I first met Edie Fake on my last trip to Chicago. He was working behind the counter at Quimby’s, the obligatory first stop on any tour of the Windy City. Fake was friendly and helpful and we invited him to a Cross Hatch meetup we were holding in Chicago, later that evening. At the time, however, I had no idea that he was a distinguished cartoonist in his own right–though, given Quimby’s pedigree, the news didn’t exactly come as a surprise.
When I got back home to New York, I started seeing Fake’s work all over the place, first with the arrival of the collected Gaylord Phoenix from Secret Acres and then at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Fest, where the cartoonist was present to sign copies of the new book.
Fake has been producing minis zines for a number of years now, but 2011 seems to be the year that it all comes together for the artist, thanks in no small part to the Secret Acres collection–a downright hallucinogenic journey of exploration of gender and self-discovery.
I spoke to Fake about a number of issues during our hour-long interview. During this first part, however, the conversation largely revolves around the time he spent driving a vegetable oil-powered 1970s school bus around the country, because, well, that’s the sort of topic it’s easy to get stuck on.
I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but there are a lot of short bios of you online, all with different information. The one thing they seem to agree on is that you’re a fairly transient person. You’ve lived pretty much everywhere.
Yeah. Right now I’m pretty solid in Chicago. But I feel like I had a lot of years where I was moving every six months. For a while, I lived on a school bus and didn’t get much else done. But the bus broke down eventually, in a way that couldn’t be repaired, so I moved back to Chicago. Since then, I’ve been sort of settled in here in a really delightful way.
I’ve been working at Quimby’s bookstore here, and that’s been a full-time job, on top of studio time and everything else.
What prompted the bus thing?
Before I got the bus, I really did move every four months, sometimes to a different city, sometimes within the city I was at, so I felt pretty at the whim of the universe in general. I’d had this book for a while called Rolling Home, that really entranced me about life on the open road. I was tattooing, which is a good way to earn a lot of money, really fast.
So I saved money and it was one of those things where I got it from one of those bus punks who had had it for years before me and sort of showed me the ropes for repairing it. When I met him, I was like, “oh my god. If I don’t go for this beautiful bus now, I’m never going to do it.” It sort of fell into my life in a really amazing way, and I decided to roll with it [laughs].
You took your living situation to its logical conclusion.
Yeah. I had had a lot of dreams about building a houseboat, too—or just living on it and operating it in some sort of way. I didn’t grow up working on cars or anything, but I really learned a ton about how a machine runs and how to get one back running. It was the most beautiful thing on the road. It was this old ’74, shaped like a loaf of bread. And it was such a beast. It was a really dynamic way to live, and it felt kind of lawless at times. I didn’t get much else done during that time.
You didn’t have any time to do art?
I would do little projects on the road, but I wasn’t keeping up with making zines or mini-comics, like I did when I was settled somewhere. I moved back to Chicago and within a month I was getting things done. Everything was coming together, because I wasn’t constantly thinking about where to park my huge house [laughs]. Or how to get it from one place to the next, or even how to get it started.
Were you traveling with a destination in mind, or were you just rolling down the road?
I was sort of rolling down the road and accepting invitations. When I set out from San Francisco, the casual goal was my friend Heather was moving cross country, so I was moving her stuff and her. Then I ended up in Baltimore for a while, and then I scheduled a tour and did that for a little while, too. And then the bus broke down, ending the tour.
What was the tour?
It was a queer performance tour, Fingers. It was really amazing. There were nine of us traveling in the school bus, and it felt like such a labor of love. It was a vegetable oil bus, so there was a lot of grease thieving, as well.
Those are the ones that smell like French fries all of the time.
Yeah, yeah. Or there was always a greasy sheen to everything in your life. It was good. It was so much work to fill up the tank, so it was good to have all of those people. We each had a performance, but on each tour date only a few of us would perform, and then the rest of us would be relaxed and scrounging grease, doing this and that, and cooking a meal.
Were you with people for the majority of the time you spent on the bus?
When I lived in Baltimore, I was living alone most of the time I was on it. But there were friends’ houses nearby. I think I was with someone almost all of the time I was traveling. There were a few little treks that I made by myself. But most of the time I had people with me.
Driving across the country alone seems like it could drive you insane after a while.
Yeah. In a smaller vehicle with a destination in mind, driving across the country would be fine. But there was just so much logistically that gets helped by having a couple of people on-board.
Was there any negative reaction in smaller towns, driving in on a retrofitted 70s vegetable-powered bus for a queer performance art tour? Were there any weird run-ins?
There was one bad moment when we were trying to meet up with a friend in a Hooters parking lot, or something. But in general, I feel like it was almost a dazzle camouflage. The bad side is that people treat it almost like it’s the circus coming to town, only it’s a bunch of dirty gays on a bus. But even when we were in small towns, it was pretty chill. Everyone was like, “well, you’re obviously passing through here.”
My time on the road was this dirty gay time, but at the same time, everyone was really human. There was a lot of human courtesy. I didn’t face a lot of disrespect or getting run out of town, or anything like that.
No. No pitchforks, no torches or anything.
What sort of performance art were you doing?
I was doing…[laughs].
It’s a bad sign when you have to laugh before you say it.
Well [laughs], I’m thinking back… I was dressed up like a vampire and I was performing this thing about how you get fed by the things that you should feed. Kind of using that vampire energy life blood sucking to say, “wait, wait, you need to take that from other people, but you also need to give that to other people.” That’s a cheesy summary of it. But I hope it was kind of funny, too.
I was living in Baltimore on the bus, and I started building this coffin for the set [laughs]. And I was like, “what am I doing? Building a coffin? Oh god. It’s over.”
A clear sign that you’d taken it too far.
I was building my own coffin. That was a bad sign. I’m glad I can chuckle about that.
Do you consider yourself medium agnostic, when it comes to art?
I guess so. Since I’ve been in Chicago, I’ve been mostly tied to drawing in the multiple things that that can mean. But I’m really super excited about it. I’m hiding my stride with drawing in this way that makes me not pay attention to performing as much. Drawing and print making have been the bulk of what I’ve been working on. It feels really focused and nice.
But I’d like to think that I could be medium agnostic. As much I was drawing comics, I’m not tied to it as my only thing.
When you said that everything fell into place on your return to Chicago, how much of a role does finding out where you want to go artistically play in that feeling?
I think it plays a big role, having the time to focus on things. I moved here and things really lined up for me in a housing way and an employment way, and in general, people contacted me about being interested in drawings and projects. Finishing up the Gaylord [Phoenix] book was also a big part of forcing me to get settled somewhere, because I knew I had to get it down. I’m just really lucky that Chicago didn’t kick me out—“there’s no place to live, there’s no job for you. Get out of town.”
Have you been kicked out of cities in the past?
I grew up outside of Chicago and lived here from 2002 to 2004. There was a span in 2004 where everything bad was happening to me. Twice I was evicted because they were knocking down the building, once because I had a creepy landlord. It was a string of the city telling me to leave. “Are you going to try to move somewhere else in Chicago? Because I’ll kick you out of there, as well.”
[Continued in Part Two]