Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz, dubbed by my Gmail account as Jenny DevilDoll, is one hot comic artist. Yes, that was a pun because, “Too Negative,” one of Jenny’s long-time works is a collection of comic strips and mini comics set in a halfway house in hell. She does a bunch of other stuff too (a renaissance woman, like a female comic artist version of Benjamin Franklin) like non-comic art, a graphic novel, and experimental noise collaboration. Read on for some words from Jenny.
Tell us a little about “Too Negative.”
“Too Negative” is about a group of indigent devils and other creatures who live Hell’s Halfway House. I don’t know if I could truly call it social satire, since it filters the world into this scenario I would like to see. “Hell” in the comic is a sort of urban but still very wild landscape. I was born in a neighborhood of NYC known as Hell’s Kitchen, maybe that’s why the idea of reexamining the concept of Hell appeals to me? You hear that Hell is a “bad place”, though no one’s been there, and I’ve heard that a number of neighborhoods I’ve lived in were “bad places”.
Where did you come up with such an unusual concept for a comic strip?
I began sketching a lot of the characters and initial strips in early 2001, I was also going through a slow mental breakdown at the time. I just sort of stuck all that together in a mini comic in January of 2002, despite the fact that a lot of it was more fragments of ideas than fully realized comic stories.
What is your favorite “Too Negative” strip?
That changes a lot, what I like about my work or think could be better. I’m happy with the wordless one, where Dahlia is in this desert and tears out and replaces her heart, and the hummingbird appears from the discarded black one. It was from this vision/hallucination I had one morning, just played in front of my eyes like a little movie. http://www.toonegative.com/Desert01.htm
You recently started drawing “Living in La-La Land,” which is an auto-biographical strip about the everyday life of you and your husband. How is creating this strip different than “Too Negative?”
Well, it’s a little looser in the drawing style, yet more of a representational depiction of surroundings, the buildings of Brooklyn and such. I also tend to break away from the panel-to-panel comic narrative more because to me life isn’t always neat and linear–some days are just a jumbled impression of various things that happened or that I saw.
My mom, a lawyer, is planning to take her first creative writing class. After writing in a serious, straightforward lawyer tone for years, she’s worried about not being humorous enough. Much of your work has a biting, ironic humor. How did you develop the humor in your writing? Any advice for my mom (and others writers striving to be funny)?
I think in my case, it’s just my way of coping with my utter disbelief about what’s happening, whether it’s something the other person is doing, something I’m doing despite myself, coping with mental illness, which can be overwhelming sometimes, despite all the new talk of “dangerous gifts” and such — I’ve heard it said that humor has a meanness to it, but at its core it’s a bit defensive. Like in our primal tribal brain we’re going “If I laugh at the thing that’s threatening, it will be less powerful.” Hmmm, I’m not sure if that really explains to someone else how to be funny though.
You mentioned you’re starting the script for a graphic novel. That’s awesome! Is going from writing comic strips to a full out graphic novel daunting? Does your approach to your writing change when you work on a longer piece?
It seems more rife with possibilities. Instead of setup-punchline you can delve into stories and characters. At the same time there’s more of an onus to convince them this is worth their time–to publish, to sit and read. With strips it’s like, don’t like this joke? Here’s another one.
You’re not just a comic artist. You do work in art shows and perform with an experimental noise collaboration called Doll Hospital. Can you tell us a little more about these other forms of artistic expression?
I’ve started painting in the past few years, with both acrylic and watercolor. It’s weird how I started at first feeling that some things could be more compelling as standalone images than full comics, and would work better as paintings. And the things that could be done with paints, textures, brushmarks. I’ve been in some local art shows, most recently my work was in the Underground Howl Festival, which is an annual art event on the Lower East Side, named after Allen Ginsberg’s poem. Various galleries participate.
With Doll Hospital, Eric has been studying percussion since he was a kid, primarily jazz, rock and improvisation. We’ve both played in rock bands, but with this the focus is on sound creation and spoken word, free form, and vocal intonations. We’ve performed out a few times, both with other musicians and once just as vocal and percussion. Eric described experimental music to me once as “painting with sound” and it just clicked for me! We’re also part of a group (Urchestra) that performs Kurt Schwitter’s piece “Ursonate” with sound collaboration.
Do you ever notice any crossover between your comic art and the other art forms your create?
Yeah, I think there are themes and obsessions that recur in all of them.
Did you always know you’d like to draw comics, or was your journey to comics a winding one?
I always liked cartoons, I guess I wanted to have my own cartoon series, and drawing comics was a way to do that since I didn’t have the means to do animation at the time. I drew derogatory comics to amuse my friends in middle school about the imagined secret lives of the meaner teachers and principal.
Comment upon the current state of women in the comic book industry. Do you think your experience as a female comic artist differs from that of your male peers?
I think there’s still sexism in the comics industry and scene, sure, but then again there’s still sexism in society at large. I mean recently there’s been the controversy about Dan Didio’s remarks about hiring women at DC, or Scott Adams’ remarks likening women to children or regarding rape, or the whole blowback after Gabby Schulz did that comic about sexism on the internet, resulting in a bunch of online commenters pretty much proving the point of the strip. I know Anne Elizabeth Moore has begun a column over at truthout.org examining discrepancies in the comics industry. Personally I’ve found that a lot of individual comic creators have been very cool. I’ve also encountered some of these types of guys in the indy scene–not the bulk of them, but they are there — who exhibit a lot of hostility towards women but deny that THEY personally are sexist because they personally don’t read books where the women have huge breasts and skimpy outfits, therefore they feel their behavior gets a pass.
If you could recommend one comic book, what would it be?
There’s so many! But recently Feminist Press put out a short graphic novel on Ana Mendieta (another artist who was Cuban, confrontational, and feminist in her work) called “Who Is Ana Mendieta?” It deals with her work and how it (and that of other woman conceptual artists) was received by the art world at the time, and a bit about her early life and “mysterious”(maybe murder?) death. It’s written by Christine Redfern and illustrated by Caro Caron. http://www.feministpress.org/books/christine-redfern/who-ana-mendieta