The Invincible Dr. Laura Summer

I first stumbled upon Nicole J. Georges’ work while employed at Floating World, a little comic store in the Mecca for all things spectacular (and weird), Portland, Oregon. My introduction came in the form of Invincible Summer, an anthology of her comic zines (by the same name), which were collected and published by Tugboat Press in 2004. Reminiscent of Jeffrey Brown (if Jeffrey Brown were a tattooed, sweetly sarcastic, queer, animal-loving vegan female with incredible glasses), I blew through this book in about an hour. I still keep coming back to Invincible Summer, partly for the charming illustrations of animals, but mostly because there’s just something about her work that makes me feel good. I could spend the day stuck in a multi-hour long screaming match with a Comcast customer representative (see also: soulless fucker), but just a few minutes of skimming the pages of Georges’ work will have me basking in the feeling that everything will be ok. Sincere, sweet, and vibrant with a feminist point of view, her work makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside the cavernous space where my heart should be.

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Imagine my delight then, when I attempted to escape the heat one day by hiding in Barnes and Noble, and stumbled across a new graphic novel by Georges entitled Calling Dr. Laura. Are you imagining my delight? Double it. I immediately purchased it, and remembering how quickly I devoured Invincible Summer, I tried to pace myself with this new find. I failed.

A graphic memoir, Calling Dr. Laura chronicles Georges’ path to the truth regarding her family, specifically her father. When Georges was just two years old, her mother told her, rather unceremoniously, that her father was dead. She lived with this belief until the age of twenty-three, when a friend took her to a psychic who told her very matter-of-factly that he was actually alive. Stuck between an outspoken (at times pushy) girlfriend and a stubborn mother, Georges is then left to walk a tightrope between upsetting her family and confronting the truth. A lovable coming-of-age story, I’d recommend Calling Dr. Laura to anyone who’s had to battle with growing up in a secretive family, and to anyone who loves Jeffrey Brown (Cat Getting Out Of Bag, Funny Misshapen Body), Craig Thompson (Blankets, Habibi), or David Small (Stitches). Anyone can relate to growing up in a family with eccentricities, which is in part where the beauty of this graphic novel emanates from. Georges’ work appeals to my best side, and gives me that wondrous feeling that comes from experiencing an artistic endeavor (whether it be a book, film, etc.) that resonates with me and makes me feel more understood and generally less alone than usual. Nicole J. Georges was kind enough to grant me an interview, my favorite to date. Enjoy!

Sum up your work in one sentence for me.

Autobiographical comics and illustrations of emotional animals.

What are you most inspired by?

I am inspired by artists like Phoebe Gloeckner and Genevieve Castree. I am inspired by authors like Lois Ann Yamanaka and Jennifer Egan. In life I am inspired by Jane Goodall. Aesthetically, John Waters, the B52s, and Pee Wee Herman, obviously.

Most of your work seems to be autobiographical. Where do you draw the line between what to share and what to hold back? Is there a line?

I make mostly autobiographical work, and in Calling Dr. Laura I tried to dig deep into matters that made me feel vulnerable in order to really tell the story and really connect with readers. I’m not certain where the line is regarding what to share and what to hold back. Time and a narrative context could make me part with a lot of stories. I will say I don’t really want to write about relationships any more, at least not the same way I did in the past. I’ve grown a little tact over the years. Just a little. I expose so much of myself in comics that I keep an almost rabid guard over what’s left of my privacy. The things that are left, the stories I don’t tell, I keep a close watch over.

Do you ever regret making such personal things public?

Not really. I try not to have a lot of regrets. As long as I am as thoughtful as I can be, and try my best to be fair to the people I write about, then I feel fine with it. It is strange to have people I don’t know think that they know me very well, or have firm opinions about my personality based on cartoons. I’ve literally had people who don’t know me at all tell me that reading my book helped them understand “why I am the way I am,” which is strange because they don’t know the way I am in real life! That’s “the nature of the business” I suppose, but it’s the only downside.

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The character of Radar has come into your stories before, both in Calling Dr. Laura and Invincible Summer. Both times I found myself not really liking her, or more so how she treated you. (Then I became irritated with myself for disliking someone that I’ve never even met). Are you two still close?

You are the first person to reference her being in Invincible Summer! She and I are still in touch, and still friendly. I think we will always have a bond based on how well we know each other’s interior, familial landscapes. When I started drawing her, she didn’t even want me to use a fake name because she was so confident she’d come out a hero. She was completely on-board with being a character in my drawn life.  As things progressed, and I saw that she may be evolving into a less sympathetic character on the page, I made the decision on my own to disguise her just a little bit and to give her a pseudonym.

How does she feel about your portrayal of her in your work?

After we broke up and Invincible Summer came out, we never really talked about it. It was a non-issue. The things I’d written were true from my perspective. I tried to be fair. We are both artists; we have both written songs and created work about other people, and had other people do the same for us, so it wasn’t a giant surprise or a shock for her memoirist ex-girlfriend to draw memoir comics involving her. I told her about Calling Dr. Laura before it came out, and she expressed that she was proud of me for facing the truth and finally living without secrets.

Any new projects in the works?

I have a comic coming out in an anthology called QU33R this year, I am putting together an anthology book about my work with senior citizens called Tell It Like It Tiz’ that should be released in August, I will have a new 2013 Invincible Summer split diary comic with Clutch this August, and then…. I will try to sell a new book! I’m excited to get started working on something newer and longer. I’ve been appointed the 2013/14 fellow at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, so I will be working from there. Also, I will probably be making a 2014 animal calendar, so look for it around October.

Do you still play music?

Not really! My creative heart was broken after being dismissed from my own band by the character known as Radar. It had a profound impact on how I felt about my creative efforts, which was weird, because up until that time, music had been really fun for me. I’d never had anyone tell me my voice wasn’t good enough or my artistic expression wasn’t good enough, but then I had someone very close to me do just that. So I decided to take a break, and just focus on what I did get positive reinforcement for: my drawings. I drew and drew and did karaoke in the meantime. A couple of years ago I started a Minor Threat cover band (called Minor Treat) with these two girls in a band called Palo Verde. I also started singing with them and playing the typewriter in their improv metal band as a special guest. They were very supportive and we had fun playing together. I literally almost wept, they were so nice. So, I’d do music again, but I am wary. In the meantime, you can find me doing Taylor Swift songs at a karaoke bar near you.

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What advice would you give to someone interested in having a career in small press publishing, or comics/zines/etc in general?

1. KEEP WORKING. WORK WORK WORK. Tenacity pays off.

2. And listen to people! If people are gravitating towards one aspect of your work, honor that and give them more of what they want!

3. Make a zine. Make 50 copies. Anyone can get rid of 50 copies. If you’re a huge success, you can always make more. Do it!

4. Most of your favorite cartoonists do not make a living just drawing comics. LISTEN TO ME. If you can’t make a living just doing your own artistic work, and you have to keep a day job, you are in no way a failure. DAN CLOWES does illustrations for hire to make a living, and his comics have been made into films!!!! People teach, they illustrate, they do odd jobs. Even people who are very, very famous. So don’t lose hope. Keep working!

If you had to live inside a Michael Crichton novel, which would it be and why?

The only Michael Crichton novel I am familiar with is Jurassic Park, so unfortunately I’d have to live in there. Fuck. I’m pretty sure I would get out-smarted by a Velociraptor immediately.

Han Solo or Indiana Jones?

I don’t know, which one stays home more? Han Solo seems like more of a homebody, and like he has experience taking care of a pet (no offense, Chewy), so I’d pick him.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I don’t think so. Oh—being vegan isn’t hard. That’s all I’d like to say. Thank you so much for your time!

You can find Calling Dr. Laura at your local comic-slingin’ shop, or online on her website www.nicolejgeorges.com. If you find yourself blowing through everything she’s published and still wanting more, I sympathize. Head over to her blog (www.asknicolegeorges.blogspot.com), where readers can ask questions of any kind (with the exception of “suicidal inquiries”). On her blog you’ll find gems like the following one, her response to someone asking if they should get an asymmetrical/disconnected haircut:

“There are some really beautiful, fantastical human beings with that hair-do, but in my opinion, the ship has already left the dock. Those on board are happily riding the tide of asymmetry. If you aren’t already on the asymmetrical deck, then consider staying on dry land. The show’s already started, the set’s winding down, and it won’t be worth the price of admission. (But I do always recommend getting a Tootie haircut. Why not?)”

Or this one, in answer to the query “What’s the best place for watersports apart from a bathtub?”

“A tarp. A bed with a rubber sheet. The kitchen or the back yard. Or a bucket!!!”

Get off your bums and go pick up Calling Dr. Laura. Do it now and thank me later.

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Zooey Mae has been working as a writer monkey for Synthesis Weekly since 2007. Her favorite things include (but are not limited to), Jeffrey Brown, bubble wrap, Craig Thompson, pillow forts, receiving handwritten letters, and whiskey. She spends her free time stockpiling supplies for the impending robot Apocalypse and avoiding eye contact with strangers.