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Faking It

When I looked you up online, you were listed as an author of graphic novels, which made me super happy.  What do you explore in your graphic novels, and what do you think the medium is capable of that, say, the traditional novel or a film is not?


Yah! Periodically, I make comics. I’ve put out an ongoing series called “Gaylord Phoenix” on and off for over ten years. It’s a fantasy about a queer bird being navigating a magical world and his personal history and transforming/transitioning body. I’ve done other comics as well, most of which are getting collected into a book this summer called “Little Stranger”. I love making comics that involve strange worlds or impossible situations. With comics you can use the visuals to jump between the physical world and a character’s psychic space. Comics is a great, economical way to tell an experimental story and to portray impossible spaces.


Was it your goal to cross over into the art world from comics? How did that play out?


No, it was never a goal – I just try to be honest in my arts practice, which is always rooted in drawing and image making. For a while the work I wanted to make was really driven by narrative, mostly through live performances and comics. Then, my sense of narrative really crumbled- like it felt repetitive and uninspiring. At the same time, the ideas for singular drawings were coming together, so my practice shifted more towards drawings and paintings. It was pretty natural.


I don’t suppose you happened to read the most recent Best American Comics — I was a bit put off by the embracing of anti-narrative pieces, and left it in my old apartment when I moved out. Thoughts? How important is narrative in your work?


Hmmm, I don’t think I saw it – the 2017 edition? In general, I like big weirdness in comics, and –of course- there’s no right way to make them. As a reader, I actually seek out comics where the author is using the visuals in a way that isn’t purely an illustration of the text and I also like stories where the narrative arc is strange or unexpected. When I’m handling a narrative, I’m usually handling it in a way where the images do a lot of the heavy lifting. Words are hard for me, it takes me a long time to write anything that makes it off the cutting room floor, but with the visuals I can usually picture what the central ideas of a narrative are going to be as images. 


At the Museum of Arts and Design, your work is displayed as complement to an exhibition on Miriam Shapiro — if her work and yours were talking to each other, what would they be saying?


I think they would enjoy cooking dinner together and doing things like swapping sauerkraut recipes. I really picture them hanging out together in the fabric district in L.A., splitting a sandwich and browsing ribbons and beads. Your work reminds me of old Castlevania Nintendo graphics. Did you play Nintendo as a kid (or now)? Ha! Nintendo was coming out as I was a kid, so I got to play it at friends’ houses. I remember being really hypnotized by the colors and the weird look of all the graphics. I also remember coming home and drawing my own game levels full of rainbows and spiders. It really changed the way I played as a kid, even though I didn’t have a system. Now, I use gridded patterns a lot in my drawing, so the influence obviously got baked into my brain.


Many of your exhibited pieces are of buildings. What’s your favorite kind of architecture? Your ideal house?


I like repurposed architecture best, buildings that have lived many lives and gone through many identities. I think that’s part of why I use buildings to talk about trans and queer issues – the building as a body that goes through many changes and is yet somehow always itself, even if it becomes something no one anticipated. My ideal house? I’d like to live in a carnival haunted house ride or a biosphere dome. Or a house that had wet clay for walls and you could just keep sculpting new things into it.


What do you imagine is going on inside the buildings you’ve created?


Some of the buildings I think of as spaces for people to live their best queer lives, other drawings I think of as structural metaphors where people would use the building to understand themselves a little better. Or, at least I picture myself using these buildings to understand myself a little better.


How would you design your avatar to explore your graphic world?


I don’t think I would design an avatar – it’s a first person experience!


Surface/Depth: The Decorative After Miriam Schapiro is on view through September 9th, 2018 at The Museum of Arts and Design.

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