Over the next few weeks, Punknews is running a series called Rad Women Who Make Rad Art. The series is a string of interviews with some of the most exciting female visual artists that have connections with music, today. You can check out the previous entries with Nation of Amanda and Kristen Ferrell. Today's segment is with comic mastermind Liz Prince!
Liz Prince is a fearless artist. She draws comics about getting dumped. She explores the reasons why she is so bad at flirting. She even wrote an entire comic entitled Will You still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? (And it won an Ignatz award!)
On top of that, she's constantly putting out autobiographical comics and new collections. Also, she likes cats… like really likes cats. Like, she focuses an unhealthy amount on her cats, Wolfman and Dracula. So, of course, Punknews had to talk to Liz about her cats, her unique style, and why she owns a haunted skull.
What got you interested in the visual arts?
Art, and comics in particular, have always been second nature to me. I can't remember a time when I wasn't obsessed with cartoons and picture books and drawing. What got me interested in drawing my own comics was the realization that cartoons aren't real, so in order to achieve my dream of becoming a cartoon character, I'd have to do it myself, by drawing comics about my life.
How did you improve your technique? Did you go to formal training?
Art has always been my favorite subject in school, and I went to college at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, an art school in Boston. I don't know how much "formal training" I really got there. It is a school that takes a less formal approach to art, and nurtures the "do what you feel" aspect of creativity. I don't think I was adequately challenged in that environment, but I certainly had plenty of time to work on comics, which was just about all I did. I think that the best training for drawing comics is to be constantly reading comics- nothing is more inspiring or motivating than seeing what others are doing in your medium.
A lot of your work is autobiographical and deals with personal issues. Are you comfortable revealing such a private side of yourself?
I think that it goes without saying. I wouldn't include something in my comics that I didn't want anyone to know about, but at the same time, I have a much higher threshold for what I consider "fair game." And my comfortability only waivers where an audience I didn't intend to read my work is concerned- I certainly don't want my grandmother to read my dirty sex comics, but I'm ok with your grandmother reading my dirty sex comics.
Have you ever gotten any blowback from someone that you included in your work?
Surprisingly, no. I usually get more complaints from friends who havenât been in a comic. They are always concerned that they aren't "funny enough" to be included. That isn't the case! It means you aren't inspirational enough to be in a comicâ¦ Kidding, kiddingâ¦
What is with all the cats?
All the cats are better than all the humans. Especially Wolfman, she is waaaayyyy better than all the humans.
How do you see punk rock and the visual arts intersecting?
I think that historically, punk has always been a very visual medium. It's hard to remember with its current DIY, crusty attitude that the fashion and performance of punk used to be very choreographed and intentional. I mean, any book about the Ramones will mention that they had a uniform and it was very important for their stage shows, as pared down as they were, to be very exact, and a lot of that was to visually represent what the band was about.
As far as comics and punk, and especially autobiographical comics and punk, I think that both are very personal in nature. It's not that either are necessarily confrontational, but there is an element of that in both, I mean, punk is culturally expected to be that way, and telling a story about yourself can certainly be confrontational, too. I think anything you can connect with is important, even if it's nothing more than a story about how your favorite TV show got cancelled or you missed the bus or your cat broke your lamp.
You won the Ignatz award in 2005, which is a pretty big deal. Did you feel any pressure after winning? Did you change your art afterwards?
I kind of equate the Ignatz Awards to being like the Nickelodeon Kid's Choice awards of comics, and especially the title that I won, Outstanding Debut, which has since been retired, was that way. Publishers or artists could submit books that would be debuting at the Small Press Expo, as in they had never been available previously, and they would be listed on the ballot for people to vote which was the best. I was/am totally humbled that mine made the cut, beating out comics veterans like James Kochalka, and about 20 other entries.
But no, I didn't feel any pressure. Instead, I felt inspired that people would want to read my work! And my art has only evolved over the years. There has never been a deliberate change in the way I draw, except that I abandoned the straight pen to paper approach that I took with Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? and Delayed Replays, in favor of more thorough planning and draftsmanship that comes will penciling you comics before you ink them.
Your style seems to focus on simple, clean strokes. What attracts you to the traditional "comic strip" style?
I grew up being very interested in Disney movies and characters, and all of those characters are very clean and simple. Since then I have grown to really love art that is "imperfect"- black and white comics, where you can see the artist's hand in the drawings are my favorite. Anything that isn't too labored on, or that has personality beyond being a cartoon is exciting to me. I think clear, concise comic art is the most enjoyable to look at. Too much going on in a panel is distracting and there are only a few people who can really fill a panel and do it in a way that doesn't feel cluttered. I still struggle with getting any real depth between my characters and my backgrounds, so the way I've gotten around that is to omit backgrounds whenever possible.
There is a good deal of conversation about whether it is difficult for women to exist in the music community. Do you think that it is easier, harder, or the same to be a woman in the visual arts? Why?
I have always been a proponent of the unpopular opinion that the best way for women to exist equally in ANY community is for both women and men alike to stop treating it like it's something to be examined.I feel like I have been very lucky in both the punk community and the music community to exist in a subculture that has women participating in larger numbers than exists outside of said communities.
The Indie Comics world, especially, is very populated by women artists, who are also very successful and heralded. For me, the most sexism I encounter, is being asked what it is like to be a woman who creates "X" because that question advocates for inequality by assuming that our experience is different, in most cases that our experience is assumed to be worse.
I would prefer to celebrated because my comics are well-liked, not because my comics are well-liked AND I'm a woman, because adding the fact that I'm woman as a qualifier that infers that a woman drawing a well-liked comic is a novel concept. My friend Miranda Taylor of Black Wine wrote an essay about how she would rather be recognized for being an accomplished musician apart from the fact that she is a woman, and it sums up my feelings on the subject pretty well:
[Editorâs note- you can read the essay here]
Have you ever had to deal with unauthorized usage of your work? If so, what did you do?
I had a run in with a teenage boy who was redrawing my comics as his own, essentially replacing me in my comics with himself, and not even really altering the dialogue at all. It was a really weird experience, because he was passing them off as autobiographical comics about his own life, but they were facsimiles of MY comics about MY life. I contacted him very nicely telling him that I was flattered that he liked my comics, but that I was less flattered that he was copying them and claiming them as his own. He deleted his Internet paper trail, only to reappear a few months later, still copying my comics. I threatened to get my publisher involved, who would send a formal cease & desist, and he apologized personally, and publicly, and then removed all the offending strips from his website. A victory!
One of your constructs I really like is the duplicate Liz that continually harasses the "real" Liz in your strip. Can you talk a little bit about that? Liz vs. Liz was a precursor to the Alone Forever series, in which I would interact with myself because I wasn't interacting with many other people. It's a trope that is maybe a little tired, but it brought my inner monologue to the forefront by creating an "evil" twin for me to have a dialogue with. I called it Liz vs. Liz because I saw it as a variation on the Spy vs. Spy comic, wherein instead of trying to physically destroy each other, I was trying to emotionally defeat myself.
Tell us about the time you brought home a cat skull. Also, why did you bring home a cat skull?
Why wouldn't someone bring home a cat skull?! Some friends and I explored an abandoned cemetery in Philadelphia, and we found a lot of cat skeletons, because I guess an abandoned cemetery is a good place for colonies of feral cats to live, but this particular skeleton had a completely intact skull. As someone who has a collection of oddities- dental models from dentists offices, a taxidermy frog playing a saxophone, a lock of braided beard hair from a friend who grew a huge beard while drawing his graphic novel, and so on - a cat skull fits in perfectly with that theme. Yes, it is haunted, but my cats have gotten used to its presence, and have mostly ceased their abnormal behavior as a result.
What do you have in the works?
A lot of things! Top Shelf Productions, the publisher of many fine comics including my previous books Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed?- going into its third printing! And Delayed Replays, is putting out a compendium of all of my Alone Forever comics, which will include 30-plus pages of new material. That is coming out for Valentine's Day next year, so be on the lookout in February at bookstores in the U.S. and Canada.
And I am currently working on my first full-length graphic novel, which is an autobiographical comic about my childhood, growing up questioning my gender, called Tomboy. The book will be out next fall from Zest books, which is a Houghton Mifflin imprint. I'm very excited about this book, because it breaks the mold of my previous work. I'm writing it for a young adult audience, but it tackles some pretty serious issues as far as gender identity is concerned. I haven't seen a graphic novel on the subject, so I'm hoping it will break some new ground. It will also discuss my introduction to punk and how that helped shape me as a person.
I should also have some new shirts and prints out soon from Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club! My website is a great place to be kept informed about my current and future projects, as well has having an archive of my online comics, so I would encourage everyone to visit it daily.
Any last comments?
Please check out Mitch Clem's anthology series As You Were, it's a really great book showcasing punk comic artists drawing autobiographical comics on themes that vary with each issue. As You Were #1 was about House Shows, and it is available through Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club. As You Were #2 should be out within the next month, and its theme is The Pit-as in, the mosh pit- and I expect it will be equally impressive.
Also, please pick up Razorcake magazine to see my comic column, and support non-profit punk rock!