THE STORY IS IN THE SKETCH
World-traveling artist creates narratives from her journeys.
Written by Alexandra Ahmad
Sara Drake uses her art to tell stories about weighty issues, ranging from genocide to U.S. foreign policy. Three years ago, her passion for human rights issues propelled her to visit Cambodia, where she worked on the Independent Youth-Driven Cultural Production, a program that encourages a creative response to the negative portrayals of Cambodia.
Drake says that amazing experience helped shape her career as a cartoonist.
“It changed the trajectory of my work in a really big way that I wasn’t expecting,” says the 25-year-old.
For now, her cartoon illustrations of everyday people are scattered in storage and sketchbooks from her journeys. The sketches, often monochromatic, drive the story lines in her graphic novels.
Drake is working on a comic book inspired by her time as a youth worker and museum docent at the Cambodian Association of Illinois. “The book is split into six separate sections, each named after an illegal and secretive bombing campaign waged on Cambodia by the Nixon administration in 1969 called Operation Menu,” says Drake, who graduated from the School of the Art Institute in 2011.
Lyra Hill, Drake’s friend of seven years and the operator of Brain Frame, a performance-based, comic reading series, says Drake’s travels transformed her. “I think it has improved her as a person, which has improved her artwork, which has in turn opened doors to bigger opportunities,” says Hill.
Most recently she traveled to Colombia, where she had a two-month art residency that she calls “an immersive, weird and unique art-making experiment and experience.”
As a child growing up in Ohio, Drake was never all that intrigued by comics. “I used to be really interested in Silver Surfer, which was a mainstream comic book character, but I don’t think it really extended beyond just liking the look of the character,” she says. Moving to Chicago, she discovered the Harold Washington Library, where she immersed herself in reading comics. “I read a ton of them and sort of fell in love with it as an art form.”
Anders Nilsen, friend and fellow comic artist, says there is not just one word to describe Drake. “She makes wonderfully simple, straightforward pencil drawings that I hope people get to see more of. She writes intricately crafted sentences. Her work is great,” says Nilsen.
In addition to traveling and cartooning, Drake is a shadow puppeteer and designer, something that came about soon after she returned from Cambodia. Drake says when she returned to the comic community it felt “closed-off and hermetic.”
“I didn’t really feel like I could use words anymore to express what I needed to at the time. Shadow puppets sort of started happening as a way of talking like that,” says Drake.
This summer, Drake will take part in a fundraiser for the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo. She will display her work with a friend and participate in a panel discussion about comics.
“My baseline beat is always that I’m a storyteller first,” she says. “So I will always work in whatever medium that makes sense for that particular story.”