The work of Chelsea Martin, author and illustrator of Everything Was Fine Until Whatever and The Really Funny Thing About Apathy, is brutally honest, shamelessly intimate and effortlessly funny. And most importantly, underneath all the humor and sarcasm, it’s candid. “Maybe I’m writing for myself when I was younger,” she says. “I don’t want her to feel alienated.”
It seems she doesn’t want anyone to feel alienated; Chelsea aims to be accessible to all types of audiences. She feels there’s an abundance of pretentious writers and artists currently out there, and although she likes a lot of that stuff, she doesn’t want her own work to be intimidating. “I feel really committed to being plain in my writing,” she says. “I just want to appeal to people that don’t necessarily have an education and aren’t in-the-know about cool things.” A big part of that is from growing up in the very small, lackluster town of Clearlake, California.
The Oakland-based creative studied illustration and textiles at California College of the Arts, but following teachers’ responsiveness toward her writing assignments, she decided to take writing seriously and add it to her concentrations.
Her debut, Everything Was Fine Until Whatever, is an anthology of stories, drawings, lists and flash fictions delivered with painfully sincere deadpan humor. Her intimate confessions may or may not be fiction, which is the fun part of reading her work. Many of her pieces touch on relatable romantic neuroses and are presented, amusingly, with emotional disconnectedness. It’s like watching a dry coming-of-age dark comedy.
Sometime before the book’s inception, Chelsea had emailed Future Tense Books publisher Kevin Sampsell to tell him how much she loved his work. What started out as a fan letter became a friendship. They made plans to work on a small chapbook, but after Sampsell decided it should be a paperback, Chelsea included a lot of work from her college writing classes, which she was still taking at the time. She previously hadn’t thought of sharing these musings, nor did she have any plans for them, so it felt right.
A lot of her writing is cathartic. “I feel a lot better when I can see my ideas outside of myself,” says Chelsea. “It’s like writing a diary, I guess. You just can’t act out things that are inside your head.”
Now that her work is published, Chelsea’s creative process has changed. It now takes effort to approach her writing without the context of publication. “I feel a lot more pressure,” she says. “It’s a lot harder to be creative under that kind of stress … and not think about where [my work is] going.”
She does find it motivating, though — she’s currently working on four books. “Maybe it’s just one book, I don’t know. And I’m working on comics… Just working towards something. I think my main goal is just to support myself as an artist and quit my dumb job. Any way I can do it.”