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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