Saturday, December 13, 2014

Dylan Horrocks - A Magic Pen interview

Last week, I had the extraordinarily good fortune of sitting down with Dylan Horrocks for a couple of hours and talking to him about his new comics - Sam Zabel And The Magic Pen - his first long-form book since Hicksville.

Like his comics, Horrocks is a smart and thoughtful interview subject, and he was often chuckling away at his own pretentiousness, so it wasn't quite as heavy as it often appears in print here.

This interview was originally published in a severely edited form for nzherald.co.nz. It contains mild spoilers for The Magic Pen. You can still read the story at hicksvillecomics.com although it won't be completed there until early next year.

 
LIFE ONLINE

You actually serialised the story online before collecting it in a book. What was the idea behind that?

The initial impulse to serialise it online was very simple – I was struggling to draw a long story. I was working on a very long story called Atlas, but that had stalled. And I had started the Magic Pen and another story called The American Dream, but they had also stalled.

So I was really struggling to do these long stories, and I decided if I serialised them online, then every time I finish a page, I can post it to the website and it feels like I've really achieved something. Like I've actually published something new, and people can see it

So, in a way, choosing to do it online was primarily a strategy for encouraging me to actually keep working. It was like a gold star chart, every time I finished a page, I could post it online and it was like getting a little gold star on the chart on the fridge.

Were there any unexpected side effects of going online that you didn't see coming?

I have been pleasantly surprised by people engaging with the story as a serial. I wasn't really expecting that. So the joy of serialising a story for an audience that is reading it page by page and responding to it like that has been a real pleasure.


Did it make you try and make every single page worthwhile in some way?

A little bit. But to be honest, I haven't really catered it to online readers at all. On one level, I'm like the world's worst web cartoonist because I never planned it as a web comic or designed it as a web comic. There were long gaps where I didn't post a page for six months, and I was erratic. All the things that people say you must do, I did none of it. I broke every rule, and it's because I didn't go into it to build an audience online, I just went into it to give myself some small incentive to keep working on it day by day.

Do you know how big your online audience was?

I have no idea, I almost never looked at my stats. My guess is that more people will read the book, partly because I didn't actively build it for a web comic, and the people who do really well in web comics work very hard to build that audience, and I didn't. So I assume that web audience is quite small.

Did you script out the whole thing before you started?

No, not at all. My main strategy was to write a couple of chapters ahead. So I would write a chapter, start drawing, and try and have a chapter or two written by that time I had finished drawing that. I didn't always manage that, sometimes I was writing a page ahead of what I was drawing, but that was the basic plan.

There were certain moments where I got stuck, like the moment where Sam refused to go in the direction I wanted him to. I wrote that scene many times, and I found myself unsure of which way to go. And the final version was the last version I wrote, and it was more of a sudden impulse to kind of throw my hands up and admit in the story that it's not working.

And it actually opened the whole thing up. As soon as I wrote that line about how I wrote it one way, but Sam won't play, it opened up the rest of the book.
 

Did you ever panic about actually finishing the story when you got to those points in the book?

Not so much panicking as just desultory about it. I was used to being stuck at that stage, and it was basically my normal state at that time.

Did your work rate speed up as you got towards the end of the story?

Oh God, yes. Most of the book was drawn in the last year or so. At a certain point, I actually got around to getting an agent, and we talked about how to structure the book because I had originally planned it as a trilogy. And he talked me into doing it over a single book, and I'm very glad he did – I actually think it's much stronger for that. And he was talking to publishers and I realised I really needed to write the rest of this thing properly, so I actually sat down and scripted out the rest of the book at that point. And then I had publishing contracts and deadlines and then I had to finish it.

It did really help to have those kind of things. The thing is, it had been a long time since I'd finished a book. I finished Hicksville in 1998, and I'd written – and drawn – a lot of comics since then, but I hadn't finished a new graphic novel. And I probably could have spun this story out indefinitely if I didn't have those deadlines


KIWI COMIC CAVALCADE

The Magic Pen does have a very European feeling to it, but it’s also very much a New Zealand comic, and also a comic about New Zealand comics, with a large section of faux-1950s science fiction based on the real comics of cartoonist Eric Resetar. Are you worried about losing an audience who have never heard of somebody like him?

The King Of Mars by Evan Rice is a comic in there that is directly inspired by Eric Resetar’s comics, especially Crash O'Kane: An All Black On Mars, which is just the best title for a New Zealand comic.

There is a lot of things I love about Eric Reserter’s comics, and I had just so much fun when I show Evan Rice’s comics in there. They were just so much fun to both write and draw. I just completely indulged myself.

Actually, one of the inspirations for that section, apart from Eric Resetar, was a comic that my father drew for me when I was nine or ten, and I spent a few months living in Bougainville with my mother, because she was a social anthropologist doing field work there, and we lived in a village in the bush for a while. It was quite an experience.

But my Dad would send me comics, so there was always a British comic I would get every week, which was Battle Picture Weekly or 2000ad, and my Dad would send me a bundle of four issues of Battle or whatever. But one time he sent me a comic he had actually drawn, and it was about a New Zealand farmer – a Fred Dagg type of character – finding himself in Berlin in 1944 and gatecrashing Hitler's bunker and beating up the Nazis - the whole time wise-cracking in New Zealand slang. And it was the most amazing comic. I've lost it over the years with all my house shifts, somehow it got lost and I bitterly regret that.

Was he a decent artist?

He was, actually. When he was a teenager, he wanted to be a cartoonist. He won a prize and he was going to either print up a comic or do a book about astronomy, which was his other great obsession. And he choose the astronomy in the end, but I always wondered what would have happened if he'd continued..

Do you feel like you're showing some of Kiwi comic history to a wider audience with The Magic Pen?

It wasn't really my intention, I didn't do it to push the history of New Zealand comics, but I'll be delighted if people do. Particularly if people in France or Germany or Italy. If anybody from there became interested in early New Zealand comics and artists like Eric Resetar, I would be delighted.
 

Were any of your overseas publishers confused about this very Kiwi background for the comic?

Not so far. They embrace it. I remember when I was doing Hicksville, I asked my then-Canadian publisher if it was a problem that these stories are so full of really obscure New Zealand history, and meditations on our place in the world, and he said people loved that because it was 'kinda exotic'. So hopefully that's the response we'll get for this.

But here in New Zealand, we watch and stories from all over the world, and don't worry if we don't know the whole history or context behind a TV show or book.

Exactly. New Zealanders are very used to reading stories set in other countries all over the world, and we're so used to it that we take it in our stride, and we treat stuff we don't know about as something we can find out about, and it'll be fun to do that. And I do know some writers who do get asked to 'Americanise' their stories, especially children's authors, and there can be a constant struggle there. Which is strange, because I find that children in particular are always more open to stories in far-off places.

But with the old comics section in the Magic Pen, I really wanted to not hold myself back on making things as New Zealand as I could. Mostly just for the fun of it, but also one of the biggest pleasures of Hicksville has been hearing from New Zealanders responding to the New Zealand-ness of the story in a way that none of my readers overseas really can. Some of the conversations I have with myself and the culture while making my comics are specifically about living in New Zealand. And those are conversations I want to have, so I feel very strongly that I'm not going to avoid being very specific and particular about New Zealand in my stories, because it's the only way to have that conversation with myself.

And you've got a glossary at the back for anybody who gets too confused.

Exactly, if they don't know what a tuatara is, they can look it up
 

THE MORALITY OF FANTASY

One of the central themes of the story is the question of whether somebody should be morally responsible for their fantasies, and you even have Sam stop the story cold and wonder if there really is any need for it. Did you ever have a clear answer to that question?

There is a moment when it stops and turns on the question of whether you should be morally responsible for your fantasies, and there isn't a clear answer.

I wanted Sam to ask that question. I was asking that question. About a third of the way through the book I realised that one of the reasons I was writing it was to try and answer that question for myself. I guess the story is about our relationship with fantasy and part of that is the ethical dimension of fantasy.

And do you think you came close to that answer?

The key thing is, I never go into a story with a specific point of view that I want to communicate. A lot of the fiction writers I talk to write fiction for the same reason. We're trying to make sense of the world, and trying to understand things. I guess there are polemic fiction writers, but they tend to be pretty boring, really.

Part of the strength of fiction is that it allows you to really pick away at the limits of complexity, because it's kind of what life is like, and with the Magic Pen, I wanted to ask that question, and so I put characters into situations that forced the issue. And then I could see what it is in that situation, and see how it felt.
 

Sam is a fairly autobiographical comic character who has been through a lot of the same things you have, and even produced some of the same sort of comics you have, but does he surprise you with the places he goes to in the story?

Yeah, everyone says he's so autobiographical, but his name is Sam! And he doesn't have glasses like I do.

But he does still surprise me. I did write different versions of that scene where he struggles with that question, and when I was first planning that story in my head, it went in quite a few different directions. But one of the main themes of the book is my own reluctance to go in certain directions as a writer, my desire to go in certain directions and my fear of going there.

Were you concerned with the reaction to some parts of the book? There is a large section that could be written off as a male power fantasy, but then you have the characters sit down and talk about how it's such a male power fantasy.

I have honestly felt nervous at times about it. Very, very early on, before I had actually written any of it, I was visiting some friends in New York – a very good artist named Megan Kelso and her husband – and I was talking about this book, and how I was nervous about its reception. And she said, well, you've been talking about it for the last few hours. She said that fear was clearly a sign that this was very important to me, and I should totally write about it.

I immediately knew she was absolutely right, so I took her advice. The reason I was thinking about writing this story was that they went to a very important place for me – a place that was scary, but it was scary because it was so important.

But The Magic Pen opens with two epigrams, there's one from Yeats and one from Nina Hartley, so it's the poet and the porn star. And the quotes say very contradictory things about fantasy and desire, and I really wanted to start the book with those two quotes presented with equal weight. I really think they have equal validity. I wanted those quotes to start a debate, and start a conversation on the very first page of the book and then the book continues that conversation, and tries to do it with a variety of voices and a variety of perspectives, and also to test those two assertions in different directions, and just see how that process can enrich my own way of thinking about the issues that were raised.

Do you feel you came to a conclusion, or is it still an ongoing process?

Well, I don't want to spoil the book, but yes and no. I feel as though I have a clearer perspective on it than when I started it. But in a way I don't want to spell that out.

The main thing now is that now that the book is out, I'm hoping to see that conversation expanded, from being just me and myself and my characters, to being a conversation that other people are getting involved with.

I think it is something that is talked about already, but often the conversation is less a conversation and more a repeated statement of a simple position that people have. It's a conversation that has always been going on and is still going on, it's just that I wanted to have it with myself about the particular aspects that I was interested in. And so I first have the conversation with the book when I'm creating it, and then it goes out and other people have their own conversation with the book, and I'm just looking forward to hearing those conversations, because that will open up my own discussion in a new direction.


But as important as the fantasy aspect is to the characters in the book, one of them at the end quite clearly states that nothing in fantasy matches the beauty of his own family in the real world.

I guess some readers can see that it's me arguing that it is better, but every time a position is taken in the book, I try to undermine it very quickly. I didn't want to be afraid to take positions, but I wanted each position to be just one perspective, one position, one answer, and to never forget there were plenty of other answers that might be just as valid.

I simultaneously want the book to be questioning of our relationship with fantasy, but also a celebration of that relationship. So some characters embrace the real world, and others take off on a real journey. And it's the possibilities, and just the sheer visceral pleasures of fantasy.

So when Sam is thrust into someone's erotic fantasy, and put at the centre of that, he's ambivalent, and he's not sure if he should reject it. I wanted to raise questions about questions about the politics of that fantasy and so forth. But at the same time, I wanted them to be visually pleasurable and I wanted to indulge the prurient pleasures of those fantasies, and so sometimes the pictures are doing that at the same time as the characters are worrying about it, and I'm worrying about it. And that's because I really want the reader who is wrestling with the ethics of fantasies to be also wrestling with the pleasures and joys of fantasy.

Did you rediscover your own joys in fantasy while making this book?

I actually kind of did! I was feeling pretty jaded about fantasies, particularly wish fulfillment fantasies after writing superhero comics, and I didn't really like those comics. There were some things I did like about those kind of characters, but there were also things that I was more unsure about.

When I was doing them, I felt like I was plugging into someone's else wish fulfillment fantasy, not my own. I felt I had inherited those worlds and those characters and many of the underlying assumptions that drive the story from other writers, and all of those writers were working in a particular corporate entertainment structure that had its own priorities about what makes a good superhero story. And you also have to deal with reader expectations and genre conventions and all that sort of thing.

So at the time, it didn't feel like I was exploring my own imaginary landscape, or my own daydreams.

And is that where the Magic Pen first got started?

That's exactly where it began. That was the very beginning of it, with me feeling like I'd lost my way into my own imaginary landscape.

And that's where it stared in about 2003 or 2004, with me just day dreaming about it all, and going from there.


WORKING FOR THE MAN

Around that time, you were doing some writing work for DC Comics, including a run on Batgirl. How did your experiences as a writer for a big company push you in the direction of Magic Pen?

It did feel like I'd lost my voice, both my writing voice and my drawing voice. Partly because when I was writing for DC, it often felt like I was adopting a voice, writing in someone else's voice.

I was struggling to find my own way of writing those comics, because I didn't grow up reading superhero comics. It was Tintin and British weekly comics, and then it was Robert Crumb and French comics by creators like Moebius, but superhero comics were not a big part of my reading as a kid, they just didn't do it for me. And when I was teenager, there was some that I read, like Frank Miller's Daredevil and as soon as Alan Moore started writing Swamp Thing, I followed those because I had been reading his work in 2000ad, but I only ever read superhero comics for particular writers or artists, never for the characters. The characters were of no real interest to me.

So when I was in a position of writing stories about Batgirl and Batman, I didn't have a life-long obsession to draw on. I didn't have an idea that I'd constructed over the years of 'this is how I would write Batman' or 'this is what Batman means to me'.

You do see that obsession in some good writers, like Grant Morrison, who is never ashamed of his huge love for superheroes, but still does his own thing with them.

Yeah, and he went into that with a clear vision of what he wanted to do. And Alan Moore did too. I mean, Moore could be hired to write the text on the back of a cereal packet and he'd have a clear vision of what he is after.

But I didn't. And I stumbled around a bit, trying to find my own version of how I would write superheroes. I did have some kind of vision, but it was something that I could never imagine that DC would want to publish, so I didn't go down the road. Because my idea of superheroes in how they're written in the small press and alternative comics. Things like Ed Pinsent's Illegal Batman or Glenn Dakin's Captain Oblivion, which mostly consisted of the superhero - who was a minor character in that story - sitting around in caf├ęs with his friends talking about the meaning of life, or how he can summon the courage to talk to a girl he's met. That's how I would write superhero comics if I could do them however I wanted.


You did do something along those lines for the Bizarro Comics book.

Yes, I did a story for it that was drawn by Jessica Abel, which was such a treat, and it was Mary Marvel and Supergirl having their annual met-up over cake and coffee to talk about their lives, because they're old friends. And Supergirl is still a superhero, and Mary Marvel retired a long time ago, and is just leading a nice ordinary life. But they still meet up every year and it's just a little awkward, because Mary really doesn't want to be a hero, and she looks at Supergirl's life and thinks, 'Oh my God, what a nightmare'.

But that's the kind of thing I did like doing with superheroes. If I could just write Batgirl with not a single fight scene, I would be happy.

But I don't understand why we don't see more of those sort of comics, because things like Bizarro comics are timeless and will sell for years, but the regular stuff from just a few years ago has already been wiped from continuity, so DC can't do anything with it.  They even wiped out your Batgirl stories now and gone back to Barbara Gordan.

To be honest, that's probably a good move. I actually feel like Barbara Gordon's such a great, strong character.

Did you think that was the Batgirl you were going to write?

Yeah, I did. I really didn't know anything about the DC Universe at the time. I thought 'Oh, Batgirl! I remember her from the old sixties TV show', but it wasn't that Batgirl. There was no go-go dancing, and no frilly pink motorbike.

Did you still get to put a little of your own style into your Batgirl run?

Well, I tried. That's the thing, almost every issue, I tried to get something out of it. Because the Batgirl I was writing had a completely different costume that had basically a full-face gimp mask and black leather from head to toe, and it really creeped the hell out of me.  Now, for some people, I'm sure that costume really is a joyful fantasy, but that's not really how I saw it. So, for me, it wasn't a really happy place to be.

So every issue I would try and find some excuse to get her out of that creepy bondage mask. I don't want to say too many bad things about BDSM, because I have a lot of respect for that community, but I just wanted to get her out of it.


And these are basically kids' characters.


Well, they aren't really for kids anymore. There are some kids comics, and at the time I was at DC, they were some of the most appealing things, but they didn't get the comics fandom excited. Things like Teen Titans Go! were really fun and really nicely drawn, with good characters.

But the regular DC ones are so dark and bleak and nasty, and it's been like that for so long, ever since things like Watchmen and the Dark Knight in the eighties. Every now and then somebody tries to bring fun back to comics books, and then it gets beaten down again.

So I'm completely ignorant of superhero comics these days. I don't read them, I don't watch the movies.  I only catch what is happening third-hand, and I'm conscious that there are some very smart, positive things being done in superhero comics right now – I've read a bit of Matt Fraction's stuff, and I've heard very good things about Kelly Sue Deconnick. There are interesting things happening, but I don't want to pretend I know what's going on.

But when you tell people what you do for a career, do people still assume you're doing that kind of thing?

Yeah. The one question I usually get is 'what character do you draw?', and I need to come up with a snappy answer to that.


FOR THE LOVE OF COMICS

Sam does rediscover his love of his comics by the end of the book. Is that similar to how you feel now?


It really is. I feel as though with the questions I was asking with the books were questions that had given me a hard time at various points in telling this story. There were moments where I really agonised over the issues I was exploring, but with those questions, I feel as though I have a much clearer set of feelings about that issue. I say a set of feelings because I still don't have a single, simple answer, I just feel I have a much better understanding of my response to those questions.

So in terms of writing and drawing comics, the last couple of years of working on The Magic Pen were the most fun I've had making comics ever. The physical process of drawing is so much more pleasurable for me now. Every part of it.

Do you feel more confident with what you're doing?

It's more that I've made my peace with drawing. I have had many periods in my life when I felt like I was at war with my own drawing. It was so hard to make it do what I wanted it to do. And I was so aware of the limitations of my drawing, and I was trying so hard to draw differently.

Your style has definitely changed a lot over the years. While the work in the Magic Pen is obviously your style, you’ve come a long way from Hicksville. Not least because it looks fantastic in colour.

That’s great to hear because I didn’t really know what the fuck I was doing. There is one page that I’m just waiting for somebody to say ‘what were you thinking’ because the colours are so garish and kind of digital. But I just wanted it that way, so I just gleefully embraced it.

But when I put together Incomplete Works [a collection of Horrocks’ various unreprinted comics] earlier this year, that was really interesting because I was looking back over 30 years of my work, and it was very clear that my drawing style and my approach to drawing had gone through so many different stages and reinventions.

I was more experimental with my art when I was younger, and it was partly because of my lack of confidence in my own drawing. I’m just not a natural draftsman, I find it very difficult o draw accurately or competently, and I still do.

So often when I started a new story, I would think ‘how can I do this, how can I draw this is a way that doesn’t completely embarrass me, how on Earth am I going to pull this off?’ So I would try all kinds of different strategies and techniques to produce something that was tolerable.

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And now you’re more comfortable with that?

I am. That will probably change again down the line.

The turning point for me was when I stopped trying to draw like other people and decided that I could only draw like me. That I couldn’t actually replace my drawing hand with somebody else’s, or replace my brain with somebody else’s, and force my body to draw differently. Obviously, I tried lots of different styles, but all those drawings had the same flaws and limitations, because that’s just the reality of how my body draws, and I can’t change it.

So, in a way, the turning point was just accepting it, and embracing that fact. So now I feel increasingly less tormented by own inadequacies, and I’m very conscious of my own inadequacies, I’m just less upset by them. They’re just things that I have to live with, so I might as well learn to enjoy them.

Obviously, I work very hard at improving how I draw, it’s just that I’m not fighting with it, the way I used to. I’m exercising it. I’m working to make the drawing muscles stronger, rather than trying to do weird surgery on myself or take steroids to change those muscles into something they’re not.

I wish I did have a more loose, expressive line, like the European creators I admire, but I just can’t do it. I’m an awkward artist.

But the way you tell a story in The Magic Pen – even the fact it’s coming out as one complete story on its own – does have a very European feel.

Well, I know when Alison Bechdel compared her to Herge in her blurb for the book, it made my heart skip a beat in happiness. A lot of people compare the drawing to the clear line style of Herge and people like that, and that’s interesting to me, because at a certain point I tried very hard to go in a different direction. When I did Atlas #1 in around 2000, I was looking at a lot of new wave French cartoonists, lots of dry brush and loose drawing and I love that stuff.

But I eventually came back to deciding to just draw the way I’d always naturally drawn, which is actually quite clear line in the style. So I just accepted it. And once I stopped fighting it, to me it felt like it just finally blossomed. The whole time I was trying to force it into a shape that it wasn’t naturally comfortable in, and as soon as I stopped trying to do that, it was like I took off the ropes and was able to run around and have fun.


ALICE BROWN AIN'T NO CLOWN

One of the other themes of the Magic Pen is that the whole culture of fantasy isn't just specific to a particular society or gender or age, and you have somebody like the Alice Brown character, who represents a new generation of younger girls who really get into fantasy.

Alice Brown is actually my favourite characters in the book. To me, she's kind of the hero of the book. I did do a one-page cartoon called 'Alice Brown, What A Clown' while I was still in the early stages of The Magic Pen, but to me, that was a celebration. She's getting picked on, she's a nerd and she doesn't fit in and she's so desperate to, but at a certain point, she's like 'fuck it, I'm gonna be me', and she starts embracing it.

Alice is partly inspired by a number of cartoonists that I have met or followed online, and also some students I've had, and all sorts of people have fed into Alice Brown. In a lot of ways, she represents to me the future of comics, and the hope for comics. Certainly for fun comics.

But she is into a lot of things that other people might sneer at, like slash fanfic...


She really is. And that's another thing, in the chapter where Akio is into his hentai, and you have Miki being threatened by the tentacles, you could read that as an attack on fanfic, but Alice is quintessentially a fan-fic cartoonist, and hopefully the book actually celebrates what she is doing. So there is nothing in the book that I'm trying to outright condemn, including Akio's hentai. It might come across that way, but I'm actually not wanting to, because even when there are things that make me really uncomfortable about particular fantasies in comics, at the same time I'm aware that there are other things about them that are interesting.

I'm much more interested in looking at those interesting aspects of it and finding out what's going on there. But also, not being afraid to criticise. 

But getting back to Alice, because she's so cool. I'm very conscious that women are currently producing many, if not most, of the comics that get me excited. Especially online where people like Kate Beaton and Julia Wertz are doing some of the most interesting comics in the world right now, and they're using the internet in really smart, interesting ways, and building strong. Readerships.

I won't be at all surprised, if in the next 10 years, the majority of prominent cartoonists are women. I think the change has been so dramatic and rapid, I actually think they will be the majority before too long.

Fandom is becoming increasingly female, and it's so good. It's such a breath of fresh air. Instead of just having the same conversations over and over, there are a whole bunch of new conversations coming up as well. Women have always been involved in comics, and in creating comics, but it's like there has been a dominant narrative about what fandom means and the history of comics, and that narrative has helped shape how people see comics. So the women who have been involved have been much less visible and often have been deterred from really hurling themselves into it, for all sorts of reasons


What do you think is behind this shift? Is it a societal thing, or is it because of the internet or anything like that?

The internet has certainly helped, in all sorts of way, but there has been a huge social change. Ultimately, it's just feminism, in all sorts of good ways. It's been generations in the making, these social changes, and there are all sorts of things that have played into that, but you can't downplay the role of women who stood up and said they're not going to play this game any more. They're going to play THIS game. And there are particular women who have had a huge impact on comics in the last 40 years, by simply doing their comics and putting up with all the bullshit they've had to take from male fandom and male creators. And likewise with fandom.

Is that something that you're trying to say with this book? That the future of comics and fandom and fantasy in general is in good hands?

I really do. I feel like this is a really good time to be involved in comics. I don't think there has ever been a better time to make comics. Parts of the industry are in terrible financial state, but there are so many new ways to get your comics out there. It's an amazing time to be making comics and there are so many amazing comics getting made. There has never been a better time to be a reader of comics. You can go to the public library and find shelves and shelves of amazing old comics from all over the world, comics by women, comics by trans cartoonists. It's just an amazing time to be reading comics. When I was growing up, the idea of going to the library and seeing any comics – apart from Asterix and Tintin – was virtually unheard of.

It's a golden age of comics, and it's a golden age of fandom, and when I go to conventions, I love the explosion of cosplay that is going on, because cosplay is such a creative way to practice fandom. You're not just buying stuff. And girls and women have led the cosplay scene, and continue to, and it's often used in really, interesting smart ways. I love the gender-bending cosplay that's a whole scene unto itself.

The thing I find interesting is that fandom is streaks ahead of the industry that's producing the stuff for them. And fanfic is an incredibly creative, interesting and experimental part of geek culture. I just feel like the fans are way ahead of the corporate franchise holders.

Alice, in a way, is my enthusiastic, heartfelt cheer for what's happening in fandom and webcomics and cartoonists. I feel this is such a great time, because it's being led by fans and led by a whole generation of young creators who are not sitting around waiting for somebody to let them do something, they're just going for it.