Book Club #6: “Calling Dr. Laura”


For February we read Nicole Georges‘ graphic memoir Calling Dr. Laura, which followed Nicole as she met a psychic who told her to get in touch with her dad. But according to Nicole’s family, her dad was dead. As a fan of Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s call-in advice radio show, Nicole decided to call in and ask whether she should ask her mom about the discrepancy when they already had a strained relationship.

We had a lot of questions for Nicole, who is currently on a book tour with Cassie J. Sneider, and she was gracious enough to answer them for us as part of our Book Club discussion.

Hello, AfterEllen book club! I write to you from a truly comfortable Comfort Inn on the outskirts of Boston, where I am getting ready for a talk at Simmons before we drive to Oberlin College. I’m about 20 days into my East Coast book tour, and it’s been so awesome to see AfterEllen readers at events on the road. So thank you! OK, here are answers to your questions:

Q: There are so many different narratives throughout the book. How did you decide to weave them altogether? Was that a difficult process?

In the beginning, the book was based off of a short story I’d written that included the palm reading, a mention of my sister revealing the truth to me, and then the Dr. Laura call. When I started writing the book, my task became to fill in all of the holes and build the story up from there. The modern day parts (with Verona and my girlfriend Radar) came to me in a very linear fashion, but the childhood memories and bits I’d pieced together about my father existed more in my head as a series of stories or vignettes. I just trusted that it would all make sense in the end, and wrote this way for a year or two. The book didn’t have an order until the very end. It existed as all these little short stories. At the last months of it’s construction, I wrote the title of each section on a post-it note and shuffled them around until they made sense.

I think this process may have driven my production assistant, Harlan, crazy. Especially because nothing has a page number until the last possible moment. One thing I wanted to add is that the book is separated into two different drawing styles: past and present. The illustrations from present-day are grayscale and sort of rich and textured, and the stories from childhood are more stark, black and white. When I went into this project, I was doing it all from photographs. Everything was the grayscale style. I realized very early on that I didn’t like drawing myself getting traumatized as a child. It wasn’t fun. I knew I needed to draw these scenes in a style that was sustainable, because I’d be working on it for so long, so I chose the black and white style that I find fun to draw in. It also reflects the quality of my memories from childhood. Recent memories are more rich and nuanced, but memories from a long time ago are fixed, more black and white.

Q: You have some great people repping for your book on the back cover. How does it feel to know that people like Alison Bechdel and Rachel Maddow like your work?

It feels great to have people like Alison Bechdel and Rachel Maddow like my work. Truly, I had to let these facts sink in at first. I had to convince myself that they weren’t just being polite! Alison was extremely generous with her time and so supportive of the book from the very beginning. It helps balance out when I read a so-so review from a Goodreads reviewer. Also, the beginning of Rachel’s blurb (which was edited out), was her saying that she wanted to adopt my dog Beija, or at least “apply to be a dog-sitter.”

Q: Considering how personal this story is, was there anything you felt you should not include but ended up putting in to better the story?

That question is hard to answer, because a lot of the book felt that way. Any part that was hard to read was probably hard to write (and draw), and was heavily considered first. But I knew if I was going to tell this story, I was going to go all-in, even including things that had previously just been personal stories.

Q: What does your ex think of the book? Have they read it?

I told my ex about the book, and then she saw a few pages in the newspaper, but I don’t think she’s read it. She was completely supportive when I told her about it. When we dated, I was dragged down by so many weird lies and secrets from my family life, and then secrets of my own (like being a closeted 23-year-old). I’m sure that was hard to watch and made it hard to live with me. She was really happy to hear that I was living in the truth and free of all these burdens. It may have even been like an “I told you so” moment, because she always wanted me to come clean.

Q: What was the hardest part to illustrate/write, emotionally?

A lot of the book was emotionally hard to write and illustrate. The parts about my stomach problems as a child still made me embarrassed as I was drawing them. The entire chapter about my relationship going south and breaking up was hard to do, because it is now years later, and by all accounts something that I would not typically be thinking about or going over any more, but for the book’s sake, I was not only thinking about it and going over it, but I was doing so for months and months because drawing a comic takes so long. It was sort of like putting on the ring from Lord of the Rings. There was a dark cloud over my head while I was in the studio drawing those parts.

And of course, the end of the book, the epilogue, was devastating and I drew it so close to the actual event that I was still truly sad and memorializing this person I’d never met.

Q: How do you/did you reconcile Dr. Laura’s homophobic/racist traits with being a fan of her advice?

I guess I don’t really care about Dr. Laura’s religious beliefs about gay people, because I grew up with that, and as a gay person I feel like I can defend myself. She is who she is. She has a religious opinion, it’s not hateful like Westboro, but it’s definitely not supportive of my gay civil rights, but that’s really not what I’m listening to her show for. I’m listening for her harsh advice, and for the things she does well and that ring true for me. I take the pieces I like and leave the rest behind. I can’t do that with someone like Rush Limbaugh, because I don’t like anything that he says, but I can do that with Dr. Laura.

However, I was listening to the radio when she said the N-word 12 times on the air and I was like “Oh no, Laura, Stop!” because I was mid-way through drawing the book, and I knew we were connected somehow (like Harry and Voldemort). It’s a little harder to be tongue-in-cheek about her so confidently repeating the N-word than it was for me to laugh off her anti-feminist sentiments. I obviously can’t stand by that, and it was wrong, and I’m so glad that she apologized, but still it was wrong. Of course!

Q: You’ve been telling stories from this book for years as part of Sister Spit. How does it feel to finally have the book available to everyone?

I am so so happy that the book is real and in people’s hands. I hope I haven’t exhausted Sister Spit’s audience good-will by reading this story to them over and over for such a long time. I hope people will remember me showing them drawings from this over the past five years and go pick up the book!

Q: Do you ever miss playing music or part of a band?

I do miss playing music and being part of a band, but after that whole band debacle described in the book, I decided to take a break and work on drawing for a while. I’ve come out of musical hiding just a couple times since then, as lead singer of a Minor Threat cover band called Minor Treat, and then singing and playing the typewriter with Portland improv-duo Palo Verde. So, I’ve dipped my toe in, but I just really like singing.

Q: What advice do you have for young queer illustrators/comic book writers?

Just do it. The most helpful thing you can do, from a practical stand-point, is to look at a comic you really like (visually), and to figure out what tools they used and what size they worked at. If you can find the artist themself (or their publisher), send them an email and ask. I feel like size and tools are half the battle in making your work look the way you want it to look. For example: For this book, I worked big and then reduced. I did my pages on 14″ x 17″ bristol board, and I used Rapidographs, Pentel Pocket Brush Pens, and then real-life brushes. I made my own graywash by putting little drops of Rapidograph ink into cups of water and experimenting. I think 14″ x 17″ was a little unruly, but I’d definitely work big and reduce again in the future.

Thank you, AfterEllen!!!!

And now onto our discussion points!

1. What did Nicole’s obsession with Dr. Laura add to the overall narrative?

Seeing as how the book was named after the radio host, how much do you think she was a real influence on how Nicole decided to pursue the truth about her family? Was Dr. Laura as important as the other people Nicole received advice from, like the psychic or Radar?

2. What did the illustrations help you understand better about the story?

What panels did you think really helped show what Nicole or her characters were feeling? Was there a specific panel you really enjoyed?

3. Did you think Nicole should have had a conversation with her mother sooner?

Would the story have been more or less fulfilling had Nicole come out and asked her mother about her dad earlier on? Could it have made a huge impact on Nicole’s life and contacting her brothers?

4. Was there anything you were left wondering?

Did you have any lingering questions about Nicole’s story after reading the book, or were you satisfied with the ending? Would you have been less satisfied had she never contacted her family members?

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