Guest Blogger

Likewise: An Interview with Graphic Novelist Ariel Schrag

Filed By Guest Blogger | May 03, 2009 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Allison McCarthy, Ariel Schrag, feminism, gay cartoons and comics, graphic novels, interview, Likewise, manga

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Allison McCarthy is a freelance writer based in Maryland. Her writing has been featured in magazines such as Girlistic, The Baltimore Review, JMWW, Dark Sky, The Write-Side Up and Scribble. Allison.jpgShe has provided guest posts for the blogs Womanist Musings and The F Word and currently serves as a contributor to the feminist group blog Girl with Pen and the Seattle magazine ColorsNW.

Ariel Schrag is author of the autobiographical graphic novels Awkward, Definition, Potential, and the newly published Likewise (Touchstone Books), with each of the books serving as a narrative of her four years as a student and her coming of age as a young lesbian at Berkeley High School. Her writing has also been featured in seasons three and four of the popular Showtime series The L Word, and she recently completed a screenplay adaptation of Potential, which is being developed into a major motion picture by Killer Films and will be directed by Rose Troche.

Likewise has received praise in the graphic novel community: Alison Bechdel, author of the New York Times best-seller Fun Home, calls the book "a scathing and meticulously documented autobiographical triumph," while The Comics Journal hails the book as "one of the great achievements of contemporary comics." Schrag recently spoke with The Bilerico Project on writing, feminism, and the role of queer identity in her work:

Likewise_lg.gifIn what ways do you see Likewise as a departure from your previous graphic novels? How do you feel about the book's comparisons to Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?

I'm not sure if anyone's compared the book to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but Ulysses was a huge inspiration in writing the book. I read Ulysses in 12th grade because my ex-girlfriend who I was obsessed with had read it and it seemed to exemplify everything that was so cool and untouchable about her. One night I was staring at it on my dad's bookshelf and I realized that I too could read Ulysses, that really nothing was stopping me. All it took was reading one line at a time, everyone has to do it the same way, so fuck it! I'm gonna read Ulysses!

It actually did end up being an extremely dense and difficult book to read, and along with Don Gifford's Annotations, took me about a year. I was still reading it while I was writing Likewise and many of the ideas for techniques and themes in Likewise came from Ulysses. I wanted Likewise to go deeper into my characters' identity than any of the other books, to try and put a complete person on paper, and Joyce's stream-of-consciousness method was perfect for that. I was also really inspired by his use of variation in style. Ulysses is written in, among many other forms: narrative, newspaper headings, musical fugue structure, parody of literary styles, a play, etc. The idea of the form representing the content was similar to how I felt about how the recording of my life had taken over the living of my life. During my senior year, because I was so obsessed with how everything I did was going to be translated into a comic, the methods in which I recorded the present became more relevant than reality. It didn't matter what I did, it mattered how I was recording what I did so I could use it to write the comic later. This is why halfway through Likewise the stream-of-consciousness storytelling recedes and the story is left to be told solely through my character's methods of recording: what was typed on a computer, what was written in a journal, what conversations were recorded with a hand-held tape recorder. Each of these forms of recording/storytelling is drawn in a distinct style.

There are a lot of homages to Ulysses throughout Likewise, but I was 18 when I wrote it, so they're the teenage version. Mainly, I wanted to write something that could be read over and over and each time you discover something new and the whole thing comes into clearer focus.

Female graphic novelists such as Phoebe Gloeckner, Marjane Satrapi, and Alison Bechdel are experiencing a surge in popularity as they all write from real-life experiences. Do you feel a kinship to these artists or do you see your work as a separate entity?

I think we're all our own separate entities - you kind of have to be, hunched over your desk alone drawing drawing after drawing for hours on end. But sure, I find all of those cartoonists inspiring, and although I'm usually really annoyed when journalists lump female cartoonists together and say they're "from the same camp" or "in the same vein as" for no other reason than that they're all women, I'm also honored to be in their company.

Your book offers the hilarious and moving perspective of a young lesbian's coming of age. What political statements does your work offer for the LGBTQI community and its allies?

I think the general problem with a lot of LGBTQI books and movies is that they can end up feeling preaching or "I've heard this before" so if someone sees the words "coming out" they're like - "oh, yeah, 'coming out,' I know how that story goes" - so they don't pick up the book or see the movie. But the reality is that most books and movies can be boiled down to a universal story, and if it's done well, then anyone can relate, and if its done great, then you feel like this book has put into words something you always new existed but had never experienced articulated before - and that's the most amazing feeling in the world. I think LGBTQI art can get over-simplified too fast, and end up being overlooked because of that (and also a lot of it, like everything, just sucks). If you feel like something's trying to give you a political message that you already believe (or don't believe) you're not gonna bother with it.

What I'm saying is, I want my books to have a political impact - would love for them to decrease any form of homophobia in anyway possible - and I believe that they can do that specifically because they weren't written with that intent.

Do you identify as a feminist?

Of course. Any person that doesn't identify as a feminist has something seriously wrong with them. They're either a guy who doesn't think men are supposed to be feminists, or they're a girl who thinks if they call themselves a feminist it means everyone will think they don't shave their legs and no dude will date them. Or they're a wannabe-unique "post-post-feminist" girl who doesn't identify with the current societal definition of the word "feminist" and has made up some other word to call herself that nobody understands. I just say fuck it, feminist is fine.

What projects are you currently working on?

  • Getting the Potential movie made.
  • Writing a screenplay based on my friend's memoir Hack about being a New York City cab driver.
  • Inking the series of daily diary comics I drew while living in Berlin for six months during college.
  • Writing and inking a collection of short comics; some fiction, some non-fiction, some autobiography.
  • Notes for a graphic memoir about moving to LA.

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Thanks for the guest post, Allison. I really enjoyed your interview with Ariel. I'm going out today to do some shopping and I'll search for a copy of the novel so I can check it out. I ♥ graphic novels.