Pull up a Chair: a Conversation with “Life’s a Grind”

Pull up a Chair: a Conversation with “Life’s a Grind”

When I was a kid, my favorite part of the newspaper was the comics. Now that I’m an adult—well, it’s still the comics.

But, like Dr. Egon Spengler once said, “Print is dead,” and everything is going digital—books, magazines, periodicals, journals, newspapers, even the Sunday funnies! This transition, though, has given rise to the webcomic. Now, cartoonists and illustrators can get their work out to the masses without being nationally syndicated. The Internet enables them to be internationally syndicated—minus the royalty checks, of course.

One webcomic that I’ve particularly taken a shine to is Life’s a Grind, a weekly strip about the joys and woes of being a barista. I (and a lot of you) can relate.

Today I get the opportunity to chat with the creator of Life’s a Grind, Ashley Timmer. Ashley, feel free to pull up a chair.

life's a grind

First of all, welcome to the Table—I, like a lot of other folks, am a big fan of yours. Before we get started, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about you?

My name is Ashley Timmer, I’m a barista at Starbucks. I have one puppy named Duncan, I’m engaged to a very prominent coffee blogger, my favorite show is The X-Files, and my favorite food is peanut butter and jelly spread on a sandwich.

Where did you come up with the idea for Life’s a Grind?

I went to college for animation, which, as it turns out, is very difficult to find a job doing. So, like a lot of art school grads, I’ve found myself working in retail while trying to find other ways to use the education I received, and justify all the money I spent. Life’s a Grind has allowed me to both use some of the skills I gained at my very expensive art school, and has provided an outlet for all the frustrations that come with working at Starbucks.

How long have you been illustrating? What got you interested in it in the first place?

I have been drawing forever. There’s something about drawing and illustrating that is so freeing. You have the ability to create anything, there are no limits. You wanna see a rainbow dragon riding a glow in the dark donkey into the sunset? No problem.

Given the choice, do you prefer illustrating or animating?

It always depends on my mood. I love both, but I have to be in a particularly patient mood to start animating. It takes so much time and effort that any sort of animation is very intimidating to start, but the end result is so rewarding. Here’s something that you’ve created and completely brought to life; animating will give you quite the God-complex, I’ve found.

What materials do you use to create the comic?

I use a mac computer, a tablet, Adobe Flash, and my imagination!

What were some of your inspirations for Life’s a Grind? Are there any comics or cartoons on which you’re basing your comic’s tone/environment/humor?

I’ve always always always loved Garfield. That’s kind of the go-to comic in my mind. But I also love Get Fuzzy, Calvin and Hobbes, and Molly and the Bear. But every comic I’ve done so far as been inspired by actual events. Sometimes life as a barista is so outrageous that it just has to be shared.

If you were a cartoon character, who would you be? Why?

I think I would be Elmer Fudd because I have a lisp, I’m bald, and I love to hunt, whether it’s duck season or rabbit season!

What’s been your favorite thing about doing Life’s a Grind so far? What are your goals for it?

The best part has been to share stories of what life has been like as a barista for me. It’s been a wonderful coping mechanism. There are so many days at my job that are so frustrating that I truly feel that if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry. This has mostly been a way for me to make light of my own frustrating situations. My goals right now are to just keep going with it. I want to work on making it more consistent and just all around more attractive.

You’re only a few posts into your comic, but I’ve already found a favorite character—I think Ben, the new hire, is hilarious. Do you have a favorite character to write for or draw? Any characters in the works?

I do like Ben, he comes from the same place I came from when I first entered to coffee world; not really knowing anything, but still trying.

I’m trying to work out the best way to get the management at The Second Crack more involved in day-to-day life. To me, there is something so hilarious about management in customer service, endless possibilities for comedy.

What are your general thoughts of webcomics? What direction do you see syndicated print comics going with the arrival of webcomics?

I don’t know what’s going to happen to printed comics, I hope they’ll be around forever, but I will say that arrival of webcomics has been pretty exciting! We now have the ability to find comics from all over the world, and anyone that wants to create their own comic can do it! I’ve found some really awesome comics online that I never would have otherwise seen, I’ve also found some really awful ones too, but that’s the beauty of the internet.

Let’s talk about you for a little while. What is your relationship with coffee? You’ve certainly gotten the coffee service industry pegged… For better or worse.

I grew up around coffee, my parents drank coffee when I was a kid, I tasted it at a young age and hated it, and I kept trying it until I loved it. That’s when I knew I was a grown-up. Coffee carries a lot of mixed emotions for me. I spend forty hours a week at a place where coffee frustrates the hell out of me. My job is to peddle out as much coffee as possible to the thirsty masses, and, unfortunately, very little emphasis is placed on the quality of the coffee. But, outside of work, I’m lucky to have access to some of the best coffee around. I get to go to coffee events and learn about the specialty coffee biz and meet some really wonderful people.

What does your coffee journey look like? When did you first become interested in it? Where do you see coffee taking you in the near/distant future?

I’m very new to knowing anything about specialty coffee. My introduction to the art of quality coffee came through my fiance, the sharp-palated Drew Moody, to whom I owe a great debt for all of the great coffee in my life. I’m not sure how long I will be working in the field of coffee, but I’m sure that it will always be a part of my life.

What are your favorite/least favorite things about being a barista?

My favorite thing is feeling like I’m a part of this really cool barista club. In general, baristas seem to be really interesting, genuine, passionate people, and even though I basically work in the fast food of the coffee industry, I still like to count myself among this awesome group of people.

My least favorite part are the hours. Sometimes I work at 4:30 am, and sometimes I’ll find myself working until midnight. Those are just what the hours look like when you work in coffee, but I’m not cut out to be up early… or late.

Do you have any favorite roasters?

Still being new to the specialty coffee world, every thing that didn’t come from a can at the grocery store tastes like pure gold to me. But I’m working on sharpening my palette on coffees from roasters like Passion House and Dark Matter, among many others.

Being the daughter of the owner of Bolivia’s Best Coffee, the soon-to-be-bride of a coffee blogger, and a barista, does coffee ever become exhausting to you?

Every day. But mostly from my job. Which is probably incredibly evident from Life’s a Grind, and that’s why I don’t share the comic with the people that I work with.

What advice do you have for aspiring cartoonists?

My advice is just go for it! Whether the comic turns out amazing or awful, the world can never have too many comics!




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