Gary Sullivan

Phoebe Gloeckner
incubus.jpeg (48160 bytes) "Incubus" © 1991 by Phoebe Gloeckner

Gary Sullivan: When did you begin doing comics? At what point did you become aware of "the underground"?

Phoebe Gloeckner: I started doing comics when I was fifteen years old, although I had been drawing for many years before I finally started putting pictures together to make a story. My parents read "underground" comics and had them around the house, and as a child I was actually more familiar with this type of comic that I was with comics that were more targeted at children. So the term "underground" was sort of meaningless to me, since in my life, there was nothing underground about them. They were the default type of comic, the basic building-block comic, in our household.

GS: In Mind Riot, you mention having studied to become a medical illustrator in part as a safeguard ... your father having lead a "bohemian lifestyle" and self-destructing. Can you talk a little bit about that? What did your father do? What happened to him?

PG: My Dad was a very talented artist. Unfortunately, he really was plagued with heavy drinking and a kind of rebel-boy personality that marginalized him. I identified with him so strongly that I felt if I succumbed to my desire to be an "artist," I'd fail like he did. I say "fail" because he really did want create more and better things than he did, and he clearly fell very short of his potential. Drawing came very easily to him, and he was very good at it, and painting, winning awards when he was quite young, but he got into drugs and drinking and never got out of it. His parents complicated his efforts at recovery by constantly throwing money at him. They loved him, and hated to see him suffer because of lack of food, clothing, or shelter. He died of congestive heart failure related to his drinking.

GS: Can you talk a little bit about influences? You seem to be involved at least as much in the literary world as you are in the comics world. There doesn't appear to be much confluence between the two worlds, so I'm curious how you hooked up with people like Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian, Lori Lubeski, etc. ... and how knowing and working with literary types might have made itself manifest in your cartoon work ...

PG: Well, to tell you the truth, I've always thought of myself as a writer as much as a visual artist—in fact, although I use the term "cartoonist" to describe myself, it doesn't fit too comfortably—particularly now, when I'm working on an illustrated novel. As a matter of fact, all cartoonists are writers.

I love hanging out with "literary types." They tend to be smart and funny. I've known Lori Lubeski since we were in college and very young. She's a great poet and I love just hearing her talk. She once gave me a book, Shy, by Kevin Killian. I liked the book very much so when I met Kevin at a production of one of his plays in San Francisco, I told him so. He invited me to be in his next play, and since then, I've performed many times for him. He's a charming person and many artists and writers are anxious to be in his plays—people like Barbara Guest, Norma Cole, Rex Ray, Andrea Juno, Jonathan Hammer, Cliff Hengst and Scott Hewicker, and Leslie Scalapino. And Lori Lubeski.

GS: I note a stylistic shift from the comics you did in 1989 and those from 1990 ... and I'm wondering if you notice that as well (am I myopic or something?), and if so, was there any conscious change in your approach that you made? Or did you suddenly become at that time more confident? Or differently confident?

PG: There was actually a huge change. I started using a brush rather than a crow-quill for most of my work except for the finest cross-hatching.

GS: What is your process now? Let's take the "Nightmare on Polk Street" from 1994 as an example. I'm assuming, in part based on your interview with Andrea Juno, that this is largely an autobiographical story. How did you reconstruct these scenes? Did you draw from memory? Did you use live models? Photographs? How did you do the interiors?

PG: This is a very complicated question. That particular story was based on my experience, but I really screwed around with time in creating the story. I think any writer does this, in creating a narrative that has a beginning, middle, and end. The events described in the story as happening over a few days or a week actually occurred over a month, or a few months. It's not so important to me that a story is "the truth" in a literal sense, even when I'm writing something that has a basis in my own experience. I'm not creating documentary; I'm after some sort of emotional truth, like any artist, I think.

I draw primarily from memory or imagination. For certain poses or characters, I sometimes refer to old photographs or take new photos ... or sometimes, if I'm sitting in a cafe or somewhere where I can draw a little, I'll steal a face, or try to capture a gesture or a pose that I'll use later on. The interiors ... are composites of memory and imagination, or reference to something right in front of me—there's no real process that I can re-create for you here ... I generally just get what I need from my memory and my surroundings.

If it's a very specific, recognizable place, like a certain bar in Prague or a landmark in San Francisco, I'll take a picture or look on the web or in the encyclopedia.

GS: More about process: Do you begin with pencil? If so, how elaborately do you pencil in things prior to inking? Are your originals fairly clean, or filled with white-out, pasted-on panels & picture-portions, etc.?

PG: Yes, I begin with graphite pencil. How elaborate my sketches are depends on how confident I am on a particular day. My originals, for the most part, are pretty clean.

GS: Suddenly, in 1998, you had what seems a tremendous burst of activity. What lead to that? Had Grossinger contacted you about doing something for North Atlantic/Frog, Ltd. prior to that?

PG: Well, Grossinger asked me to do a collection, and I wasn't happy with much of the work I already had, so I decided to do a lot of new work for the book. More than half of the book is new work or work not previously published. Also, around the same time, Steve Lafler and Steve Beaupre asked me to do stories for several issues of Buzzard, and I was happy to put that work in the book too.

I think I needed someone to show interest in my work in order to work up motivation at that time. That's not always true, but it was over the last few years.

GS: You had also gone back to a couple of older pieces ... are there other pieces you have not quite finished from the past that you may be going back to?

PG: Yes.

GS: What are you working on now?

PG: An illustrated novel called, The Diary of a Teen-age Girl. It's not a comic book. It's due out next April (2000).

GS: Any designs on doing a comic book series, like Dirty Plotte or something?

PG: Yes. This is something I'd like to do after the novel.

GS: What sorts of things are you likely to explore when you begin doing a periodical comic book? Anything you haven't yet dealt with that you'd like to? Or are there any modes possible in the serialized comic book format you're eager to explore/exploit?

PG: I want to do long stories about people who don't seem to be much like me.

GS: I noted on your website, reading through the review snippets of A Child's Life, that Crumb's Introduction seemed to have made at least one reviewer, Athena Douris, fairly upset. She writes: "The book's one pitfall is the truly disgusting introduction by cartoonist bigwig Robert Crumb, in which he confesses to wanting to molest Gloeckner when she was young. (He did in fact know her then.) Perhaps the intro was tongue-in-cheek, but it made me want to put finger-down-throat." What is your response to reactions like this? How did you feel yourself about the Introduction?

PG: I like the Introduction. Many people have said they are disturbed by it, but I think they are more disturbed by R. Crumb acting like R. Crumb than by what it says about me.

GS: In "A Shoulder to Cry On" you depict Minnie (who I'm seeing is a fictionalized version of yourself) as being visited by a number of even smaller girls, all of whom relate to her their various problems and difficulties in life ("My big brother got arrested then my parents started fighting and my daddy hit me bad and he left and my mom got real sad and no one ever cared about me again. And my friend here never got enough food to eat and she's gonna die." Minnie attempts to take care of these children, until she's interrupted by her stepfather ... Where did the impulse to add these other problem-beset fictional children into the tale? Is there some childhood equivalent to this (real or emotional) you are exploring here?

PG: I was actually inspired to include these little doll-children after watching my daughter play with her stuffed animals. Children project much of what they are feeling on to such objects when they play, and it seemed like a good vehicle to explore the emotional state of the little girl in the story who otherwise often seems like a brat. They also represent, in general, the problems in the world, and all the unfairness and sadness which I feel helpless to do much about but I wish I could. I do wish I could save those little girls.

GS: I noticed on your website a link to books by Iceberg Slim. I think I know maybe one person who's ever heard of him! How did you get interested in his writing?

PG: My mother had his books at home when I was growing up. One of his books is called Pimp. The title attracted me. His work is very engaging and colorful. And moving. A few years ago, I wanted to re-read some of those books, so I went to the library. There were many copies of each title, but all of them had been checked out. I asked at the reference desk when I might expect to be able to borrow one, and the librarian told me that Iceberg Slim is one of the most popular authors in the prison system, and that the books travel around on the prison bookmobiles, and thus, they're hard to get.

GS: Another website link question: "The Prisoner." (!) My stepfather forced my sister & me to watch this when we were young and I still have occasional nightmares involving the white ball or balloon or whatever it was that would come get you. What's your own fascination with "The Prisoner" about?

PG: Oddly enough, my Dad forced me to watch it too, but it never gave me nightmares. It seems to me to be an allegory of the human mind; one can never get away from oneself, one can never get a perspective on oneself that is not frustratingly subjective. We're trapped inside our own heads, and sometimes the world seems vast and without boundaries, and other times it can involute and become stiflingly small. You know, we are both Patrick McGoohan (#6) and the Village. The ball can be anything ... guilt, fear ... it's a simple idea which has great power, I think.

Home Page

Work Online

"Hoké Poké" at Oxygen


The Diary of a Teen-age Girl, (forthcoming) 2000
A Child's Life, North Atlantic/Frog, Ltd., Berkeley, 1998
Buzzard #20 (cover & comic) Cat Head Comics, MA 1998
Buzzard #19 (comic) Cat Head Comics, MA 1998
Dangerous Drawings (book of interviews with cartoonists) Juno Books, NYC, 1997
Mind Riot: Coming of Age in Comics (edited by K. Hirsch) Simon & Schuster, NY 1997
Weird But True, by J. Goldenberg (illustrations for children's book) Harper Collins, NY 1997
Buzzard # 18 (comic) Cat Head Comics, MA 1997
Buzzard #17 (comic) Cat Head Comics, MA 1996
Angry Women of Rock (cover) Juno Books, NY, 1996
Chain #2 (comic) Buffalo, NY 1995
Twisted Sisters II (comic) Kitchen Sink Press, MA 1994
Weird Things You Can Grow, by J. Goldenberg (illustrations for comic-style children's book) Random House, NY, 1994
Weirdo #28 (comic) Last Gasp, SF 1993
Comic Sisters (comics) Elefanten Press, Berlin 1992
Wimmin's Comics #17 (comic) Rip Off Press, Auburn, CA 1992
Twisted Sisters (comics) Viking/Penguin, NY 1992
Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices, by B. Love (illustrations) Barricade Books, NY, 1992
Angry Women (cover) Re/Search, SF, 1991
Real Girl #1 (cover, comic) Fantagraphics, Seattle 1991
The Atrocity Exhibition, by J.G.Ballard (illustrations) Re/Search, SF, 1991
Wimmin's Comix #16 (comic) Rip Off Press, Auburn, CA 1990
Choices (comic) Angry Isis Press, SF 1990
Young Lust #7 (comic) Last Gasp, 1990
Wimmin's Comix #15 (comic) Rip Off Press, Auburn, CA 1989
Modern Primitives (illustration) Re/Search, SF 1989
Wimmin's Comix #14 (comic) Rip Off Press, Auburn, CA 1989
Weirdo #26 (comic) Last Gasp, SF 1989
Weirdo # 24 (comic) Last Gasp, SF 1989
Pox #4 (comic) POX, Stockholm, 1986
Pox #3 (comic) POX, Stockholm, 1985
Wimmin's Comix #9 (comic) Last Gasp, SF 1984
Wimmin's Comix #8 (comic) Last Gasp, SF 1983
Aftershock (comic) Last Gasp, SF 1981
Weirdo #2 (comic) Last Gasp, SF 1981
Re/Search #3 (comic) Re/Search Publishing, SF 1981
Re/Search #2 (comic) Re/Search Publishing, SF 1981
Young Lust #6 (comic) Last Gasp, SF 1980

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