Editor: Samantha Ferreira
Sofia Warren, the author of Radical: My Year with a Socialist Senator, was kind enough to sit down with us at New York Comic Con
Anime Herald: Let’s start with your origin story.
Sofia Warren: I was born in Rhode Island. My parents are both artists. They met at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). I grew up in a pretty rural area, doing a bunch of drawing and art stuff. I studied film in school and for a minute thought I would do art direction in films. Eventually I found my way to animation. I started to merge interests that way.
Sofia Warren: I came into the comics world through the New Yorker. I started doing gag cartoons with them in 2017. After a few years of that I worked up the courage to think about a bigger project, which became the book Radical: My Year with a Socialist Senator. The book chronicles the year I spent with politician Julia Salazar. It’s about her first year in office and my experience of living through that with her and embedding with her team. Figuring out how politics works and how organizing works. The ways people can engage and try and make change happen.
(Editor’s note: I can’t pass up this opportunity to share the greatest ever New Yorker cartoon that wasn’t.)
Anime Herald: What was it like at the very beginning for you? You were surprised she said yes.
Sofia Warren: Very surprised.
Anime Herald: What was the first month like?
Sofia Warren: It was really intense. I hadn’t done any comic project bigger than a few pages at that point. I was feeling like I had bit off more than I could chew. I had sent the email thinking that it probably wouldn’t take, and then things worked out really quickly. I was pretty feverishly trying to research New York state politics and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). I was trying to give myself some background pretty quickly.
Meanwhile, I was being introduced to the staff, to Julia, and trying to form relationships with people, and figure out mechanically how I was going to do this. Would I be recording on a tape recorder, which I did do. Trying to take notes while also sketching and getting reference material in terms of photos and video. It was a lot to juggle. It felt like going into the deep end.
Anime Herald: The book ended up being 330 pages. That is a ton of work. Had you sold the book at that point?
Sofia Warren: No.
Anime Herald: So, you were jumping into the lion’s den.
Sofia Warren: I had no idea if anyone was going to be interested. I had one conversation with someone was planning to start a comics publication but had not yet. She had seemed sort of interested, so I had some indication that maybe someone would be interested. I was so stressed about this for so long.
Anime Herald: So you were working without a net. No one knew where the book was going to go. This was all happening in real time. How do you feel about her first year?
Sofia Warren: I was really impressed by her. I didn’t know what to make of her at first. I hadn’t met her before. I wasn’t so sure about Democratic Socialism. I sort of agreed with concepts and aspects of it but didn’t feel comfortable with the term and didn’t know how it was going to work in this context. I had a lot of skepticism initially.
I came to have immense respect for her as a legislator. I think she did an amazing job. I think she works really hard and stuck by her principles completely. The office had so much sincerity and good faith that people were operating under. I saw it bear out in this community in incredibly meaningful ways, on a personal level in terms of people coming into the office and speaking of how much it meant to them to have a legislator for them who actually showed up and listened and made a point of doing that. In the legislature itself, seeing Julia’s peer’s and colleagues have great respect for her as a person and as a legislator.
All of that was honestly really inspiring. I was coming into it with a lot of disillusionment about the government. I certainly didn’t have a lot of faith in politicians. It was a very meaningful year for me.
Anime Herald: Julia Salazar was the first Democratic Socialist to get elected. Since then, five more have followed. Have you met any of them?
Sofia Warren: Not intensely. We’ve interacted a little bit though the book coming out. It’s very cool that they’re all in the Senate and Assembly now.
(Editor’s note: They’ve gone up from six to eight with the elections of Kristen Gonzalez and Sarahana Shrestha.)
Anime Herald: Let’s talk about eating a sandwich with a knife and fork.
Sofia Warren: (Laughs)
Anime Herald: Was it as hard as you made it look in the comic?
Sofia Warren: Oh my god, it was so hard.
I was in Denmark over the Summer where people eat their sandwiches with a knife and fork. I decided to try and do my own version of it. I don’t know what to say. I could not get it together. I got food all over myself. I ruined a sweater. I’ve tried to wash that sweater. It’s a curry. It’s too intense a yellow, it won’t come out.
Anime Herald: The leads into our next topic, abstract impressionism. Are you still doing traditional art?
Sofia Warren: I’ve been painting and trying to expand material, which has been really nice since finishing the book. The book I drew digitally, which I love to do and feel comfortable doing. Most of my professional work is digital. I was just missing messing around with messy stuff. So yeah, I’ve still been doing a lot of painting in different forms and trying to figure out an art style for my next project that I can do on paper with real materials.
Anime Herald: Let’s go back to The New Yorker.
Sofia Warren: The New Yorker is a regular part of my life. I do it every week if I can. I took some long pauses with the book project. In some ways it’s a nice rhythm for me to get into to have that deadline every week. To make a point of coming up with ideas in that way. I find it creatively a good way to get my juices going. To make something legible every week has certainly helped my practice a lot.
Anime Herald: My editor is from Rhode Island so I need to get a Rhode Island story from you.
(Editor’s note: And now some thoughts on creativity from Calvin and Hobbes)
Sofia Warren: Perfect! What kind of Rhode Island story do you want?
Anime Herald: Whatever you want to share.
Sofia Warren: I’m from Charlestown, which is in the South of the state. I’m trying to think of a good Rhode Island story…
Anime Herald: Maybe something that you consider unique to Rhode Island, that would not be like Massachusetts, or Connecticut, or New York…
Sofia Warren: This isn’t exactly a story with an arc…
Anime Herald: Go ahead.
Sofia Warren: Del’s Lemonade, a classic Rhode Island… it’s like a lemon slushie. It’s whole thing is that there’s real lemon in it. It’s very delicious. I was visiting Rhode Island over the Summer and I went and got one. There was almost an entire lemon in the one I got. I thought “Alright, you’re really doing what you said you would do Del’s Lemonade.”
Anime Herald: Was Julia Salazar familiar with your New Yorker work when you approached her?
Sofia Warren: I had a handful of work that had been published by that point. Enough that I could point to it and say “Look, I’m a real person.”
Anime Herald: Did you introduce yourself to her “Hi, I’m New Yorker cartoonist Sofia Warren?”
Sofia Warren: For sure. I find it gives me a little bit of credibility. For a cold email I figured I should use what I can to make it happen.
Anime Herald: Did you get a chance to meet any of the other power brokers at the time? Andrea Stewart-Cousins, or even Andrew Cuomo?
Sofia Warren: To be honest I was pretty shy about imposing on anyone. A large reason that the book is centered around this office is that it seemed the most plausible to me when I was pitching this and figuring out how to structure this time for me to get to know a group of people really well. To stay there as we all became comfortable with each other. I didn’t do a ton of interviews or got in people’s faces, I was mostly observing when I was in the legislature.
Anime Herald: How would you say you grew over the time of the book?
Sofia Warren: I changed a lot. I have answers that seem really corny.
Anime Herald: Give us the corny answers.
Sofia Warren: I found it sincerely very inspiring to watch these people do this work. To have things happen at the scale that they did. The tenants’ rights legislation that passed in 2019 is a big deal. It was something that was relatively inconceivable just a few years before.
The organizing that happened to A: Help tenant friendly legislators get elected and B: Push that more progressive body to pass the strongest version of those bills. That work was relentless. It was very organized and structured. It was inspiring for me. My relationship to politics… seeing things like Roe vs. Wade… my mindset as to what to do when there are setbacks is to turn to collective action instead of despair. For me that’s very profound.
Anime Herald: Are you doing any collective action right now?
Sofia Warren: I try to do phone-banking. I’m trying to figure out how to best be a part of the midterms. For me that means committing to one race. We’ll see how that actually manifests. In the past it’s been organizing phone banks with friends. Getting people acclimated to those who haven’t been involved in politics before. We’ll see. Some of it is just a mental shift in how to spend my energies.
Anime Herald: Have you seen any effects of the rent law in your neighborhood?
Sofia Warren: I haven’t because I have a market-rate apartment. Unfortunately, the bill Good Cause, which is the bill that was part of the narrative focus in the book, that would have applied to apartments like mine, did not pass and continues to not pass. I’m hoping that there will be a strong year for that this year, because rents are crazy.
Anime Herald: The squad has gotten deeper. We’ve gone from one Democratic Socialist to six (Editor’s note: And now to eight). I see where the trend is going.
Sofia Warren: It’s true.
Anime Herald: Can you keep the promises your haircut makes?
Sofia Warren: I hope so. But I did commit to bangs many months ago. I’ve been going through the process of growing them out. I don’t want to make this about me, but it has been a very difficult transition through different phases of my bangs, so thank you for your support.
Anime Herald: I feel that. Technical question: Is it jetsam or flotsam if you shove the grammarian off the boat?
Sofia Warren: If it falls off passively, it’s flotsam. If it’s thrown, it’s jetsam. Depending on how forceful your push is, it would qualify as jetsam.
Anime Herald: Do you have any questions for us or our readers?
Sofia Warren: What do you want to see in comics that you don’t see in comics?
Anime Herald: I’ve asked that question many times at anime conventions and gotten that question about anime. I guess if you ask it at Comic Con you get it about comics. What are you reading these days?
Sofia Warren: I stocked up at Small Press Expo. I’ve got a big stack of comics I’m slowly making my way through. At this exact moment in time, I’m teaching a comics class. We’re reading “Passing for Human,” Liana Finck’s book. It’s a favorite of mine, a really beautiful book.
Anime Herald: Are you teaching freshmen and sophomores, or all grades?
Sofia Warren: It’s a class students apply to. I think every grade is represented, including a grad student as well. It’s a nice gamut.
Anime Herald: I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of someone applying to a class before.
Sofia Warren: The expectation is not that the students have a portfolio. Most of the students have not made comics before. It’s more just to express interest to me. If that happens, I’m pretty willing to let people into the class.
Anime Herald: When you were growing up what were the comics that got you into making comics.
Sofia Warren: Calvin and Hobbes.
Anime Herald: Ah, Bill Watterson! Very nice!
Sofia Warren: Yeah. That’s the touchstone.
Anime Herald: Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
Sofia Warren: Thank you for your interest. I hope that people read the book and are inspired by it. I hope that it’s motivating for people and helps them get out of their chairs and into the world.
Anime Herald: Have you seen the book out in the wild?
Sofia Warren: I have. It’s always thrilling.
Anime Herald: Thank you very much for your time.
Sofia Warren: Thank you.