The following questions came from Kristen Radtke in preparation for Draw Naked, her BuzzFeed feature on Female Cartoonists Drawing Their Bodies. With 23 women involved there was only room for a brief quote from each creator, but after publishing my piece on sexuality in autobio comics earlier today I figured it might be interesting for folks to read my answers in their entirety.
- Do you find anything particularly vulnerable or empowering about drawing the female body in comics form?
I think putting any type of raw autobiographical content online always gives me a little shiver of anxiety. For “Flip the Switch”, where I was drawing myself naked for a good portion of the story, the comic was more about the experience I was having in this float tank, rather than the sexuality of being naked. In fact I honestly didn’t think about it at all until I was about to publish the story, when I had a momentary instant of “Oh, hey! A bunch of people will see this drawing of you and there’s definitely pubeage showing.” But then that’s not the point of the story. If people can handle occupying non-sexual naked spaces in society (hot springs, nude beaches, or what-have-you), I’d like to think they can read a story about sensory deprivation tanks and focus on the message of the content rather than the tits.
- Have you found it challenging to be female in the comics industry?
I get this question a lot and I feel really fortunate (and perhaps a little guilty?) when I always seem to answer “no”. There are countless horror stories of women experiencing discrimination and abuse within the industry, and I don’t want my answer to discredit that, but the corner of the comics world I’ve grown up in has always been really diverse and female-friendly. Periscope Studio, where I work now, maintains an excellent gender ratio and fosters a really inclusive, thoughtful environment for folks working to tell better stories about characters of all sorts of backgrounds — and that’s an attitude I see reflected in a lot of the greater Portland comics scene. There’s a great group of folks working here.
I feel like I should also mention that I didn’t really read superhero comics growing up so I never experienced the disillusionment of seeing characters I cared about portrayed as sex symbols — though I look at it from a moderate outsider’s perspective now and feel sick to my stomach. The silver lining for me is that there are so many creators from all over the industry and all over the gender spectrum focusing on creating richer, more diverse characters and worlds these days. It may be slow-moving, but it’s moving — and the increased visibility of being able to communicate with creators all over the world via the web has changed things forever.
- Do you think there is anything crucial or indispensable about female graphic narratives and the representation of women and their bodies within them?
The artists I looked up to when I was first starting out we’re often younger female webcartoonists like Danielle Corsetto, Kate Beaton, Erika Moen, and Dylan Meconis who were just making work and putting it online because they enjoyed it. There were no male-helmed publishing companies saying that they could or could not put their work in the world, so they did what they enjoyed doing and inspired me to do what I enjoyed doing and would you look at that I’m doing that thing that I enjoy doing for a living now! Who knew having visible role models could have such a strong effect on one’s career outcom—wait we all know that. That’s why it’s important to have more visible minority creators in the world. Go figure. I probably wouldn’t be making comics at all if I hadn’t seen other women pursuing that avenue on the web.
- Can you talk at all about the importance (if you view it that way) of naked or exposed female bodies portrayed in sex-positive and/or coming-of-age and potentially empowering roles in graphic narratives?
Working on a couple guest comics for Erika’s webcomic Oh Joy, Sex Toy brought me to a place where I had to get comfortable talking about my personal sexual experiences and preferences online and that was scary. But it turns out people really appreciate seeing candid, playful depictions of sexual diversity presented in an appealing fashion. I could wax poetic for days about how important I think Erika’s work has been for a new generation of webcomics readers who are finding ways to normalize and embrace sexuality through reading her comics, and I was really honored to be a part of that.
When my first strip (a primer on rope bondage) went up last year, I got a call from my mum who was delighted to see me “carrying on the family tradition” — she’d written a piece for Playgirl in the 70s about the lack of female friendly pornography on the market and was very proud that I was furthering the cause. That’s progress. That makes me happy.
- When and why did you start drawing your own body? Can you say a bit about that process (did you model before a mirror, use photographs, etc.)?
I have a fairly strong figure drawing background, so I’ve spent plenty of time drawing from nude models or photographing myself as a reference for class projects. I also grew up in a pretty liberal and “clothing optional” household so I wasn’t fighting a great deal of familial prejudice against discussing sexuality or portraying my body in a visual medium.
Autobio was a fairly obvious choice for me simply because that was what I’d seen the most of coming from other women in the field. It made sense. And sure, many of my stories have very little to do with sex or sexuality, but I suppose I most appreciate work that doesn’t make a big deal out of introducing those themes into other narratives. Viewing sexuality as an intrinsic part of the human experience is key to diffusing so many worries and fears.
At their best, autobio stories allow us to experience empathy for others and perhaps learn something new about ourselves — if that’s empowering young female creators to talk openly about their lives (sexual and otherwise), great. If that’s opening a window for dialogue about the female experience in the context of a largely white, male-dominated field? Also great. Everything helps.