Shelby Lorman’s Instagram (@awardforgoodboys) is one of those rare accounts that’s pleasant to follow. More and more I’ve begun realizing that I kind of hate social media—not as an entity, but in terms of something to manage and post on and scroll through—but Lorman’s account is one that makes me laugh, feel disgust, and be annoyed. They may not be all positive emotions, but they’re emotions nonetheless. It’s this ability to pull real emotions mid-scroll alongside Lorman’s illustrated comedy and general penchant for creating content that finds power in its extreme specificity that makes her work so noteworthy. Lorman’s first book, Awards for Good Boys: Tales of Dating, Double Standards and Doom, published in June 2019, helps her work move from the internet to a more physical space.
I spoke with Lorman about the inherent transactional nature of being an “influencer,” creating boundaries online, and how to balance art with branding yourself as a creator.
How did you know it was time to turn @awardsforgoodboys into a book?
I wanted it to be a book for a really long time. I started drawing them with this idea of [using] Instagram [as] my digital portfolio, and then it reached this moment where it became an option to turn it into a book. I love the Instagram page, and I love that it’s so collaborative, but I also always envisioned it as living offline because when it’s nuanced, detailed, kind of complicated, [it’s] best digested in book form.
Your Instagram has a strong community of women (and people) who are fighting fuckboys by sharing their experiences in the comments and DMing each other your content. You’ve become a sort of influencer. How do you feel about that term?
It’s really complicated. I have gone through a lot of phases in the short time I’ve been public in this way on Instagram around my relationship to my followers/fans and just how surreal that is. But also, I am a writer, and it’s my page for sharing my art and ultimately, telling people where to buy my work. Sometimes that feels dissonant. For some people, it’s a reminder that I am just an artist, and it is sort of happenstance that the community formed. I think that my work is a litmus test, and it is self-selecting. So, people who get it, resonate with it, and feel seen by it are going to come and say that, and that just speaks volumes to the kind of following I have and why they are so open to sharing in the way that they do.
How do you think @awardsforgoodboys became such a community space?
I don’t think that I’ve ever really had a community [like this]—and I still feel weird calling it that. They’re followers, but it doesn’t feel like that. If you read the comments or see the messages that I get and sometimes share, it’s so much more collaborative and communicative than a lot of other spaces I’ve seen on the internet. But I still wouldn’t necessarily refer to it as a community because I wouldn’t want to imply that there’s some implicit rules or structure or obligations to each other. Ultimately, it’s a corner of the internet. That said, it’s incredible that the audience connects with each other, and that speaks partly to my work. I intentionally use humor for the purpose of opening people up. It’s something I went into this project knowing. I was like, I’m going to talk about heavy shit, but I’m also funny. How do I do both of these things together? And I’ve learned along the way that if you’re talking about difficult things but there’s humor in it, people receive that and are ready and are open.
How do you feel about having built this community?
I have a pretty diehard group of fans, and that has been really strange for me to accept and get used to [but] I’m so grateful for the support. I just can’t believe that it’s happening still, and I see how many other people feel seen by each other in the comments section.
Do you find that fanbase validating or is it a lot of pressure to maintain?
I feel extremely seen by people’s messages telling me that they’ve been there because I’ve also been there. So, it’s been this amazing catharsis in many ways that I was not expecting. But there’s also a lot of pressure with that because I’m like, wait a minute. This is my digital portfolio. That’s really how I think about it. And so, the responsibilities have changed quite a bit.
I have a lot of feelings about celebrity, online fame, and stan culture. On one hand, I’m so grateful that people care about my work, care about what I have to say, and make it possible for me to make this work. On the other hand, I want to be like, “Please don’t have heroes. We’re all going to fail you. Don’t put me on the pedestal that I satirize.” It’s a really weird, complicated irony. People think that I am “good” or “better” because of the work I make, so I feel like I have to remind people that I’m an asshole. This is just my job. I’m a satirist, and I point these things out in the world. I know that a by-product of that is making myself seem like I’m better than, but I’m certainly not.
You’re a comedian, but in this space you’re doing a specific version of that comedy for this one specific community and following.
I think my humor is a bit darker and weirder than I sometimes allow on Instagram [because] I don’t want to push people away. People are sometimes surprised when I say something a little bit sharp, biting, or sarcastic. It’s this weird clashing of expectations where I’m like, I don’t know what you guys want from me, but I make jokes. My work often talks about why we put people on pedestals, but that doesn’t mean that you should look to me as an exemplar of correct behavior. I’m just a person making fun of things. It’s difficult and bizarre.
There can be this pressure for Instagram creators to always feel accessible. You have to respond to your DMs. You have to be almost one on one with your followers, which is obviously not possible. You have to cultivate it 24/7 or your followers will wonder where you are.
There are times when it feels impossible to be inaccessible to them. I delete Instagram [from] my phone for four or five days [each] month [as a] way [to] remind myself, This isn’t who you are. You’re not your Instagram self. But [when] I was offline, a friend texted me, “Hey, you need to get back online. There’s someone harassing your followers in the comments section, and he needs to be blocked.” So I redownloaded Instagram and blocked this dude, and then I deleted Instagram again. I do feel a certain obligation [to] making my Instagram corner feel safe for people, and I try to keep things in check as much as I can. I can’t not be online.
In terms of being accessible, I think it depends. If I’m asking questions or if people are asking questions that I feel deserve to [be] answered, then I’ll certainly do that. But I feel absolutely no obligation to them in terms of response times or how much work I’m putting out. I think they also understand that me not being online is beneficial for everyone because it just becomes a huge mess [when] someone who has that many social media followers is not doing super well. I learned the hard way [that] removing myself entirely and letting people talk about my work is sometimes the best thing for me to do. That’s hard for me because I’m a control freak, and I want everyone to feel a certain way about things. I have gotten a lot better about just being like, “No. This is reader-facing. This is not for me. I’m going to slink away.” That’s obviously hard when I’m very present online and respond to a lot of people.
Some of your followers send your comics to their resident fuckboys. Your work is so communicative that people are literally using it to express their feelings.
In certain respects, I designed this work so people could have a way into these tricky conversations or that maybe they’re feeling exhausted in a variety of ways, and sending this thing that someone else has already made and speaks for them can be freeing and cathartic. The idea of sending something I’ve made in place of having the conversation is troubling. It is. This idea that someone could just send back a comic to someone they dated and just leave that there maybe feels more “empowering” than it is. It certainly feels strange to be associated with that.
Your work comes across as very honest and transparent. As a reader and an Instagram follower, I felt like we were sitting and having this close dialogue about what we should and shouldn’t accept from our partners and from our dates as women who are used to lowering standards and accepting “good” people who actually aren’t very good. Do you think this is a true feeling or is this closeness something you’ve intentionally crafted?
I really love talking to a lot of the people that follow me and have made friends and have had amazing conversations. [However], I am extremely clear [that], “We’re not friends. You follow my work. You’re fans of my work. That’s awesome. I’m so appreciative. We’re not friends..” At the same time, I’ve had amazing conversations with people. It’s complicated, but for the most part, I really love engaging with my audience because I feel like they get it, and they deepen my understanding of my own work and of myself. I’ll post a link to something, and then a few people will be like, “Hey, I saw you post this. You’ll love this.” It feels like more of an ongoing conversation than [being] obligated to give them something.