In the comic book industry, we have seen many historical figures receive a biographical comic; in some cases a very odd twist in history where certain figures rise from the dead as zombies. A while ago I heard about a new comic from the writer Katy Rex, and she was researching a woman named Jane Bowles. My own adventures into the internet gave me insight into some very little information, and some information conflicted with other sources, so this just picked at my interest more but I soon stopped thinking about it, with life rearing its ugly head. Before I knew it though, a Kickstarter was set up and the comic was more than well on its way to make its debut with a collective team of over a dozen talented people from the comic book industry, including Tyler Jenkins, Marguerite Sauvage, and Taylor Esposito to name a few.
Me: First off, thank you for doing this interview. How did you first hear about Jane Bowles?
Katy Rex: I was working at a call center, and avoiding work as much as possible by spending my time in online queer activism communities. I’m not sure if it was Wikipedia or some equally distracting website, but I wandered down a series of links and ended up on a list of unknown-but-deserving queer artists. Jane’s name caught my eye, and I was hooked.
Me: Did anyone help you research Bowles along the way, or was this sort of your solo venture?
KR: The main “people” who have helped me are my fellow researchers—but I put the word people in quotes because their help has been in the form of their books (and I think I’ve read almost all of them). My research has been really self-directed, though.
ME: Which is your personal favorite of Bowles Work?
KR: A favorite?! How could I pick?! Honestly, though, it depends on my mood. Last time I was asked this, I think I said A Quarreling Pair, which is a surreal puppet play, but today I think my favorite is a fragment of a short story from her notebooks, an unpublished piece called Andrew. That story will be in Chapter Five with art from Adam Gorham. It follows a young man as he moves away from home, joins the army, and falls in love with one of the other soldiers he meets at basic. It’s got a bittersweet melancholy quality to it, and even though it’s very brief, it’s filled with so many truly touching moments.
Me: Strange Wit. How did you come up with this as the title?
KR: It actually comes from a Truman Capote quote: “My only complaint against Mrs. Bowles is that she publishes so infrequently. One would prefer larger quantities of her strange wit, thorny insight. Certainly she is one of the really original pure stylists.” Of the defining things about Jane, the ones that fascinate me the most are the way so many people we consider to be the Greats of their era admired her and the way nearly everyone used some variant of the word “strange” when describing her. I wanted to choose a title using someone else’s words because I find the notion of biography fascinating—it’s never about how we see ourselves, is it? But there’s so much more (and sometimes less) than we show the world.
ME: Explain the lay out of the comic, and where it’ll go. Why is this different than any other work on Jane Bowles?
KR: First of all, there isn’t really much work on Jane Bowles to compare this to. If you’re looking only for books that center on Jane as a single subject, there are two. One is a biography (A Little Original Sin by Millicent Dillon) and the other is a collection of academic essays (A Tawdry Place of Salvation edited by Jennie Skerl). She features as a side character in a number of things, including Tangier Love Story (Carol Ardman) and February House (Sherill Tippins), but my book will be joining a relatively small canon.
That said, I do think that the format is pretty unique. Jane’s stories are all painfully autobiographical, and they were her way of processing and working through a lot of her circumstances, so I selected particular stories that fit well with parts of her life and have alternated them with her biography. For instance, chapter one is a kind of a growing-up story, and the short story that accompanies it, A Stick Of Green Candy, centers around the death of childish imagination and faith. Jane poured herself into her characters, took opposing parts of her self and put them in characters that disagreed, and let them have it out to see who would win. It’s really amazing to see in conjunction with her actual biography, to see how raw and real her odd and surreal stories could be. Each one of the short stories will feature work from a different artist, but there is one colorist and one letterer/designer that will unify the book as one piece. It’ll feel a little like an anthology, a little like a single graphic novel, a little nonfiction, a little fiction, and it’ll generally kind of defy easy description—sort of like Jane.
Me: By the way, I noticed you have a large team. How did you bring them all together? How did they feel about this project?
KR: Some people on the team I had a past relationship with, so I reached out to them first—I had, at one time, interviewed Ryan Kelly for my show (for example) and we live in the same city, so he was one of the first people I contacted. I also threw volleys of emails at people I had met once or twice at conventions, and even blind-approached some people I had never met before, like Tyler Jenkins and Beatrice Penco Sechi. I got way more rejections than acceptances, which is to be expected, but everyone I approached, regardless of their ability to do the project, thought that the idea was really interesting. Everyone who is on board today is here for Jane first, because she’s such an inspiring character.
Me: Did you expect your Kickstarter to be as successful as you thought it would be?
KR: I am astounded with every day that goes by. I feel so happy and so privileged that so many people are interested in my book and in Jane’s life. Going in, I was really hopeful, because I know that this topic—invisible women—is a conversation the comics community has been having lately, but I also know that I’m not a well-known name (and for that matter neither is Jane). It really touches my heart that there seems to be a positive response to this project so far.
Me: Assuming everything goes as scheduled, when can we expect the first chapter to release and where will we find it?
KR: The first chapter is fully scripted and I plan to have it printed by mid-October. AFTER I finish sending out Kickstarter rewards, I will have it available in my online store at strangewit.com. I promised Kickstarter people first dibs, though, so the online store will wait. Also, if you’re planning on attending any of the same conventions as me, I’ll be the nerd with the backpack full of unsold comics, so just hit me up and I’ll sell you one on the spot. Bonus- no shipping!
Me: Anyone special you want to thank for making this comic happen?
KR: This project would not have happened without Taylor Esposito. He’s been there from the very beginning—from the moment I first thought of turning my obsession with Jane into a comic book. He talked me through every stupid panic attack I had, walked me through formatting, talked out how to match artists with short stories. I’ve been joking about how he’s my “comics therapist,” but he’s so invested in this project. Other than myself, he’s the one most in the thick of it every day. And I don’t honestly know if I would have had the courage to try to write about Jane if he hadn’t pushed me.
You can find out more about the project at their website: strangewit.com , and you can contact the writer on Twitter @thekatyrex
The Full Creative team includes Tyler Jenkins (artist), Marguerite Sauvage (artist/cover), Taylor Esposito (letterer/designer), Kelly Fitzpatrick (colorist), Kirsten Thompson (editor), Adam Gorham (artist), Anne Maxson (artist), Beatrice Penco Sechi (artist), Betsy Peterschmidt (artist), Dom Sole (artist), Inés Estrada (artist), Joshua Hixson (artist), June Vigants (artist), Kate Lacour (artist), Ryan Kelly (artist), and Sean Von Gorman (artist).