Edie Fake is on the verge. His first book, Gaylord Phoenix (Secret Acres), is a collection of comics about a gay bird-man which have appeared in tantalizing little chapbooks for the past seven years. Fake has lived all over: Providence, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Baltimore. He returned to hometown Chicago last year after the bus he lived on broke down and joined the staff at the venerable Quimby’s bookstore. He was one of the first recipients of Printed Matter’s Awards for Artists, and recently received a Critical Fierceness Grant from Chances Dances for his next big project, a gay history scroll of Chicago.
The Rumpus: Gaylord Phoenix isn’t easy to describe. If you had to give an elevator pitch, what would you say?
Edie Fake: “Oh, well, you see…” I’d say, “…it’s all about this young, wandering Gaylord being reborn as a bird-man. His journey is an epic magical roller coaster ride through a psychedelic microcosm of homoerotic smut and gender meltdown and, the whole way through, he’s recovering and reconciling the violent, painful parts of his past with his powerful present self. Then there’s a great orgy scene at the end.”
Rumpus: Sold! Hollywood loves an orgy! Sex is obviously a big deal in this book. A lot of the Gaylord’s exploits directly involve it or result from it. How do you see this story relating to sexuality and gender?
Fake: I wanted the comic to be set in a queer world, where sex, sexuality and gender were all messy, surreal and fluid. It’s important to me that those things don’t have to look like I’ve been told they should look like–because that’s not how I’ve ever seen them. Pinning erotic stuff down tends to strip its meaning away, but I think being playful and weird can revive it. Gaylord’s exploits are, in large part, about not being afraid: to be a sex freak, to have a freaky body, to want a freaky experience. I wanted very much to keep the story sex-positive and still talk about violence, rage and sadness, while maintaining a vision of overwhelming queer ecstasies.
Rumpus: Speaking of Gay Utopia: Can you speak a bit about community and the Fingers tour, and how that has fed into your work?
Fake: An idea of community and kinship (much love to Lee Relvas for bringing this word into my life) has fueled the comics I make and almost all the work I do. Hopefully, not in the sense that I just want to preach to the choir, but more like I want to do my part to help build a queer world–with the preacher, the choir and everybody else.
The Fingers tour was part of this period of time that I owned and lived on a giant grease powered school bus–I’ve tried recently to talk coherently about it, and I always fail miserably at describing all the bliss and mayhem. I would say that touring has done the amazing thing of making a “social network” feel really, really real, not just like some internet game. There’s some physical power in that, to meet humans (and animals!) to share things with even in places you seldom go. It’s so nourishing, and its often so flexible. To have things to share with people is a really important exchange. For me, it’s usually comics, prints or performances making up for my lack of practical skills. I’m drawn to self-publishing–the world of zines and comics mostly, because I am always thrilled by bartering, seeing what other people are up to in a way where our ideas are physical, accessible and can be traded easily. It’s a way of sharing resources, I think, and that feels like such a rich place to build things from.
Rumpus: Gaylord Phoenix employs a visual language that’s all your own. Comic book conventions (panels, speech bubbles, narrative sequences) are replaced with your own clever devices. Were you purposefully eschewing those conventions? Or was it more instinctual, just form following function?
Fake: I started drawing Gaylord while I was thinking about ideas for an animated film. I had just gotten my own Bolex camera at the time, and I’m schooled in handiwork animation–I love it. I think a lot of the visual language for the Gaylord, especially the way speech and vision are projected, comes from film, and I like what it connotes.
I flat-out have a lot of trouble thinking in panels, especially with the way I want the story to move through a page, so I prefer a page where the characters can reoccur in the same scene. That makes their place in space and in their bodies more flexible and vibrant. At the core though, the layout and pacing have always been almost exclusively from the gut, where I won’t start a new page until the one I’m working on pushes things forward.
Rumpus: So… Where can I get a nose cone that projects my thoughts?
Fake: In terms of nose cones you are going to need an empty toilet paper roll, some paint, a piece of string, tape or glue and one of those laser pointers that does laser shapes.
Rumpus: What’s your process like? Did you write first, or did it begin with the visual?
Fake: There’s a funny sort of planning behind it. Whenever I’d start a new issue of Gaylord it’d come into my head as a few key visual scenes, and I’d make teeny-tiny drawings of them, like one-inch-by-half-an-inch, just to keep the idea in mind. Then I’d draw out about forty of these tiny little boxes (one for each page) and I’d start trying to place where the first key images would go and what language would work. Once I had about the first ten thumbnail pages of written language mapped out something would happen, mostly all the other images and language, would gush out and snap into place and I’d have my plan. A few times though, the opposite would occur–I’d get ten pages of planning deep and everything would seem wrong, the language would be empty and not funny and the plot would seem contrived, so I’d scrap everything and wait for a new round of visual directions to lead me somewhere new. Ouch. Mostly it would happen fast and small, though, and then this little plan could be stretched and rearranged pretty easily. That smallness kept everything a little less than perfectly planned and let me be flexible with the story as I was drawing out the actual pages.
Rumpus: A really enjoyable thing for me, as a reader, was puzzling out the meanings and effects of various things/creatures/magics in the book. It would be a crime to decode it, so I won’t ask what the crystal claw is, or how the whispy deep magic of the lower phoenix works, but maybe you could us me one little key to something in the book?
Fake: Something that maybe isn’t part of the plot but informs the story is the ways the book tries to handle the codes of the Tarot. Its something I’m always trying to learn more about and definitely tried to stay aware of while I was drawing. There are a couple pages that are direct mimicry of certain cards, but perhaps with complicated meanings, like the spread of the Chariot card drawn with the spectacle of a drag ball. There are a few pages that are like the “Aces” of the deck, points that things wildly spring forth form, and other elements, implements and numbers that I tried to line up. I’m not an authority on the Tarot, but I do love dealing directly with the symbolic meanings in numbers, symbols and patterns. Water is the emotional element, cups are water. Air is tied to intellect, ideas, swords/knives and, in the case of Gaylord Phoenix, memory. Earth is linked to physical concerns and the body, so it makes sense that’s where the book concludes. The four wizards are this four-posted structure of stable-but-shallow solutions, the Gaylord can and has to go deeper. With Tarot-oriented symbols, I tried to choose things carefully, and yet not get bogged down or bog things down with a system I am just beginning to learn.
Fake: It should also be noted, while I was drawing this Gaylord series a bunch of amazers in Portland and the West Coast published the Collective Tarot Deck, which is just a mind-blowing powerful project. The traditional suits are reimagined in this queer, feminist, radical way that is still faithful to the traditional intent of the cards. A super-inspiring force to see come together at the same time I was dropping little crumbs about this kind of thing throughout the Gaylord comics.
Rumpus: The collected work reveals your evolution as an artist and story-maker in a really intriguing way. When you started putting out mini-comics years ago, was there an end in sight?
Fake: It totally took seven years to get this all together, but I’ve got some good excuses for the amount of time, and I’m really glad it took so long. When I first began, I’d put out a 40-page segment every year and it was totally open-ended, with no idea as to how, or if, it would conclude. After I had done four issues like that, I started a tattoo apprenticeship and that ate up all my time and pretty drastically changed my drawing style. When I came back to Gaylord after a three-year hiatus, my patience for drawing had finally caught up to the visions I had for filling a page. When I look through the book, the point where the Gaylord reopens his leg wound is the point where the drawings take a notable turn towards the extravagant. It’s really satisfying to me, and it was tempting to re-do everything with some newfound “chops”. However, I think the cruder-style at the beginning is specific for the way the story is told at first. To redraw it seemed sort of futile, like it would just end up overworked and there’d be nothing to figure out in the drawings. I am so happy I let the old material be–I really like watching the plot grow up and into itself.
Rumpus: How did the tattoo work change your style?
Fake: Tattooing made me a real uptighty about shapes and visual clarity and smooth linework. It also had me drawing all the time, stuff I would never in a million years think about drawing, so it was constantly about problem solving and visual innovation. There’s also the vast history of tattoo art, and I found a lot of drawing answers I’d been looking for in classic American tattoo flash.
Rumpus: What else do you count in the influences department? Paisley, RISD, the Maya?
Fake: That about sums it all up! I love looking at textiles, especially ones with unusual dye jobs or ones where the pattern is in the weave of the fabric. Also: cellular diagrams, acupressure charts (any kind of diagram or cross section, really), desert lifeforms, caves and caverns, Carol Rama, heraldry, hand painted signage, surrealist collage, conspiracy magazines, Ernst Haeckel, Emory Douglas, Emma Kunz, fungus and mold, novelty architecture and rolling homes.
Rumpus: A terrible last question, but I think I just have to know: What’s next?
Fake: The project I always say is “next” and what I realize is going to be “next” for a while, is to draw scroll that acts as a sort of beautiful map of gay history in Chicago. It’s going super slow and it’s daunting, there’s a lot of research which I am learning about how to approach, but I’m taking it on. I’ve been continually working on a related series of drawings to this idea which are vibrant imagined facades of former LGBTIQ(etc….) establishments in Chicago. The idea of these fantasy buildings based on real spaces is to portray the energy and beauty of intentional gay space.
Immediately right now, I am getting back into screen printing at the Spudnik Press here in Chicago and that feels like such a healthy thing to do. I love the mechanics of staying up all night printing. I’m going to be doing some design work for a herbal first aid project local permaculturalist Nance Klehm is developing. Also, I am starting to draw looser and goofier comics, which are mostly about a bunch of clowns.