Badass Bitches, Feminist Face Masks, and Existential Dread: Spotlight on Tragic Girls

Everything Katie Mansfield makes is drenched in existential dread felt through the female gaze. This includes her sassy brand Tragic Girls, which uses feminist comics as inspiration for art prints and apparel full of endlessly cheeky and relatable messages. The Salt Lake City artist often riffs on 1950s horror-film posters with an aesthetic channeling modern-art master Roy Lichtenstein. She also mixes in old-school pinup photography and a healthy dose of sarcasm.

You can view some of her most witty, thought-provoking work in her Threadless shop. Mansfield has a funny way of drawing our attention to depression and anxiety with designs such as “Maybe She’s Born with It…” She also turns social norms—especially those imposed upon women—and historic stereotypes upside down with designs such as “My Eyes are Down Here.” Some of her cheekiest works draw inspiration from the ongoing pandemic, including  “Crafting with Coronavirus” and “Quarantine Kisses.” Regardless, she laces everything with feminist messages and body-image truisms made for the age of social media.

Her art just screams, “Girl, I get you.” Each piece is the perfect gift from one girlfriend to another, allowing women to commiserate with each other’s pains and struggles while also urging them to keep reaching for their dreams. Ahead of her winter clothing drop, which will be available on her website on December 16, Mansfield spoke to Threadless about modern art, mental health, and getting flak for her feminist slogans.

How did the Tragic Girls brand start?

Katie Mansfield: I started Tragic Girls about three years ago in 2017 while working a full-time job in video editing. At first, it began as a way to just express myself, to let all of my feelings out in a productive way. But I quickly realized my artwork spoke to a lot of people, and I really wanted to create a community where people could connect and relate.

What’s it really all about?

Tragic Girls is about saying the things we’re all thinking and feeling. People feel sad and tragic and anxious or cynical about the world, and I like to explore all of those things through my artwork. And I like to make it funny. I think everyone has a tragic girl inside them, and Tragic Girls is about being a badass and owning it. 

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“Don’t Be a Garbage Person” by Tragic Girls

How did you go from comics and illustration to creating products?

I’ve always loved graphic tees. I would go to concerts all the time and drool over all the band tees, and I’ve always thought it would be cool to make those myself. I’ve had an inkling to dive into tees and other products with Tragic Girls since the very beginning, but I didn’t have the resources to make it happen. So I started solely with art and prints, and then I slowly started adding more shirts and merchandise when I had more of a following.

What was the biggest obstacle to overcome?

I think the hardest obstacle with moving from illustrations to products was just measuring the demand. It’s much easier logistically to make artwork into art prints than it is to recreate that artwork into, say, a t-shirt. With artwork, I can pretty much create whatever I want. But when I make a shirt, I have to think about what people would wear, and how to design it in a way that will work for a shirt.

Your work feels cheeky, feminist, and witty. If you had to say it in one message, what is it?

I do try to explore feminism as much as I can. I’ve always tended to lean towards more male-dominated fields. I have a degree in film, which was highly dominated by males, as well as a minor in playing guitar, which was also highly dominated by males. Being an artist creating more alternative artwork and merchandise, I’m also surrounded by a lot of other successful brands created by males. I’ve also gotten some flak for promoting feminist messages in my work, which is exactly the reason why I keep doing it. I believe in equality in gender, race, beliefs, etc. People are people and no one should be treated differently for the way they look or for what gender they are. I think feminism in my work is part of a bigger message of just being able to be authentically yourself without having any fear of doing so.

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“Trash Dive” by Tragic Girls

What are your greatest influences? I sense 1950s and ‘60s horror-flick posters, pop artists like Roy Lichtenstein, and pinup photography.

Yes, all of those. Roy Lichtenstein was probably the very first huge influence on my style. I love retro horror and sci-fi posters as well as comic books. The funny thing is that in a lot of those retro comics I draw inspiration from, the female characters are often very helpless and are waiting for a man to save them. So I love taking those tropes and turning them around and making the woman strong and badass. Same thing with pinups, I love taking the feminine aspects of pinup illustrations but combining them with a bit of dark humor to keep it unexpected.

I love your “Maybe She’s Born with It…” t-shirt. What kind of inner world of women do you hope to show with your art?

I really just want to show an honest depiction of what I feel and what I think so many other women feel, whether that involves talking about depression and anxiety, social norms, feminism, body image, among other things. Women aren’t just pretty things to look at. We’re radical beings who come in many different shapes and forms. We can do whatever we set our minds to and we can be whoever we want to be.

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“Smile More” by Tragic Girls

What are your top three bestsellers on Threadless? And why do you think that is?

Currently my three bestsellers are “Get Away from Me,” “Lightning Bolts,” and “Wearing is Caring.” I’ve put a lot of work into my mask designs on Threadless because I really want to promote being safe and caring about others during this pandemic. I think a lot of people can take what they have for granted, and with these designs—especially “Wearing is Caring”—I just want to remind people to think about how their actions affect others and how easy it is to be caring and considerate by putting on a mask. You can literally help save lives by doing so and I think that is a very powerful thing that resonates with people.

What do you have coming up, art-wise or otherwise?

Currently, I’ve been hard at work creating my winter apparel line, part of which has already dropped. There are a few more items on the way. I’ve also honestly been taking some time to focus on my mental health, which I think is very important for everyone. Life can get really crazy and stressful, especially with everything that has been happening in the world around us this year. It’s okay to take time to be nice to yourself!