In the middle of cartoonist Molly Hahn’s latest book, Sketches of the Day, there’s an illustration titled simply “Letting go.” In it, a couple of cuddly, googly-eyed creatures huddle together at the edge of a forest, watching as their baby goes bouncing off into an open clearing. The expression on the little creature’s face is one of crazed glee; its parents look simultaneously sad and hopeful.
It’s an image that captures both what it feels like to release a precious child into the world, and how it feels to be released. But it isn’t an accurate representation of everyone’s childhood. For Hahn, it didn’t work that way at all.
“I’ve loved to draw since I was little, but it was always an escapist activity,” the 28-year-old artist explained. “My parents were abusive.” Over the past decade, Hahn has devoted herself to building a supportive community and healing the trauma of her early years. She’s also built a successful career as an artist, working with Mike Judge (of Beavis and Butthead fame), as well as animator Bill Plympton, before striking out on her own.
Last year, Hahn self-published her first children’s book, Under the Sneep Tree, a magical fable that emphasizes cooperation and cultural exchange. She followed it this summer with Sketches of the Day, a compilation of daily illustrations drawn between summer 2009 and spring 2010. The book is filled with cheerful scenes: hippos baking cookies, monsters getting married, and mice on parade. It’s also got enigmatic images—a beast lurking on the fringes of a city at night, a girl huddled on a hillside under a full moon—and downright lonesome ones, like that of a woman gazing into the branches of a leafless tree. Taken as a whole, Sketches is a celebration of life and all its complex glory, which is how Hahn sees the world these days.
As she talks about her next book, due out in October 2010, her big brown eyes grow even wider. “It’s about a little girl and all the things she wants to do when she grows up: create robots, raise baby dragons, be a deep sea explorer,” Hahn says. “It’s in the spirit of celebrating a child’s imagination.” Increasingly, Hahn is sharing her own story—a story about the power of imagination—and allowing it to inform her work. “For me, being an artist isn’t just about drawing cute pictures,” she explained. “I feel like my role is to be a storyteller and to empower others.”
To learn more about Hahn’s work, visit mollycules.com.