I recently managed to persuade comic creator and (now) graphic novelist Liz Prince to give me an interview about her work, her new book Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir, growing up, gender politics and more.
Em: Was it therapeutic creating Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir, and if so: how?
Liz: I feel like I am someone who uses comics to work out situations in my life, and drawing about my childhood was definitely a lot more emotionally strenuous than some of the other comics I’ve drawn. In order to accurately capture what those instances in my life were like, I had to remember how it FELT, and that can be difficult when we’re talking about being bullied and losing friends, but once you confront those things, the pain from them starts to fade. Tomboy is a celebration of individuality, not a rumination on bullying, though.
Which comics creators have inspired you the most over the years?
Ariel Schrag, as mentioned in the book, was someone who introduced me to very intimate autobio comics. Jeffrey Brown’s relationship books showed me that art in a book can be deceptively simple, and it helped me become more confident with my (sometimes lack of) drawing abilities. Those are some of the classics to me, but who I’m most inspired by can change from day to day; one of my favorite books to come out this year was Corinne Mucha’s Get Over It.
You’ve said that you turned in a book to your publishers that was way longer than what was originally agreed: did much editing happen, are there any moments that didn’t make it in?
There was no agreed length that the book would be, but when I estimated how long I thought it would end up being, I undershot by about 100 pages. There were some scenes that didn’t make it into the book, but those were all cut by me, before I even sent pages to my editor. In order to write a book that takes place over 18 years of my life, but isn’t 5,000 pages long, I had to be pretty selective about what I included. Luckily the theme of gender helped limit what related and what didn’t, too.
Does it surprise you that even today – after the many decades of discussion on gender politics and the coming and going of feminist movements – in Western countries, we’re still surrounded by people trying to enforce gender norms?
I don’t think it surprises me as much as upsets me. There has definitely been progress, and I’m excited about the evolution of trans rights, and the dialogue that gender non-conformity has in public discourse, but there is still too much gender stereotyping, especially among elementary school aged children.
Tomboy is your first purpose written graphic novel, how tough was it to get into the mindset of thinking more graphic novel than shorter zine/comic pieces? Any advice for other comics creators thinking of going long form?
The biggest stumbling block that I had was that, when I draw my comic strips that vary in length from 3 panels to 3-4 pages, there is a sense of instant gratification that I get from being able to post that comic on my website and instantly people will see it. For Tomboy, only a few people saw the book while I was working on it, and that was usually only my editor. I found the process of writing a longer graphic novel to be more like writing a bunch of shorter strips and then connecting them: sometimes the scenes that connect those stories are boring to draw, but it is necessary to seamlessly get from point A to point B.
Apart from encouraging people (young or old) to read your graphic novel, what else do you think could be done to help people be accepted (and accept themselves) for who they feel they are?
Take away the stigma attached from being different; there seems to be a lot of fear of not fitting in, and fear of those who don’t fit in. In my own experience, finding someone else who shares your views is greatly satisfying experience, because you don’t feel so alone in your thinking.
I hope you don’t mind me asking: have you worn a dress since that monthly mass incident in middle school that you talk about in Tomboy?
Haha, yes, I was actually forced by my mom to wear that same dress at my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary party, I think that was in 1997 or 98 (one of the only times she ever made me wear something that I really didn’t want to). I really hated it, but I was just with family members, most of whom were a lot older than me, so it wasn’t as socially traumatizing. After that I didn’t wear a dress again until a friends’ wedding in 2008, and since then I’ve actually amassed a small collection of dresses that I’ll wear to more fancy engagements, but I’m really particular about what I will and won’t wear as far as dresses go, and when I do wear one, it’s usually ONLY for the few hours that I’m at the event. I’ve mastered the “carry jeans and a t-shirt in you backpack to change out of your dress immediately” routine.
You’ve said that you didn’t get into comics to be sat at a computer for 12 hours a day: are electronic tools in comics an actual burden or do they make a lot of things easier?
Both, I get a lot of enjoyment out of posting comics online, and interacting with fans online, but I don’t enjoy the process of scanning my work and cleaning up pages in photoshop. I don’t know how to do a lot of basic stuff because I have no interest or desire to learn computer programs, so I usually only gain new skill sets when it’s required.
In what ways has punk impacted on your life, beyond what you describe in Tomboy?
That question is almost too broad to be easily answered, but punk has changed the way I think about social issues, has changed the way I think about mainstream culture, and has changed the way I think about drawing comics and self-publishing. I prefer things handmade and imperfect to things that are, for lack of a better term, mass-produced and polished.
What’s next for Liz Prince, after you’re finished promoting the heck out of your new graphic novel?
I have a new book that I’d like to start working on, and I plan to draw a short mini comic of a scene that was left out of Tomboy, not because it didn’t fit in, but just because it had too many pop culture references that kind of derailed it. You definitely haven’t heard the last of me, but to get the most up-to-the-minute updates, visitwww.lizprincepower.com!!
You can read the Hex Dimension review of Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir here.