Unlovable, a graphic novel by Illustration faculty member Esther Pearl Watson (BFA 95).

profile / exhibitions / alumni / faculty / illustration
October 25, 2014
Writer: Anna Macaulay

Outsider Art

Esther Pearl Watson (BFA 95)

“This is going to be the best summer ever…I know my hot guy is sitting on a couch or mat and wondering if some fine lady is dreaming about him,” muses Tammy Pierce, the unlucky underdog of Unlovable, a graphic novel series by Illustration alumna Esther Pearl Watson.

Loosely based on a teenager’s 1989 diary Watson discovered in a truck stop bathroom, Unlovable details the sometimes ordinary, often humiliating, occasionally poignant, and generally hilarious exploits of its young protagonist. Serialized in Bust magazine, Unlovable received the ultimate merit badge from Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, who called it “the great teen comic tragedy of our time.” All three volumes can be purchased online at

Watson teaches Illustration at ArtCenter and includes the series in her publishing class. “I show my students the book dummy and original drawings. I also talk about building characters and their world. How zines can lead to published books. How published books can lead to things like merchandising and licensing.”

All of the above has lead to, among other things, a museum commission. Next spring, Watson’s largest painting to date will go on view at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Texas. A glittery dreamscape mural, it was inspired by her childhood adventures with a father who built spaceships in the front yard. “Though they look very different,” notes Watson, “my comics and my narrative paintings both have the theme of the outsider trying to fit in.”

Though they look very different, my comics and my narrative paintings both have the theme of the outsider trying to fit in.