What Are You Working On?
Jokes and the Unconscious, a graphic novel illustrated by Diane DiMassa (creator of Hothead Paisan), which will be published this year by Cleis Press. And I'm about to pitch a super top-secret anthology to a publisher.
A little over a year ago, I felt really stuck and wasn't writing, and thought that collaborating with someone would help. I have always wanted to do a graphic novel, and contacted Diane DiMassa (who I knew a little bit) to see if she was interested in working with me. She was. We thought about what we wanted it to be about, and I remembered a novella I'd written as a college senior. It needed a lot of work, but I thought it had a lot of potential. I sent it to her, and we were off and running.
Two out of three -- Freud and jokes (not so much comedians). Specifically, the book deals with a girl whose father dies. The narrative is punctuated by jokes -- in reference to Freud's theory of Jokes as a safety valve to allow anxiety a safe expression of fear. So all the jokes in the book have to do with fear. The whole book does, really.
Well, I'd never worked in this genre before at all. Also, I had to revamp a manuscript that was about fifteen years old, written by a far less sophisticated writer. There were things omitted from the story that I thought it really needed, and things that were in it that had to be excised for one reason or another (datedness, pacing, etc.). Past that point, it was a new experience seeing my writing envisioned. I gladly gave Diane full rein over the images -- I absolutely trusted her. I think results are amazing; the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Well... I took the text from something I'd written when I was 21. So it was dated culturally by 15 years to begin with, and dated personally 15 years as well. There weren't really any technological things that needed to be changed (like references to 8-track tapes or something), but there was sort of a gee-whizness to some parts of it -- a wide-eyedness that made me grimace. So it had to go. Also, a good deal of the source material was drawn from my own life, so I had to fictionalize more pieces, because I didn't want to collapse the distance between myself and the protagonist. That said, there were two themes that I avoided in the originial manuscript that I felt needed to be added -- child abuse and queerness. And, finally, I think that 15 years ago, as a culture, we expressed "otherness" in different ways -- ways that are not acceptable to me now. So passages (even if they passed a "pc" test) needed to be rewritten for that reason as well.
Working in a new genre has been exciting and satisfying -- there's a whole different resonance to the work than if it were just text. Getting to know Diane has been incredibly wonderful. And producing a piece of work that I think is important and provocative and very different than everything else that I've done is really... terrifying and satisfying.
The book will be out this year from Cleis Press. We've got a contract, and right now, we're working on the cover.
Slam Channel interview
2002 Gay People's Chronicle interview
Fall 2005 interview by Small Spiral Notebook
See more What Are You Working On? interviews.
published 11 Jan 06 on Too Beautiful. email copyright 2006 Mark Pritchard, Bernal Heights, San Francisco