If I was some fluff writer who didn’t know shit about comic books, I would probably say something stupid like, “POW! Jim Kettner and Lacy Davis are a dynamic duo who made a comic!” As dynamic as these two are, and as much as they wrote a graphic novel, the sheer number of positive endeavors they both work on (separately and together) is deserving of much more sincere praise.
Ink in Water is the autobiographical story of Lacy struggling with, and overcoming an eating disorder. Written by Lacy and drawn by Kettner, they bring a dark and difficult topic to a medium made for the dark and difficult.
The graphic novel is only part of Lacy’s ongoing drive to bring the gospel of better self-esteem to everyone. As a lifting and nutrition coach, she recently opened a gym in Portland, Ore. called Liberation Barbell, that caters to all of us who dread actual gyms. Both Kett and Lacy have podcasts, including one together, Adult Crash, that deals with all the challenges of becoming an old punk. They also started a Patreon campaign, where anyone can subscribe to get even more podcasts, webcomics, and everything else their positivity produces.
They might be the coolest, most positive people in the whole world.
Interview by Donna Ramone
Photos by Lacy Davis and Jim Kettner
Layout by Donna Ramone
Donna Ramone: Autobiographical comics are very much their own medium now. Why did you think this was the best medium to tell your story, in particular?
Lacy Davis: I honestly think that both of us have had the desire to write a book for some time. And I think this was a particular circumstance where it’s a heavy topic—to talk about eating disorder stuff is genuinely unfun at times—I feel like having the visuals makes it a bit more palatable for the reader. Also, our publisher was specifically looking for a graphic novel and Kett had a contact at the publishing house. Our publisher exclusively publishes about mental health things. They wanted a graphic novel about a mental health topic and that seemed like the perfect opportunity to do the project we’ve been kicking around ourselves for quite some time.
Jim Kettner: The general topic of eating disorder recovery stuff can be kind of a downer—not that the approach to it cannot be funny and light, or feel like this book is not going to hit you over the head with dark, depressing sadness. It’s the story of someone’s life and its idiosyncrasies. It’s really funny in parts. I honestly think it is a pretty complete story while also dealing with a serious issue. It’s not "After-school Special" style.
Donna: And what are some of the emotional themes covered throughout the book?
Lacy: We talk about the darkest moments of my eating disorder. We talk about addiction, and the trauma of losing someone you love to addiction.
Kett: There are things about relationships and relationship patterns; how they assert themselves and tend to repeat. There are a few different parallels going on in the story. While it primarily deals with Lacy’s eating disorder recovery process, I feel like the other relationships in the book help to mirror that struggle. It’s also a coming-of-age story in a lot of ways, too.
Donna: Coming-of-age? How many years does the story cover?
Lacy: It covers ages twenty-four through, maybe twenty-eight? About four years.
Kett: There’s a little bit of me and Lacy in there at the beginning.
Lacy: Oh yeah!
Kett: There’s probably an abbreviated bit in the first couple of chapters. I knew I was drawing Lacy from when I first met her [laughs]. So that had to have been when you were eighteen, nineteen, something like that?
Donna: Then it really covers a formidable time in a person’s life.
Lacy: It’s not a coming-of-age story in the traditional sense about teenagedom.
Kett: Yeah, it’s more punks getting their shit together in their twenties.
Donna: Lacy, did you feel like it was at all difficult for you to express these deep emotions and these really bad times through Jim Kettner, just because he’s your husband, or did it feel complicated, or maybe more cathartic?
Lacy: I have a history about talking about eating disorders very publicly. I have been a blogger, I had a podcast, and talked very publicly about my struggles. So in that sense it wasn’t difficult to be honest. But I take a lot of time really trying to focus on positives every time I tell my story. I always try to leave it on an upswing, if that makes sense.
But for this, because it’s just a longer work, I had to marinate in the sad parts a lot longer than I had typically done and that wasn’t the most awesome. I did not enjoy the process of writing the book [laughs]. I thought it would be no big deal, but it wasn’t really fun—my personal part.
Just for some back story, I wrote it in a notebook. Kett took the notebook and reinterpreted it into something a little more streamlined and we workshopped it together. I have never worked in comics before, so I also had a learning curve that was challenging for me. I wouldn’t say it was harder because Kett drew it. I think it was easier.
Kett: I can see where that level might be weird in some working relationships, but I do think it helps because not only do I think Lacy could trust me more with some of the darker material, we’re just so familiar with each other’s stories that I feel like I have a little bit more personal insight into those moments. It’s felt pretty easy for me to be okay with this. sort of get a quick check on things. It felt really, really collaborative with Lacy and I passing the work back and forth.
Lacy: The book covers a time period—[to Kett] how old was I when we met? Maybe twenty-seven? What I’m trying to say is it covers a time period where we were dating. We were together, Kett was there, so he could recall some of the instances from his perspective, which I think was helpful. And also it’s not like he got something wrong, I felt comfortable saying, “Hey, you got that wrong.” Where if I were working with an artist I wasn’t super close to, maybe I would be more shy about the details.
Donna: And then working through those emotions, together, what would you want a reader to take away—would it be more like a window into your life, or something more relatable? Is it a little bit of both?
Lacy: I hope it’s relatable to some people [laughs]. That’s the goal. It is a window into my life but I don’t tell the story just to hear myself talk. I think people will benefit. I think anyone who struggles with a mental health issue will benefit from reading it. I don’t think it’s specific to someone who has had an eating disorder. I think any kind of cyclical behaviors or thinking that are damaging could make it relatable to the reader.
Lacy: Of course, even just body image issues, or not having a perfect relationship with food, I think most people struggle with body image in some way.
Kett: I’m getting that feedback just from what people have seen of the book so far. From my comics that have posted. But I think it’s a very relatable book because those experiences aren’t that unique. They’ve probably had the experience of having repetitive negative thoughts about themselves.
Lacy: Yeah, and I think the point of the book is that you don’t have to fucking hate yourself if you chose to do what you need to do. To not hate yourself and to not hate your body is actually an act of rebellion, and something that is good for the world and not just yourself. We are taught to treat ourselves like trash, and that’s how people stay compliant with capitalism and the beauty industry and all these things that are not necessarily benefitting anyone expect the most elite and rich. And they’re not even people, they’re corporations. I don’t say that as transparently in the book but yeah, that is the point.
Kett: It is kind of funny just because, Lacy, right now you’re saying very overt political things and the book doesn’t say anything that direct. When we had our original pitch, it was for younger readers. When publisher got back to me, they were like, “Can you make it more punk?” And we were like, “Yeah.”
Lacy: “Sure, why not?”
Donna: So were you approached by New Harbinger as a publisher or did you approach them? Or was it more of a back and forth?
Lacy: We approached a different publisher about this body image public health textbook and we were seemingly close to penning a deal with them. The editor who we were in connection with quit and the editor who took her place was not interested. So the project got laid to rest for a year. Then right around the time we were getting married, someone who Kett had gone to school with who works at New Harbinger contacted him and said that they were looking for a mental health graphic novel and wanted to know if he would be interested in drawing that...
Kett: And then they asked, “Oh, by the way, do you happen to know anyone working on a project like this?” “Lacy and I have a pitch that’s ready to go. Do you wanna see it?”
Lacy: And then the book drastically changed from being more of a teenager textbook to a memoir for adults, but my dream is that teens will read it and get something out of it. It’s got a lot of adult content so it can’t be marketed towards teens, but I think if teens find it, they will get a lot out of it.
Donna: If it ends up in library, a teen is going to get a hold of it, just because comics are really accessible in that way. I picked up adult comics when I was thirteen, I wanna say.
Kett: It’s like YA stuff. When you’re a young person you tend to aim towards content that just a little outside your typical age range.
Lacy: I know when I was a teenager I was reading books aimed towards adults. So I hope the same thing happens. I really like teenagers and I want to help them.
Donna: It’s long. Did you plan for it to be such a long graphic novel? I mean, it’s Blankets long!
Kett: It is Blankets long [laughs].
Lacy: Originally we wanted it to be around two hundred pages. Our publisher originally penned us for 224 pages. Then it became very clear that we were not going to be able to adequately tell the story in 224 pages, so it ballooned to a monster at 270.
Kett: It’s not as bad as Blankets! Blankets is 592 pages But it’s still more of a brick than we thought and that definitely affected our timeline for making the book. Drawing that extra sixty pages was no small feat!
Lacy: Yeah, that sucks. Sorry! [laughs]
Kett: It’s okay. It made the book better.
Donna: Was it a conscious choice to make it in black and white the way you did or was that to trim costs because it’s so large?
Kett: We did originally want it to be a limited color.
Lacy: Like, black, white and red?
Kett: Yeah, limited with a halftone. And then that ended up being a cost issue, but it’s fine because we already had the title of the book in mind and it pushed me in a direction to go with a more ink washy style.
Lacy: Honestly, I’m so fucking glad it’s in black and white because if it was in color this book would never be done. It took so long to write. We got this book deal in August of 2015, so to think that in October of 2017 we will finally see it, I don’t have the patience for anything longer than that. I didn’t even have patience for that. [laughs] I just had to make it happen.
Donna: I know the both of you are furthering the message of body positivity as part of your lives now. Lacy as a trainer and a podcaster.
Lacy: I am a lifting coach, I teach people how to lift weights. I consider weightlifting a pivotal point in my recovery and my body image self esteem. The way I work is really different from most people in the fitness industry. I don’t have them take on a weight-loss plan or I don’t make people restrict their diet. I teach them how to lift and try to empower them to feel 150% more rad on a daily basis. And I’m opening my own gym that is a gym for people that don’t like—or don’t feel comfortable—in regular gyms. Queer people, trans people, punks, vegans, moms, nerds, anyone who might feel stressed out by the bro vibe at the normal gym. It’s Liberation Barbell and we will be open sometime [editor's note: it's open now!] Flex Your Heart Radio is a newer podcast. I previously did a podcast called Rise and Resist that was about fitness and feminism, but this podcast is a little more focused on just talking to people who I think are very inspiring about fitness and feminism, but also sometimes about art and writing and all sorts of amazing.
Kett: It’s a little bit more open.
Lacy: When I started lifting weights, I was so all about it. It’s so much of what I thought about, and I talked about fitness constantly. To bring it into my recovery, the more I realized if I was going to be a truly fit and healthy person I need to also give a little attention to my other interests. I felt the need to expand my podcast and what I was doing because if I am spending time making the podcast every week about fitness, then I’m going to be thinking about it constantly, especially because my job is also fitness. I wanted to also think about art and punk and ignore shit and being self-employed and also being aware of capitalism. Things like that. I talked to a wide variety of guests to sort of feed that need.
Kett: We also have big plans coming up for Adult Crash, which is our sort-of-lapsed usual podcast project that hit the skids for a while because we were both so busy.
Lacy: It’s about being a grown-up punk.
Kett: We are planning a new season for that right now and we’re going to be working on that really, really soon. And tying that back into comics, by the time this interview is out we should have launched a Patreon, and we will start having a webcomic constant of more nonfiction, autobio comics from the two of us. We are planning on also making a quarterly zine. We don’t have all the details worked out but we already have a couple stories that we are planning to work on via Adult Crash as a platform, as well are having more guests on that show.
Lacy: The body image stuff is always going to be a topic of conversation for me because it really interests me how we think about ourselves—and why and what we can do about it. I don’t imagine that will ever be a topic that will ever fall away in the work that we’re doing.
Donna: Tell me more about this collaborative comic zine you’re planning on working on.
Kett: We already have multiple other projects that were already in the planning stages while this book was being manufactured. We both attended a really great residency [at a university] last fall where we got started working on it. We thought about re-launching Adult Crash, we wanted to have a little more direction behind it and not have it just came out whenever we had the time to record one.
And everyone seems to be using this Patreon model. Podcasts are using it and also independent cartoonists are doing it. I’m a subscriber to Liz Prince, and Nicole Georges has one. If we’re going to continue collaborating on comics, why shouldn’t they just be linking into our podcast? We’re talking about our lives and talking about being old-ass punks.
Lacy: Basically, Adult Crash is a podcast that Kett and I set up together. Once we launch this Patreon, we will do it regularly: every two weeks. And then also if people want more content, they can sign up for our Patreon and either get weekly or biweekly webcomics, or, I guess at a higher rate of subscription, you could get a paper zine.
Kett: Quarterly, because I think we’re going to record the podcast in seasons and every season of the podcast you’ll have this theme.
Lacy Because we’re both in our thirties, Kett is...
Kett: I’m pushing forty right now.
Lacy: He’s on the plane ride to forty. We own a house, we had a dog who just passed away, we talk about fucking grown up things like taxes and babies and stuff. We just regularly look around and are like, “What the fuuuuuuck?” [laughs]
Kett: “What happened?”
Lacy: “We should make a comic about it as well as a podcast.”
Donna: My sincerest condolences on your dog, Albert.
Lacy: He was the best.
Kett: One of the stories is going to be about Al. Our year with Al.
Donna: That’s really wonderful.
Lacy: It’s such a grown up thing, to be a caretaker for a creature. To be out at a show and be like, “Actually, we can’t go get ice cream after. We’ve got to get home and check on Al.” I’m just not used to those adult concerns, and I love to deconstruct it a little bit in comics form.
Donna: That’s a really good way to describe how comics can also be internally cathartic: you can deconstruct feelings and put them out there.
Kett: I think that’s totally, totally super valid. It’s very therapeutic. Working in nonfiction and working in memoir, like you said, it can be not fun when you’re really having to spend a lot time in some dark periods of your own history, but it can be amazingly cathartic to get that stuff out, get those experiences out in a creative way.
Lacy: Most of the time, you’re just going through your day just doing the things you do without thinking about why you’re doing the things you’re doing. But when you take an instant and describe a scene in comic form, it forces you to ask the question of, “Why did I do that? What does that mean?” I’m trying to forge a picture of my life with lots of thinking and lots of feelings.
Donna: That’s what comics are there for: “Lots of thinking and lots of feelings.”
Lacy: [laughing] Yeah, that’s true.
Consider becoming their patron at Patreon
Check out Lacy’s Podcast Flex Your Heart Radio (about fitness and feminism) and Kettner’s podcast Galatakus (about superhero movies and comics). Their joint podcast, Adult Crash, is just the best. Search for it however you get podcasts.
If you’re in the Portland area, head to Liberation Barbell, and if not visit them online for video workouts.