French-Canadian cartoonist and animator Diane Obomsawin has a significant reputation in the Francophone world for her books and films like “Here and There,” her animated short about the chaos of splitting a childhood on two continents. In 2009, Drawn and Quarterly published her first book in English, “Kaspar,” which recounted one of the great mysteries of modern Europe, the strange, short life of Kaspar Hauser, a man who claimed to have been raised in complete isolation, growing up while inside a dark cell, only to be killed at a young age.
Her new book, “On Loving Women,” is a very different project. The volume collects stories by Obomsawin and a number of her friends sharing the stories of young women and the first moments, conscious or not, when they first felt attraction towards women. The result is a book filled with a number of sad and confused moments, but overall, it is a happy, light-hearted book full of sweetness and hope.
CBR News: “On Loving Women” is a unique collection of stories; how would you describe the book?
Diane Obomsawin: It’s about the first desire of a woman for another woman, conscious or unconsciously. It’s about the very first attraction. What inspired me was a book where [the author] explained that each time he saw a couple — a guy and a woman — that are kissing, when he was very young he always thought of himself as the woman receiving the kiss from the man. He was conscious of that and then he realized his attraction for men. That made me want to know about myself. When was it — before I even knew I was attracted to women — that I knew, unconsciously. It goes back very far, to the age of six or seven. Also I was curious about my friends and their stories. That was my question for them: What was your very first attraction?
Did you know from the beginning you wanted to make a book of different people’s stories? Was that always the idea?
Yes I already knew that I wanted different stories. I interviewed my friends. I have a lot of friends that are five or eight years older than me, and I realized that reality was very different for people even five years older or five years younger. The emancipation and politicization of homosexuality — for me, it was already done. I came from the big city and it was easy for me, but for a few friends of mine that come from the country, when homosexuality was criminal or forbidden, for them it was more complicated. When I realized that, I wanted to interview women of different ages. The youngest is thirty and the oldest is seventy. I want to find more to interview — very young and much older — but for this album, I had to use my friends because my friends know how I express myself and they had confidence that I would take care of their stories. For other people, it would be more difficult to gain their confidence, but now that I did this book, it would be easier to make another one with people I don’t know. They will see my sensibility and they will know I want to protect the people who tell these stories.
My friends were very generous. I was very touched by the way they talked to me. I came back with the stories and I showed it to them and they really were touched by the results. They say that they all recognized their stories, but at the same time, they laughed because of a certain distance and they were all really happy. Even with the sad stories.
In “Diane’s Story,” where, as a child, you saw two women kissing in a film and how you reacted to that, it conveys that sense of an attraction you weren’t aware of and really startling you.
I was shocked and attracted at the same time. I was really shocked! It was an electrifying shock. It was over the top for me, I had to shut off the TV. But I regretted that, maybe fifteen minutes after.
We’re so used to coming out stories being dark and often unhappy, but this book is just so wonderful and so light-hearted, even though some stories are sad.
“Sasha’s Story” was sad, and with the drawings, I think that it is still sad. It was really hard, because she tried to kiss her best friend and her best friend said, no, you tried to rape me. It’s hard because she was in love with her and then she gets this rejection and this horrible answer, but in a comic strip with animal heads, it softens a lot of the pain. She laughed at a situation that was not funny the first time.
How did you decide on the characters being animals with these elongated bodies?
I think the more I draw, the more I realize I don’t know how to draw. [Laughs] I just put little points for eyes and a few lines for the mouth. It’s not very elaborate, my drawing. Not very realistic. It’s just because I don’t know how to draw. [Laughs]
These minimalist animals help make the tone light-hearted, so the emotion is real but it ends up being a sweet, light story.
Yes. Always my wish was that we feel it’s light, but we feel the river of sadness — just not at first sight. It’s inside. I don’t know how to explain it. The reality is, I just go with the flow. It’s very quick, the decisions I make, and I really felt like it had to be this way. In the end, I just knew if I liked it or not. I feel honored that my friends were so generous in telling me their stories. I feel like I had something precious to take care of. There is a deepness, even if it’s light and short.
You utilize a very straight forward page design and layout for these stories.
At first, I did elaborate shapes. I had three or four possibilities, and the more I’d go through the stories, the simpler I wanted them to be. I don’t know why. I’m not a realistic drawer. For the next one, I’m thinking of maybe going even more simple. I don’t know. It’s something to see. I can elaborate more or simplify more — I don’t know yet.
How did you decide on the order of the stories?
I’m really happy with the order. It came really naturally. I didn’t want to repeat similar things. I cannot explain, because I don’t remember, but it was really logical. I played a lot with the order, and this was the right way. For example, I’m doing the French version now, and it will stay in the same order because I feel like it’s good like this. I really wanted the very end to end like this, with “Girls Rock.” It was a good way to end. It’s a combination of a few things.
Was it your idea to make the bar code on the book in the shape of a heart?
[Laughs] That was the decision of Drawn and Quarterly, but I totally agree with the fact that they emphasized love. They wanted the album to be ready for St. Valentine’s Day, and I’m totally happy with that decision.
In the end, was this tone of the book, where it moves between sweet and sexy and goofy and bittersweet — sometimes in the same story — what you were hoping for?
Absolutely. I don’t do that consciously but when I read the critics or people who read the book and they say it’s goofy and sexy and bittersweet, that makes me really happy, but it’s not something I decided before. When I begin a project I just try to be centered and have fun. I don’t try more than that.
“On Loving Women” is available now.