Jennifer Chaffin asks questions about aliens, alienation, Gen Y, and the DIY aesthetic of the creator of Starbabe, Atrocious, & Apartment (to name a few) Kelsey Wroten answers
You write science fiction and essayistic works localized in and around Kansas City. I find compelling, the similar strains of alienation you evoke in all of the works. What is driving that beautiful estrangement? Is it the urban landscape, economic disenfranchisement of Gen Y or something else?
Alienation is a central theme in my work because of the lack of desired communication that I think we all experience, more or less. It is impossible for one human to completely know another. The alienation is the result of our secret selves, the things we think no one will understand, our own personal struggle (everyone is struggling). There are feelings which we simply don't have the words to express.
Economic disenfranchisement, to me, is only slightly political, it is far more personal. Living from hand to mouth allows you to narrow down what you actually need (and yes, sometimes cigarettes take precedence over a decent meal). Most of the people in my peer group are like this, college grad and otherwise. I think our affinity for one and other might be something more than the simple unity of our similar struggle. It may also be because lacking sometimes brings out the best in people. The desire to be helped often leads to the desire to help. I think we have something that the "haves" don't, and that might be compassion, having ones priorities in the right place. Maybe that's idealistic, but I hope I never find evidence in my own experiences to change my opinion.
"The Apartment" is just gut wrenchingly beautiful. It articulates the chaotic dynamics of the first day of a breakup perfectly. It's not about being gay, per se, it's about devastation. Is that how culture is moving forward? Being gay is a particular fact in a story but doesn't have to be explained or defended? Did you write it that way intentionally?
I'm glad you recognized that Apartment was not about being "gay." As a queer person, I do like to write characters that are like me, and am always glad to see queer characters depicted elsewhere, so I see no negative connotation to adding more. I also want to write comics that are not exclusively "coming out" stories. I don't dislike those, but the primary plot motivation in a "coming out" story is the suspense of it actually occurring and the inner struggle of realizing one is queer. I like writing stories about openly gay characters, wherein their sexuality is only one small aspect of their being, as it is in my personal life.
The devastation aspect was more the motivation for writing the story. I wrote it directly after the first major break up I experienced, and tried to tell it as truthfully as possible. I felt so insane when it happened, I was experiencing so many emotions it was affecting me physically. No one explains that that's how a real break up can be. Ice cream and an old romantic movie won't make it go away, like is depicted most prevalently, this makes light of a catastrophic event. It really is like a cancer, you either recover, or you don't. I think most people don't recover from the first big one. I didn't, and I feel I am a better person for it, truly.
I've got Ridley Scott on my mind and have been reading criticism of his allusions and depictions of the feminine. You have very interesting images of female aliens that are gloriously monstrous and funny. I'm thinking particularly of the space queen and her reptile. What can you tell me about your images of femininity?
The Space Queen was about a strange and powerful woman. I think I will always write that kind of female, especially one that doesn't have a cisgender male as their counterpart. This has been done forever, and it's not the only thing out there! Far from it! It's important to embrace the diversity of our species, in our appearance and behavior, and the diversity of the "feminine." Or perhaps, more aptly, the deconstruction of that idea by presenting alternative examples. "I am nobody's baby" is an important line from the story, it's only half joke.
That being said, I can't say I won't write "traditional" couplings, but I will rule out what is accepted as femininity, as I believe it to be a complete construct with no evidence to support it outside of those who adhere to it simply because they know nothing else, possibly feeling internalized shame for not quite fitting it. Which is so sad when there is so much "else" out there to explore.
Graphic novels and comics have been growing in mainstream popularity in recent years, in both published form and film adaptation. I've seen the section in Barnes and Noble grow and I wonder, does that excite you or make you nervous?
It is exciting! It shows that comics are no longer "just for kids" (though not long ago, a book store did put graphic novels in with the young adult books. I imagine this is just because they are picture books. R. Crumb doesn't belong in the kids section!) Thankfully, people are recognizing graphic storytelling as a legitimate, respectable, medium, and that opens so many wonderful possibilities.
What other art do you recognize as resonating with your art? Do you sense a common refrain emerging in this particular space and time that your imagination lends itself to?
I suppose that I employ a lot of fantasy into my storytelling. I like to use the fantastic as a metaphor. Atrocious is a good example. The scifi aspect is soft, so it's basically just a monster story. The monster here representing something different to whoever reads it. Perhaps the way a lover becomes a monster when you lose them, or the way your own emotions may sometimes sabotage you. It can also be seen in Apartment, where the main character literally turns into a beast at the end. This, simply put, represents how fucked up I felt at the time.
What artists do you admire locally? I'm asking about art in the broader sense including music, galleries, writers, events, etc. What do you recommend?
I like all kinds of things! I think a lot of DIY style is apparent in my work. I've made a few flyers for some of the house shows around town, and really appreciate an honest (low budget) aesthetic. As far as local music goes, my favorite in the scene is All Blood, fronted by my friend JB. I hope to do some art for them soon, they rule, seriously.
Currently, your work is DIY and available for free. I'm assuming you are the editor of Jukebox Comix, a place where you include the works of other comic writers and illustrators. Could you tell me something about the artistic community of your medium and what's going on in Kansas City specifically?
Well JUKEBOX COMIX is actually just me. The title is reflective of the vast array of stories I tell. There really isn't a consistent set of characters. However, I am right now working on a short series which I think will encompass issues 9-14, which is being published every Wednesday at www.mixtapepress.com. Mixtape is where it's at! Exceptional work! I'm so happy just to be a part of it! The comic community here is so great. I'm a little shy and I was still able to make friends in it, so that's super high praise. A lot of us from Mixtape get together and draw pretty regularly too. Everyone is so helpful, and will let you ask them as many dumb questions as you want. Comic conventions are like field trips or something we take together to different places. It's nice to see so many friendly faces among the crowd. I also want to say thanks to Craig Klotz who runs the Freestate Con in Lawrence. He has introduced me, and so many, to each other, just by being an approachable, genuine guy. All hail Craig!
Find Kelsey Wroten's work here: