Bucolic Slur of Lilacs: Dame Darcy

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When I was 10 years old and living in Idaho Falls, I had this ridiculous three-wheeled bicycle that my dad welded together so I could pedal my little siblings around the neighborhood. One afternoon, I was riding by Darcy’s house, which was on another block, and thus another dimension. She had attended Catholic school most of her life, and being Mormon, we didn’t have too many opportunities to mingle with kids outside of our religion. Darcy yelled from the porch “Hey kid …can I draw your picture?” So I stopped the bike and she drew me from her porch. That summer was a bucolic slur of lilacs, canal rides on inner tubes, and holing up in her enormous house baking cookies for ghosts. We were strange and insular and we actually spooked adults with our wordless lurking and late-night sprints into the fields …

I speak with Darcy often and we definitely have a deep psychic connection. Being able to conduct this interview was a great opportunity to air out the pressurized danger vibe that is constantly pulsing between us.

Jared Gold: How do you think being raised by hippies in a small town of Mormons helped build your aesthetic?

Dame Darcy: I thought we lived in another time. I wasn’t really aware of the “disco era” or the 80s except for the commercial stuff I saw on TV. Idaho Falls was like living in a time capsule—a little trainset town where everyone I knew lived in vintage houses and had vintage clothing and cars and furniture. Then we also went to the ranch and it was classic, like from the 1800s; nothing had changed.

JG: I know, I think of things from only 20 years ago and it seems like centuries, the way things looked pre-Internet.

DD: There was part of me, though, that always loved the “princess esthetic” of the Mormon homes I visited. I loved the pastel velvet curtains and the fake candelabras made from gold plastic. I knew it was kitsch, and my mom was completely against it, but there was something I loved about it.

By the way, my grandpa was a jack-Mormon who left the church to marry my non-Mormon grandma and so their kids, my dad, aunt, and uncle were not Mormon nor were we (the kids).

However, the five kids on my grandpa’s side and all of their descendents were Mormon, so I would go to family reunions and I’d have about 90 relatives from the other side that were. I went to the temple with my second cousins and stuff, so I was integrated into the culture that way and by going to public school.

JG: Do you feel your influences, L. Frank Baum and Maurice Sendak, are present in your work today? In what way?

DD: Most definitely. Also, I loved Alice in Wonderland, where Alice’s nanny is reading a novel without pictures and Alice says, “A book without pictures is ever so boring,” or something like that.

JG: So maybe Alice was the first graphic novel lover?

DD: It’s the whole philosophy behind graphic novels. I wanted Gasoline to look as much like the L. Frank Baum Wizard of OZ series as much as possible.

I am ecstatic that they did it according to my specifications and that it actually does, because this is such a unique look that contemporary people are not aware of today. I know you think like this, too, Jared, that a lot of your inspiration seems really cutting-edge contemporary, but where you’re getting it from is a century old.

JG: Tell me the story of how your first comic book went to press?

DD: I did three versions of Meatcake self published and sent them out to all the indiecomics publishers on a regular basis as I finished them. I also went to the San Francisco Art Institute and while going to school there, I worked at Last Gasp.

JG: So you started out just hammering the pavement?

DD: Well, an indie-comic publisher, Iconographics, picked up Meatcake #3. Fantagraphics saw this and they did Meatcake #4, which to the big world, was Meatcake #1, and then they revisited #3 and republished it as #0 about six years into my run with them. Sorry if this is confusing!

JG: No, it’s OK, I think this is interesting and I also think people should pay attention to your battle plan. So how old were you when all this started?

DD: I began self-publishing when I was 17, distributing them through a record company that also distributed the band I was in at the time [Suckdog] and by taking them to comic-book stores in the Bay Area. San Francisco is very underground-comic-book friendly and there was a resurgence of this kind of thing in the early 90s with comics and zines. This was very helpful for me. My first book was published on Fantagraphics when I was 20. I was the youngest female cartoonist ever to be published on a major indie company at the time. Little did I know how hard it is to make money in the industry and to this day, I have to do other things based on the comics to make money because the books themselves don’t.

I saw a ladder in a dream when I was 19. The first step was selfpublishing, the second was indie publishing, the third was graphic novels and big publishers and getting a literary agent, the fourth was TV, movies, video games and multimedia and licensing based on the comics and books.

I didn’t know it would take 20 years to climb this ladder, but I’m in the lit agent/multimedia phase now.

I’ll never stop publishing Meatcake, though, because I love being a cartoonist.

JG: What is the craziest story about touring with Lisa Suckdog? I remember getting phone calls from you when you were on tour. I would sit in my Mom’s huge flowerwallpapered kitchen and just listen with my eyes exploding …

DD: Aw jeez, there are so many it makes my head spin. The first tour we went on I think I was insane. We were in Olympia and Lisa attacked this Catholic guy who kept egging her on to hit him and saying, “Thank you, may I have another?” In Boston, at the first show I ever did with her, she charged guys $5 to get smacked in the face by her, and the line was so long … I was shocked and amazed! Anyway, this guy made her so frustrated that she jumped off the stage to pummel him and he ducked, so she flew over his head and busted her lip open.

She was laying on the ground with all these people standing around her saying “Is she paralyzed? Don’t move her.” We had to take her to the emergency room while she was wearing a fluorescent orange swimsuit, with “Go Hogs” in puffy paint on the butt, covered in fake blood and a cape. Jean Louis had wrapped all the dead chickens (from the show) in our banner and they rotted in the car. Calvin [Johnson] from K Records saved the day and waited with us in the emergency room. I loved his reversible women’s coat covered in baby blue flowers. I thought the fact he took Lisa to the emergency room and was wearing this coat makes him an awesome guy.

JG: (Doubled over laughing)

DD: On the second Suckdog tour, which was in ’98, I had the best time of my whole entire life, despite the fact I almost died, and we all went to the emergency room about five times over the course of the tour. First off, I was totally in love with this cute guy from Ohio that we were touring with named Ohio; Lisa picked him up from a karaoke club in Ohio where he was spazzing out with this demented guy who looked like a Bonobo monkey named “Coz the Shroom.” We caused an accident in Boston just because our horrible tour van had “Suckdog” and bloody bones spray-painted all over it. The people staring crashed into us. The cops saw our van and let us go, saying, “Rock on.” Somewhere in Philly or DC, we played at an amazing haunted house where Satanic cheerleaders tried to make out with me in the women’s room and during our show. Someone threw a Satanic dead chicken on stage, which made Ohio so mad he destroyed all the tables and chairs in the place and had to go to the emergency room for spraining his leg. All the doors in that house opened to the sounds of screaming and Lisa got dog-piled in the front hall by a bunch of wackos in capes. But I think she wanted that.

When we were in Ohio’s hometown of Columbus, I almost died. I drank so much of the local cider I went loco and jumped off the table wearing only my panties and a shard of glass went into my artery. I didn’t know I was bleeding profusely because of all the fake blood and glitter we already had on. One of the small people from Time Bandits was there hanging onto my legs. I was signing my comic books for the girls after the show and getting a lot of blood all over them (maybe these are worth more now?!) and they pointed out to my bandmate Ohio that something was wrong with me. He flipped out, a double standard because he just got stitches in New Hampshire, and told me to wait in the bar kitchen on a chair with an apron wrapped around my wrist soaking in blood. He went to go get the van, and when he came back I was in a fetal position on the bathroom floor with the bloody apron under my head as a pillow. I went to the emergency room the next day and they made me get a tetanus shot.

JG: You have been all over the world, and met so many people; what are the remaining Idahoan parts of your personality you hang on to?

DD: I love to do crafts, like making dolls and quilts and embroidery. I love nature and trees and to read old books at night under an electric blanket. I also love weird old radio programs and playing folk music, and I love gardens and old houses and ghost stories, and tea.

JG: What instruments do you play now?

DD: Banjo, autoharp, singing saw, tambourine, electric bass, and I can play mandolin but mine broke and was taken from me.

JG: When you were a teenager growing up in Idaho, how did you survive the crushingly closed-minded society?

DD: 120 Minutes on MTV. I slept a lot, too. I felt like I was in a prison and regarded Idaho like a long car ride, like if I slept long enough I would wake up and it would be time to escape. I had a lot of pen pals I met through the back of a goth music magazine. That’s how I met my first boyfriend who also had my same birthday and was a miracle prince that got a second job just to fly me to LA to see him. We dated long-distance for the three years. I was in high school and he would put me on the radio on KXLU in LA and take me to clubs and shopping for all the latest goth fashion in LA. I was very aware of contemporary music, etc., of the late 80s, even though Idaho was so isolated. I also ran away from home a lot and went to Boise, which was the big city back then.

I hung out with a lot of different types; the hesher stoners liked me because I was kind of like them but weird. Also the punks from different areas and intellectuals all mixed up. My biggest and only regret of this time is I wish I had spent less time trying to be cool and hanging out with the people who did drugs and spent more time hanging out with creative people that did a lot of wacky hi-jinx adventures that were creative and didn’t have a destructive side.

JG: Oh, that is so sweet. I would see you around, and even though we weren’t really talking anymore, I still felt really cool for knowing you. I don’t blame you, though, I was so bizarre.

You have such a huge fanbase now; what do you think it is that magnetizes people toward you and your work?

DD: I am the oldest of the generation of what I see as the children of the apocalypse. I was fed an idealism of environmentalism, ethnic and gender equality, alternative energy, etc. in the 70s, which turned into self-obsessed yuppies doing coke and considering it all a trend. I felt abandoned and disillusioned by what had happened, which is why I became gothic in the first place.

I still believe in and uphold my initial ideals and wrote Gasoline to inspire and give insight into what’s going on today because I think a lot of people younger than me are confused and frightened about the world we’ve been born into and the problems of past generations that have landed on our shoulders.

I want to now create a community online, and then in reality, so that all the kids who feel lost or alone or like a freak have somewhere to go and others like them to talk to. These kids are the revolutionaries of the future and witches that were once burned will now be the people with all the advantages of this new time because all the rules are changing.

JG: Gasoline is very apocalyptic — I remember you telling me about the dream that spurred you to write this book ... do you feel it is prophetic in any way?

DD: I know it was, as soon as I dreamed it I felt compelled to move to LA to live on the front row seat of the apocalypse and also to avoid being killed in the bomb that I knew was going to hit NYC. I didn’t know if it would be a second Hiroshima or not, but as it turned out, just six months after I moved to LA (I had lived in NYC for 10 years at that point), I flew back with you on Sept 10th, 2001 to model in fashion week at your show and witnessed 9/11 the next day. Everyone was astounded that I had predicted it and I am so glad I was in NY at the time as a New Yorker, because it was a pivotal point in history and in my life. I also found all the locations of [the] Gasoline [story] while I was in LA at these weird survivalist compounds I was led to in Malibu and Pasadena. I was able to live at these places while I had the money from Gasoline to live off and was able to draw firsthand from places I had prophesied about.

Now when we make the movie, I already know where all the locations are.

JG: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

DD: Living in an abyss that I will create as my sustainable society by the ocean, and maintaining my virtual society (if the computers work) publishing more books, and doing more movies if there are still distributors and publishers. And traveling to do shows and lectures if there are still airplanes. If not, we’ll just live in our tropical island paradise and tend to the abbey and the crops, swim, sail, and have long dinners with music that go from sundown until midnight in the dining hall and do art classes for children, meditation, and things like that.

JG: What kind of music inspires you?

DD: I love 20s jazz and 78 records. I also love Baliwood musical soundtracks, I love new romantic, new wave, and dark wave. I love dancey electro music — I also love weird acoustic faeiry music and psychedelic folk rock and classic rock from the 60s like The Kinks and Donovan. I like classical harpsichord music and Wagner. I like oldschool death rock like Severed Heads, Siouxsie and Joy Division. I was raised by a dad that was a bluegrass musician, so I love the old child ballads and folk music thing. I listened to my parents music collection a lot, since they were always at work, so my childhood records were God Bless Tiny Tim, The Sonics and The Stones, etc. As a teen in the 80s, I liked all that music that now kids 10 and 20 years younger than me are also into. We can relate; that’s why I still get along with 19-year-olds. When I was in my 20s, I lived in my own self-constructed version of 1890-1920, which is where I lived for a decade until 1999, when I started playing rock music again. It’s a mixed bag, but I think it’s better to be eclectic.

JG: I really looked up to you when you left Idaho Falls and moved to San Francisco to fearlessly pursue your career. Is there anything I have ever done that inspired you?

DD: Everything you have done is inspiring to me! I am in awe of the way you are so business minded and have relentlessly found ways to market your amazing creativity without compromising your ideals. Also, the way you can put on astounding gala events where the most boring conservative LA lame-os wish they could be cool and freaky like you instead of the other way around—and how you can make it work to your advantage. Also, how you can coordinate and organize publicity for these events and get amazing people on your side to help. You truly are a visionary and I’m so glad you have the chance to get a TV show and change things in a major way through multimedia, because this sad world really needs a phantasmagoric circus.

JG: Thank you, Darcy; it’s funny, I would have never guessed any of that … What scares you?

DD: Republicans. Also, time, like not having my plans together in time for 2012.

I am scared to be alone when I am old because I am so much of a freak I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to make a relationship last. I think I’m the same as when I was younger and look the same, but girls in their 20s that think the way I do are less scary as ladies older than in their 20s. I think it’s a gross double standard. Younger guys are attracted to me, which is fine; in a way, I’m still on their wavelength, but the problem arises from me being established. Thus, they are not in the same place as me.

This is why I think God is cruel; I don’t understand these fucked-up games with human lives, uncertain death and the killing of innocence.

JG: What advice would you give to someone who would like to follow in your footsteps?

DD: Create your own style, make a yearly plan, five-year plan, 10- year plan and stick to it. Write lists; if something gets in your way, creatively problem-solve how to go around it and stick to your plan. Work on your drawings or your craft every day; do the things on your list every day.

Keep in touch with your friends and reach out and contact your influences.

Know you are not alone. There have always been revolutionaries; although they only make up 10 percent of the population, they were there in the past and are here in the present. Your challenge is to survive and thrive while being one. And you can!

Dame Darcy

Dame Darcy is the author of the underground comic sensation, Meatcake Comics on Fantagraphics. She has also received awards for her numerous animated shorts and her cable access TV show Turn of the Century. Darcy also authored the Illustrated Jane Eyre, holds gallery shows of her fine art worldwide, fronts her rock band Death by Doll, and has just released her illustrated doomsday novel Gasoline. Visit www.damedarcy.com for more information and to get your copy.