INKlings: The Liz Prince Interview

This is an ongoing series where I interview authors of books that I have read. My questions are in bold/italics. Be sure to read my review of Tomboy tomorrow and enter to win a free copy!

I am not a huge reader of graphic novels, but my daughter is. If I am being totally honest, I have only read a couple of the Twilight ones and two or three others at most. They have only been on my radar in the previous couple of years, and don’t seem to be offered up for review as often as traditional books, so my towering stacks of “regular” books get preference.

Zest Books gave me the choice of three books, and I decided to read Tomboy by Liz Prince. Of the stories offered, Tomboy was the closest to being in my wheelhouse, ie, being about a kid/teen. This is the first time I have read anything by Ms. Prince.

I have been reading so much on the net lately about feminism, #gamergate, gender stereotypes, misogyny, general hate-itudes (while cleansing my palate with happy stories and pictures of baby animals so I won’t break down) that I fear my questions may be tinged with my feelings regarding these issues. Regardless, I hope you enjoy my interview with Liz Prince.

What made you decide to tell your own story? Is this the first time that you have included autobiographical elements in your stories, or is it common?

Liz Prince author photoAlmost all of my comics have been autobiographical. I have 3 books out with indie comics publisher Top Shelf Productions, all autobio, and I have been self publishing comics and zines for the past 15 years, contributing to anthologies for the last decade, and writing a comic column for the punk magazine Razorcake for about 3 years now. All of that work is autobio. My only non-autobio work are the comics that I’ve drawn for Adventure Time. I just really connect with other people’s autobiographical work, so it makes a lot of sense that it’s what I write for myself, too.

I think your book is very honest, from your unflinching inward gaze and your questions to yourself and smoking (hope you have quit) and the sneaking out. I think this book is one of those that has the potential to give many girls hope. As a parent, I would rather my kid read about real life type things than censor what they read. What age is the perfect age to read your book? Did you write it for a specific age?

Thank you! I have never written a young adult book before, so I was a little hung up on what is appropriate for that age group and what isn’t. In order to get over that road block, I decided to just write the book the way I would normally, and then change things that were flagged in the editorial process, but in the end, nothing got cut. I really wanted the book to be very authentic, it is my experience, and I feel like the teenage experience with swearing and sex and drugs is a litle universal, whether or not you participate in those things, you become exposed to them. I also really wanted adults to enjoy my book as well, I didn’t want it to be too “kiddy.”

I actually tried to leave some hints in Tomboy that I never really smoked; the joke about Phyllis telling me to inhale, and me lying and saying I was, that was pretty much my entire smoking career. I never really inhaled, I was just doing it to look cool and fit in. Later on in the book there is a scene where all of my friends are smoking and I’m not, which is my subtle way of saying that I had “quit”.

Your mom sounds awesome and that she handled everything just right. It’s especially awesome because, speaking as a parent, you never know, when you start the whole mom/dad business, how your kid learns, if they are overly-sensitive, what are good motivators, etc. So you don’t know the best way to get through to them for a while. Which means you make a lot of mistakes. That you hope your kid will not need a therapist for when they are in their 20s. Are you saying that your mom never once sighed, threw your baggy Green Day t-shirt on your bedroom floor and said something like “Whatever. If you don’t care what you look like…”? (Aside: I love Green Day.)

My mom was more bummed out by clothes that were old and ratty than she was about clothes that weren’t “girly” enough. I am still the kind of person who will wear something until it is in tatters, so my mom was definitely rallying against me wearing jeans that had holes in both knees and the crotch, or shirts that had armpit holes and holes in the bottom where my wallet chain had rubbed through. I’m sure she used the “…if you don’t care what you look like…” line, but we just never had many fights about clothes: in my house it was a non-issue…it really doesn’t matter what someone is wearing, and I really find it odd when parents won’t just let their children dress the way they want to, especially because it matters SO MUCH to the kid.

Don’t you think “in this day and age” we should be past a lot of labeling and naming, especially when it comes to gender stereotypes?

That is a tricky question, I think we should be past the staunch assumptions of what labels mean, but I know that for a lot of people, labeling, especially within gender, is really important. In language we need indicators to distinguish one person from the next, but we definitely need to throw out the idea that boy = blue and girl = pink.

I’m really interested in creating a better awareness for gender issues; anyone being bullied or attacked because of the ways that they present their gender is horrific. Women are still being seen as a blank canvas for males to project what they expect from them onto, and it’s hard to hear about incidents like the ones that made national news in the last few weeks.

I want to be a girl on my own terms.

Do you think that more guys are feminists these days or is it just my wishful thinking? Does there seem to be a backlash against equality of the sexes even though more men see us as equal? 

I think that because of the internet, we are able to find more information and people that are relevant to our specific interests: are there more male feminists, or are we just able to hear about male feminists more readily? I don’t know!

With all of the recent events surrounding #gamergate, it is pretty obvious that there are still a lot of people that have a problem with feminism and equality.

What do you think of Nerf Rebelle and the new Lego marketed specifically for girls?

I’m glad that girls are being given a chance at a line of toys that has more traditionally been marketed towards boys, but what is problematic about it is that it is, at the core, a marketing thing. My first thought when I heard about Nerf Rebelle was “why are Nerf guns gendered anyway?,” but the good part of Legos and Nerf guns being marketed towards girls is that it makes those interests “OK” for girls to have, whereas before a girl might have gotten flack for playing with a “boys’ toy” (and I’m very much so basing this off the way I was teased for playing with “boys’ toys” as a kid).

Don’t you think that if regular Nerf was actually marketed toward girls they would play when them whether they were pink or purple or neither?

Yes, because I think that colors are arbitrary, except when used as an indicator of gender; it’s a totally cultural invention that boy stuff should be blue and girl stuff should be pink.

I’m sure people thought to themselves, “Why doesn’t she just try to look more feminine then she wouldn’t have all these problems!” What do you say to those people?

I always felt like it would be harder for me to pretend to be someone I wasn’t, than it was for me to just get teased sometimes. Wearing girls clothes really did feel like a costume, I felt as alien wearing it as if I had shown up to school in clown outfit. I can’t imagine having to spend every day feeling like that.

Did you ever find your hat after the swim party incident?

No, but there were other hats. A scene that got cut out of the book was that, on the school bus in the middle of 6th grade, a bunch of boys dared me to throw my hat out the window. It was an embroidered Donald Duck hat that I got at the Disney store and I loved it, but I wanted to be cool, so I throw it out the window. After I got home I rode my bike to where I had thrown the hat, but couldn’t find it. The next day those same boys poured powdered Kool-Aid in my hair on the bus, and my brother licked the top of my head. Sad times.

Does your brother still have long hair?

No, he became a teen heart throb when I left for college: all of my college friends swooned over this photo I had of him in my dorm room. It was really weird.

Tomboy a Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince

Were you a book reader as well as a comic book lover when you were a kid? If so, what were some of your favorite books?

Yeah, I loved books. I was really into Roald Dahl; I had all of his books, even his books for adults like his ghost story collection. I loved this book called The Girl Who Owned A City that we read in English class. I really liked Where The Red Fern Grows, too.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to take walks around the neighborhood. My boyfriend and I really like pinball, so we go out of our way to find pinball machines to play. I like going to thrift stores, it’s really fun to look through all the old stuff that ends up there.

What’s your next book about? What’s the title? When does it come out?

I can’t announce what my next book is yet: I’m still choosing between a few different projects that I want to do, but I hope to have a new graphic novel come out late 2015, early 2016.

Thank you so much for letting me read your story and interview you. I enjoyed your graphic novel very much!

Thank you Audrey, these questions were really fun!

Be sure to read my review of Tomboy tomorrow and enter to win a free copy!

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