30 Under 30: Lucas Adams, Cartoonist and Writer

Photo by Nicolas Maloof
Photo by Nicolas Maloof

Last week marked the release of our annual 30 Under 30 issue, and because each of these individuals is so interesting, we thought we’d further highlight them by running some brief interviews with them.

Name: Lucas Adams
Age: 28
Neighborhood: Bed-Stuy
Occupation: Freelance Cartoonist/Writer, Co-Editor New York Review Comics

Who would be your choice for a 30 Under 30?
My friend and former roommate, Matthew Burke. He’s a self-taught video editor. Years ago he told me “I want to do video editing” and I judged him, silently and harshly. He had no experience, and I doubted he had the commitment.  Then he proved me completely and utterly wrong: He got an internship at SeeThink Films, and took off from there. He’s edited for clients from Vice to Vogue, and now works full time at BBDO, the ad agency. His own film work is fantastic: he has an incredible eye, and he’s got a documentary that’s in production. He’s only getting better. He’s someone I turn to when I need encouragement in my own work—having a friend on the same frequency as you creatively is crucial in New York, and Matt has been one of my best.

Who are your role models in your industry?
Andrew Leland: he runs McSweeney’s podcast The Organist, and was managing editor at The Believer magazine for years. Interning for him fresh out of college is one of the luckier things that ever happened to me. He was the first “professional” person who liked my comics, and has never stopped encouraging me to be weird and curious, and trust my instincts. He still always has wise words via email, whenever I’m desperate for help.

Eve Bowen, who’s a senior editor at the New York Review of Books. She gave me an informational interview when I first got to New York, and immediately wiped out the idea of networking as this grim, glad-handing ladder climbing thing. She was warm and friendly, and almost immediately helped me land my first internship in New York, and almost all of my big breaks are tied to her in someway, whether she’ll take credit for them or not.

Mangesh Hattikudur the co-founder of Mental Floss. He hired me to write the magazine’s trivia page, and has consistently watched out for me, finding gigs for me that have kept me afloat. His enthusiasm and energy is amazing: He built Mental Floss from the ground up, and continues to find ways to innovate. He keeps me thinking about the ways I can craft and change my own career path.

Reyhan Harmanci who’s Editor in Chief at Atlas Obscura. I met her when I started drawing comics for her at Modern Farmer, and she has me drawing a weekly comic for Atlas Obscura. She trusts you to do good work, and leaves you with room to experiment and find what works best. I feel like it’s led to some of the best work that I’ve drawn or written.

What was a turning point for you, when you realized you could make a career out of something you loved to do?
It was actually this year, when I started supporting myself entirely through freelance work and as a comics editor at New York Review Books.

I moved to New York on a bus five years ago this September. To support my creative work, I’ve worked on a dumpling truck, a lobster truck (run by TV host Maury Povich’s daughter), an architecture-themed ice cream cart, coat check at a fancy hotel, and a butcher shop. I did all of this so I had time to draw and to write, and because I was afraid a full time job would would smother my time to make things. I made a deal early on with myself that if I stopped drawing and meeting my self-imposed art deadlines for any reason, I had to leave New York.

I’d love to have this schedule for good. I’m grateful that I’ve had most of this year to set my own pace, and only be working on things I’m passionate about.

What’s some advice you’d have for people looking to get a foothold in your industry?
It’s important when you’re getting started to be hungry, but you have find the right ways to articulate it. An early piece of New York advice I got was just say “yes” to as many things as you can. It wasn’t meant in a low key “I’m down for whatever” way, but as a way to emphasize that you’re ready to work. It puts you into situations you wouldn’t find yourself in if you hesitated: working events as a volunteer, informational interviews, weird industry get togethers. It will help you meet like-minded people, and it will help you figure out what your path forward can look like.

Do you feel Brooklyn is still a viable place for young people to build a career?
Barely. I’ve never felt secure financially since I’ve moved to New York, and that’s not something that has particularly improved: I live in an apartment that’s slanted, so my bed slides at night.

You hear stories like Phillip Glass living in the East Village and driving a cab on the side and having plenty of time to work on his music, but someone arriving in Brooklyn tomorrow is so far away from that kind of creative life. Rent is going to crush you, your job is going to eat up your time, and making room for your own work feels impossible.

That said: I think if you’re thinking of doing something in a creative field, Brooklyn is still where it’s at.

You’ll have access to people and institutions that you can’t replicate in other cities or over the internet. You’ll have to stretch yourself to do it: busing tables on the weekend and interning for skittles. Then you write at night, and you go out and meet people who believe in your work and will back you up. It can suck, but Brooklyn is still worth it.

Have you ever felt like leaving your career path?
Yes, many times. I’d have it a lot when I’d get off especially bad food truck shift, when you get back to the warehouse with your arm hair caked in dried ice cream or your clothes reeking of dumplings. You worry it’s not worth it, that you could be saving up for a condo or something.  But I’ve never had a real plan B: I made a vague, artsy plan six years ago, and for better or worse, here I am.

What’s felt like your biggest professional accomplishment?
Co-founding New York Review Comics, a new imprint of New York Review Books that launches next year. I’d had the idea that New York Review Book Classics (which focuses on reprinting out of print and untranslated books) could publish comics when I first discovered them in college.

In 2013 I started working at New York Review Books as an intern. I was only supposed to be there for five weeks, but then the editorial staff’s assistant went on maternity leave, and I took over her job while she was away. I didn’t have anything to lose, so I started seriously considering pitching a comics imprint. I knew I couldn’t do it alone though: I took the idea to Gabriel Winslow-Yost who’s an assistant editor at the New York Review Books magazine, and Evan Johnson, who runs NYRB production on the book side, and we agreed to work on it together.

It felt like a plot: I’d work on an ice cream cart in front of the Natural History Museum on weekends, intern and assist at NYRB during the week, all the while on the side Gabe, Evan, and I figured out how to put together a proposal for a comics imprint. Gabe and I took NYRB editor Edwin Frank out for drinks and pitched the idea. He liked the idea. We put together a catalog, and shared it with him and NYRB’s owner.

It took almost a year for us to get started, but it’s all really happening now. We’ll be releasing six books in 2016. Among them are Mark Beyer’s Agony, with an introduction by Colson Whitehead, and Soft City by the Norwegian pop artist Pushwagner with a foreword by Chris Ware, and a series logo by McSweeney’s former art director, Brian McMullen.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully not living in an apartment that is slanted (although I do love my landlord). Ideally all the bills are paid with my writing and my drawing, along with co-editing a robust NYRC, getting ready to celebrate 10 years of publishing quality comics that you can download into your eyeballs.


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