Talking Comics with Tim: Donna Barr
Donna Barr is a creator with a rich history in the comics industry. As noted in her Wikipedia profile (which Barr directs people to): “Common elements in her work are fantastic human/animal hybrids and German culture. She is best known for two of her series. One is Stinz (about a society of centaur-like people in a setting reminiscent of pre-industrial Germany). Originally published in 1986 as a short story in a hand-bound book, it was then serialized in the Eclipse Comics series ‘The Dreamery,’ edited by Lex Nakashima. It was picked up by Albedo creator Steve Gallacci under his Thoughts & Images label, moving on to MU Press and its imprint Aeon Press. It was then self-published under A Fine Line Press.
Her other long-running series, The Desert Peach is about Pfirsich Rommel, the fictional homosexual younger brother of Erwin “The Desert Fox” Rommel. Beginning in 1987, it was set in North Africa during World War 2). The first three issues were published by Thoughts & Images. Additional issues were published by Fantagraphics Books, Aeon Press, and then self-published. Other works include Hader and the Colonel, The Barr Girls, and Bosom Enemies.
Barr has also recently published a number of novels, including Permanent Party, An Insupportable Light, and Bread and Swans. The last two of these feature Stinz and The Desert Peach, respectively. Some of her later books take advantage of the new print-on-demand technologies.”
Barr and I initially started this email interview to discuss Afterdead, her project currently running at Webcomics Nation. My thanks to Barr for her time and to Joey Manley for helping to facilitate this interview.
Tim O’Shea: While some veteran creators are new to webcomics, you are not–as you’ve been running your work with Joey Manley’s various sites since 2003, I believe. How did you jump into webcomics well before some of your contemporaries and what attracted you to the medium?
Donna Barr: Joey asked me to. It’s a good decision; he’s one of those GOOD publishers that make me feel I haven’t gone to the dark side.
O’Shea: What motivated you to donate your work, dating back to 1963, to San Diego State University –and have you ever visited your collection?
Barr: One of my life goals was to have my work recognized by a university collection. Yes, I’ve visited the collection. One of my readers, Daniel Hager, put the connection between the university and me into motion.
The collection was opened with a talk in the collection during the 2004 San Diego Comicon. The lights went out when we went to tour the collection and we had a lot of fun viewing it with flashlights; it was like touring a funhouse. My name is on a glass plaque in the Love Library entryway as a contributor, and I am a heritage member of the university.
Special Collections insisted I be put up at the Hyatt hotel on the highway in recognition that comics authors are as important as prose authors. I would have been happy with a couch, but they were promoting our work.
The Comicon gave them a booth that year, and I translated and defined terms between our industry and academia. I also toured the floor with Daniel, convincing authors to add their books to the collections.
O’Shea: Since you are still quite an active storyteller, why did you choose to donate the bulk of your work in 2005, rather than say further down the road in your career?
Barr: This stuff piles up! And it’s not the bulk of my work – just a portion. When I was younger I of course had the artist’s bonfire (“This stuff is such crap!”). Artists and authors die in harness (or the trenches). I’ve willed everything artistic I’ve got to them. Are they ever going to get a surprise after my ashes are scattered. I expect staff hernias when the boxes of art show up.
O’Shea: Would I be correct in thinking that Afterdead (a work which features characters from both of your past works, Desert Peach and Stinz) was partially fueled by the atmosphere generated by the Bush administration? If so, are you finding the early days of President Obama are still giving you enough fodder for your storytelling?
Barr: You noticed that, huh? It was mostly because I was tired of publishing a bunch of series, so I happily opened the doors and let everybody party together.
Actually, the Bush administration so closely resembled the build-up in Germany under the National Socialists that it was too easy to write. As for fodder – there is ALWAYS fodder. I find Obama’s administration less – exciting – but I WANT my politics boring. We have a choice; politics or war. Nobody wants to live in Interesting Times. Those who think they do spend their lives – if they survive – with PTSD.
I do have hopes the empire may be finally over after 500 years of terrorism. I just posted an article about that here.
Another happy little income stream. It doesn’t look like much, but $10.00 + $68.00 + $33.00 from different sites add up.
[Note: After the initial round of answers, Barr considered this question further and added the following] Udo and Leutnant Winzig show up again. There are roller derby queens, hair-raising stalks and hunts, and finally a raucous transfer of power between Fuehrers — based on what a long-time Southern friend of mine said (usually through her Pictish teeth): “The new President and First Lady should be made to enter the White House over the blood of the last couple — who were beheaded.”
Then again, she wants to buy her home town, raze it to the ground, and plant scrub oaks. The American people are only furious right now because we have an administration that is TELLING them everything — and not threatening us every time we turn around. Obama has announced that anything submitted to the White House must be in writing — and will be posted to the internet. HA!
Here’s an idea: anybody is getting ANY government money, it all has to be posted on the internet. Anybody gets caught doing a backroom deal, or even suggesting one at lunch, without a stenographer or YouTube-postable film being made, goes to jail.
And anybody has a $!#!! wolf hunt to protect their own hunting rights (Read: want to kill humans so go after deer instead) is behind bars with ‘em.
(What is it John Adams said? “Oh, Abby, I have such an URGE to knock heads together!”)
As for AFTERDEAD being specifically about the Bush administration, it’s really about all the dishonorable things our country has done to betray so-called original values.
It’s kind of hard to ignore what we did as a country when you live so near to it: http://wolffood.wordpress.com/2009/03/07/what-bia-really-means/
O’Shea: In your blog bio, you list Crazy Weather as a favorite book. Is this referring to Charles L. McNichols’ 1944 book–or another book? And would you say Crazy Weather is a work that influenced you as a storyteller?
Barr: That’s the one. No, it didn’t influence me. My own nutty life influenced me. I know all those people and all that dialogue – I just change the costumes and times and places. Scratching head again about this “influence” question. I mean, isn’t the way we learn to write just WRITING and DRAWING for hour after hour for years? Do people actually copy other people’s stories or pay attention to their styles? I can’t get my head around that. I must be an alien.
O’Shea: Do you think you increased exposure to your work by offering free downloads at Lulu from March 1 to 15?
Barr: Dunno. Might have. Just did it for the fun of it and to thank fans and reviewers. I don’t keep track of numbers – never have. I just draw and write and publish and post. Let’s go look (stops to go to site; I loves me some interwebs). Hm, let’s see.. Might have helped. Then again, posting all over Facebook and the Facebook Comicon and my table there might have been most of it.
O’Shea: Back in 2007, you did a piece that was supposed to be part of a larger roast of Dave Sim-can you tell folks the backstory of how you came to create your La Zorra piece ?
Barr: It was part of an anthology or something somebody (forget who) was doing, but fell through (all of it is posted, by the way). Friend of Dave’s, I think. So I threw it up at Webcomicsnation. I don’t know why I did it as Zorro – maybe because I’d been watching the movie, and I thought his fans would laugh at it. I was poking him for his nuttiness about women, but in a cute way. I hope he laughed. Dave’s fun to drink with (well, back when I drank in public before the tequila-monster post) and he’s actually very supportive of women authors. I think that stuff might just be PR to rake in some of the fans.
O’Shea: Not to mince words, but as enlightened and/or open-minded world as we may think we live in, not everyone is open to a story about “Pfirsich Rommel, the fictional homosexual younger brother of Erwin ‘The Desert Fox’ Rommel“.
Barr: Eh? What little rural high school do you people live in? Or maybe I run with a smarter crowd (my readers seem to be smarter than most people, with better educations). Doesn’t scare any of them.
Then again, not everybody reads the same thing. There are many markets. My readers don’t herd; as I josh, I have to hunt them down one at a time. I’ve been called “an experienced predator.”
O’Shea: You first started Desert Peach back in 1987–and I’m curious to know if, as homosexuality has become more widely accepted in mainstream society, have you seen negative correspondence increase or decrease over the years?
Barr: What negative correspondence? My fans run from the laughing, weeping and giggling to the profound. My Jewish readers tell me that somebody FINALLY told the story about how this stuff actually happens, not the final result. One of the younger ones said, “We were never told HOW it happened, so we were like abused children – we grew up asking what we’d down wrong.” My German fans say they know people like that, or even served with them in the army. We have lots of fun!
I don’t consider the American Nazi Party’s declaration of me as the Anti-Christ to be negative. I’m… so… proud….
O’Shea: Given your affinity for German culture, how often have you been able to go visit Germany–or is your interest in its history and culture satiated through research?
Barr: Just once. SOMEBODY INVITE ME BACK (plane tickets?). After about an hour, my German warms up and I can blather away to about anybody (in high German, anyway). Except the numbers. I always get the numbers mixed up.
O’Shea: How many of your stories are currently available at Webcomics Nation?
Barr: [Discussing the series, Afterdead] Stinz has been chosen for a supreme honor – to initiate the breeding of his people at the Reichisch farms. He’s Catholic and while he sees it as his duty, he really doesn’t want to do it. Pfirsich has gone along to try to help him get out of it. Rosen will be showing up soon.
O’Shea: Creatively what else is on the horizon for 2009 and beyond?
Barr: Dave Baxter of is working with me on a new webcomics project, featuring the entire first issues of the Desert Peach. We may be possibly – if I can only get around to lettering it – be featuring it for phone download with Robot Comics.
I need to have arms like Kali. And hydra heads.
O’Shea: What would you like to discuss that I neglected to ask you about?
Barr: People usually ask where I live. At the far end of the pictured cape.