Interview with Artist Brittany Long Olsen

By Linda Hoffman Kimball

Please share some basic biographical information about your life, family-of-origin, schooling, your own family.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

When and how did you start recording your life with/in pictures?


What kind of reaction did you get from others – your family, friends, teachers, etc.?

What is it about cartooning that you find so compelling as a narrative form? And as an aesthetic form? 

I spent quite a bit of my education planning to be a writer, so what I love about cartooning is that you get to make your words count when there are so few of them. There’s an art to being brief! And you get to supplement your words with pictures that sometimes mean more than the words do. A series of pictures, sometimes seemingly unrelated, come together to make a unique story. It’s a wonderful medium, and I’m glad that it’s becoming more popular all the time.

How do you balance the importance of the visuals with the importance of the actual wording when you draw your life?

I do this intuitively, so sorry I don’t have much of an answer! Some comic artists get by with more words and some with fewer. I’ve just managed to find a balance that works for me. 

Economic realities are often dicey for artists. How do you deal with creating art for art’s sake and creating art as a livelihood?


Dendo was a journal of your mission – so obviously there are strong spiritual themes and questions in it. What is it about cartooning that lends itself well for expressing matters of the heart and soul?

What I love about cartooning is brevity. One picture can express more than words, even though I tend to combine both. One thing I’ve heard from a lot of readers is how well they related to my mission experiences, probably because I kept the details sparse. Readers could see the emotions or relationships in my drawings and fill in the blanks with details from their own experiences. Cartoons can be universal and relatable in that way because the drawings are so simple that it’s easy to insert yourself. You probably wouldn’t look at an oil painting and say, “That’s so me!” but how often do people use emojis every day to represent themselves? There’s a lot of power in using simple drawings to convey big ideas, which I took advantage of while drawing DENDO.

What kinds of reactions have you had to Dendo? Are there any particularly wise, wonderful or witting stories you’d like to share about writing the book or about its publication?

The majority of responses I get about my book are from returned missionaries, especially from Japan. “I served there 30 years ago and you captured everything I went through!” But my favorite stories are about young women who encounter and love my book. There are so few sister missionary stories out there, especially those that tell young women what missionary work will really be like. When I decided to publish my book, future missionaries weren’t really on my mind, but getting to connect with them is something I love most.

Are there other media you use as both an aesthetic and a spiritual form of expression?

As an art student, I learned how to work with pretty much everything, from photography and collage to Photoshop and oil paint. The one I’ve really held onto is watercolor, which I like mostly for the reasons I like cartooning—it’s quick and easy to express an idea. It doesn’t have to be complex, and there are so many possibilities.

As for spiritual expression, I bring a sketchbook to church every week that gets filled with quotes and small drawings. As an English major and design enthusiast, I find typography to be a very beautiful way to record messages from church lessons that I want to remember. It also helps me pay attention.


Under what circumstances do you choose to create multi-colored images or purely visual images?

I hardly have any comics without words, but the biggest reason for me to add color to my comics is to get out of an artist’s rut. I’ve made a comic every single day for almost a decade, so I don’t always look forward to it. By trying a new technique or using a new tool, making comics gets fun and challenging, and because I make a new comic every day, I’m not afraid of “ruining” my art by experimenting.

Which artists, other creative arts types, mentors or, say, veterinarians do you turn to for inspiration and good advice? What good advice have you received from them?

Although I follow plenty of writers and artists online and have even met some of them, my best source of advice and support is the local artist community I’m lucky to be a part of. I value their industry insights, their sense of humor, and their unique styles. There’s a lot of overlap with the Mormon artist community where I happen to live right now, which has definitely played a part in publicizing my book and developing my future art goals.

Over the years, here’s the best advice I’ve received from art professors and other artists:

Draw from life.

Practice as much as possible.

Don’t draw multiple lines where one will do.

Don’t cherish a single drawing or be too fussy about it. If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll never be able to move on to the next panel.

Be kind and support other artists.

Do you get twitchy without a pen or pencil in your hand?

Thanks to the luxury of technology, I don’t have to make a comic about things as they happen. I have a smartphone full of notes about comics I want to draw, so I can jot down something and keep going about my day. I have noticed, however, that sometimes as things in my life are happening, I’m making mental notes about how to fit it into comic panels, narrating it in my mind as I want to remember it. This comic is an example of when I did that.

What are some of the challenges of balancing your artwork life and your home life?

We are delighted to continue to feature Brittany’s work through the rest of the fall season.
Find more of her work at http://comicdiaries.com and https://www.etsy.com/shop/comicdiaries








About Linda Hoffman Kimball

Linda Hoffman Kimball is an artist, writer, photographer, and poet who grew up as a faithful Christian near Chicago, & joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1971 while at Wellesley College near Boston. Early on she assumed that all Latter-day Saints were articulate, inquisitive, faithful, and socially engaged since her role models in the University wards in Cambridge, MA., were. Her husband says she is “fluent, but not native” in Mormon-ese. She is a founding member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government.

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