Talking Comics with Tim: Molly Crabapple

Molly Crabapple is a successful entrepreneur (as the founder of the Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School) and storyteller. After a recent book tour to support her new Fugu Press book, Scarlett Takes Manhattan, she indulged me in a quick email interview. Her graphic novel is described (on the book's back cover) as "A young woman orphaned in tragic circumstances (by a pair of copulating circus elephants) rises to become the foremost burlesque performer of her era: Scarlett O'Herring."

Tim O'Shea: How did the book land at Fugu Press?

Molly Crabapple: Years ago, I did a catalog cover for a company owned by Christophe (big cheese at Fugu). When he decided to found a comics publishing company, he asked if I had any ideas for graphic novels. The rest, history…

O'Shea: You clearly love to explore the art of sexuality through your work. In those terms, what was the most enjoyable or challenging scene to convey in Scarlett Takes Manhattan?

Crabapple: I actually loved the scene where Scarlett is working as a dock prostitute and is able to avoid an unpleasant client with the help of a watermelon. Sadly, a watermelon was worth more than a blowjob in 1884.

O'Shea: From your perspective, why do you and your frequent collaborator John Leavitt work so effectively together? How does a typical collaborative creative process breakdown for you two--does he come to you with a completed plot and script at the outset of the project, or does it evolve in a more organic manner?

Crabapple: Me and John have been best friends and co-trouble makers since we were 18. From doing two issues of an anti-FIT student newspaper to sleeping on pool tables when locked out of dorm rooms, we’ve been through a lot. John is brilliant and witty, and by far my favorite person to work with. His script notes are the stuff of legend.

When we work together, we have a caffeine and hookah fueled rap session where we flesh out the plotting/characters. John then goes home, scripts the beast, we talk endlessly on the phone, and he sends me a stick figure storyboard. Working from that, I make the finished art.

O'Shea: How hard was it to convey fire in the way it was used in the story--was there some trial and error with that aspect--or was it more straightforward for you to execute?

Crabapple: I had some experience with fire in Backstage, but it’s always been difficult for me to render realistically in my style. I ended up going with Japanese stylization.

O'Shea: You grew up knowing the challenges of an artist's life, given that your mother is an illustrator. Do you pursue efforts like Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School (and companion book) so that you have more than one iron in the creative fire at one time?

Crabapple: I think I’m just too all over the place to do the most profitable thing for an artist, which is sitting down at a table and doing increasingly refined versions of the same painting until you die. Ron English once said in an interview that he wanted his life to be a “grand artistic adventure” and I’m of the same school of thought.

O'Shea: How hard is it to juggle the logistical demands of Dr. Sketchy's (lining up models, arranging the events) with your work as an illustrator?

Crabapple: Sleep is a distant memory to me. Also, I have a great crew! Thanks to all the Sketchy’s/Molly Crabapple interns and organizational overlord Melissa Dowell (who’s a brilliant artist in her own right).

O'Shea: Not every illustrator can claim they once appeared on a German interview show, as you did promoting a Dr. Sketchy event (here's the YouTube of it). What was that experience like?

Crabapple: It was surreal! I’ve always found TV hosts, with their stylized way of speaking and shaved knuckles, rather odd to sit besides. The host and I also had some linguistic misunderstandings. But overall, it was insanely fun to sit on the talk show couch next to my glamorous, sparkly friends.

O'Shea: How beneficial was it to work with Dean Haspiel and the gang of ACT-I-VATE (they are included in your thanks for the book) in terms of honing your storytelling skills?

Crabapple: I owe a huge debt to Dean and the crew at Act-i-vate. The germ of Scarlett Takes Manhattan is the webcomic, Backstage, I did for them for most of 2007. Backstage began its life as a rejected Zuda proposal, and without Dino’s support, it might very well have remained in larval stage.

O'Shea: You recently went on a book tour, what's been the response to the book in the trenches so far?

Crabapple: I’m an unusually lucky creator when it comes it tours. Because of Dr. Sketchy’s, I can count on an enthusiastic local response from Columbia to Singapore. On tour, I visited San Diego, LA and SF. I cherish the opportunity to meet my West Coast fans, and want to particularly thank Meltdown Comics, who, in addition to being a blast to work with, brought me the world’s most sinful cupcakes

O'Shea: How was the panel you were part of at San Diego Comic-Con?

Crabapple: The DC webcomics panel was pretty damn slamming! I got to share it with the always excellent Kwanza [Johnson] and Ron [Perazza] from Zuda, as well at Kevin Colden, one of the most staggeringly talented comics creators working. We got to chat marketing and mobile devices.

O'Shea: What else is on the horizon for you creatively--and is there anything you'd like to discuss that I did not ask you about?

Crabapple: Me and John are working on a number of promising but top secret comics projects. In October I’ll be a guest at Baby Tattooville, the limited edition art collector’s retreat, and will be speaking at the Pixel Art Show in Sao Paulo. I’ll also be producing a special Dr. Sketchy’s for MassArt’s EventWorks program. As usual, my caffeine addiction will continue unabated

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