We continue our conversation with the Gaylord Phoenix author by discussing the queer comics scene, changing while staying put, and how it’s possible to maintain the punk ethos while holding down a day job.
Are these personal transformations slowing down for you, as you get older, or are you in still in a constant state of change?
I think constant change, but without the sort of physical upheavel that I was becoming really used to. I’m standing still and still changing.
Is it harder to change when standing still? Is it harder to internalize change?
I think…well, no. I don’t think so. I think that having this come after a totally nomadic life is pretty good. I think I ended up becoming pretty feral after it. I think of it as adjusting myself back into civilization—not that it was that drastic, but I think there’s time for me to take up things that are stationary, that still change me in some way.
You mentioned the punk ethos with respect to Quimby’s. There seems to be a pretty standard arc in life, where it’s easy to abide by those standards of living when you’re younger. Is it hard to maintain that when you’re not only stationary, but you’ve got a good, solid job?
No. I actually don’t. But I think you hit a point where you need to scheme with it and grow with it. I was sloppy and irresponsible for a long time, but I gradually learned about taking care of things that I was responsible for. And I was also able to grow. I’ve always tried to have a job that doesn’t suck my soul.
If you’re lucky enough to find it.
Yeah. I think it’s something that takes a little bit of fighting. You won’t always have it. But trying to figure out what you want, what you need, how you want to live, and not fuck other people over. And also, I think that the more stable I get, the more I can contribute to things that other people are doing, which is awesome and exciting.
I feel like I took a lot of resources and energy from people for a few years, especially while being super transcient. Now that I’m settled, it’s like, “I can print that for you,” “I can scan that for you,” or “stay at my house for a month.” I’m able to offer things that I’ve taken from people in the past—and that I know people will always need.
Do you feel more a part of the comics scene with the book out?
I guess so. I think I always felt a part of a comics scene in a pen pal kind of way. I went to APE for a couple of years, a few years ago, and would trade books. I had a network of people I would trade things I made with. Through a barter network, I’ve always felt connected.
With the book coming out and working at Quimby’s, I know people in-person now. I’ve been drawing with the Trouble Club here for a while. And Chicago is really unpretentious and awesome. There’s a lot of overlap. You go to an opening and meet people. I feel really connected here to comics, to zine makers, to people doing art and activism. It’s a really amazing time to be here, right now.
Is there a strong queer comics network in the States?
Yeah, I guess. I feel like I’m maybe ready to lump things into “queer” that maybe people wouldn’t identify as a “gay” story. I do feel really connected to an amorphous gay art scene and within that, the comics I’ve seen have been amazing. In sort of a greater project, it’s one of many things.
It’s easy to lump things into categories, sometimes. Is there a problem indentify them as such? Does that lead to some manner of segregation from the larger comics community?
I don’t mind it, but I understand the problems with identity politics. Maybe something to keeping that open is keeping that definition flexible. But I get mad when I don’t see enough women getting covered in comics criticism or enough queer artists or artists of color. There’s not big enough support. I think it’s important to rectify that situation.
I see so many mini-comics from talented women and queers and folks of color, but maybe not so many published graphic novels, and I think that says something about support being offered and people being supported in a critical and moneyed way.
Is defining a comic as “queer” more dependent on how its creator identifies or the subject matter of the book itself?
If I don’t know how someone identifies, I’d probably say, “this comic is real great and real gay” [laughs]. I don’t think I would proclaim and identify for someone. Maybe through the subject matter—maybe that’s a trickle through from zine culture, sex positive attitudes being seeing as queer inclusive. Not claiming identities, but claiming openness of spaces.
Is Gaylord Phoenix sex positive? It has a sometimes violent portrayal of sex.
Yeah. That’s a weird thing that I’ve try to figure out how to articulate. When I was making it, I felt that it was really important to have it be sex positive and queer positive, in spite of there being this violence that needs to be dealt with. Writing about sex and drawing about sex—I don’t know if Gaylord can be described as “sexy,” but it can be described as “creative sexuality.” Anything is possible.
I didn’t really mean for the violence to shut that off. I think the violence was the plot saying, “you really have to figure yourself out.”
[Concluded in Part Four.]