Writer Michelle Perez and artist Remy Boydell are taking readers someplace very few comics have gone. Their debut graphic novel The Pervert, from Image Comics, follows a young trans woman working in the Seattle sex trade. Infused with Perez’s emotional truth and realized by Boydell’s painted illustrations, The Pervert began life as a serial in the comics magazine Island, but now arrives as a complete narrative unto itself.
With The Pervert in stores now, CBR discussed the finalized project with the irreverent creators, touching on how shifting sexuality and self-image impact relationships -- romantic and otherwise -- developing the design of the characters, and how the bar for transgender acceptance really isn’t anywhere close to where it needs to be.
CBR: What was the spark that got The Pervert going?
Michelle Perez: Me and Remy knew one another through a mutual friend, Francine aka “witnesstheabsurd” on Twitter. We were gonna pitch a serial comic to Vice that didn’t work out. We instead put out the best iteration of our concept on Mammon Machine’s ZEAL, and pitched it to Brandon Graham for Island. We wanted a story that brought together our best qualities, that also included a great deal of explicit sex.
Remy Boydell: My friend Carseat was rude to me, so I sat down and thought “I'll make a bestselling graphic novel, that'll show him,” and I did the first chapter in one sitting.
I got the script from Michelle after rudely rejecting a first script I wasn't impressed with. So I think she also felt, "I'll show you" when she sent the new script back to me.
The story has a happy ending though, because I showed it to my friend and he was like, “nice.”
The handful of steady, recurring relationships displayed show how complex even basic relationships can be when something as seemingly fundamental as gender is called into question. Was it important to show that even outside sex work, gender and gender expectations play a tremendous role in how we relate to one another?
Perez: It was reflective of where I was at in my life at the time. Interactions had changed; sexuality and self-image changed. There didn’t need to be a deep, romantic connection to want affection and intimacy. In sex work you’re whatever the situation calls for. When you got agency in your personal life, you’re what you choose. Your friends are chosen, your family is chosen. I think if there’s a comic that delves into this more than ours does it’s J Bearhat and Rory France’s Little Teeth.
Boydell: I think the character is just a shitty boyfriend pre-transition. Also there's some breathing room with other characters like the blonde possum. There's a sense of relief with other people that also “get it,” where you know you won't have to spend 45 minutes trying to argue the case for whatever your whole deal is.
Characters like Tom (the main client) make things plenty messy. Things like grief and desire are more universal. Things being incredibly messy and rough emotionally are universal.
The choice to make the characters anthropomorphic was interesting. I’m not sure if it universalizes them or keeps them at arm’s length. Can I ask what you were going for when you made that decision?
Perez: That's a design decision of Remy’s. Remy has an astounding sense for making work that kinda creates this fog between your sense of nostalgia and where you’re currently at in life.
Boydell: I think I started doing it to get distance, because when I look at sketchbooks from my childhood, they're all mostly humans there.
Some of the minor characters are drawn in way that is very reminiscent of classic cartoon and comics characters. Why? What do they represent?
Perez: No idea. I think some of it is for comedic effect. One character is a definite reference to Omaha the Cat Dancer, which is probably one of the biggest influences for this book.
Boydell: I started doing it automatically and unconsciously, but when you get to the “garage mechanic” scene, that was me being weird deliberately. You get these visceral reactions from people if you use character designs that are like, “resonant.” I used to do it to wind people up. But basically, whatever it is, it's hijacking the neural connection or recognition that billions of dollars of sales and advertising have already forged.
Other artists in my generation are doing it. When Cate Wurtz does it she's exploring like this mindscape from childhood, this psychic wall of cartoons which crashes into you. Ivy Atoms does beautiful work that's using these dolls, these toys, to act out elements of her experiences.
It's the richest territory for me. If you show me your art film I mean, I might be into it, but if you show me “Lasagna Cat,” I'm into it already. I'm sold. It doesn't work on everyone, and it's not a replacement for good work, but when I see referential or bootlegged stuff that does it right I lose it.