Plant More Flowers: A Night With Carol Tyler at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum

I remember feeling pissed when some dude asked Phoebe Gloeckner if she was “desensitized to violence” (because she does medical illustrations) after hearing her talk (and almost cry) at the International Comic Arts Forum about the book she’s been working on since 2002’s Diary of A Teenage Girl about the murders of young girls and women in Juarez, Mexico. There was a lot that I didn’t expect from Phoebe’s talk: the crying, sure, but also the card game she’d created out of crime scene photos from Juarez, a fake tabloid she had created about being cheated on between teaching at U of M and border crossing to live with the families of missing girls in Mexico, how exhausted I felt after listening to her. And I guess I was pissed because some dude took her vulnerability for sloppiness, like Phoebe didn’t actually intend to show us how fucked up one can feel trying to do good work in a world that is not made for you, a world that is wearing you out.

Phoebe’s speaking again later this week at Columbus College of Art and Design, but last night the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum hosted another Twisted Sister, Carol Tyler (I love this town, btw). Seeing C. Tyler got me thinking back to Phoebe because her talk about the 10-year project Soldier’s Heart made me feel similarly exhausted and vulnerable but also like I was gonna punch through a wall when I got home.

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C. Tyler at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.

In academia, we are taught that there is no crying in conference. Even if you feel your voice shaking while you read some words that mean too goddamn much to you, cry in the bathroom after your panel. And so it was incredibly disarming to watch Carol shuffle through slides depicting covers and entries for Wimmin’s Comix from the 70s (“You can write about postpartum psychosis. That’s what’s good about comics!”) to pictures of the actual stacks of books she got researching Soldier’s Heart (so big they left “gap tooth” holes in library shelves) to pictures of her dying mother, her sister, her daughter in the hospital (“I never saw so many goddamn lobbies. I figured out what every elevator button [in the hospital] meant.”) and back to images of her studio where she created 53 custom colors of ink and “cornered the market on eBay” to buy out her preferred pen tips for drafting Soldier’s Heart.

“I’ve buried eight people in the past three years,” she told us before showing us the saw blades from her father’s workshop onto which she engraved a comic after she inherited his house. (Saw blades currently on display at her “Pages and Progress” show at University of Cincy’s DAAP Gallaries.) She told us about running herself ragged between hospital suites before her loved ones passed. She told us about not being able to move from the floor after a separation from her husband Justin Green. She told us that hospital lobbies sometimes are the best places to make comics. I felt emotional looking at a picture of the pipe-shaped mug she keeps her yellow #2 pencils in somewhere in Cincy.

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Something I beat myself up for daily is my inability to accept that I’m good at what I do. I beat myself up because being in my particular (read: depressed, anxiety-ridden, PMDD suffering) body is not always conducive to doing the kind of academic, intellectual (or whatever) work I’m supposed to be doing as a grad student and as a woman who wants a lot of things, and maybe if I stopped fighting myself so hard I could actually just do the thing. I have no idea how to balance bad feelings and work in a productive way, but Carol Tyler has somehow figured it out. And to hear her during a Q & A, after she pulled out all her guts and studio drawers for us, admit that she still doesn’t feel like she’s worth anything filled me with great hope. Because we may feel like the insides of a crummy desk drawer, we may be running ourselves down, but somehow there’s still a way to write and make beautiful, terrifying things. And, in Carol’s case, plant flowers.

“What do you do?” she asked. “Plant more flowers. Do more pictures about your life.”

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Shouts to the g, Caitlin McGurk for sharing her pictures.

 

 

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Fan Mail to Sophie McMahan

Dear Sophie McMahan,

I hope you feel better soon because I desperately need your dreamy images of the American nightmare for my bedroom. I think you could really make it, kid.

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I picked up two issues of McMahan’s You Were Swell at Quimby’s a couple of years ago and have been longing to build my collection since. And I would, were it not for this little note she left us at her etsy (“Due to personal/health reasons my etsy will be on break indefinitely. Thanks for all the support ❤ <3”) that has me all, “Are you there, Sophie? It’s me, Rachel.” This week, maybe because I was reading Valley of the Dolls and steeping myself in  Hollywood lore about Charles Manson (c/o the wonderful podcast You Must Remember This) to prepare for my upcoming role as PhD Candidate (I guess), I made a shrine to McMahan’s comics, the pages of which are positively busting with busty, twisted pin ups and dead-eyed beauty queens, on our coffee table. Revisiting these little suckers reminded me what a talent Ms. McMahan has for the uncanny, the weird, and the one-off. And so I pray, don’t let Ms. McMahan go the way of her favorite fifties starlets, burning bright for a coupla years only to fade away. We need ya, Sophie, we really, really do.

The stories in You Were Swell are brief meditations on outer beauty and twisted innards. In “Winner,” a raven haired beauty queen is crowned. And when she finally gives us that million-dollar-smile, honey, all her teeth fall out. Girls giving their best head shots despite their four eyes (really, they have four eyes not glasses, dummy) ask us, “Do you think I’m pretty?” in “??????” And in “Good To See You,” our heroine literally effaces herself, twisting her mug into something that might be fit for Burns’s Black Hole end papers, after she’s been forced to make small talk for six panels. And McMahan’s drawings are as gorgeous as they are campy as they are gross. If your mother ever told a teary-eyed you that, it’s what’s inside that counts, sweetie. McMahan reminds us that our insides are totally bombed out by anxieties, and it’s there you’ll find just the kind of two-faced liar your diary makes you out to be.

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And Sophie, gee, if you get this, could you please send me Issue #3?

Love,

Rachel

P.S. Check out Sophie’s work at: sophiemcmahan.com and like her on Facebook. Fingers crossed she opens her etsy store again soon.

 

 

Books I Wish I Had Read When I Was a Teenage Girl #1: Not Funny Ha-Ha by Leah Hayes

Today my partner was like, hey when are you going to write another post about comics for your blog? And now I am sitting here waiting for the mailman to drop a copy of Valley of the Dolls on my stoop (Amazon.com has promised me it will arrive by 8 p.m. today), and I just felt like, you know what? Today I will post my long-percolating review of a comic about abortion.

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This is the kind of book I hope my present and future girl relatives find when they go through my bookshelves because in some parallel universe, I imagine myself finding this lil text during a sleepover at a cool aunt’s house. And in this parallel universe, I am saved from years of anxiety and not-knowing-about-my-body-ness that I’ve dealt with for much of my young adult life (Dear Ohio, Abstinence only education is a public. health. crisis.) thanks to Leah Hayes’s sharp, insightful “handbook for something hard.”

Opening on end papers that are dotted with tampon boxes and maxi pads in a line I can only describe as part diary-level cruddy, part girlish, all beautiful, Hayes transmits medical knowledge about women’s bodies in brief pages where that body is the central guiding force of the visual narrative. This is what Aline Kominsky-Crumb might have made after “Goldie” if her hand hadn’t taken her in stranger directions. Hayes has that same sense of how emotion narrates itself on the body, so the women (or girls, she switches) we follow (one accessing a medical abortion, one surgical) are not just bodies that offer themselves up for medical inquiry, but allow the reader to catch that feeling of the night before, the sitting in the waiting room the day of, and the lying on the couch at home after. While Hayes stresses community (“if you can, the best thing to do first is tell someone in your life who you trust. you don’t need to go through this alone.”), she also speaks to the moments where a girl or woman is inevitably alone during this process, and let’s readers know that this will be o.k., too.

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I am learning every day in a million little ways that it is fucking hard to take control of your body, to make choices about it and for it, and so, to all my past, present and future girls: may this be a little fold in the map pointing you towards recovering your body, the one you want for yourself.

xoxo 16-year-old me

 

blessed in the midwest: mini comics pick up (i)

I wanna tell you about these two little love letters I picked up today at Kafe Kerouac (shouts to Kafe Kerouac, thank you Jack): “Sorry I Can’t Come In On Monday I’m Really Sick” by Jane Mai and “Cyanide Milkshake no. 6″ by Liz Suburbia (whose excellent Sacred Heart was hands down the thing that kept me breathing this past December). I am very blessed to be living in Columbus, not only because it is the heartland of the midwest (don’t test me), but also because it is quickly becoming the heartland of comics with several little arteries (The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library, The Laughing Ogre, my phd adviser [hi], CCAD, Kafe Kerouac, the list goes on) that are working very hard to pump blood to the rest of indie comics’ limbs. And let me say that I counted all these little arteries as my blessings this morning when I almost bought up most of KK’s freshly stocked mini comics section, but was able to limit myself to two little comics that really called to me.

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sorry i can’t come in on monday i’m really sick

O.K. you guys this little thing is just – I will say that I am currently trying to revise an academic paper that is primarily about girls lying in bed and crying, and so when I opened Jane Mai’s slim chapbook and got slapped in the face with her “Coporeality is bullshit” I was like, “Just take all of my money (I have $5).” The drawings are spare in Mai’s mini comic, but I feel like she’s getting at some big questions here such as, “do they have plastic surgery for ugly crying tho.” This tiny diatribe against having a (female) body (that is always betraying you, that is always under attack, that is always making you feel inadequate), and how hating your body is actually the opposite of suicide REALLY FUCKING SPOKE. TO. ME. YOU GUYS. This girl’s selfies are uncanny, odd, and probably the best ten or so pages you’ll read on the subject. Jane Mai, I’ve got my eye on you: http://www.janemai.co/

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So initially I did not pick up “Cyanide Milkshake no. 6″ but then I saw some dude reading it at the table next to me and I realized Kerouac was stocking Liz Suburbia and that that boy was undeserving of it and so I waited until he abandoned it at his table and snatched it up so now it’s mine. Like I said earlier, Liz Suburbia’s first full length fancy comic really got to me at the close of 2015. I had heard about C.M. but hadn’t been cool enough to get my hands on a comic (so, also like I said, blessings). Suburbia’s stories come at you fast and hard in this zine and she writes about all the good things from dogs to dogs discovering their reflections to levitation to sitting on the toilet in a style I can only describe as Jaime Hernandez as a Middle School Girl Misanthrope. I just love her shit and there is a beautiful note at the end of this guy that I really needed to read this week. The highlights: “Will you make the love you give + the things you do with love a fucking meritocracy, or will you work towards the ideal that there’s no objective standard of value?…Keep your eyes on your own paper, + stay open + compassionate to those who are doing the same.” I want these words tattooed on my body, Liz. Thank you: http://lizsuburbia.tumblr.com/
That’s all for now. I love you. Support your local comics artists, support your local comics peddlers, support mini comics creators, but above all else, support girls and women making comics. xoxo Two Socks