Here is the short version of the interview I gave to SCREW magazine: (Remember, it's a translation.)
Meet J.Tana Ford, winner of Prism Comics Annual Queer Press Grant 2010 for her first comic book called “Duck!”. Tana's diversity regarding her interests and abilities as a person is impressive. She has studied Philosophy and Fine Art, she paints, plays the piano, AND runs races. Not to mention that she knows how to air-brush, working out of a mechanic’s garage, and she can do some very cool stuff to your motorcycle helmet. She has had the experience of three comic conventions so far (C2E2, the Boston Con and San Francisco Alternative Press Expo) and she says that her creative tendencies seem to take her in all sorts of directions. Tana has recently concluded her work on her second comic book titled “That time I turned 30 in Greece”.
Anastasia: Was it, perhaps, a dream of yours to visit Greece because of your studies in Philosophy?
Tana: I spent so much time as an undergraduate studying the masters and reading everything from Plato and Socrates, of course going to Greece was a dream of mine. I had no idea the Acropolis would be as HUGE as it is. It was impressive. I came home and my 4 year old niece asked me why I went to the place "where all the buildings fell down." I thought that was cute.
Anastasia: (laughs) Kids are priceless. Any favorite Greek Philosopher?
Tana: I loved Zeno's riddles. And some of Plato's arguments. I was endlessly amused by Socrates thumbing his nose at the establishment: the way he used logic and reason to woo the youth of his generation and went against the norms of the time. I think it is astounding that even now, thousands of years later, we still sit in our classrooms and dissect the merits of these original arguments. What is art? What is beauty? What is virtue? Is something good inherently or is our perception of it that tips the scale one way or another? The act of actually questioning the world around me was my main take-away from all those lessons.
Anastasia: you are lucky to be working with one of your best friends, Matt, at an auto-service, as the office manager. Isn't it hard to be an office person in the morning, an artist in the evening?
Tana : Actually, I am artist during the day! So it's less hard, perhaps. Because I work with my friend, we designed the office to double as a studio. Which means I can draw while I am at work. I do things like answer the phones and book appointments but it leaves plenty of time for drawing as well. I am in a really unique position, I know.
Also sometimes a dog-sitting agency.
Anastasia: You actually lost the whole first draft of your work on "Duck!" because of a computer failure and had to start all over again. What happened then?
Tana: It was devastating. I resolved to do two things: 1) learn how to back up my work so it never happens again and 2) start again with a clean slate. I knew what I wanted from “Duck!”. So I started making the second draft the best version I could at the time. I think, ultimately, it is a stronger work because of it.
Anastasia: Back in 2008, still designing "Duck!", you were wondering how universal can a comic book be about lesbians in Boston...What do you think of this today?
Tana : Today I'm not quite sure. What I know is that there is an audience out there I'm just not sure how much of it is women who are looking for a place in comics that they can relate to, or how much of it is lesbians looking for a reflection of their experience. Or where the two overlap. I think it is crucial that more women make comics. Any kind of comics, because it is important that we add our voices to the larger narrative out there. I know, that for my part, having gay characters will always be an important piece of my work. Their 'gayness' isn't necessarily the story but it will inform the decisions they make and how they see the world. I think that is the power of these kinds of stories: their ability to lend the reader a different perspective.
Anastasia : A major part of comic book writing is storytelling. Was it the story you wanted to tell, when you started writing "Duck!", or was it entirely something else?
Tana : Oh, it was entirely something else. The story of “Duck!” is essentially two friends who travel across the country to save a younger brother from jail. It's a bit like On the Road (Kerouac) meets the L Word (Showtime). But when I started “Duck!” I envisioned a Sex and The City kind of comic Lesbians in Boston. What we do, who we are, what we think, how we interact. Because I found that my experience AS a lesbian in Boston was so radically different from, say, either of my younger brother's experiences. I recognized that I had the inside track to a world that was funny and queer and sexy and original. It didn't turn out to be the story I told, however.
Anastasia: Tell us about Duck, the character and how you came up with her. Who is Duck, really? An alter ego, perhaps?
Tana: Perhaps. Duck is a sort of ballsy jerk. She inserts herself into situations, she's crass and a bit of a pest and she made a great foil for my other lead character, Cat. Cat is level-headed and practical and they travel across the USA the way an old married couple might. By bickering sweetly. At least that was the intent. I think I come closer to achieving that in some places than in others. I hope the friendship and the underlying affection between the characters translates to the page.
Anastasia : It does! About the "Greece" comic, I couldn't help but make a list of favorite vs. worst moments. Favorites would be the Sunset in Paros, or the view of the cliff from Meteora, and the least favorite of all, Turkish toilets and “Retsina Malamatina” or the great boat strike. Am I right? Can you give us the best/worst moments of the journey according to you.
Tell me he doesn't look like the Monopoly Man.
Tana : You got it right! The worst part was that AWFUL pine pitch wine! OMG. The Turkish toilets just blew me away. I mean, we were in the official bus stop of the city of Athens! And there is just a hole in the ground?! My first thought was, there must be something wrong with this stall before I realized they were ALL like that! And the donkey. Mister Burrito. He was amazing. The whole island of Paros was outstanding. I felt like I had the place to myself. And the people who lived there were so kind to us. We were there in late November. I was glad to be there during such a quiet time but it made me want to go back during summer and see what it really like when the whole island comes alive. It would be a nice juxtaposition of experiences.
Anastasia: well you can always come back to Greece for your 40th birthday. It would be good for continuity. You could also make another comic about it (laughs).
Tana : yes, and I need to get to the island of Lesvos!
Anastasia : EXACTLY! Now, what is mostly funny for the Greek reader is how you react to first-time experiences of things that the Greeks take for granted. Like waiting in line at the airport, the taste of “Amstel” beer regular, or having to deal with an absolutely bitchy assistant.
Tana : I think both Meg and I had a great sense of humor about the whole experience. But we couldn't relax. If we missed that one flight to Athens than we would be stranded in Greece! A romantic notion but highly inconvenient at the time. But luckily it all worked out. We found ourselves having conversations about capitalism a lot that day. With the boat strike going on and on and the demand for flights increasing, why not add another flight? Or two? But Greeks puzzled us in general. I mean, who strikes in the off season?! Certainly the countries politics are well beyond an American vacationer like myself but still. It made for some funny dinner conversation.
Who has a boat strike in the off season?!
Anastasia: Ah, politics in Greece, we could talk forever about that. But let's not get to that now. Let's move to lesbian comic heroes...Renee Montoya
Vs Kate Kane/Batwoman. What would you choose?
Tana: Batwoman definitely!
Anastasia: Favorite comic-to-film adaptation?
Tana: “Sin City” definitely!
Anastasia: Comic artists that have inspired you through the years?
Tana: Well I am endlessly awed by the art of Sean Murphy. His run on “Hellblazer” is being collected in a trade next month and I am very much looking forward to picking that up. Skottie Young decided a few years ago to loosen up his lines and free his style and it has done wonders for the energy of his work. I love popping over to his daily sketchblog and seeing what crazy things have cropped up in his brain since yesterday. Tony Moore was instrumental in my comics sensibility. Right after “Walking Dead”- the first trade- came out he posted a ton of links to Photoshop tutorials and generally gave advice to young artists that I found instrumental to my development as a comics artist. I drool over Josh Middleton’s artwork. And for those of you who might not know Kate Beaton, you'd be hard pressed to find a funnier cartoonist working today. Her history comics have me laughing out loud.
Anastasia: from a comment on your blog, now. You wrote: "I loved Girls by the Luna Brothers so much and I got so emotionally invested in the story line that I was considering drawing an alternate storyline about it”. I have only read the first issue, but I had a very strong reaction to how the women were depicted in it. It looked to me quite chauvinistic. What do you think?
Tana: It was TOTALLY chauvinistic! And the Luna brothers tried to play both sides of the fence, I think. Kudos to them for having strong female leads, that was a step in the right direction, but most of the women were either controlling and hysterical or panicked and freaking out. OR they were blood thirsty clones hatching out of eggs to rape all the men in town. The take-away message isn't a nice one. But I felt oddly compelled by the story and (as most female comic fans will attest to) when you like comics you've got to get used to a certain (high) level of objectification and misogyny. It sort of comes with the territory. I am hoping that will change as more women and like-minded creators add their stories to the pile.
Anastasia: one of your favorite artists is Ani Difranco. I was in Dublin in 2002 and she was playing live... And I went because I read her poem, "Self - Evident" about 9/11 and it made my hair rise. And in the concert, she narrated it, and I wanted to shout and cry and jump in triumph. So perfect. I kept reading this poem again and again for two years. I taped it on my closet door. Have you ever had such a strong relation to a poem?
Tana: oh, absolutely. And in fact to Ani herself. She was my first great music crush. The first time I saw her perform took my breath away. It was at the Orpheum theater in Boston. Amazing. Currently I have “Choices” by Nikki Giovanni taped to my desk at work. And also “For The Young Who Want To” by Marge Piercy.
Anastasia: Would you like to comment on one of your favorite quotes from Herman Hesse (Demian) "you can't consider prohibited anything that the soul desires" in terms of what it means to be a woman who desires other women?
Tana: I think of that line more in terms of sexual desire. I had a relatively easy coming out. I always knew I liked women in way that I didn't like men and my family didn't take too long to get on board with that. What I see in my community is a lot of people giving women whose sexuality is expressed more fluidly (women who sleep with women and men, for instance) a lot of flak. I think, you love who you love. You desire who you desire. But, if in the bedroom (or wherever) you want to shake things up or try something new, go with it. Don't consider anything prohibited that soul desires.
Anastasia: Last subject ! LESBIAN POP CULTURE. Is there a thing like lesbian pop culture? It's just beginning, maybe? With series like “The L word” etc.
Tana: I am not the authority on lesbian pop culture. “The L Word” annoyed me to no end. I LOVED “Queer as Folk” and hated “L Word”. Meh. What can you do?
Anastasia: What do you miss most from QaF? I totally miss Peter Paige (Emmett Honeycutt).
Tana: Oh my God… he was my total favorite. He was in a different TV Series I just saw playing a tough, drug-dealer kind of guy and the whole time I was like 'you can't fool me Emmett Honeycutt’!
Anastasia: (laughs) thank you for this interview, Tana.
Tana: No problem!
More from the marathon comic
So THAT happened!
For those of you with a LOT of time on your hands (and also who speak greek!) here is a link to the .pdf version of the Mag. (I'm on page 38! under the heading LESBIAN TALK.) How sweet is THAT?! Also, lots of sexy pictures of dudes and statues. Oh, what would the world DO without artists.
And did you hear that China is changing it's view (perhaps) on creativity? That's interesting.
And this is funny.
"Quick! Come on my back, Ace!"
Happy Monday folks!
Stay dry this week.