Next Gridlords
Sunday August 31
at the Hollywood Theatre

Julia Gfrorer Interview, by Suzette Smith

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For my cameo as a mermaid in your upcoming comic about mermaids will you require me to pose topless or are you going to draw it from memory?

Since you’re offering we’ll probably need to do some sessions, yeah.

Is that usually how you draw your nudes?

I used to be very serious about only drawing from life, but for my comics, I usually just imaginate it, more or less. For my Thickness comic I did use a photo I took of myself in the full-length mirror in the Goodwill dressing room as a reference, though. Imaginate that. 

You’re in the next issue of Thickness. What do think about eroticism comics vs. other situations of nudity like being a mermaid or just hanging out nude around the house? Should that even be a versus?

Even though there is nudity in my comics, I think the eroticism comes from the context, like the situation where the nudity is taking place. That’s a very stereotypically feminine approach to erotica. I love to draw nude bodies, but I mostly use nudity to evoke vulnerability or discomfort, rather than as a trigger for arousal, but sometimes the discomfort is also compelling in an erotic way. I dislike the visual trope where a young woman’s naked body is shorthand for sex in general, so if I show a naked woman I’m unlikely to show her in a way where she’s seducing the reader or she’s objectified. (I don’t really care if the men are objectified.) There are no pinups in my comics. So I guess the two categories you described aren’t really mutually exclusive in my work.

People ask you about the sex in your comics all the time. What do you think about that?

I feel like I get a lot of credit for engineering this very individual approach to sexuality that I completely did not do on purpose and can’t control. I give a lot of thought to the metaphysical aspects of my comics, I plan the stories out with great care, you can see from my response above that I think philosophically about everything I draw, but I’m hardly a craftsperson when it comes to comics. When it comes down to it, I don’t have a lot of control over how they look or feel to the people who read them. People ask, “How did you decide to make me have this reaction to your work?” and it’s like, I didn’t, I wish I was so clever, but it just kind of did that on its own.

Imagine you’re a man. What is your name?

It would have been Theodore, according to my baby book. 

What is your occupation (man occupation)?

I think I would still be a letterpress printer. But one of those vintage-glassesed letterpress jocks you occasionally see around. I probably wouldn’t be drawing comics.

What is your shoe size (man shoe size)?

What’s an average man shoe size? Maybe 10? Ten and a half Timbs like MF Doom? Around there. 

What do you think about aerial gymnastics? You’re back to being a woman unless you’d like to answer as a man as well.

That’s like pole dancing but with, like, a long scarf or something, right? I guess it’s cool. I don’t want to watch it, though. My man self probably thinks it’s great.

Do you ever think about being a man?

I try not to. So thanks a lot, Suzette. 

Who’s your favorite man?

I’m racking my brain trying to come up with a response to this that’s not completely embarrassing or too personal. Lancelot? I think about him all the time.

What is your favorite thing about him?

The time he flipped out and lived in the woods for two years and grew a great big beard and nobody could find him.

Does he inspire you or do you feel wholly responsible for your own inspiration?

He inspires me. Everything inspires me. My inspired self is like a katamari the size of the moon and constantly, exponentially growing. It’s like Tetsuo losing his human shape and becoming an undifferentiated mass that swallows Neo-Tokyo. It’s completely beyond my ability to be responsible for it. 

I saw you give a talk on alchemical inspiration. Do you have plans to take that lecture any further?

God no. It’s not easy to talk as if I’m an authority on something so abstract.

How interested are you in creating non-fiction, instructional works like that?

I sometimes fantasize about publishing a blank dream journal appended with my own notes on dream analysis, because I think it’s an incredibly valuable and underused discipline, but I hate my pedagogical tone of voice. Even my non-instructional prose is didactic. Have you read my blog? It’s embarrassing.

In your lecture you spoke about not making stories from your own heart and instead writing about the world that surrounds us. Is this your attitude towards your current story writing?

Yeah, always. I’m not one of these people who wants to weave gossamer dreamscapes from the breath of my inner divinity or whatever. My approach to creativity is more like, I’m constantly on the hunt for scraps to throw in the hopper, I crank it, and a new thing comes out composed of all the scraps. The sausage-making metaphor is apt because it is an unappealing process when you look at it closely. I guess if I have a natural talent it’s the ability to perceive the connections between things, which is why I’m good at symbolic analysis and memorization, and how I usually manage to mash up all these scraps into something thematically consistent. It’s certainly not my drawing ability. I’m not bad at drawing but it doesn’t come naturally. 

What do you think about the victim characters in your stories? The children in Flesh & Bone, the woman in Too Dark To See, why are terrible things happening to them?

Terrible things are happening to everyone in my stories, all the time, right? Maybe I’m a little fixated on the idea of suffering being indiscriminate, life as a state of being constantly victimized by forces beyond our understanding, and victimizing others with little awareness of how we’re hurting them. The children in Flesh and Bone really only function as victims of violence to show that Jadwiga is not to be trusted, but I didn’t intend to make Lauren a unilateral victim in Too Dark to See. She has agency but she decides to be passive, which creates a sense of claustrophobia in the story.

You’ve told me in the past that you are intrigued by sadness and pain. Do you find those emotions motivating or inspiring? What do you think draws you to them?

You are asking me, like, the hardest question of my life here.