Queer Illustrator Nicole Georges's Undead Father, Psychic Connections, and Penchant for Primates
In the tradition of illustrated memoirs like Fun Home, Portland-based queer illustrator Nicole Georges's first full-length graphic novel, Calling Dr.
In the tradition of illustrated memoirs like Fun Home, Portland-based queer illustrator Nicole Georges's first full-length graphic novel, Calling Dr. Laura, takes readers down a page-turning rabbit hole of familial deception, secret histories, and half-truths. But don't let that scare you off. A poignant story told through honest, disarming black-and-white illustrations and pointed observations on life, love, and family, the novel is a compelling and riveting memoir rooted in the peculiarities of life. The book, published January 22 and now available through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is part family-mystery, part coming-out story, and entirely authentic.
When Georges was two years old, her mother told her that her father was dead. Two decades later, on a trip to visit a psychic with her girlfriend, the psychic tells Georges that her father is alive and well. Georges's older sister confirms the psychic's proclamation and admits that Georges's mother and two sisters have been lying to her since she was a child. The revelation sends Georges into a tailspin about her identity, forcing her to come to terms with a family history full of deception, abuse, an ever-rotating cast of unfit father figures, and a homophobic, distant mother. Utterly confused, Georges turns to — of all people — conservative radio talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger for advice. The no-nonsense radio host gives Georges a stiff talking-to, ultimately providing the push she needs to take her future into her own hands. But that can't happen until Georges clears up the past, which will involve some serious conversations with her mother, sisters, partner — and maybe even a family she didn't know existed.
SheWired caught up with Georges, who's currently touring the West Coast promoting Calling Dr. Laura, to find out what prompted the 'zinester to dive into a novel, what advice she'd offer for young queer graphic artists, if she's still on speaking terms with her mother, and which beasts the self-described "friend to creatures" can't wait to get her hands — and her pen — on.
SheWired: Given that your background is in publishing 'zines, what was the transition like, moving to a book?
Nicole Georges: It was a big transition. Usually, in my 'zines, I'm used to just photocopying diary entries — illustrated or otherwise — and so, for the book, it took about five years, from start to finish. And it involved making a book proposal, and then sitting down and thumbnailing, or making tiny sketches, of what every single aspect would look like, and spending a lot of time drawing it. So it took a lot more planning, and then I got to go through it with editors, which was really nice.
So that was something that wasn't present for your 'zine, Invincible Summer?
No. I think that the second volume of Invincible Summer, that got published as a book, there was a hand-written typo on the first page, or maybe even on the title page. [Laughs] Needless to say, I had never had an editor looking over my shoulder before, giving thoughtful advice.
And was that nerve-racking, or did you feel like, overall, it was a positive experience?
It was great. I really liked it. I feel like it really helped me not take for granted that the readers knew everything. She made me kind of understand parts where I had left out bits of the story, because I just took for granted that people would understand what I was talking about. It helped me bring the reader along with me, which was nice.
I think you did a great job of that. I will admit that I read the book in a single sitting — I couldn't put it down.
It's just fascinating. And I think one of the most interesting parts is how you use a nonlinear narrative structure. How did you decide to go with that structure rather than something a little more "straight?"
I'm not sure. When I was first putting it together, I had a couple of straight narrative lines in my head, like the relationship was kind of a straight line that I could follow. And for the childhood things, there were little bits that definitely went together in a straight line, but other supporting things that just seemed important to say, but I wasn't even sure where they fit in.
So, when I started writing it, I was just writing all these little vignettes that I knew, or hoped would go together somehow. I ended up drawing the childhood parts different than the adult parts, because as I was going through and trying to sketch out the initial version of the book, I realized I just didn't enjoy drawing myself getting traumatized as a child.
Yeah, for the present-day things I was using photo references — finding photos of myself in my 20s and drawing those. But then for the child ones, finding pictures and then having to extract a hard emotion or trauma out of it just wasn't that fun. And I knew I would be working on this for a really long time, so I needed to find a way to draw what I needed to draw, but make it enjoyable and not horrible. So I drew it like that, because it's just a way that I like drawing anyway. I drew the childhood pages a little bit more simple.
And I think that certainly helps convey that those memories took place when you were younger and that looks more like that would have been what you might have drawn then.
Also, since my memories from then are from so long ago, and they're kind of hazy, [the illustrations] are kind of stark and bare-bones like that. As opposed to the rich memories that happened very recently.
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