Q&A with Clea Chiller

A photograph of artist Clea Chiller against a brick wall background. Clea is smiling broadly at the camera. She has a dark brown bob. Her hair is pushed back with three bobby pins. She is wearing dangly geometric pink and purple earrings.

CLEA CHILLER is an artist and illustrator who works out of Squishface Comic Studio in Brunswick. Her deeply personal works focus on her battles with mental and physical illness. She has exhibited work at Platform Contemporary Art Spaces, SEVENTH Gallery, and Bruce Artist Run. She is the creator of Garbage Bags, a series of darkly humorous autobiographical zines, and has had comics published by The Lifted Brow and Doll Hospital Journal.

Our Art + Comics Editor David Mahler interviews Clea Chiller about her comic ‘Balance’ for #16 UNFUNDED

Your comic for this issue is almost a two-parter, as you present a splash page followed by a comic page, twice. In saying that the piece is clearly a singular work, with the two vignettes reflecting one another. What was the motivation behind this structure and the jump in time?

One of my favourite elements about comic creation is that I can take influences from literature and film structure within my work. I use time jumps and repetition regularly in my work in a similar way is often used in films. It’s a great way to convey a lot in short amount of space, I love me a good vignette! I use really loose thumbnails (i.e. scribble only I can understand) while developing my comics so that I can brutally edit them to create that vignette feel. With this work I eventually cut two flashback scenes in favour of the repeated balance beam image. It just resonated with me a lot more, drilling home that message that this girl can’t win. These are two separate stories with the same outcome; shame.

I think it would be fair to say your work often delves into painful encounters and the lingering effects of cruelty. Curiously what draws you to spend so much time considering and re-presenting these encounters in your art?

That’s a really fair assessment! Honestly, I wonder myself why I’m drawn to such a painful brand of autobiography. From a very young age I have suffered from depression and for a lot of my life painful encounters have had such a moulding quality on me. I feel there is a universal quality in pain and cruelty that connects people. I want to show how having depression warps your view and makes you focus on these moments. Reflecting my mental illness in my autobiographical work is crucial to me. In a way depression becomes another character in my comics. Yet without the perspective of treatment and acknowledgement of my mental illness I would not be able to write so honestly about pain.

Where can we discover more of your creative projects?

I stock zines at Squishface Studio and Sticky Institute, including my most recent, ‘Garbage Bags 6: Smiles’. You can keep updated about my creative work by following me on Instagram (@garbage_bags) and you can read a lot of my comics at cleachiller.tumblr.com.