Nicole j georges
* Location: I live and work in Portland Oregon as an illustrator, pet portrait artist, Outreach Coordinator for the Independent Publishing Resource Centre, and art curator for In Other Words Women's Books & Resources.
* How would you describe your art? I like to do art highlighting the emotional lives of animals. I also work in autobiographical comic form, writing about the (coffee) drinks, dogs, and dates that make up my life. I work mainly in black and white brush pens, and sometimes acrylics. I put resin over paintings.
* Currently working on: I am currently working on a book about Fat Fashion, which will be written by Beth Ditto and illustrated by myself. Also, a children's book about cats and kittens, and several art shows. And a new issue of my zine, Invincible Summer!
* 3 Likes: Holding Daschunds; songs with handclaps and multiple singers; rollerskating to the Jackson 5.
* 3 Dislikes: Being interrupted while I’m eating; nosy people looking over my shoulder and saying "what are you reading/drawing/eating?";
People who rebel against their own radical politics later in life (i.e. eating big macs instead of being vegan, invited straight dudes over to incite your separatist friends, etc).
* Daily Inspirations: I find daily inspiration in the animals around me. Also, Vernonia Oregon and genuine, driven individuals.
* People & artists you admire: I am inspired by Sue Coe, Lois Anne Yamanaka, Lynda Barry, Phoebe Gloeckner, and Jane Goodall.
I am proud of my friend Beth Ditto for using her natural talents to their greatest potential (staying true to her beliefs in punk feminism, body image and class issues)
* Favourite album(s) to listen to when working: I like to listen to Joanna Newsom - Ys, Tracy + The Plastics – Culture For Pigeon, Tilly and the Wall – Bottoms of Barrels, and The Langley
Schools Music Project while I work.
- - -
This interview took place in January 2007. All images reproduced with permission © Nicole J. Georges
- - -
Hi Nicole, how are you?
I'm well, thank you. I just had some noodle leftovers with kimchee and I couldn't be happier.
How did you first become involved with art, and develop your skills?
I have been drawing since I was tiny, starting with illustrated limericks and wall art. I have books and books full of characters and drawings from my childhood up until around high school. The wind left my sails for a few years, but after picking up the pen again in 2000, I felt well received and used that as fuel to keep drawing.
I think my skills are developing all the time, and I am learning always different ways to draw, whether or not I’m In The Zone.
I first became aware of your artwork when your image ‘At the age of five, I decided to stop serving him’ was included in the ‘Girls Will Be Boys Will Be Girls’ colouring book. How did you become involved in Jacinta and Irit’s project, and why did you choose to contribute this specific comics image and theme of girls waiting on disinterested boys?
I cannot remember for the life of me how I came into contact with those lovely people, but I think it may have been via the internet and my website? It’s been such a long time and my brain is like an etch-a-sketch.
They assigned a quote to each artist, and the one I was given (At the age of five...) appealed to my feminist sensibilities!
Your most well known artwork is contained within your ongoing zine/comic, Invincible Summer. How long have you been creating this zine, and what was the early impetus to call it Invincible Summer?
How has the zine progressed over the years?
I started invincible summer in 2000. Moving to Portland from Kansas city was really inspiring for me, and so I was keeping elaborate journals and illustrated diaries to document everything that was happening. I was 19, working in a coffeeshop, recently single and everything seemed so magical here! You can see mountains from my neighbourhood, and there are so many excellent people and animals around for support.
The first issues of invincible summer are all mainly edited diary entries and drawings, pasted together in what i hope forms a sort of illustration of my time here.
I try to be a little more deliberate with each issue, which is a new thing for me, as before it was all very happenstance.
Meaning, I am trying to write artist statements before I start painting an art show, or I map out the story I want to tell before I draw it, instead of pasting together random titbits.
I want to try harder at art and see what happens.
The zine was originally going to be called My Tooth Has Teeth! For no real reason other than I have a lot of oral surgery drama and so enjoy toothy themes. I had read some Camus, but never this quote, which I found on a bookmark and says "in the midst of winter, I found that there was in me an invincible summer.”
So inspiring! It seemed a natural fit for my zine title.
There is a large amount of autobiographical or quasi-autobiographical content to your zine/comic.
Is it easy for you to draw from personal experience within your work? I ask this as I once read an interview with your band Fact or Fiction where you claimed that rather than the politics and life experiences being blatant within your music they instead just naturally and instinctively seep out of all your pores. I was wondering if this were the same with your comics?
I have never gotten the hang of disguising my stories enough to pass as fiction, and so you have autobiographical work.
I do change people's names from time to time, in order to protect them should we fall out of love or friendship, but besides that, everything I write about is true. Even in my art work, though I focus on the emotional lives of animals and do paintings based off of real creatures, they are often conveying something that I can't. Something a little more honest.
My favourite books are coming of age novels filled with teen angst. That is how I view my story, and how scripts are written in my head. So when I have a girlfriend who throws a lamp at me, or I spend a day on roller skates, I can't help but write it down or draw a picture. I also have a horrible memory due to head injury, and so these books that I make (and take the zine from) are a way to catalogue my life. My memories of stand out moments in my life often coincide with the photos, drawings, and clippings that I’ve taken from them.
As far as my political beliefs in comic form go.... Living in example, as opposed to only speaking loudly about your beliefs, seems to be a very accessible form of activism. It doesn't always garner you the same amount of show-boaty attention, but it will affect the people around you, and those who are watching, in a different and deeper way than handing them a pamphlet might. So, to write a heartfelt and sincere story about being a lesbian, a feminist, a vegan, or an anti racist activist, and giving some humanity to it, feels important.
Is it important to you that your own personal experiences are allowed the avenues and space to be told, read and heard – so that you can let what you’ve seen be known?
It’s important to me to have a space for letting things go, and getting experiences out of my system through documentation.
As much as I appreciate the avenues available to me, the things I want to transmit the most, and feel lucky to have a soapbox for, are animal rights issues.
I can defend myself if sexism and objectification continue, if I’m being oppressed or persecuted for whatever reason in life, but animals have no agency here, and I feel responsible for speaking on their behalf.
I’ve seen a lot more into the world of factory farming than most people I come into contact with. This is more than having to barbeque your 4-H project; it is frightened eyes from moving trucks, calves being kicked or screamed at in auction, and terrified sheep scrambling in the blood of their brothers and sisters as they try to evade execution. It’s all so gory, and in my lifetime I wish to be a vehicle for them.
I was reading an interview with film-maker and ex-Tribe 8 band member Silas Howard in GLU zine and she was asked of her biographical and autobiographical film work whether she felt like she was carrying stories around with her her whole life to tell.
She was also asked as to whether she felt like she was looking for stories, or whether she was developing the skills to extract stuff from her essential being.
I find these two questions endlessly fascinating in terms of personal depiction within art.
What are your thoughts on these questions regarding your own work within Invincible Summer?
Telling stories for me sets them free. If I’m carrying around weight and baggage from a particular event, drawing it, spending time making lines and shaping the words to explain, gives it a different meaning. I can transform an experience into something therapeutic, but also productive and beneficial for myself.
I.E. You Will Always Be A Dick, But At Least I Have a Comic Book From the Experience!
I can trap them in their new two dimensional forms.
Reading other people's bodies of work about their gnarled lives and family experiences is so inspiring because I feel like I have a life story inside of me that I’m still learning how to tell. When I do sit down to approach this, and to release whatever has been brewing, I want to be mature enough to have realised all of the facts, and to be able to have perspective on it all. If that makes sense. I’m only 26 and each year I am gathering more information about how my brain is put together and why I act the way I do today.
I don't go looking for stories; I just wait to feel their weight. Then I know it's time to write them down or draw them out.
Silas replied to the above questions (in part) by stating that by ‘reinventing everything I went through into a good story allowed me to communicate with people who I would have otherwise been separated from.’
How important is the communication aspect of your work and art?
That's very interesting! I’m not sure if I am to read her answer as a literal or metaphorical communication.
I do a lot of animal communication when I’m doing art work. Animal communication is a nonverbal way of relaying and receiving information with the creatures around us. In nature of course animals silently communicate with each other all of the time. The humans who practice this are generally those of the hippie or New Age persuasion. I am neither, but do believe in a heart bond between creatures. So, I do have to enjoy an animal in order to do their portrait, or put them in a piece, but in the same way,
I need to know someone (a person) well in order to draw them. People whom I cannot stand, or whom I see no use for, I really can't even give space on paper to draw.
Writing about people from the past feels like tapping into their essence, and can feel pretty intense. By putting it into perspective this way, it can help me to understand where we were both coming from in a different light.
One of the things that I find endlessly inspiring about you is your commitment and dedication to involving younger girls within your creative role, and encouraging the skills, creativities, talents, lives and voices of young girls by teaching, or providing the space for zine-making skills (or music making skills, as with your involvement with the Rock & Roll camp for girls).
I edit a collective zine of the feminist collective here in Leeds, UK – our latest issue has had a myth busting theme. One submitted article stated how we need to bust the myth that young people have nothing to say, or nothing worth hearing (as is often assumed by ‘adults’ – and thus young peoples’ voices, histories and stories are often stifled, misrepresented or forgotten.) I have had conversations myself with the author of that article about how had we not found, read and written zines ourselves as teens, we would probably not be the people we are today, and maybe we wouldn’t have the confidence and gumption to work on the creative and work projects we do, as we maybe wouldn’t know how valid and important those projects, and our voices and creativities were.
Its thoughts and personal experiences like these that make me so proud of your work with schemes and ventures such as the Zine Canteen in Portland.
What were your personal motives for setting up such projects?
I want there to be more confident teenagers and confident adults who look critically at the media around them and feel they have access to tools for change. Those would be my motives.
I fell into the world of education at age 19 in the same happenstance way I fell into making zines when I was fourteen.
I was asked to tag along for a series of zine workshops put on by the IPRC* for these at-risk middle schoolers. I was scared to death, but after consistently going and teaching and receiving excited energy back from students, I found myself totally dominating all of our zine workshops! With help from a pre-workshop espresso, I couldn't get words in fast enough about my favourite aspects of zine making - the punk and radical elements, self empowerment aspects, and the way putting out your own stuff and giving yourself the title of writer or editor can be so much more rewarding than the mystery around going to school, getting shot down, and having to struggle for someone else to call you a Legitimate Writer.
What is your personal history with zines and being aware of the validity of your voice and creative voice?
Did you receive encouragement to own your creative voice as a teen?
In 1994 I was really into ska music. So much so that I was involved in these sort of ska mailing lists where people would all post stuff about awesome bands, shows, and checkerboard things of that nature. There was a guy at one point who was getting an awful lot of attention for something he was brandishing as a "Zine" (then pronounced z-eye-n). I sent him a dollar out of curiosity and received in the mail this very boring and gassy thing called New World Order. I thought "I can Do better than THIS!" and so I started investigating, picking up zines, interviewing local bands, getting friends to contribute, and writing about my job at Subway.
That was my first zine. Hitman.
I did a truly emo trauma-themed zine called Kitten Breath at one point in which I called people out on "their shit" and subsequently lost all of my friends at the same time!
Boys I knew also shot down my balloon by telling me how this zine was way too much uncomfortable information, and was boring to boot.
I think that leaving Kansas city was helpful, not only because I was free of the place I grew up (and so family ties and prying eyes), but also because I had a lot less to lose if people in a new, larger place, just hated my work. I kept blinders on this way, and still try to.
I received a lot of encouragement when I was a teenaged zinester by adults in the greater Kansas City area. Activists and artists would give me a lot of positive encouragement, and would attempt to empower me by recruiting me to help organize zine conferences and anti censorship events in the KCMO area. I feel really lucky that I was sort of "groomed" in this way, and it did help to separate my mind from what was being offered in immediate suburban high school surroundings.
I don't know if this was charity or what, but at some point a graphic designer offered to redesign my second issue for free! So issue 2 of HiTMaN has an amazing "rude grinch" on the cover and is laid out in a very stylish way. I was fifteen.
By working in the community at projects such as the Zine Canteen, and also by creating gig and event posters for local (feminist and queer) community happenings such as tours for bands such as Tracy + The Plastics, and spoken-word tours by the likes of Michelle Tea, as well as events such as the Ms. Film Festival, does it feel like you are within a supportive, creative and artistic community that you are proud of, and feel able to support and promote?
Totally! I feel so lucky to get to work with and for the people I do. I am so proud of my friends and community, and the projects that we create. Seeing friends on stage, reading things they've written, seeing them get good grades, or even seeing them sing a nice karaoke song, can make me get all teary eyed.
I read in an interview in Clit Rocket zine that you moved to Portland from a small-ish town where if you were a girl comic artist, or an organiser, you were pretty much the one who had to organise the whole thing and get other people on board, which reduced the option of choice of whether to be involved in an event or not – as you were *needed* to be involved, as the ‘backbone’, and thus burnout was always on the cards.
How do you think it is possible for female art and creativity to thrive and get the exposure it deserves within small towns without people burning out or giving up?
Hmm. This is a good question. Let me see.
This is what I wish I knew when I was a teenager living in a small city:
I think it is important to understand that you are not alone and to not be afraid of reaching out to like minded people in other places.
Ask a lot of questions, ask for support, and use someone else's work as a model so that you don't have to reinvent the wheel.
Don’t let toxic people get to you (I always found it was harder to avoid them in a smaller city, as your friend choices were few)
Don’t let anyone cloud your vision or shoot down your balloon.
Your confidence will carry you.
Don’t forget that your work is as important as anyone else's!
Don’t let anyone cloud your vision or shoot down your balloon
Your yearly calendars feature 12 monthly animal images that you have illustrated and created. What is it about the medium of calendars that inspires you to produce one yearly?
I can't remember exactly how I started making calendars, but I currently find them an appropriate avenue for all of the stand-alone pen and ink pieces I do throughout a year. Things that don't exactly fit into my zine.
Oh, now I remember.
I started making a calendar to have as a uniform gift for friends and family, and also as a money making scheme, because a calendar to me seems just like a zine that is on it's side and costs about five dollars more!
I interviewed Nikki McClure a couple of years ago and asked a similar question, to which she replied that she enjoys the populist nature of calendars and that people get to hang the artwork up in their houses and kitchens etc. but it changes every month. She also claimed that she liked that people gave her calendars as gifts, as she felt it an honour to be part of a giving world.
What are your thoughts of populist art – i.e. that art such as your calendars can belong in homes and workplaces and wherever people are, as opposed to artwork being seen as an ‘elite’ form of culture that is too expensive and ‘important’ to belong anywhere but galleries?
Do you see your art as populist or does its independent/sub-cultural nature make it feel non-populist to you?
Do you enjoy that your collection of artwork in the calendar is changeable with the months, and thus ever evolving and re-inspiring to the viewer?
I feel like I have a foot firmly planted in the punk world, and so even if I do sometimes float in to expensive art land, I will remain accessible.
Sorry to quote your words back at you again, but I once read in an interview you claim that:
‘I am young and I have resources and privileges available to me so I had better use them to the best of my abilities. Use whatever platforms I have or have built for myself. Take care of the things that I can in the world.’
This single statement alone is, I think, why I was so keen to ask to interview you, as the fact that you want to use your artistic talent, and your privileges within the world to create, encourage and inspire creativity, artistry, communication and political thought within both your local community, and potentially a wider community (like folks like me, continents away!!) is so unbelievably exciting to me; I see privilege and talent used in all the wrong ways daily, when so much good could be done if privilege was used in less destructive and demeaning, or patronising ways.
What encourages you and inspires you to take care of the things that you can in the world, using the creative talents you have, when so many people around you (around us) are content just to sit back and ignore what’s going on?
I honestly can't find a reason besides it being a compulsion for me to work hard on what I believe in.
I got into the habit of working hard when I was organizing events and publishing my thoughts as a teenager, and I’ve never really figured out how not-to.
Like, I can't imagine taking a vacation JUST for vacation's sake. I need to have some express reason to be somewhere else, because there's so much to do here!
It could be that Sagittarians are fanatical, and Capricorns are hard working. And so it follows that with a Sagittarius sun, Capricorn moon and rising, I am diligent when it comes to my fanatical beliefs!
My inspirations in productivity would be the tireless, life-long efforts of Jane Goodall, or the prolific creativity of Lynda Barry!