Monday 4 August 2008

Melinda Gebbie interview [1]

Interview conceived by smoky man & Antonio Solinas.
Conducted via phone by A. Solinas on 19th February 2008.
Originally printed in Italy on Blue magazine (N. 189, May 2008, Coniglio Editore) on the occasion of the Italian edition of Lost Girls published by Magic Press.
Presented here in English for the first time.
Lost Girls orginally published by Top Shelf.

1. Do you want to introduce yourself to Italian readers that probably know your work for Cobweb, but have not been exposed to your underground period?
I started in the underground scene a long time ago: that was when Robert Crumb was still selling his comics on the street, and the early issues of Zap! came out. I came in through Wimmens’ Comix, which was just about the only comic book that women were doing at the time. There had got to be something like maybe up to forty men doing comics at some point, and there were still only ten women, but I think at the very beginning it was pretty much the Zap! crew and no women. This was in the seventies, you know. That was a very fun period, I mean probably a lot of our comics didn’t get very far, but some of them got to England. My solo comic, which was called Fresca Zizis, came to England and got involved in a bust through Knockabout Comix, so I had to defend it to Richard Branson’s dad (the guy who owns Virgin Records), who was the judge in that trial. My comic was being sold at his comic book shop and record store just down the street from that: that was my introduction to England. Even then, our comics were not all that well known in England, even, so I am not surprised they wouldn’t be very well known in your neck of the wood.

2. What kind of approach did you bring to the table when you were working in what was essentially a men’s world?
My particular sort of approach was that I didn’t see why art should be immediately recognisable as being done by a woman. I thought that what women generally should do is to be gutsy about what we wanted to say as (much as) men were about what the want to say, to be un-self conscious, to be not so much feminine in our work as self-revealing, because that’s the only way you really give your audience something that they can use. The eternally feminine, which is still seen a lot, you know, the very pretty little drawings, very dainty and tasteful: girls are not supposed to draw cars, they are not supposed to be able to draw motorcycles, and they are not supposed to draw rough, tough sex scenes: basically, they are not supposed to have that much of a grasp on really what is going on in human psychology or in society. I got accused, to my own great delight, of drawing like a guy, and someone from a local newspaper in San Francisco said: “Oh, this is shocking! This is disgusting, this is really sexually explicit and violent! Who is this terrible man?”. (laughs) But it wasn’t done by man, it was done by a woman. I got compared to… do you know who S. Clay Wilson is?

3. I really don’t know if he has been published in Italy, to be honest. Even the most famous underground comic artists might be obscure, apart from Crumb and Shelton…
That’s interesting. I don’t know much about the comic publishing scene in Italy at all…

4. When you were talking about being an artist rather than a female artist, how do you feel about the manga influence, with women reverting to drawing pretty pictures?
Well, I have met a woman named Jill Thompson, who I think is doing quite well in that kind of thing, and she kind of explained to me a little bit of the visual vocabulary involved with it, and she said that there are very strict rules to it, and there are always supposed to be little tea parties and things like that. I was quite impressed because I have been to Japan and I picked up a lot of manga books: I love Japanese stuff, I am very interested in it. I am interested in someone following rigorously a sort of situation and doing well in it. It is quite interesting. It seems so back and forth, I mean: I was just thinking I sort of made my name in comics for having kind of an aggressive and sexually tough art style, but with Lost Girls I actually turned back around and use the softnesses and the delicacies of looking at things through a woman’s point of view, to actually be able to achieve the visual storytelling in Lost Girls. I think if another man had done it, it wouldn’t have worked, because that was the whole problem of pornography for women, and it was women who I was trying to reach. Instead of trying to be hard as men, I started to try to appeal to women, because I really wanted Lost Girls to be a book that women would like. I think for a long time the idea of pornography itself has been horrible for women, and they have not responded to it at all in the past. In 2006, when Lost Girls debuted in San Diego, there were just so many women buying it as men: a lot of them were young, and quite a few were middle aged; there were all different ages. One young girl… well, she wasn’t too young to buy it (laughs) (we had to be very strict about that) she had a very cute little short hairstyle, really cute, she came up to me and she said: “I can’t wait to read this, I’m going to take it home”. She came back the next day, and she said: “I stayed up all night reading it”. She had tears in her eyes, and she said: “I just wanted to thank you for doing this”. We held each other’s hand and I said: “You don’t know how much this means to me, that it’s affected you so much”. This is the whole reason that I did this.

5. You must have realised since the early stages that you had something that would have a massive impact on many people. How frustrating was it for you to wait for so long to see Lost Girls finished?
It was very, very frustrating. I think the reason it took so long to do it… I worked it out just out of curiosity, and it turns out I spent about three days per panel on the book, which sounds reasonable, but this sort of distillation of trying to come up with the most positive and blissful and communicative feeling about sexuality in my mind, so that the colours were wonderful, and all the objects, the architecture, the light, the shadow, I wanted everything to be as blissful as people’s most beautiful memories of sex. And it was inventing this new language, because I have never seen any sex art done like that, not even single-panel pages. I have seen things that are charming, I have seen things that are amazing, like Hans Bellmer, I have seen things that are articulate, but not blissful. It was a matter of coming up with a new language, and there hadn’t been one before. When I was a little girl, I thought: “When I grow up, there must be a book about sex, that tells you everything you want to know about it, and it’s really beautiful and you learn everything you need to know, and then you can be confident and you don’t have to worry about this strange thing that is coming up, not knowing what to do, not knowing what to think, not knowing what to feel”. And, of course, there was no book like that, but I think, actually, Lost Girls is that book.
I guess I have a sort of evangelistic attitude about it. I really hope it will help heal, I really hope it will help people to have confidence, hope it will just make them feel better about the fact that they are sexual, since we all are, whether we pretend we are or not.

6. We discussed with Alan about how much Lost Girls and the relationship you have helped him to grow both as a man and as a writer. What about you? How much did this book change you, in a way?
It’s amazing because the after effects of the book, not the immediate ones (were that) it’s done for me what I hoped it would do for other people, because I had my own bad experiences, unhappy experiences in that realm, like everyone has, and I found that the book actually addresses these things, the fact that I can do this book is kind of being an astronaut, you’re going out into a space you have never been in before, and you actually come back with something you yourself really needed. It’s been great. I mean, first of all, it’s really been important that the response has been so positive, because people seem to feel that they really needed it. I needed it as well, and it’s helped me as well. It was just a matter of getting through this really long process: we had trouble getting it printed, and when I took it down to London, luckily the printing process was much more sophisticated than they were when we first started the book, because a lot of it is colour pencil, it’s very delicate, and printing has caught up with the processes, because it couldn’t have really been presented adequately before.
The printers that I went to, the guy that was supposed to help me and do the book specifically, I think he thought I was kind of odd and we didn’t get along, and it was very frustrating for me, because I really needed him to be enthusiastic and to be positive about it, and for us to have a kind of little friendship over it. But luckily I found a friend in one of the other men at work there and so it went all right, everything was fine. It just took what seemed a very long time…

7. I know, I remember buying the first two issues of the Kitchen Sink edition…
They were done in colour Xerox, we couldn’t even get printers for them!

8. It must have been tough for you in the beginning, to get used to Alan’s way of working. Alan said you two had to discover the proper way to collaborate, with a thumbnail method to substitute his detailed scripts…
I am probably the only artist to have a few pages of Alan’s thumbnails! (laughs)
They were much better for me, because I could see exactly where he wanted this table, or that shoe, that window, or that teapot. I would read the script, because it was so beautiful and so detailed, but I’d get a bit lost. I would draw something, but actually it wasn’t quite correct, I would put something in a wrong place, and so when he did the thumbnails I would know exactly where everything was supposed to go, and so when I chose the three women, of course, we got together over them constantly, so we were much more in sync. The other thing is that, because we were so close, we could have really long conversations about the sexuality itself, the history of it, what it means to people, how it affects people in literature or pornography, why it is a defective medium, why it didn’t work, you know, all those thing. We got so much conversation, that these others artists don’t get the advantage of it, really.

9. Did you have any disagreement about the way to do certain things in Lost Girls?
No. There wouldn’t be disagreement; there would be little things, again, visual. In some of the things, where he would suggest a scene that would possibly be a bit more obviously sexual, I would change sometimes something, so there would be a bit more use to looking at someone’s hand, or their facial expression, and then work out the other things, because one of the important things about Lost Girls is sexual anticipation and desire, and of course he (Alan) very skilfully worked out all three books so that they start out at a certain level and then reach a gradual higher and higher peak, so it isn’t always on a really high-pitched level, but little things that you do with the drawings, which just sort of talk about the body language of desire, what people do with their hands when they sit with each other, or their longing looks or the colour of the shadows, or something like that.
No, we never actually did disagree. I did do two pages, which he felt were not very effective in getting the story across, and in the end I actually redrew them because I realised they weren’t getting the story across. They were very complicated. It was the shadow sequence, where Wendy and Harold are in the bedroom, and she is saying for him, and he hands her a little roll of something, and it’s just a little ordinary activity, but the shadows behind them are having sex, and I hadn’t really drawn it explicitly, it didn’t make sense visually when I drew it. That was the only thing I redrew: we discussed everything so that we agreed on stuff, we made sure that we agreed on everything, because it was very important that we had a sort of positive and open feeling about it, because the alchemy between us was going to be part of the alchemy that other people were going to read.

Melinda Gebbie interview [2]

1 comment:

C. Margery Kempe said...

Excellent! And there's more, right? Yay. Thanks for putting this up. I really enjoyed reading the interview (and the Moore one).