Graphic Details: Interview with Vanessa Davis
Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women is the first museum exhibit to explore this unique niche of autobiographical storytelling by Jewish women. The touring exhibit, sponsored by The Forward, features the work of 18 Jewish women artists. The Jewish Women's Archive is interviewing each of the artists about their work and their experience as a female, Jewish graphic artist.
This week's interview is with Vanessa Davis, whose first book, Spaniel Rage, was published by Buenaventura Press in 2005. She has published comics in Jane, The New York Times, Tablet, Dissent, The Jewish Daily Forward, Vice (and Vice), Seven Stories Press, Chronicle Books, and First Second. Davis' new book, Make Me a Woman, was recently published by Drawn & Quarterly.
Q. How did you get into cartooning?
Vanessa Davis (VD): I always liked comics as a young person, but largely put them out of my mind when I went to a very serious art high school. In college and afterwards, I gradually became more aware of more arty comics, though I never thought I'd do them myself. When I was in my early 20s, however, I was living in a very small apartment in New York and was floundering artistically, having no real room to paint or any of the other fine art forms I'd done before, and tried writing a comic on a whim. I quickly became obsessed with comic and soon met many other cartoonists, and I'd felt like I'd found my niche I'd been seeking for a long time.
Q. How does your Jewish identity influence your work?
VD: I had a specifically Jewish assignment in a monthly comics column for the Jewish Tablet magazine, which really plunged me deep into exploring my Jewish identity through comics. I draw autobio comics so since Judaism has played a large role in my life, childhood, and identity to an extent, it comes through a lot in my writing, since those are topics that have dominated my work so far.
Q. Do you think the experience of being a cartoon artist is different for men and women?
VD: I think it's different for everyone. One thing I love about comics is how much they express people's idiosyncrasies. You can really do it your own way these days, so I think it allows for an array of experiences, no matter who you are. There are many women cartoonists and comics fans these days, too. In the past I think it was quite an alien or at least challenging experience to be a female cartoonist, in the male-dominated area. Women encounter a lot of dumb sexist stuff nowadays too, but I think there's also many benefits to be reaped for being female. Overall, I think it's an anything-goes, let's-see-what-happens kind of time.
Q. Tell me about your piece(s) in the Graphic Details exhibit. What's its story?
VD: One piece I have in Graphic Details is my story "Wild Ride," which tells the story of an Israeli guy that I dated while living in New York. We approached each other with a lot of stereotypical ideas about each other, which were simultaneously what attracted us but also made us not respect one another. I thought of him as a callous-but-hot himbo and he assumed I was a dumb Jewish American Princess. Ironically, neither of us lived up to our caricatures, but it was too late. Here's a link to the story.
Q. What's next? or What are you working on now?
VD: I still have more stories to write! I'm still getting it figured out. It'll all get figured out any day now.