Also, it is very rare that I can switch from one to the other without taking a long break, which can stressfully leave you managing writer’s and artist’s block.

The last answer is filled with so much narrative drama and conflict. Did you have a sense of your limits (as a writer, as a drawer) as a child, and what kind of limits or boundaries were set after you found those things out at age 13? What have you done since then to really push against any ‘real’ or constructed sense of boundaries you may have about being a writer, visual artist, drawingwriter?

Well, the whole story of the diagnosis is even more involved and dramatic. In short, I did uncommonly well on an advanced placement test, however, since I was such a poor reader my first grade teacher let’s call her Mrs. Troll accused me if cheating. Feeling there was no way I could have gotten my score, she blew it up into a more public issue. A child psychologist was brought up from Phoenix who determined that I earn the score but had a couple dysfunctions.

After thirteen I tended to personify obstacles as a way to stick it to Mrs. Troll. Accomplishments like getting a literature degree, admission to an MFA writing program and writing a novel gained the added bonus of not letting Mrs. Troll and social forces define my limitations. I feel my that by thirteen a genuine love or writing and drawing had given me enough practice that I could no longer be considered learning disabled in any clinical sense. The only real boundary that still manifests is insecurity whenever I read something aloud for the first time.  The fine motor skill thing isn’t an issue and I don’t mind drawing in front of others.

Can you talk more about the helping and hurting?

Of course. There are a lot of more nuanced problems but one I’ve learned the hard way has to do with character building. Since reading is collaborative you have to be careful not to use pictures to violate or invalidate the role of the reader. You generally have to decide if you are going to draw a character or describe her in words. When you do both you’re cheating the reader out of their role to help write your character by connecting the dots between your words.  A drawing can often contradict attributes or qualities the reader needed to add to bring a character to life. Violating this is something the people can sometimes take very personally. Whenever books are cast into movies folks tend to get crazy because this or that actor violates the intimate additions readers made to flesh out a written character.

A way to avoid this is by making a character appear more cartoony. If a drawing is less literal and more like a symbol there is still room for the reader to fill in gaps.

So, what do you do during the break? Are you caught up on Mad Men? And what do you think of this season’s 30 Rock?

Naps are the most effective. It’s like rebooting the whole mess and you can usually be like, “Hey brain, we need to be able to draw right now.” If your lucky your brain will be helpful and let you without forcing it. 30 Rock is still good. However, I’m really annoyed that Parks and Rec has been pushed to mid season.

What projects are you working on?

My illustrated novel is looking for a home so I continue to tinker with it between submissions. I’m always adding to my site Death by Orphans including an ongoing webcomic Lakia & Qubit.

I also recently completed a short animation and the art for Relief Work, a chapbook by Rohin Guha, and I have a comic-style poem in the current issue of Bateau.

Do you play with words/images? Submit work to faceturnsread@gmail.com.

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Published Dec 06, 2010 - 2 Comments and counting


  1. paul k. tunis is the bee’s knees.

    Comment by JNL — December 6, 2010 @ 6:01 pm

  2. […] Great interview conducted by the wonderful Hossannah Asuncion for Drunken Boat. An opportunity to di… […]

    Pingback by An Interview with Poet/Comic Artist Paul K. Tunis [that's me!] « Death By Orphans — December 7, 2010 @ 12:38 am

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