Here are the kinds of questions that crop up in conversation with Maria Boyle.
Have you ever seen a werewolf with a cupcake in the Grand Social? Can you feed cartoon sandwiches to identical twins? What if Christ returned and his first act was to resurrect a solitary bee?
The creator of webcomic Twisted Doodles, Boyle has more than 34,500 followers on Facebook and 11,600 on Twitter, who share, retweet and delight in her original, often darkly witty drawings.
She sticks to a comic avatar online, though, rather than a photo. Tries to keep a lowish profile.
Shitty Things Happen
“Sometimes people will profile artists and it’s like, ‘Here’s the artist’s studio,’” says Boyle. “And then there’s me, in the spare bedroom, sitting on baby clothes. Nobody wants to see that!”
It’s a Tuesday afternoon at the Science Gallery’s café. We talk social media, motherhood and art. Always with a spike of humour.
With no set theme, her work is playful, silly at times, but always sharp.
Her doodle of “Paddy not Patty” explains how a hamburger did very little to banish the snakes from Ireland. And then there’s the doodle of the forward clocks (“Baby, I’ve all the time for you”) to celebrate daylight savings.
It was in February 2012 that Boyle decided to share her sketches online for the first time. But she’d been doodling long before that, as a child growing up in Donegal.
“Drawing is one of the only things that stilled my mind,” she says. “I did comedy for a while. I like writing. I like making people laugh.”
She tried her hand on the stand-up circuit in Dublin, before deciding to focus on the oft-random doodles seen online, and on greeting cards in shops like Designist on George’s Street.
Her doodles, like the hipster dinosaur who went extinct before it was cool, are not only a channel for creativity, but a way for her and her social-media followers to take their minds off hardship and humdrum.
“Something shitty happens to you, it’s not so shitty if you can make it funny, do you know what I mean?” she asks. “You’re just like ‘Oh, shitty thing happens, if I can make myself laugh or make someone else laugh, it’s not so bad.’”
There’s no schedule for sketching, she says. With a full-time job and two babies at home, it’s hard enough to find the time, and only when an idea comes along does she put pen to paper. Or digit to iPad, as is the case with a number of her works.
She balks at the idea of pinning down her style in words. “Amateur?” she offers.
Although there are other webcomics she enjoys, and respects, she says they don’t really influence her stylistically, or the subject matter she chooses to capture. Boyle admits, however, that the work of other doodlers does make her consider her technique.
“If you look at a lot of people’s work or style, I wish my stuff was cleaner than it is,” she says. “I know it’s weird but I wish I was neater – but you do get better.”
Boyle says that while some artists compare their work to what others are doing, she just focuses on trying to improve her own sketches.
“I tend to feel when other people are competing and I don’t like that,” she says. “It’s one of the reasons I didn’t like stand-up comedy, because it’s a very competitive atmosphere.”
Boyle is cautious not to give social media too much weight. Or, at least, she says she tries. It can offer her instant appreciation, automatic validation for her work, but it can also be cruel.
“Generally, the people who follow me are really nice,” she says. “Some people just follow you because they’re like, ‘Are you a cynic? No you’re not? Unfollow, I no longer like you!’ and you’re like ‘NOOOOO, COME BAAACK, DON’T REJECT MEEEE!’
One of her comics in particular, which tried to inject light into OCD, was met with an online backlash. Boyle removed it, but recognises the often irrational nature of online criticism.
“I have a Facebook and I’m on most of social media. Validation! Gimme gimme,” she says, laughing. “I can’t control the comments, but I have had people say mean things and you sometimes just go ‘Nooooo, that’s a shitty thing to say.’”
It’s been mostly silly, creative fun she says, though.
She draws in bright colours, and her doodles can touch an anything that bounces through her brain: an alternate Batman origin story, a rabbit with his carrot who anally injects it into his “rabbit hole” and must head to hospital. Then she posts them online.
“There’s no such thing as enough likes, enough retweets,” she says. “We get a chemical response to social media. That’s how it’s set up. It’s like, press a button, here’s a cookie. COOKIE! COOKIE! COOKIE! COOKIE! COOKIE!”
The Healthiest Thing
Twisted Doodles is more of a hobby than anything else.
Boyle studied in Galway, went on to complete a PhD in microbiology at Trinity College, and now works there as a researcher. Nine months ago, she gave birth to identical twin girls.
“Motherhood isn’t what I expected. Not in a weird way,” she says, “but you know the way people go ‘Ooh, I’m having babies, this is the best day of my life.’ I would like to have a better day in my life than a 14-hour labour after someone’s shoved a hook up my vagina.”
She’d like to have more time to dedicate to the doodling, but that seems unlikely to happen anytime soon. Although she has an online shop, the profits are minimal. But art, she says, isn’t necessarily about getting ahead.
Most recently, she nipped into a city-centre coffee shop on April Fool’s Day.
To the counter, she affixed a doodle reading “Sorry, we only have decaf today”, with an apologetic coffee cup underneath. She was asked to take it down after 30 seconds.
As waiters frantically scurry around us, it’s time to leave the pranking doodler. She only asks one thing: that the article isn’t titled “Nazi Sympathiser at Twisted Doodles”.