Friday, April 30, 2021
In 'The Mitchells Vs. The Machines,' A Dysfunctional Family Gets A Hard Reboot
Thursday, April 29, 2021
Students created faux New Yorker covers about the pandemic — and they were so good they went viral
Where Does a Candle Go When It Burns?
Just saying, maybe go easy with the candelabras.
By Randall Munroe
Where does a candle go when it burns, anyway? Is it healthy to be breathing in melted candle particles? How concerned should I be?
— Abigail B., Washington, D.C.
An Acquisition Adventure: "Loco Foco Witches Laying a Spell Over the Country"
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
Comics and Covid
11:30 AM - 12:30 PM SGT
Date: Saturday, 1st May 2021
Time: 11.30AM-12.30PM SGT
Location: Zoom and FB Live
*For those who want to participate in the Zoom session, please fill up the attached form. Invitation to the Zoom session will be sent via email.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Funny and stark, this comic strip memoir relives the surreal days of Singapore's circuit breaker days from April to June 2020. Cartoonist Joseph Chiang records the strangeness and the mundanity of daily life during the circuit breaker such as the toilet paper shortage, mask-wearing woes and forced family time. Chiang's slice-of-life stories provide humour during unprecedented times and document local events and idiosyncrasies that stemmed from this new-normal era.
Get the book here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joseph Chiang is a visual artist and printmaker. He is the founder of Monster Gallery, a creative print studio; and the Young Printmakers League, a mentorship programme supported by Noise Singapore. He was commissioned by the National Arts Council to organise the Contemporary Printmaking Festival as part of Singapore Art Week 2017. He has exhibited in Singapore and internationally, and was invited to show his work at the 10th World Triennale of Original Prints and Engravings in Chamalieres, France in 2017.
Chronicles of a Circuit Breaker Exhibition
Exhibition Day: 1 - 15 May 2021
Event Address: 36 Armenian Street, #01-07 s(179932)
Contact us at (65) 6738 0810 or email@example.com
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
"God Damn You All To Hell"
Saturday Night Live died with John Belushi. That's it. That's the blog post.
Mike Flugennock, Political Cartoons: http://www.sinkers.org/stage
and follow me on Mastodon at https://mastodon.social/@flugennock
|Screen capture from Zoom chat|
"Jason Little discusses The Vagina, his NSFW webcomic," that title is a bare minimum of information, a brief attempt to draw your attention to this article. With more space, I might have named it "Jason Little chats about his pornographic, totally bonkers, science fiction, full-color, free, Not-Safe-For-Work webcomic sex farce The Vagina, and why you should give it a read, as well covering as his other works from the past ten years."
Mike Rhode: The last time I talked to you formally was 10 years ago, even though we might've seen each other at SPX a couple of years ago. So what have you been up to for the last decade? You've done at least two graphic novels since then…
Jason Little: Yeah, my most recent work, The Vagina, sort of grew out of Borb in a way. I did Borb for Uncivilized Books and I'll give you a little background on that in case your readers don't know about it. I had been working in animation. I worked for Augenblick Studios, which was doing a TV show called Ugly Americans at the time. It was a pretty successful TV show for college age males. That was the target audience, around 2010, on Comedy Central. I enjoyed that initially, but the more I worked at that job, the more I started to really not thrive. And by the end of it, I was like, “I gotta get back to my comics career.” The hours were really long. I was not spending enough time with my family. My teaching was suffering. And I just thought, “If I stick to this, I'm never going to draw comics again.” So I had to get out of it. And then when I was done with it, I was like, “Okay, I got to get a comic going superfast, because I feel like it's been like three years and I haven't drawn any comics and my readers don't know that I'm still alive.” So I said, “Okay, a daily strip.”
I had had this idea for a daily percolating that was about a homeless guy. Initially I was going to do all the backgrounds as photographs - go into the New York subway and like take a lot of black and white photos and then use those for the backgrounds and then draw the characters in front of it. But I abandoned that because it was just too fussy. I wanted to tap into sort of the Happy Hooligan vagabond archetype a bit, but I also wanted to address issues of horrible grinding poverty and misfortune. And so I started, and made a laundry list of everything horrible that could happen to a homeless person, just a few words each, like beaten up, diarrhea, gonorrhea, losing all his teeth... It was just relentless. And then each of those germs became either a whole week of continuity or a single daily strip.
Mike Rhode: It was a black and white
strip from what I recall with four panels and a really classic look to it.
Jason Little: Yeah. And I looked at Harold Gray a lot and Herriman and Segar and inked it with a nib, which I hadn't really done in two years. I've been inking mostly with brush previous to that. And I really got into a groove and I was posting it on Act-i-vate every day as a real daily. I took Sunday off. I didn't do a Sunday strip. I got a lot of really great response from people who understood what I was doing. And then I got a little bit of negative response from people who were like, “Hey, you're making fun of homeless people. That's not right. That's cruel.” My whole agenda was to make the reader feel uncomfortable because it was like slapstick humor at the expense of this destitute person. And then over time, the parts of the humor started to be replaced by just tragedy and pathos until the tragedy and pathos took over and the humor dropped away. And then the people who had been unhappy with it initially figured out what I was doing.
Mike Rhode: It was planned from the beginning. It wasn't an evolution of where you decided to go after starting the strip. And Act-i-vate was a web comics collective for a little while.
Jason Little: Exactly. Sadly, not around anymore, but spearheaded by Dean Haspiel and Simon Fraser. So that was an intense four months of work, which is the fastest that I had ever started and finished a project before. Usually a book takes like five years for me to do. So I shopped it around and amusingly, I showed it to Fantagraphics and Gary Groth said, “I really liked the beginning where it's relentlessly cruel and humorous, but then when the pathos kicked in, I kind of lost interest in it.” And then I showed it to Drawn and Quarterly and Chris Oliveros said, “I was really made uncomfortable by all that intense, cruel stuff in the beginning, but I felt so much better when the pathos kicked in.” It was funny when the editorial vision for those two houses is … we could call it complimentary in that way. Complimentary is a good word. So then in the back of my mind, I'd really been thinking about Tom Kaczynski, at Uncivilized Books. And I just felt like he would get it, and I showed it to him and he instantly liked it. And it came out as an Uncivilized book in 2015. It’s on sale it right now at Uncivilized Books.
Mike Rhode: Then on your publications list, you had a small book that's out of print.
Jason Little: That's called Gimmick Illustrated. I was in the middle of Motel Art Improvement Service and also in the throes of early parenthood, so with little studio time. That project was really dragging, and so I needed to do something else just to refresh myself. So I did a project that was as completely different from Motel Art Improvement Service as I could make it. It was visually more experimental and in black and white, and much more spontaneous in terms of drawing. And I thought I would finish it, but I think that's sort of an abandoned project at this point.
Mike Rhode: Did you self-publish that, or was that published with somebody else?
Jason Little: I just did it as a self-printed mini-comic thing.
Mike Rhode: Then we'll get onto the book that we're here to talk about today, the aptly-titled The Vagina. You’ve been serializing it in English as a webcomic, described as:
Meet Polly and Molly.
Polly Amorous, a burlesque performer, lives in Brooklyn. True to her name, she lives a wild, hyper-sexual life. Molly Morris's life, however, is mild by comparison; she runs a café in Oakland and lives in a monogamous lesbian relationship. But—happiness eludes both women. Polly keeps taking the wrong men to bed. Meanwhile, Molly’s wife wants to get pregnant...but Molly is repulsed by the idea.
Though these women are strangers to one-another, their destinies are inextricably linked. This bizarre story takes place somewhere on the frontier between porno-land and the real world. As you read The Vagina, you’ll experience tears of laughter, tears of sorrow, and an assortment of other bodily fluids as well.
Jason Little: I can actually tie it all into Borb too. So while I'm at Uncivilized, Tom Kaczynski introduced me to Nicholas Grivel, who's a French agent and he specializes in international rights and he managed to help me sell Borb to Aaarg!, which is a now-defunct magazine that also was doing French albums. And so the French Borb came out from Aaarg! and they really seemed to like working with me. So they solicited another project from me. I pitched some thoughtful, sensitive intelligent projects to them, all of which they rejected. And then I pitched them a stupid, dirty project idea, which they loved. And so I started doing “The Vagina” as a serialized thing in Aaarg! Magazine. I turned in six pages every month at first, and then they switched to a bi-monthly format, and then to a quarterly. So the schedule kept changing.
The genesis of The Vagina came out of research that I'd been doing for another book which required that I read a lot of books about the universe and black holes and the space-time continuum. I was reading Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan and all these wonderful sort of popular science books. And then I got this stupid idea about another potential completely absurd application of the Einstein-Rosen Bridge concept in which two women - women who are strangers to each other - have their vaginas connected via essentially a wormhole and how much slapstick could come out of that. So I pitched that idea to Aaarg! and they went with it. I started delivering episodes and that continued for a while, but then their magazine went belly up and I ended up finishing it as Le Vagin, an album for La Boîte à Bulles and a lovely hardcover came out in 2019. I've gotten some good reviews on French websites to have translated by Google. Since then I’ve been working to acquire English-language readers by serializing a page a week at https://vaginacomic.com/ . I’m also posting a panel or two a day on social media, in sync with the weekly updates.
I was really excited about the stupid premise – ‘stupid’ being sort of synonymous with funny in my mind. I would test out the premise by describing the plot and the first few scenes to my friends. And it seemed to go over well so then I began to set goals. I wanted it to be really porny and explicit in its eroticism and, and exist in the same kind of universe with the porn that we have today, with all these niches and archetypes, like the BBW (big, beautiful woman) and the BBC (the big black cock). But to also draw attention to these as vile stereotypes, that are like completely unacceptable to discuss in normal conversation or normal existence, while fetishization of things like race, body size, and sexual orientation is just part of the anything goes attitude in the porn universe.
I wanted to try to have this porn universe setting collide with real life expectations and see what came out of it. Initially I wanted it to seem really sort of crass, and stupid, and very germane to what I call ‘the porniverse’ with the rules of that space in effect. And then I wanted it to evolve in the same way that I had Borb evolve into something sensitive and psychologically complex that had something valuable to say about society. So I was giving myself a challenge in the same way that I did with Borb.
Mike Rhode: Okay. So, an example of that that type of thinking perhaps would be Polly and her compulsive pursuit of smaller Asian men and their attraction to her. It's kind of hard to talk about this in some ways, because it's being serialized here in America, so we have to be a little bit wary of spoilers as most people won't have read the French version.
In an age when even the New York Times runs articles about sex toys, The Vagina is still somewhat shocking and definitely not safe for work. It's a little hard to discuss the comic without giving spoilers, but it's basically about two women whose vaginas work as a portal between each other, a fact discovered via masturbation. You explained that you had what you considered a stupid idea, and this is the one that the French magazine ran with, but this is still a very weird idea that wouldn't occur to probably 99.99% of the universe. Even with doing research on black holes, can you look a little deeper into why you thought of, or how you thought of, this idea? Is this a daydream idea, or a sketching idea, or an “I’m reading about black holes. Oh my God, wouldn't this be a very odd idea?”
Jason Little: It was one of these things where I had initial plans, like I wanted to do something really erotic -- because in my past work, the innocent and the erotic have blended a little bit in a way that really interfered with the marketability of my books. My Bee books (Shutterbug Follies and Motel Art Improvement Service) look like young adult graphic novels and, then 80 pages into it suddenly there's frontal nudity or something like that. I really did not have a smart sense of how to segregate adult considerations and youthful considerations, especially since so much of my style is derived from the European graphic album sensibility, like Tintin, so it just looks like it's for kids. So, I decided, “Okay, why don't I just do something dirty. That's unabashedly dirty and is dirty from beginning to end.”
It helped me to just get that out of my system a little bit, and maybe I can move on from that and do something a little bit more cerebral in the future. So that was the first goal. And then I hit on the space-time aberration premise, and then I just thought about it. Then I started to add characters to the premise. And then, if I'm going to do something like this, it's really about vaginas and that is not native territory for a male cartoonists to pursue. So I'm definitely going in where I'm not necessarily invited. I knew then that I had to build something. I had to take my stupid idea and then try to spackle as much smart stuff onto the outside of it as I possibly could.
That meant I had new goals, one of which was to pass the Bechdel test, which was important, but quite easy. The other was that I wanted to have all the characters be different from me. I wanted to explore sexual orientation, and racial identity, and gender different from me. So there are no white male straight characters in the book. And that's been an interesting journey too, because I feel like that's a controversial topic today, in that younger writers and readers tend to be defensive and protective of their identities, and not want outsiders exploring those identities. Older writers, on the other hand, tend to really embrace the concept of writing characters that are very different from themselves just to enrich the book, but also as an empathy thing. The more we write about people that are different from ourselves, the more we can begin to understand them better, just through the act of imaging ourselves into their shoes. I had to write everybody different from me and so I had to really try to write well, as well as I possibly can, in order to bring those characters to life in a way that was believable to the readers.
Mike Rhode: Once you started writing these characters, were they based on real people? Did you seek out real people that would possibly be reflected in the characters, and ask them to give your script a reading too?
Mike Rhode: But did you find some gay women or some burlesque performers to look at some pages and see if they thought you were being fair?
Jason Little: Yeah, sensitivity readers. Which is a fairly new term and very popular term, but it's something that I do. It's a big thing among cartoonists and editors nowadays. I've always done that, but previous to this book, I did not necessarily seek out readers that had specific identities that match the identities of the characters in the book. This time I totally made sure that I did and it was a really interesting experience. In the earlier drafts of the book, the beginning of the story came on much more strongly with a porniverse setting and character was much weaker. That didn't go over well. In a way, I was trying to use the same method that I used with Borb, because Borb is not really a fleshed-out character in the beginning. He's just the archetype or the stereotype.
Mike Rhode: Slapstick, I guess, would be the main type of humor in Borb.
Jason Little: As it turns out I had a few complaints about that approach with Borb, but no one who really got in my face about it. What I did with The Vagina is I put it up as a slide show. I did chapter one as a slide show with Bob Sikoryak’s Carousel. It’s a crass version of chapter one. Afterwards this woman came up to me and just started yelling at me. She felt that I was the enemy and that I had done something completely unconscionable. I'm pathetically responding, “But if you were to read chapters two and three, you would see that the empathy part kicks in as does the character development and the internal psychology…” So it turned out serializing The Vagina in that form, where I was really leading with crass porny stuff in the beginning, just wasn't working out. So I totally reworked chapter one and redrew the whole thing from scratch. I feel it now leads with empathy and more complex characters. It still plays a little bit with archetypes as the main characters manifest in very archetypical ways, and their backstories that shaped them into who they are at the beginning of the story, don’t come out until later chapters. That comes up gradually along the way.
Mike Rhode: Honestly, I'm not sure you can tell a story of this type with truly deep, thoughtful introspective characters. If only, in part because their heads would explode by what was happening to them.
Jason Little: Right. It’s a comedy work, and so it exists in a comedic space where ridiculous things happen. We have to accept a certain amount of, or hope for a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. The way viewers would watch a Wayne's World or Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure or the Marx Brothers movies even.
Mike Rhode: You were talking a little bit about the way you were trying to purposely plot and design this book. I think that's been something that has been very true of your entire career, going all the way back to Jack's Luck. I remember when it came out at SPX, where everybody was really struck by the formalism and the interesting choice of the art style that you'd made. Can you talk a little bit about your interest in experimentation and formalism? Would you call yourself a thinking man's cartoonist?
Jason Little: Yeah, definitely. Definitely. Everything has a plan. I don't like repeating myself, which made doing the second Bee book difficult for me, because I felt like it was repeating myself a little bit. I desperately want to learn something from any process. Jack's Luck was about tricks, trying to play to my weaknesses in a way, and suppress my strengths, so that I can use other skills or develop other skills. And then Bee (aka Shutterbug Follies) was, I guess, an attempt to emulate Hergé as much as I could with my own interests and to create something that had that same sort of reading experience. And then Motel Art Improvement Service felt like just doing the same thing over again, which is why it was hard. We talked about the comic strip constraint in Borb, so looking at The Vagina, I look at it and I say, “Oh, this looks just like Bee! It's full color. It's pretty, it's the same sort of cartoony style.” And I thought, “Well, am I not repeating myself with that too?” But then I reminded myself, “Oh yeah, I drew the whole book digitally.” So that was my sacrifice book that would allow me to bone up on my digital practice. Which I had to do because at SVA, where I teach cartooning, they had just built the cartooning and illustration department, a computer lab for the first time. We had not had our own lab. And so we had suddenly had this beautiful facility with like 30 Cintiqs and Power Macs, but then nobody signed on to teach the ‘how to draw comics digitally’ class. “Uh-oh. We need that class. Nobody's stepping up. I guess I have to do it except I don't have a digital practice in place.” So I used that book as an on-the-job-learning thing.
Mike Rhode: Did you write out a script first? Write a script, thumbnail it, and then go ahead and do the full pages?
Jason Little: For The Vagina, since it started as a serial at Aaarg! magazine, I pitched it as a text and then wrote it all out as a script, which I need to do for myself anyway. I definitely went through a period when I was younger when I thought, “Well, I guess I'm an alternative cartoonist and alternative cartoonists are intuitive and impulsive and they don't use [scripts].” I realized that that just doesn't match my personality and my neurotransmitter supply. I needed to have the organizing element of the script, and also wanted to really make sure the writing was tight. And so I always do a script. That said, I didn't for Borb. That was more impulsive, but I always usually do a script. Then the script gets read by my writer friends, and they give me notes on it. That goes through a lot of drafts before I even start drawing layouts for it. Then once it's written, once it's made visual, then my cartoonist friends read it and give me notes on it too.
I made a point of showing The Vagina to as many colleagues as I could that matched the different characters, or identity descriptors. And it was really interesting. I showed it to my African-American studio mates, and they were very satisfied with the characterization of Stephen, the Black British character, but they were nervous about the Asian-American characters. So then I showed it to my Asian-American colleagues. I showed it to Jason Shiga and asked him for his opinion in particular on the Asian-American character. And he was fine with the Asian-American character, but he was nervous about how African-American readers would react to it. It seemed like everybody was okay with the depiction of their own identity, but they were having an empathetic anxiety about the depiction of the other characters with other identities.
Mike Rhode: I'll go ahead and fill in a little bit about that anxiety. You've depicted Nelson, the Asian-American characters as being somewhat a small man. And one is specifically referred to as having a smaller penis by one of Polly’s friends, and the Black man, Stephen, is portrayed respectfully, but then there's the large size of his penis, which plays into that stereotype. However, it's also an important plot point. So you've asked people about that, people of color, but are you worried about reaction when that part of the strip hits online?
Jason Little: It will be interesting. So far so good. That part of the serialization passed without complaint. The way that I've described it is that everybody in the story who has a penis has a penis that's proportional to their body size. So Polly is deliberately seeking out small men. Yes. If you bring out your ruler and compare, Valentino who is white and has a penis, his penis is the same size as proportionally as Nelson’s penis is. And then Stephen is super tall - he's like six’ three,” or something like that. Polly towers over Nelson and Stephen towers over Polly. And so everybody's penis is proportional to his body size.
Mike Rhode: How did it end up in French? Did the publisher translate it? Did you translate it?
Jason Little: I do not speak French although I wish I did because there are so many incredible comics coming out of France. My wishlist is mostly from Amazon.fr. The translator for Borb was a wonderful editor at Aaarg! named Léa Guidi, and she was really fun to work with. And as far as I can tell the translation was great. She asked a lot of fascinating questions about sound effects, which are always difficult things to translate. She did much of the translation of The Vagina too, but also in collaboration with a French guy named Donald Rasambo. Vincent Henry did the last few chapters, that weren’t in Aaarg! magazine. So I think Vincent did the final translation.
Mike Rhode: I’m continuing to look at the books’ credits. What the heck did Tim Kreider do for you?
Jason Little: He's one of the people that I told this story to, and then I think I had him read the thing later on too, and he gave me notes on it.
Mike Rhode: I always enjoyed his cartooning. I enjoy his essays too, but when he was at the Baltimore City Paper, I really enjoyed his cartooning. So The Vagina basically has had three lives. It was in a French magazine as a serialized comic. It was a French album, and now it's becoming an American web comic. I was wondering why you decided to make it a web comic in the States.
Jason Little: Everything that I've done previously appeared on the web before it was a print volume. That served me well, although I definitely have been interested in other models. I was very interested in Jason Shiga’s Demon model, where he would do a booklet that he printed himself on a Risograph machine that he bought, and then send that to his Patreon subscribers. Then once that had been taken care of, then he would put it up on the web. And then finally it came out as a First Second three-volume book. Back in the day when I was doing the Bee books, for example, editorial was really nervous about the notion of webcomics. It seemed like the readers wouldn't buy the book if they had already seen it on their computer screens. But I think new editors are realizing that the webcomic is this advanced publicity for the eventual print version. Though I have not yet really shopped The Vagina around in earnest to American publishers. I just want readers; I want people to see this book.
Mike Rhode: I think 10, 15 years ago, you would have had a lot of publishers that wanted to just serialize it, back when Eros Comix, Playboy Comics, and Hustler Comics existed. But that genre has faded in American comics at the moment. The idea of launching a not-safe-for-work web comic that is pornographic, but not particularly arousing, seems as though you made it about as hard for yourself (sorry, one can't avoid the puns) … made it as difficult for yourself as you possibly could. That's just an observation - you can respond or not.
Jason Little: I seem to be good at that. Basically much of this is me operating from a fairly luxurious position in that I’m middle-aged, I have self-knowledge, I know what I'm interested in, and I have a really nice steady job. I feel like I'm the luckiest cartooning teacher in the tri-state area. I have this cartoon coordinator position at SVA so I make a full-time living off my teaching. It’s a job I love, and the fact that it pays my bills means that the comics that I make are just sort of like a bonus and I don't need to worry about being profitable with the comics. I don't have to make any compromises in terms of content in pursuit of survival.
Mike Rhode: Did you get any pushback from your students at SVA about the existence of this work?
Jason Little: A number of them are following it on Instagram. I get a number of likes from, from those students. I have a policy of not following my students on social media until after they graduate. It's reassuring because some of my black male students or former students tend to like the posts where Stephen appears and some of my butch female students and colleagues tend to do a lot of liking of panels where Molly appears. So I think they just really like to see themselves or their cultural or gender or orientation identity depicted in comics.
Mike Rhode: I looked at it on the website. Is the Instagram parallel with the website or are you ahead on one platform?
Mike Rhode: Let me ask about Instagram then, since on Instagram we're seeing a lot of cartoonists. I know Liana Finck at least has gotten a book out of it. Why did you choose to serialize this on Instagram? At seven times a week?
Jason Little: I'm actually doing it on Twitter and Facebook and even Tumblr at the same time too.
Mike Rhode: I see. It's a multi-platform attempt, but it is panel by panel on most of those. And then you capture the whole thing on your website at the end of the week. Are you seeing more engagement on one platform than another?
Jason Little: I get most of my response on Instagram and I get a decent amount on Facebook. I get a few, like maybe one a day, on Twitter, even though Twitter is the only place where I run the panels uncensored. On the other platforms, I use pixelation to blur out any sort of nudity or sexual acts.
Mike Rhode: Because otherwise they would push you off the platforms immediately.
Jason Little: Definitely. For a while, I was blurring genitals and buttocks and nipples and stuff like that on Tumblr and Instagram and Facebook. But then there were situations that could be interpreted as sex acts, even though I thought of them as just situations with nudity in them. So then I got stern warnings from all three of those - Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr. I feel like then I became much more draconian about my pixelation of anything where a character is naked and that character is touching another human being. I have to blur out both characters’ entire bodies.
Mike Rhode: Wow. So in some ways it's a very different experience for people depending on which platform they're looking at it on. One, a full page is cut into a panel. Two, it's pixilated. Three, you're not getting a full page of story at one time like you do in a comic book.
Jason Little: It's interesting because right now the page that I just finished putting up is mostly silent. The reader would probably have taken in that page maybe in like 10 seconds total. It's funny to be serializing that over an entire week, so the pacing of it now has become glacial.
Mike Rhode: Who controls the timing in comics - this goes back way back in comics - back to Will Eisner in the ‘40s; the fact that the page layout helps set the pace, even though the reader sets the overall pace themselves. You are upending that relationship, after having created a standard pacing, you are taking it and upending it completely. Wow. Are you finding people are not happy that it's not moving fast enough?
Jason Little: I'm not too worried about it. When it's slow, people's attention drifts, and then when funny things happen, their attention is captured. Again, I'm not worried about losing anybody completely.
Mike Rhode: What are your thoughts about getting this published in America in print? There's still people like me that much prefer to buy a print thing that we know will last and the cartoonist hopefully will make money on.
Jason Little: I'm hoping that it is now is a good time for me to start looking again. I feel like I have hard data now that I can bring to the conversation and there does seem to be an online audience for it. When I did the Bee books years ago, I was somehow assuming that most of the readers who would be attracted to that project would be young women, as the main character’s an 18-year-old woman. But I really found that most of the readers were middle-aged men, or at least adult men. That was kind of a bummer because I thought, “Oh, I'm trying to be proactive and have this female protagonist to try expand the readership of comics.” We're talking about 20 years ago when the readership of comics was still majority male.
Now I'm putting The Vagina up online and I feel like the majority of the likes that I got on Instagram are from female readers. I think that's pretty cool. It surprises me because this is even more nakedly erotic in a way that I associate with a male gaze. I expected more male readers for this project, but I think the crucial differences in the title. I'm really proud of the title as it’s confrontational, but also clinical and anatomical. It's a word that men avoid using generally, but in my own personal vocabulary, my choice of words for that organ has dwindled to just vagina. That's the only word that I really use anymore to describe that organ. I think when women see The Vagina, that's a frank expression of a female reality. I think women see that and say, “Oh, they're talking about something that I understand.”
Mike Rhode: My impression also is that Instagram tends to be a more female-friendly, or a female-populated platform perhaps, than some of the others. But that's just an impression that I have (it’s apparently true as of this writing).
I reached out and got some questions from a few of your long-term readers (who also happen to be my friends). One person wants to know if there were changes in the current online version compared to the published French version. And if so, what changes did you make and why?
Jason Little: There was a sequence in the first chapter that spelled out the space-time aberration as though it had a concrete explanation in the French edition, but then in the US edition, I replaced that with silent panels.
Jason Little: Chakras. I'm envisioning a four-dimensional, hyperspheres that you can't see in our three-dimensional space. I think that makes it a little more enigmatic, and also more of a mystery for the reader to sort of puzzle through.
Mike Rhode: Question number two was from a reader who wanted to know about the book’s deep ties to the burlesque world and how you did the research for the burlesque parts?
Jason Little: I was privileged when I went to Oberlin College back in my late teens, early twenties, to meet a schoolmate named Julie Atlas Muz. She was a freshman when I was a senior and she was a dance major. I would see her performances and hang out with her in the cafeteria with my friends. When I moved to New York, I was excited to discover that she had also come here and had become one of the founding performers in the neo-burlesque movement. I saw a number of her performances, all of which integrated elements of classic burlesque striptease, but also performance art. All of her performances were about something and had a conceptual hook in some way. So that deeply informed Polly's integration of performance art and burlesque stuff. But her appearance is more reminiscent of Muz’s colleague, Dirty Martini. She more physically resembles her. And then the third burlesque character, Valentino is sort of vaguely inspired by Tigger, who is also a good friend of Julie's and Dirty’s.
Mike Rhode: Wow. One would not expect ultra-high-class Oberlin in Ohio to nurture a burlesque performer who then pops up in New York City all these years later for you find inspiration for a comic story in.
Jason Little: All sorts of weird and cool people go to Oberlin and they ended up doing some weird and cool things.
Mike Rhode: Good for her. Finally, it sounded as though you were not too interested in returning to the story of Bee, but my third reader question asked if you would be doing any more stories about her.
Jason Little: I actually have a whole script that I wrote and revised through several drafts for a third Bee volume in which psychedelic drugs plays a big role. Bee actually goes to a version of Oberlin. She enrolls at a liberal arts college and I actually went so far as to attend an Oberlin reunion and take copious reference pictures of all the locations. I had a real regression thing. I went to the reunion and I wanted to remember deeply about what it was like to be an undergrad at Oberlin. I found myself horny and depressed and deeply needing to act out and draw attention to myself. I achieved that sort of time travel, but tI'm also not too excited about the idea of repeating myself creatively. So, that book is a low priority, so it keeps getting pushed aside by, by other projects that I would rather be working on.
Mike Rhode: Because The Vagina is essentially done and you're just cleaning it up a little bit, do you want to talk about current or planned projects?
Jason Little: Sure. So now that I'm middle-aged and I have children, and I've gotten this dirty thing kind of out of my system, my next two book ideas are for a middle grades graphic novel, and maybe a young adult graphic novel, with no sexual content and no romantic content at all. I do want to explore issues of death, and disease, and aging, and acceptance of aging, and how difficult wrapping your brain around that sort of thing is for a child. But I have to do them under a pseudonym because now that I've done all this naughty stuff, an editor would probably think twice before signing me on to do it a middle grades graphic novels. I know that Tomi Ungerer in the seventies did all these picture books and then he when he did some erotic work, it totally torpedoed his entire picture book career. Renee French did her children's book work under a pseudonym because she had previously done work in which child characters had sexuality. So, that's what I'm going to do.
As you might expect, Jason’s work can be found at multiple places online–
Web site: www.beecomix.com
3D Comics: littleanaglyph.tumblr.com