Rosemary Valero-O'Connell
BFA in Comic Art
Freelance Comic Artist

What do you currently do for a living?

I'm currently a full-time freelancer! Right now my bread and butter is a graphic novel I'm working on with Mariko Tamaki (Skim, This One Summer) for First Second, as well as an upcoming independent project that I can't say much about yet. Those two things make up about 75% of my work week, and the rest gets filled up with whatever smaller projects come along. I've done work for BOOM! Studios and DC Comics, as well as editorial illustration, cover work for comics and newspapers, custom screenprints, etc.

What is your favorite thing about your work?

I'm not being at all disingenuous when I say there is next to nothing about my job that I'm not absolutely in love with. I draw comics for a living, which is a fantastic privilege in itself, but the fact that they're comics I believe in and stories I'm proud to be telling is more than I ever could have asked for. I've gotten to collaborate with people whose work means the world to me, that I've admired since I was a child, and I feel astonishingly lucky to get to call them colleagues.

Why did you choose your major and what were your major classes like?

I chose MCAD because I had decided very early on that I wanted to do everything I could to try to make this whole comics thing work out, and the school's location, programs, and facilities seemed like they'd be perfectly in line with what I needed. The biggest gift my major classes gave me was the ability to take my work apart and look at its anatomy to figure out how it works, how it doesn't work, and how it can be the best version of itself. There's a degree of fluency in the language of comics that you can only really get from fastidious inspection, and comic courses absolutely allow for that. 

Did MCAD prepare you for life after graduation?

My professional life right now depends on my ability to balance multiple deadlines with as much grace and accountability as possible, which is a skill I owe entirely to MCAD. I wouldn't be able to do what I do if I hadn't learned how to work efficiently under stress and manage more than one project without losing focus. 

Best thing you ever got/saw on the free shelf?

Got: Two little framed portraits of horned owls. Saw: A cartoonishly large box full of ham sandwiches.

How do you find inspiration when you are feeling stuck?

I go back to the things (comics, books, movies, anything) that have struck a chord with me in the past and reminded me of what I value in a story or a drawing. That same spark is usually still there and gets me so eager to get to the point where I'm making work that good that I start drawing again, even if there's still some mire to wade through.

Current obsession?

Carly Rae Jepsen and The Adventure Zone, just like every other indie cartoonist. 

What advice do you have for art and design students?

Make the work that you eventually want to be paid to make. If comics are your goal, start and finish a short, self-contained mini that shows off your strengths and interests, and get it in front of as many folks as you can. Apply for every convention, keep an updated website, have accounts for yourself and your work across as many social media platforms as you can and use them frequently and with care. Be kind and polite, and focus on making friends rather than networking. Don't judge your journey based on anyone else's; they aren't comparable things and as long as you're drawing, you're moving forward. 

Where did you intern and can you briefly describe the experience?

I did in an independent mentorship with fellow MCAD grad and high priestess of comics Caitlin Skaalrud ’11! She helped me create, from script to finished, bound book, a twenty-two-page mini comic (the longest I had made to date) over the course of a summer. 

What did you get out of your mentorship?

I owe my entire working relationship with First Second to the comic I made with Caitlin. During my junior year at MCAD, I tabled at MoCCA (a comics festival in New York) and sold a copy of that comic to someone that showed it to the woman who is now my editor. She came by my table after the show, gave me her email address, and told me to get in touch with her whenever I was ready to get into the industry. It's a little surreal to think of it in those terms, but some of the best things that have ever happened to me happened as a result of making that comic and showing it to as many people as I could.

Has your work evolved since leaving MCAD?

I have probably drawn more pages of comics in the couple months I've been out of school than in the four years I was at MCAD put together (Laura Dean alone is 265 pages), and one of the coolest things about drawing is if you do it a lot, you just kind of get better without really realizing you're growing. I can make better work faster now, which is a gratifying combination.

Name your one biggest takeaway from MCAD?

Can I pick two? I'm picking two. My work ethic and the community of folks I'm lucky enough to get to call my friends and peers.