In Their Own Words: Part 1

Ariel Schrag: Graphic Novels

Ariel Schrag has penned four
autobiographical graphic novels, each chronicling one of her years at Berkeley High School. Originally published by
Slave Labor Graphics, her third book, Potential, has just been reissued by Simon &
Schuster, and the final book in her series, Likewise,
will be out next spring. Marjane Satrapi insists her books should be called
comics, not graphic novels. Which term do you prefer, and why?

Ariel Schrag: I would have to agree
100 percent with Marjane here. The word graphic
is stupid. It sounds like a kid trying to use a big word and having
no idea what he’s talking about. It sounds like someone being obnoxious and
pronouncing Nabokov’s name correctly just to show off.

I got into this argument
with someone when I was in high school about whether or not comics could be "real
literature." He was adamant that they couldn’t. They’re "comics," he said, they’re just "comics."

About six years later, I
got an email from him apologizing for the argument. "You were right,"
he said, "I read graphic novels
now." Oh, so now that they’re "graphic novels" they can be
literature. Also, Maus, Persepolis
and my books are not novels of any
sort. The Holocaust, the Islamic Revolution and my … "teenage sexual
identity journey" … are events that actually happened.

AE: Do you remember the first graphic novel you came across that
featured a lesbian character?
My comic book Definition, in
which I decide I’m bisexual and hook up with girls for the first time, was the
first comic I’d ever read featuring a lesbian character, which I think was a
huge part of what made it so exciting to write.

About a year later, I
found my second lesbian-starring comic, and it was this
Catholic-high-school-girls-porn-thing I forget the name of. At the time, I
thought it was totally awesome and the cover said it was written and drawn by
two women, which was totally cool — in retrospect I’m pretty sure it was a huge
farce, and was actually written and drawn by men with pseudonyms.

The main image I retain
from it is of one of the girls sitting atop a giant breast, catholic skirt
blowing upwards to reveal her f—ing a giant nipple. It’s the sort of thing
that sticks with you.

AE: Name a favorite author outside your genre, and suggest one good
book of theirs that readers should pick up first.

AS: Yes, but what is my "genre" … comics? Autobiography?
Teenage? Queer? … Something that’s none of those … I know — The Game by Neil Strauss. This book is
infinitely fascinating. Oops, it’s also kind of autobiography.

I know — The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. A
lot of people are really down on Dawkins right now because he recently came out
with the very bossy and resentful The God
(which actually has some great parts if you get past the
condescension), but The Selfish Gene
is a classic. A simultaneously comforting and totally depressing way to look at
life. All of a sudden, everything you do will seem selfish — but it’s not your
fault — it’s your genes.

I also love Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies — I don’t cry
that often, but this book made me cry.

AE: Which graphic novel would you recommend to lesbians who have never
read a graphic novel before?

AS: Oh, I don’t know … mine.

Next page: Joan Larkin on poetry

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