This blog post can be alternatively titled “Amanda Learns To Use a DSLR”. Enjoy.
I arrived at the beautiful Ukrainian cultural center at 10:30am to set up.
When I found my table it was directly under THIS dreamy stage.
I wish there was an award given out for jankiest presentation. I would win every year.
I immediately got antsy after putting down my stuff and went to visit my neighbors.
I found one of my FAVES Cassie J.Sneider.
If you haven’t read her book Fine Fine Music yet, you should be bummed at yourself.
Cassie is touring with Nicole J. Georges. Her new book Calling Dr. Laura is SO INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL.
Then I checked out the Library Sciences table.
I LOVE ESTHER PEARL WATSON.
Then I cruised over to this cool table because they were selling Shotgun Seamstress zine.
and you can’t pass up DUM DUM Zine!
and went over to the AMAZING Alex G.‘s table (I took a picture of him and his cute friends but it was too blurry to live.)
and got back to my table just in time to make an excellent trade with this rad chick!
Her zine looks like this:
All in all, it was a great day. Fully crowded the whole time.
with a line snaking around the building.
ALL RICH PEOPLE SHOULD DONATE TO THIS EVENT!
(and a thank you to L.Shell for letting me stay at her VERY cute house)
Carrie Leilam Love is a writer and community artist from Oakland, California. She will be performing at Radar Productions’ presentation of Hear Me Roar: A night of queer/feminist hip hop literature and spoken word on February 15th, 2013, at the La Pena Cultural Center.
How did you find your voice as a writer?
I’m still looking! Seriously though, I didn’t choose writing, writing chose me. If I could choose, I would have chosen something with paid vacation and good insurance. I was just so full of angst and fervor the only thing I could do was become a writer.
How does living in the San Francisco area influence your work?
My characters use the word “Hella” a lot.
Which writers have inspired you the most and why?
Toni Morrison, because without her I wouldn’t understand the emotional truth of the black experience. Gayl Jones because she taught me everything I know about subtext. Lucy Maude Montgomery because I always want to feel as much wonder and hope as a little white girl in Edwardian Canada. James Baldwin because JAMES EFFING BALDWIN. I could go on…
What projects are you working on now?
A collection of short stories called “Dictionary for Lost Women,” two untitled novels, a curatorial project on gentrification called Oakland in Exile, a photo project on RIP tattoos, and a community arts project in SF’s Bayview called THIS is WHERE: The History of Now, where participants claim space by telling personal stories attached to place. Plus one or two other things.
Discuss some of your thoughts on cultural representation and the responsibility of artists
DO YOU HAVE ALL DAY???? The short version is: If you are an artist, assume that you are not the expert on anything but yourself. If you are going to represent someone who is not from your background – and hopefully at some point you are, because staying 100% in your own cultural wheelhouse is stifling – assume that you will need to educate yourself and humbly ask for guidance.
If someone from another culture gets mad at you because they don’t like your representation, especially if it’s a culture or affinity group with less privilege in our society than yours, don’t preach to them about why you’re one of the good guys. Listen instead.
But really, all of this is less important than making sure that you contribute to creating and supporting space for all people to tell their own stories! Because when people are respected as authorities of their own experience, representations by outsiders lose their privileged status and become just part of the texture of overall representation, which is how it should be, if you ask me. And you did!
What is The Ephemory Project and how did it get started?
The Ephemory Project is a transparent container where we can store our grief without hiding it away. It’s a website where people can post pictures of themselves with a message or significant object related to the loss of a loved one to violence.
I started the website because my brother was murdered the same week Oscar Grant was killed by BART police – I grew up in an activist family and the only thing I could think of to address my personal grief as someone’s sister and my cultural grief around the constant violence against black bodies was DO SOMETHING.
What is WritersCorps and what is your current involvement there?
WritersCorps is a program of the San Francisco Arts Commission and it places professional writers in public spaces to teach creative writing to youth. I am currently the Bayview Community Artist in Residence, establishing a pilot literary arts program for youth. I’m really excited about this work! You can find out all about it here: http://www.sfartscommission.org/WC/events/this-is-where/
Occasionally I write punk rock or mean-nasty blues lyrics and then try to put them to music with my girlfriend who is amazing at playing the guitar. She is wholesome and peppy by nature and finds my lyrics either offensive or depressing so usually we end up deciding to make sushi instead before we finish anything.
What are your plans for the future?
- Take care of that “Failure to Appear” warrant
- Finish a manuscript
- Serve the people of Oakland as their Mayor. Which may mean I will actually be the mayor of Antioch or Pittsburgh the way things are going.
of her writing can be found online at femmetheory.com and she has also
been a Guest Blogger for Ironing Board Collective.
Myriam Gurba is one of the most fearless writers I know. Today’s fucked up Gertrude Stein. I’m so glad that she will be writing regularly for the RADAR blog.
I’m a one-i’d Myriam.
Usually, Myriams are two-i’d, Miriams, but my parents spelled me cycloptically, so in that vein, welcome to One-i’d, my arts and literature column. Arts and literature share an i, and literature gets it, which means that this column will probably be more about words than the other arts. I gotta give my i a rest.
I wasn’t born here, but my similarly-sexed lover, our rabbits, an iguana, and I live in Long Beach, California. It’s home to many homos and one mighty Queen Mary. Snoop Dogg is our unconfirmed poet laureate and one of the first Gays to openly serve in American local government was one of our natives. In 1933, Los Angelenos voted Earl C. Gay to their city council. Haters attempted a recall but the Gay kept his office.
If this doesn’t paint a queer enough picture of my community, then maybe some more detail will help. Our airport abbreviates as LGB. We’re still lobbying to get the T,Q, and I added. Also, our tap water will turn you out. As evidence, I cite that tennis lez Billie Jean King, queer chanteur Frank Ocean, and Runaways’ drummer Sandy West were variously born and hydrated here.
Since LGBTQIs abound in the LGB(TQI), some queerish lit shit goes on around town, some of it in my living room, some of it in my bathroom. However, having been Facebookishly invited by Alistair McCartney, a writer and faculty member at Antioch University, to come get my word on in Culver City, I cancelled my Tuesday night therapy appointment (I always see the sex offender hiding in therapist), switched off my coffee pot, locked my classroom door and double-checked it, ignored my adamant gas light, and zipped up the 405, to Literary Uprising.
Now, I gotta confess that for some unpinpointable reason, it had entered into my imagination that Antioch was an old-fashioned correspondence school. I visualized the campus as a mailbox and I visualized the faculty as a man checking the mailbox, and with these postal visions conjuring the refreshing yet somehow bulimic flavor of stamps, I pulled off the freeway and coasted into the mouth of the prison industrial parking complex my internet directions guided me to.
So far, no mailbox.
Schweddy and schlepping a little basket of my freshly stapled chapbooks, yes, I use every chance I can to pimp my work, I minced out of the garage and up a semi-epic flight of concrete steps that tempted me to reenact scenes out of Rocky. Had my father been there, he would’ve encouraged me.
We would’ve shouted, “Adrian!” together.
Since I was alone, and like a white rabbit, running late, I resisted.
At the top of the mount, I desperately thought bad words. I realized I’d left the paper with the event information in the car and scanning, I saw no mailbox. Only trees, pavement, and buildings blanketed in early nightfall.
I looked around for a spirit guide. Two men who seemed likely friends of Dorothy fit this bill.
“Hi!” I told them. “You guys know if Literary Uprising is happening around here?”
“He’s reading at that!” one said. He pointed at his shorter companion.
This one pointed at a building I couldn’t see for the trees and said, “It’s going to be right over there. Next Tuesday.”
My eyebrows bumped nasties with my hairline. “You’re kidding me.”
The performer-to-be shook his head.
“I’m a week early?”
“You were really excited to see me!”
Having arrived seven days early to Literary Uprising, I felt I deserved a combination reward/flogging. Sort of like a Pizza Hut/Taco Bell.
In an anti-rush, I descended back to the little hell where my Honda was parked and decided to take a picture of myself. I call it Portrait of a Hyper-Punctual Lesbian.
I hopped back into my ride, zipped back onto the 405, and pulled off at a mall that honors obsessive-compulsive disorder, the Howard Hughes Center. I was drawn there by the pull of Nordstrom Rack’s discounted designer shoes. This would be my reward. This is how I would honor my hyper-punctuality.
Again, another flight of Rockyesque steps to the shoes and then a sign blocking a door that would give me access: WE APOLOGIZE. NORDSTROM RACK WILL CLOSE EARLY THIS EVENING ONLY. WE WILL RESUME NORMAL BUSINESS HOURS TOMORROW NIGHT. THANK YOU FOR YOUR HYPERPUNCTUALITY.
I decided it was best to return to the LGB(TQI) since the universe was conspiring against me.
Stay tuned for the next installment of One-I’d to learn if I ever make it to Literary Uprising.
Not to brag, but I was a big fan of Nicole J Georges’ debut graphic novel Calling Dr. Laura before it even came out, having heard her read from it in-progress on the Sister Spit tour and working alongside her at the Radar LAB. But having it in my actual hands is a whole other experience. Nicole’s story of learning the truth about her supposedly dead father is epic, and alongside the charming illustrations of daily life in Portland – a life that includes dogs and chickens and karaoke and cheating girlfriends – is deeper delving into the sort of family secrets that aren’t so much secrets as things no one is allowed to talk about. It’s a brilliant novel of revelations, a totally gripping read and a courageous creation. You will feel so many feelings! Here is a lookbook. Catch Nicole tonight at RADAR!
See Nicole J Georges tonight at RADAR at the San Francisco Public Library, with T Cooper, Arisa White and Amrit Donaldson. 6pm, free.
Poet Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow who went to grad school at UMass/Amherst and has been a guest at writers’ gatherings and residencies including the Prague Summer Program, the Fine Arts Work Center in Ptown and Bread Loaf. Her debut poetry collection, Hurrah’s Nest, was nominated for a NAACP Image Award, and she’s going to be at RADAR tomorrow! Let’s talk to her right now.
Michelle Tea: What does it feel like to have a poem come to you?
Arisa White: Like a triangular burst of sunshine, above my stomach, between my breasts. No breath, just light. The rhythm of the words. The edge of the image shaping itself with color, with mortar, with action. Then it subsides and all of me feels like a cradle, like I have something to give and so I write.
MT: Do you feel you need particular conditions to have a poem come to you?
AS: I need relaxation, quiet. Sometimes noise or movement. What I know is that a poem can come to me at any time so I make sure to have something to write with and write on.
MT: What is the first poem you can remember reading?
AW: Nikki Rosa by Nikki Giovanni. Not only did I read it, I memorized it, and recited it in my 9th grade English class.
MT: What is the last poem you read?
AW: Bianca Sprigg’s “The ________of the Universe.” Phrases of it will be tattooed on bodies of 200-plus Kentuckians for free. It is called The Lexington Tattoo Project—Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorva, professors at Transylvania University, commissioned Bianca to write this poem and they will take photos of all the tattoos and use them to create a short film. So my encounter with the poem was first by seeing her words on people’s bodies, through these photographs. I think this idea is brilliant and we should do something like it in the Bay Area. When poetry comes alive in this way, crossing disciplines, becoming a lived experience, something as intimate as your skin, I become invigorated, wanting to do my craft.
MT: Who have been the biggest influences on your writing?
MT: What do you think is the hardest part of being a poet / writer?
AW: Having to validate my existence, prove that I am relevant, necessary, that I have a place in our culture, that people really do read and love poetry, and no, I will not recite a poem for you!
MT: What is your sign?
AW: Pisces, on the Aries cusp. Fire fish. Smoke. Lava. Scorpio rising. Sag moon.
MT: Do you enjoy public readings or are they a necessary evil?
AW: I do enjoy readings, especially when I’m not periodic.
MT: What are you obsessed with right now?
AW: With not trying to stress out. I want to be 24-7 chill but haven’t figured out how to get there yet. (I think it doesn’t exist.:-)
MT: What is your best writing habit and what is your worst habit that interferes with writing?
AW: I keep a notebook with me at all times. I spend too much time buying notebooks and not enough time writing in them.
MT: Will you talk a little about your recent honor from the NAACP? How it came about and its effect on you?
AW: My debut collection, Hurrah’s Nest, was nominated for a 44th NAACP Image Award—other nominees in the category for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry are Natasha Trethewey, U.S. Poet Laureate, and National Poetry Series winner, Marcus Wicker. I’m sharing the ticket with some nice poets and this is quite exciting. I didn’t think much of what would come of sending my book off to the NAACP back in the fall, but when I found out my book was nominated, I did scream. Like a baby dinosaur. The NAACP is a historical institution—I read about it in history books and now I will be recognized as contributing to the advancement of colored people! Ha. This is sweet surrealism and I’m not sure what are the effects.
Arisa White reads tomorrow, February 6th, at The RADAR Reading Series at the San Francisco Public Library, Latino Reading Room, 6pm, Free. With Nicole J Georges, T Cooper and Amrit Donaldson.
Amanda Verwey interviews Simon Sotelo and Meredith Wallace.
L.A. Zine Fest is my ultimate favorite of all the zine fests I’ve ever attended. It was the most crowded, had all my favorite tablers, and is organized by an incredible group of women who are dedicated to proselytizing the zine word YEAR ROUND! Organizers Meredith Wallace and Simon Sotelo took time out of their insane schedules to talk to me about L.A. Zine Fest 2013 at the Ukrainian Cultural Center on February 17th. I will be there again this year and every year thereafter!!!
Verwey: Where did you guys meet and how did you start working together?
Sotelo:We met in a very small world. I put on a bunch of illustrated book events at Meltdown Comics with my friend JT Steiny, and Meredith was working at Meltdown plus hosting small zine related events as False-Start Distro and she wanted to work with us and host more DIY related events.
MEANWHILE, shemoved into my apartment building, right next door! I remember going to her house warming party and not really talking to her but we eventually hung out for the first time at our neighbors place.
Wallace:I had just moved into a house in Highland Park shortly before I put on a mini-zine fest style event at Meltdown Comics. I had only known Simon as “the girl down the hall with the Pete & Pete tattoo” at that point, but I think it was around the time of my event that we realized that we hadnot only a shared interest in DIY and self-publishing, but we also had friends in common. One of the friends we had in common, Rhea, I had met at her “Zine Club” she held at the craft center she worked at. I was the only person who ever showed up! But I’m so glad I did. Eventually we started having ice cream and wine fueled workshop brainstorming sessions, along with two other ziney ladies I met, Bianca and Eryca, and the rest is history! So you really have butter pecan ice cream and Carlo Rossi to thank for putting the ideas for LA Zine Fest into our heads!
Verwey: How did LA Zinefest start? Where did the idea come from?
Sotelo: The five of us started when Meltdown asked us to do more “zine stuff” so we had a venue for workshops, movie screenings and anything we could think of that related to DIY. However, because Meltdown was giving us their space for free it was hard to get solid dates but us operating as DIY collective was already really strong and our think tanks usually lead to events that sounded like a zine fest and we asked ourselves, “why hasn’t there been a zine fest in L.A. in ten years? If no one else is making it happen we should! It shouldn’t be too hard, right?”
Wallace: When Eryca came on board, she gave us the nudge needed to think bigger. We knew a lot of people in LA made zines or comics, but the community felt really disconnected because there was no event for self-publishers to gather at, show off their work and meet new collaborators. Once it clicked with us that a zine fest in Los Angeles would really fill a void, we knew we had to do it. There was no point in waiting for anyone else to!
Verwey: I noticed that it’s all ladies organizing the event- is that deliberate?
Wallace: No, I don’t think it was deliberate! It just worked out that way. We do have some rad dudes who collaborate on events with us or help out behind the scenes, but aren’t official organizers. We totally welcome anyone who wants to get involved!
Sotelo: No, in the very beginning we left our meetings open to anyone who wanted to help us organize the zine fest, and we had a lot of people step forward to help us and offer up advice.
Verwey: False_start was such a great zine distribution site. Your book descriptions were THE BEST! Is it ever coming back?
Wallace: Thank you so much! The funny thing is, one of the reasons why I named my distro False Start (besides it being the name of a great Bikini Kill jam) was because I had no idea how long the project would last before I killed it! I started the distro as a method of maintaining my sanity while being unemployed and going through a tough time, so when I got a full time job and started organizing LA Zine Fest, there was just no free time left in the day to run it any longer. I don’t think False Start will ever come back in the same exact form, but that passion for buying and selling amazing zines and small press publications will always be in me. Next time there’s a lull in my life, you’ll see a new project from me. I can’t stop myself!
Sotelo: It lives on in our hearts, minds, and the internet. i think.
Verwey: Meredith- You work at the Getty now- what do you do there?
Wallace: I’m currently working on a book digitization project. We’ve been photographing and scanning any public domain books that we have in our library here and uploading them online for the public to access for free. The Getty is somewhat of an exclusive place, where access to seeing these books in person is often limited to scholars and academics. What I like about working on this project, besides access to truly amazing rare books and manuscripts, is that it’s all about making knowledge accessible to everyone, for free.
Verwey: Are you working on any zines?
Wallace: I’m currently not working on any zines, but I have some ideas cooking in my head. We’ll see!
Verwey: Simon- You’re an amazing illustrator! Where can people see your work? Are you for hire?
Sotelo: To put it simply, you can find my work at www.HireSimon.com. I’d like to think that I’m really nice to work with.
Verwey: Any projects/shows/events besides LA Zine Fest that you’re working on now?
Sotelo: In October I had a gallery show in New Mexico and right now I’m trying to find the time to finish up some illustrations for a really fantastic jewelry line, Classic Hardware, who mainly hires illustrators and fine artist to make images.
Verwey: Who are some of your favorite artists that should be more famous than they are?
Sotelo: Dustin Garcia’s comics are well worth checking out! JT Steiny doesn’t want to be famous. Walt Gorecki is ab-fantastic. Champoy Hate will change your life. A tattoo by Drea Durazo has bragging rights. Adam Roth is unforgettable. Damn this isn’t fair. There are too many to name.
Wallace: This is a tough question! The first two that popped into my head are two artists that will be tabling at LAZF 2013. Adam Roth and Britt Sanders are two awesome illustrators who also do zines and comics. Adam’s work reminds me a little bit of Matt Furie’s, who’s another favorite of mine. I’m really excited to see some of Britt’s new comics this year. I’m only familiar with her illustrations and prints, so I’m pumped to see how her aesthetic works in sequential form. I have a feeling it’s gonna be good.
LOS ANGELES ZINE FEST EXHIBITOR TO WATCH OUT FOR: NICOLE J GEORGES!!!
I’ve read every issue of Nicole Georges’ autobiographical zine Invincible Summer and was SO EXCITED for the release of Calling Dr. Laura. It’s one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever read- with painstakingly beautiful drawings that match her pitch-perfect writing. I’ll be front and center for her RADAR reading this Wednesday, February 6th at the San Francisco Public Library. DON’T MISS OUT OR YOU WILL BE SO BUMMED!
AND ANOTHER THING! Speaking of women artists and comics and the public library- The Wimmen’s Comix 40th Anniversary Retrospective at the San Francisco Public Library is closing on February 7th. I consider this exhibition a MUST SEE so PLEASE don’t miss it. Wimmen’s Comix, started in 1972, marked the first time women had total autonomy over comic publishing by running the serial publication as a women’s collective with rotating editorship. The art and writing is phenomenal, and each cartoonist represented is a total super star in my mind. CHECK IT OUT!
We’ve all heard the feminist mantra “the personal is political,” but writer Thomas Page McBee is breathing new life into that old dictum. McBee advocates for the transformative power of personal narrative in his published work and public lectures (I wrote about a presentation I saw him give at the University of Chicago here.) Since I find him both eloquent and inspiring, I asked McBee some questions about his writing, philosophy, fashion, and future plans for the RADAR Blog.
How did you get your start as a writer?
My third grade teacher was this spark plug, silver-haired woman named Mrs. Nichols, and she’d insist we write poetry almost every class period. She’d send some of her favorites via fax to her daughter, a soap opera star in New York—it was all very glamorous. Some of my only memories from a very difficult childhood are looking up through the leaves of a Dogwood tree, writing away, and then occasionally being led down the long hallway to the teacher’s lounge, where Mrs. Nichols would send my work, as if by magic, to this famous person in New York.
What current projects are you working on?
I write freelance for a variety of publications; my work is in or forthcoming in TheAtlantic.com, Salon, VICE, the UTNE Reader, and others. I teach fiction to undergrads, work as an editor at Boston’s alt-weekly, and speak about media and gender narratives at colleges across the country.
I write a column about gender and othering and identity for The Rumpus called “Self-Made Man.” That started early last year as a way to use my transition to talk about masculinity and becoming in a different, more complicated way than the more mainstream narratives you see about trans folks, and masculinity in general. Now I think it’s grown to be about so many things, and so many different people from different contexts and experiences relate to it, that I realize it’s actually about just becoming a whole person. I think that’s all I’m interested in, anyway—what it means to be here, now. I’m so curious about meaning and narrative, and also when meaning and narrative fall short, and just creating a container to hold the fundamental contradictions of being alive.
Describe the book project you are working on now
I am writing a memoir, This Fragile Fortress, and I’m working with my agent on revisions at this moment. It starts in 2010, when I was held at gunpoint and then released by a man who went on to shoot two people in the course of similar robberies (killing one of them). My reaction to the experience was to fall back in love with my body, and in doing so, go on this big journey where I faced down my father, the man who mugged me, and my fears about being a man, and led to my transition.
Talk a little bit about what it means to you to be a “self-made man”
At some point, in seeking healthy models of masculinity, I realized that the only way I could transition was to use my heart as a compass. So much about masculine standards of behavior troubled me, and so I had to find myself from the inside-out, not the outside-in. What I’ve learned since I started chronicling this experience publicly is that my experience is universal. Whether it’s gender identity or something else, authenticity starts when you choose to not be defined by expectation. I’ve since met men—cis and trans—that I respect, but I’m almost 32. I’m not at the point of my life where I needed a role model of masculinity, I needed to be my own role model. That’s what I’ve been, and so I’m self-made.
And, of course, it’s a reference to the American ideal of being “self-made” and the way I construct myself, in some ways, with the help of needles and hormones. But we’re all self-made, I think, except for those of us who allow ourselves to be made by others.
Explain your theory of radical vulnerability and how you express it in your writing
I think radical vulnerability is going towards what makes you uncomfortable, and finding bravery there. I’m interested in messy aspects of life, I find vitality in really being here in the most complicated moments. I’ve never lived a simple, straightforward existence. So I write what I know, and I believe that being vulnerable isn’t this horrible exposure meant to be avoided at all costs, but a way of being present to the reader and the work, and encouraging a dynamic that hopefully find the reader being present to herself. It’s strength, and it’s where my resilience has always lived.
I owe so much to the honesty of other writers. Growing up, books were my best friends. People who deride art as navel-gazing must never have been lonely and found themselves, even briefly, in someone else’s words.
Who are your greatest literary heroes?
Stylists who are also truth-tellers, like Truman Capote circa, In Cold Blood, which is such a brave book that I think is vastly underappreciated. I admire people who show up for the reader, who offer a part of themselves without asking for anything in return, which is a kind of deep love for humankind. I mean fiction writers like Tim O’Brien, Haruki Murakami, and Mary Shelley (who taught us all something profound with her Frankenstein), but I also mean Carl Jung, whose very personal work is so important to how I understand myself. Then there’s Nick Flynn, and of course Michelle Tea, who I’m lucky to know, and who has always brought an electric honesty to her work. Zadie Smith brings intellect and heart together in such uneasy, human ways. I also admire writers who have critical distance, who can comment on the world in a way I can’t: Joan Didion, Jennifer Egan. And, leaving a million others out, I can say that a vast majority of what gets published on The Rumpus feels really vital to me, and a lot of the writers there are heroic in the truest sense.
Why do you feel that personal narrative has broader cultural significance and social impact?
The obvious answer is that telling marginalized stories proves the universal, and I believe that. But I think it’s so much deeper than that. Yes, I might be the only trans person a reader knows—or even the only man who’s modeling a particular kind of masculinity. That’s great, and hopefully that changes their behavior at the voter booth or make them reconsider their own gender identities or treat people differently, and that’s absolutely important to me.
But to broaden it out further, I think people need to be moved in order to be their full selves. Empathy and engagement—especially when someone is radically different than you and/or when you feel invisible or marginalized, creates a shift down in our core. I was watching this documentary on PBS the other night, and in it they said researchers have traced our mood at any moment to our interactions throughout the day—people’s feelings are literally, measurably contagious. But what’s amazing is it’s not just the feelings of the people you engage with that influence you—it’s their friends, and their friends’ friends. They had to go back to folks that are four times removed to not see any effect on the original subject. How you feel right now is affecting a huge swath of your community. I think what we read and witness creates a similar ripple effect.
So I look at that, and I think personal narrative doesn’t just bring understanding and visibility and connection to readers and writers alike, it has the power to create lasting change in the fundamentals of how we treat each other. And if my work does even a little to eradicate shame and isolation, then it’s deeply worthwhile.
Do you think that reading about your trans experience helps other people (including cis-men) reflect critically about their gender identities?
I hope so. I certainly receive emails from cis-men and cis-women, as well as trans folks, who say as much. I’m not myopic in my beliefs by any means, and I think we all have to find our own way home. But I do believe presenting alternative models of being in the world, and doing so to audiences outside of my particular gender experience, can be a really exciting, powerful thing.
One of my favorite reader stories was a young cis-man who played football growing up, was in a frat, etc. and so on, and found himself ultimately by shedding his own masculine expectations, and how liberating and freeing it was to just be his own man, without the rules. I loved hearing his story, and I love making stories like ours visible, and connected. I have way more common with him than I do most people of any gender.
How did you become involved with the blog Ironing Board Collective?
A few years ago, Michelle Tea, Leo Plass, my not-wife, Michael Braithwaite, and I got frustrated about the lack of fashion blogs that spoke to us. There were tons of them up right then, and none of them had an aesthetic we connected to. So we started there, just writing without any real limitations or overarching concepts. We just wrote what we liked.
Over time, we brought on Carrie Leilam Love, and then a series of guest bloggers including you, and we moved organically more and more toward looking at the ways style and culture intersect. But we also had folks do elaborate photo shoots, gift guides, and interviews. So I think we just got smart, stylish people together, and that’s what happened.
We never branded ourselves as queer, though sometimes other people did, and many of our writers probably self-identify as such. But we just wanted a space for our friends to explore fashion as identity—in all its problematic and glorious iterations.
Why do you feel that fashion transcends being merely frivolous or consumerist?
Because we style ourselves into becoming. Because fashion is communication, and even art. Because embodying my physicality has been my life’s work, and it’s a spiritual process. Because it’s a privilege to be able to show up in the world looking how I want to look, and I never forget it.
What are you most excited about in the next year?
So much! My book should be done by the spring, so I’m really excited to see where that takes me. I’m figuring out who I am, and where I’m going, and my life is taking a shape, a narrative, that I finally understand. It’s not been the easiest couple of years, but I’ve found meaning, and so much more, in the life I live, and my work has been such a huge part of that. This summer I’m getting a tattoo of Dogwood branches, of the view from down below, looking up through them. Writing led me into the world, and it’s not too much to say that it’s also brought me back to myself. So I’m so grateful for it all, and I’m looking forward to everything, even the hard parts.
In Real Man Adventures, T Cooper interrogates and explores his experiences of being a trans man, both personally and in community. A collection of essays and interviews, dotted with clip art, it is a book with the feel of a ‘zine – uber-personal, unafraid to expose self-doubt and fear, illustrated with hand-drawn graphs and photos. The book is threaded with haiku-like six-word memoirs, actual haikus, interviews with the parents of his trans male friends, tributes to admired writers, pictures of shirtless trans men with unicorn heads, lists of short men, an in-depth investigation to when men pee sitting down and why, and interviews with his own wife and brother. It is by turns absurdly hilarious and upsetting (the piece about trying to get a passport captures that gamut of emotion perfectly), and here is a Lookbook I made for it:
Hear T Cooper at the RADAR Reading Series Wednesday, February 6th with Nicole J Georges, Amrit Donaldson and Arisa White. San Francisco Public Library, Latino Reading Room, 6pm, Free.
Janelle Hessig was the first person to pop into my head when considering who to feature in my inaugural Monday art blog! She’s one of my all-time favorite cartoonists and one of the funniest ladies I know (and I know A LOT of funny ladies). Janelle is a comic/zine artist, musician, animator and Marketing Director for Last Gasp! I love her and you will too!
Verwey: You’ve been making zines/comic books since 1991?
Hessig: I published the first issue of Tales of Blarg with my friend, Hollie, in 1990. We made a fanzine in art class instead of making bongs like most of the other bad kids did.
Verwey: Why did you start?
Hessig: I’ve been writing stories and making comics for as long as I can remember. I still have copies of comics I made when I was a little kid. In my teens and early 20′s, making fanzines was a way to connect with (aka hit on) people. Nowadays, it’s mostly a compulsion to make jokes and tell stories.
Verwey: I heard you used to sell your books out of those newspaper coin boxes. True or lie?
Hessig: Halfsies. In the mid-90′s, me and my old housemate Jeff published a one-page monthly house newsletter called “Jank”(which had regular features like House Guest reviews). I’m a wuss about stealing things, but Jeff was a true genius at thievery. He stole because he could and he was good at it – caviar, the Madonna Sex book, fashion magazines – and once a newspaper box. He spray painted it silver and we set it on a corner in downtown Berkeley, near the BART station, which was our main stomping grounds back then. We kept it stocked with copies of Jank. They were free, though, no coin box.
Verwey: When will you make another Tales of Blarg??!!!
Hessig: When I find a big sack of money in the street and can stop working so many jobs all the time. I’m less productive at home and can’t afford a studio so it would also help if I could find a decent coffee shop/hidey hole in Oakland where I can work. I have simple coffee shop needs – no bullshitty communal tables or dumb counters with tall stools. No cattle call, fighting for a table like it’s dollar days at Target. Somewhere a person can drink good or ‘ok’ coffee and draw butts and not be bothered.
Verwey: How do you feel your zines have changed over the years?
Hessig: On the plus side, I can draw better now and have a better sense of design. On the negative side, I’m less oblivious and self-centered than I was in the early years, so I refrain from telling a lot of great stories because I don’t want to exploit anyone or hurt their feelings. BORING.
Verwey: Tell me your fave Gilman memory.
Hessig: I have a lot of them! Every time I saw Bikini Kill. Every time I saw Blatz. When The Queers dedicated the song “I Can’t Stop Farting” to me. When I barfed in George Hated’s pocket. When me and Hollie almost got kidnapped. Drinking in the bathroom. Drinking in the bushes. A lot of making out. I miss making out with strangers.
Verwey: What’s the story behind THIS:
Hessig: Instead of the typical ‘dude writes pop song about girl’, Bratmobile thought it was cooler for girls to write songs about other girls. So they wrote an answer song to the ‘Janelle’ song that Ben Weasel wrote/Born Against recorded. In the “Real Roxanne/Real Janelle” parallel – I guess that makes Born Against UTFO and Bratmobile Roxanne Shante. This was in 1994. Maybe I will stop hearing about it in 2024. 2054? Maybe it will be on my tombstone?
Verwey: You lived in a house- I think it was on 54th street (?)- for about a million years, right? That place always seemed like a revolving door of interesting roommates and weirdo houseguests- what was living there like? Who were some of your memorable roommates/guests?
Hessig: That was just one out of the teeming heap of punk houses I’ve lived in. I don’t know if 54th St even qualified as a “punk house” because there were a lot of fancy products in the bathroom and we had cable. The best era of that house was near the beginning when it was a stable line-up of housemates for years and it was like family. We had parties where we threw dummies off the roof and did whip-its in the bathtub. We had really cute Christmases like when Jonny Makeup came over and sang Mariah Carey songs through a toy microphone Christmas tree face. There were always a lot of funny pranks, pathos, and hi-jinx, catching roommates trying to sneak one-night stands out the window, having fake potlucks, playing made-up games like “Guess who’s under the blanket?”. It was a golden era. Good times and bad times – I’m glad it’s over and I wish it never ended.
Verwey: When did you start animating? Is it as hard as it looks?!?!
Hessig: I went to SFSU for Film and Animation in 2006. Animating is really hard. It takes a long, long time. I thought maybe I would make some big bucks doing it, but I really hate that industry standard 3D animation. It looks ugly and I’m bad at it. Of course I wound up gravitating towards hand drawn and stop motion animating which is extremely labor intensive and you can’t really get a job doing that stuff.
Check out Janelle’s animations HERE!
Verwey: You’re also a musician- what do you play? What bands are you/were you in?
Hessig: I started playing drums in punk bands when I was about 15. I’ve been a lot of bands you’ve never heard of: Clit Wrex, The Clams, The Tourettes, Baby Jail, Panty Raid, Rat Attack, The Help, Suburban Bitch, Dirty Charlie, etc, etc. Right now I’m playing in a band called Wet Spots.
Verwey: I know you’ve illustrated a lot of record covers and flyers- can you do a quick roll call off the top of your head of bands you’ve worked with?
Hessig: I’ve done zillions of flyers. There’s no way to remember. I’ve done cover art for Raooul, Midnite Snaxx, Bobby Joe Ebola, The Criminals, The Knock-Ups, and some others.
Verwey: When did you start working at Last Gasp? What’s it like?
Hessig: This is my third time working at Last Gasp since 1997. These days I’m the Marketing Director. Last Gasp is a genuine freak sanctuary steeped in SF underground publishing history. They published my all-time favorite comics anthology, Weirdo, and also Dori Seda, and tons of other great stuff. I get to be surrounded by mountains of great books and art all the time. Ron has a gallery in back that’s like a combo of the best museum and thrift store you ever saw – vintage freak show posters, original art from J Bradley Johnson & R Crumb, taxidermy two-headed cows, Elton John pinball. It’s nice that there’s a job that utilizes so much of my unique skill set – vast comic book knowledge, video editing, publishing, event organizing, writing, design, etc. I get to be myself and I get to be creative and I get to work hard for people that I care about. It’s a good gig. I love them.
Verwey: What projects are you working on now?
Hessig: I’ve been doing a lot of freelance stuff for other people, but I’m trying to do less of that now so that I can start putting together a new Blarg. I’d like to get back to working on my book which was going to be a collection of both old and new stuff. I feel like my eyeballs might go on strike when I look at some of that old stuff, though.
Verwey: Who are some of your favorite artists that should be more famous than they are?
Hessig: Liz Suburbia, Dawn Frasch, Vanessa Davis, Nikki Burch, Chris Cilla, Lizz Hickey, Cassie J. Sneider, Mats?!, Avi Spivak, Jay Howell, Skinner. Dead people like Shawn Kerri and Dori Seda. This could be a really long list.
And if you wanna hang out with Janelle and I in REAL LIFE, we’re organizing a book signing for Hi-Fructose Magazine Box Set Edition 3 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Feb. 5. (Look at Janelle’s awesome promotional video HERE)
Shawna Elizabeth is a PhD Candidate specializing in Queer Theory. Some
of her writing can be found online at femmetheory.com and she has also
been a Guest Blogger for Ironing Board Collective
She is originally from Canada.
Over the next few months Nicole J. Georges, zinester, illustrator, and pet portrait artist extraordinaire will be leaving her home in Portland, Oregon to tour extensively in support of her recently published graphic novel memoir Calling Dr. Laura. Nicole took some time out before her whirlwind reading schedule to answer some questions for the RADAR Blog.
When did you start making autobiographical comics?
I believe my first autobiographical comics were in high school. I drew comics about my teenage life living with Beija (who is still my live-in muse). I drew them using really thin Crayola markers on a stupid Crayola pad. I published those in my zine at the time, which was embarassingly called “Kitten Breath”.
I started doing Invincible Summer, my long-standing autobiographical comic, in 2000, when I moved to Portland. I do NOT use Crayola markers any more, but I do still draw comics about myself and Beija. (Note: Beija is Nicole’s beagle/corgi/shar pei mix).
What are the advantages of storytelling and documenting your life in this medium?
I am able to draw scenarios much more quickly and efficiently than I would be able to write them. It is easier for me to draw the expressions of everyone in the room reacting to something than it would be for me to write an entire page describing what each person was wearing and how their faces looked when they heard this or that.
What other autobiographical comics, or graphic novel memoirs have inspired you?
Daddy’s Girl by Debbie Drechsler, Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner, and anything by Julie Doucet. I am excited for Geneviève Castrée’s new book, which will undoubtedly be a new inspiration. I love her work.
Explain some of the work you do teaching others to use zines and comic strips as a form of self-expression and documentation. Why do you feel this is important for you as an artist and educator?
I teach children and adults about comics and zines as my day job. I am a teaching artist, going into elementary and middle schools, and I also teach adults for a good portion of the year through the Independent Publishing Resource Program’s Comic Certificate Program.
I believe in empowerment through self-expression.
With young people, I want to introduce them to the idea that comics don’t have to be fiction, or about super-heroes, and that their lives are interesting and unique. Creating media that reflects your viewpoint, and sharing that media with the world, can be life changing for those who discover it.
I remember the first time I saw a picture of lesbians with buzz-cuts kissing in a zine and I almost lost my mind. As a teenager in Kansas, it made me feel understood, not so alone, and willing to wait out the hard years when I found representations of people like me in zines and books. I want to recreate that experience for young people.
In my spare time I volunteer with senior citizens once a week. I have been doing it for six years. I make a zine about them called Tell It Like It Tiz, which is full of interviews and drawings, photos and comics about the seniors in question. They are like family to me. Grouchy family, of course. I just received a grant through RACC (the Regional Art and Culture Council) to create a book based on our zine work together.
I saw you present a slideshow of material where you told the story of calling the Dr. Laura show a few years ago at Sister Spit in Portland, OR. Were you already working on the book at that time? Did the book evolve from material from your zine Invincible Summer?
I have been working on the book since 2007, when I first started reading a story about Dr. Laura on Sister Spit. I thought I was going to be finished with the book in time for the 2010 tour (that was the plan), but at the last minute there were some publishing hijinks and it was not ready for press. It required an additional year and a half of editing, which I didn’t know at the time. I went on tour anyway, because it was already planned, and I read bits of the book because I truly believed it would be out soon.
Some of the stories in the book are things I touched on in Invincible Summer but I started stringing them together into a longer, cohesive narrative in 2007.
How did touring with Sister Spit and going on the Radar LAB Retreat influence your creative process and progress on the book?
Sister Spit changed my entire life! I traveled the country reading my Dr. Laura Story in 2007, and this is how I met my literary agent who helped me to sell the story to a major publisher. I would not have made that connection if it weren’t for Sister Spit. Sister Spit also constantly introduces me to new, exciting performers and writers. Each year I find a new favorite author.
I worked on the book at the Radar LAB, and got advice and support from my fellow writers. The nice thing about Radar is that it encourages writers to support each other, and it offers young writers the opportunity to work with more established authors, tour their work to audiences they otherwise wouldn’t have accessed, and to have a space (a NICE space) to work on their writing in a hive of like minded individuals who all want the best for their project. What a dream!
I am so glad that RADAR exists.
How would you summarize the plot of the book?
When I was 23, my friend bought me a palm reading for my birthday. The palm reader flipped over my hand, and within about 5 minutes revealed that my father was alive. This was odd, because I’d been told he was dead my entire life.
I kept this information to myself, met a girl who encouraged me to ask my family about it, and that is the beginning of the book. It follows my relationship with that girl, with my family, and leads us up to the point where I call none other than Dr. Laura Schlessinger herself for advice.
It seems like the book reveals some personal information about your family, how do they feel about it now that they have read it?
One of my sisters has read it and really likes it and is proud of me, and happy that I revealed the truth. The rest of my family is letting it lay, which I think is a good idea. In general, they know I was in a very unique, incomprehensible situation with all of this Dad deception, and they support me working through it however I can. I made an effort to change their names and obscure their identities so that hopefully the book can stay in the comic realm, and doesn’t cross too far into their day-to-day lives. I love and respect all of my family members depicted in the book.
How did you make the leap from self-publishing your comic book zine to publishing with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt? What were the biggest surprises and challenges working with a major publisher?
I met a literary agent while I was on the 2007 Sister Spit Tour, and she really liked the Dr. Laura Story I was reading on tour. She wanted to know more, what happened with my family, and asked if I would consider adapting the story into a graphic memoir. I had a lot more to say, and this story meant a lot to me, so I was delighted to give it a shot. It turned out to be a life-changing experience, both personally and artistically. Working on the book helped me discover truths about my family that I otherwise wouldn’t have broached. It also helped me learn (the hard way) about things like layout, consistency, and working with a professional editor for the first time.
One of the most valuable experiences in all of this was getting to work with an editor and get feedback on stories to make them better, and more accessible for readers.
What’s the story behind the giant chicken on the cover of the book?
It shouldn’t have been that giant, but I was so fried by the end of the book, that when it came to the cover, I think I drew the chicken too big, but I couldn’t bear to go back and change it by the time I figured it out. So big chicken it is!
The book is full of chickens. I had chickens in the book, and was devastated by the loss of one of them in the story.
What are your current creative projects and what are your plans for the future?
I am about to go on a gigantic book tour with Cassie J. Sneider, so that is my current project- emailing every person in the known universe and asking if I can read to them.
I would like to do a book of autobiographical comic stories about my misadventures with animals. I would also like to find a way to go visit real life chimpanzees in Africa, or orangutans in Guatemala. I just really like them. I would like to draw them and find a way to make a difference in their lives through art. Maybe highlighting deforestation, poaching, or the entertainment industry. Something fun like that.
For details about Nicole’s upcoming appearances visit http://beijamon.tumblr.com
She’ll also be reading at The RADAR Reading Series on Feb. 6th!