by Teresa Jusino
I came across Molly Crabapple’s work the way I come across so many things these days – on Twitter. Someone posted a link to Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, an affordable life-drawing class with a Gilded Age feel for which one pays about ten dollars to sketch burlesque performers in scintillating poses, and I was immediately intrigued! As I explored the website for this class, which is now being franchised in cities all over the world, I became more and more interested in the creative mind behind it. Visits to her website lead to searching for her work everywhere and becoming an instant fan. She’s illustrated for clients like Marvel Comics, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Playgirl as well as eight books, including her own.
I had the opportunity to interview Molly at the release party for her first graphic novel, Scarlett Takes Manhattan, which she created with long-time collaborator, John Leavitt. The party, like the book itself, came complete with burlesque performances, fire-eaters, and a Two Man Gentleman Band (who wrote a theme song for the book called, appropriately enough, “When Scarlett Takes Manhattan”). Here’s what Molly had to say about pursuing success, loving performing artists, and drawing boobs.
Teresa Jusino: Basic info: How old are you, and where are you from originally?
Molly Crabapple: I’m 25 years old, and I’m from Far Rockaway.
TJ: Ah! So a fellow native New Yorker!
TJ: You seem to have lived more than most people around our age! When did all the insane traveling (as can be seen in her bio) start?
MC: When I was 17. I graduated high school early – I hated high school very much – and I saved all my money, and my grandfather gave me a little bit of money, and I took off for Europe for about nine months.
MC: It was great. At that time, it was actually cheaper to be in Europe than to be in New York, you know? This was eight years ago, so that was back before The Euro. It was actually almost saving money in a way.
TJ: Do you consider yourself part of the comics industry, or do you consider yourself an illustrator who dabbles in comics?
MC: I consider myself a visual artist who works in a variety of mediums…
TJ: Do you read comics or graphic novels at all?
MC: I do read some. I don’t read as many as I should, which is partially due to the fact that I’m incredibly overworked. I’m obviously obsessed with Sandman like every. Single. Other. Girl. My age. (laughter) And The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and stuff like that.
TJ: Now, I remember when we met at the MoCCA Festival, and you drew in my sketchbook, you looked at the cover design and the pages before anything else and admitted to being a huge design geek! How does design geekery manifest itself for you? What can you tell me about that?
MC: Well, I’m obsessed with anything that has a cool, old-school, retro aesthetic. I suck as a designer myself, I have no talent at it, and so…I always kind of glom onto talented designers like Nicola Black or I love Nubby Twiglet’s work…and I’m kind of like Oh, that’s so pretty! I wish I was like you! Except then I try to do [it] and it all falls apart hideously!
TJ: Have you ever been asked to design anything?
MC: Oh, all the time….and it always ends in tears.
TJ: So, no design work! Illustrations only!
MC: A long time ago, when Zuda was first starting, before it even had a website, they asked me to do a comic for them. And they asked me to do something based on burlesque. They didn’t end up going with what I did for them, but I got very attached to the characters, and that grew into my strip on Act-i-vate, which is Backstage. Basically, I sort of fell in love with this kind of Victorian underworld. Then Fugu Press approached me to do another book based on the Backstage universe, and I thought, “Why not humanize the murder victim who’s at the center of Backstage?”
TJ: I’m a huge fan of your work, and your style is very distinct. Do you ever worry that you might get pigeonholed as The Girl Who Draws Burlesque Performers?
MC: All the time, all the time. It’s really unfortunate that if you draw boobs, people think you can’t draw anything but boobs, even though there are a whole variety of round objects in nature that aren’t boobs. (laughter) Um, clouds? Trees? All sorts of things! But people don’t see it that way. I just hope that by producing quality, complex, challenging work that people don’t just pigeonhole me.
TJ: Is there anything that you would love to draw if someone would ask you? What is your dream job?
MC: Well, my dream job is something I’ve kind of done a bit of, which is working with a night club and doing a lot of collaborations with the performers there. Like, I’ve done a series of paintings with The Box nightclub in New York. It’s an incredibly stimulating thing to hang out with these brilliant acrobats, and trapeze artists, and singers, and try to capture some of their magic down on paper.
TJ: You seem really attached to the performance aspect of things.
MC: I am, I am. I’m very untalented at it myself, and I always thought of those people as making magic in real time…
TJ: …and you want to capture it on paper.
MC: Yes, exactly. It’s my way of paying tribute to it.
TJ: How is Dr. Sketchy’s now? I know its been expanding…
MC: Oh my God, well we’re at 100 branches finally. We’re opening up a new branch in Buenos Aires – we’re starting to really get into South America, which is very exciting. I’m going down to Sao Paulo in October for Dr. Sketchy’s…. Mostly, it’s just been kind of solidifying all our growth. We’re building a Dr. Sketchy’s 2.0 website, which is taking up a huge amount of effort…and, I want to get into Antarctica!
**Teresa stops to imagine burlesque penguins**
TJ: Do you have a piece of advice for aspiring artists?
MC: I would tell them not to be afraid to self-promote. To realize nothing happens by accident. People don’t accidentally become big artists. They either get there because their daddy is Tommy Hilfiger, or because they work their ass off. But the whole “Big Break” thing is just a myth that I think swindlers have invented to take advantage of people.
TJ: What’s the next project after Scarlett?
MC: Ugh – a personal life! Not working for a little bit. I would like to do another book, but I’m not sure what it will be.
Teresa Jusino as drawn by Molly Crabapple
TERESA JUSINO was born on the same day that Skylab fell. Coincidence? She doesn’t think so. As a writer, her work has appeared in Elmont Life newspaper, and on the sadly defunct website, CentralBooking.com. She is a founding member and editor of The Revolving Door Commune Blog, is currently at work on a collection of short stories, and is writing a web series for Pareidolia Films called The Pack, which is set to debut this fall! As a geek, Teresa loves all Star Trek, Lost, Fringe, comics, and anything Joss Whedon, Brian K. Vaughan, and Neil Gaiman ever touched. She is also an aspiring fangbanger. Get Twitterpated with Teresa, or visit her in The Red Room.
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- Everybody Loves an Old-Timey Burlesque Book Party (mediabistro.com)
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