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The Rumpus interviews VANESSA DAVIS

Updated August 25, 2011

Vanessa Davis brightens the world around her, not just through her comics, which have been published in the collections Spaniel Rage and Make Me a Woman, but in her outgoing personality. Davis never shies away from the colorful. Her confessional drawing and journaling style feels inclusive, but manages a balance between insider and outsider. Her work humorously straddles the vibrant area where artsy and nerdy meet, keeping things light while addressing real-life issues.

Davis was that girl in my arts high school: cool without being judgmental, seemingly able to eliminate the awkwardness inherent in adolescence. Maybe her ever-willingness to show her hand is also the secret that informs her work as a cartoonist. Recently, Davis and I spoke about all things her.

The Rumpus: Were you always a storyteller?

Vanessa Davis: I always have talked a lot. I'd say that most of my social conditioning as a young person was devoted to getting me to talk less. I've never been a storyteller in the sense of making up stories, though. Fiction has always and will eternally stump me.

Rumpus: What led you to drawing comics?

Davis: I went to a magnet art school beginning in 7th grade. Even through all of that academic drawing training, I maintained a cartoony, illustrative natural drawing style. I loved line and pattern, but I didn't care that much about precision or rendering beyond a certain point. So I knew I had an affinity for illustration, but I dismissed it in my studies, because I thought it wasn't brainy. When I did draw, it usually indulged my love of decoration and style. As I got older, I began to own my style of drawing and recognize ways I could use it to communicate. The whole fine art world began to seem really irrelevant and circular. I was enchanted by the way art transformed my voice into one people didn't mind hearing.

When I first moved to New York, I was a regular working person, not an artist and not a student. I had become aware of lots of these alternative cartoonists, who wrote about real life or had a different, weirder perspective. I decided to keep a comics diary, to figure out how to draw comics, to re-engage with art, to keep busy despite my circumstances. When I began to meet more cartoonists, I felt finally at home with all of these people who were artists, but who wanted to write and talk and laugh.

Rumpus: How did growing up in Florida influence your work?

Davis: Everyone knows Florida is a very colorful place -- literally and figuratively. Purple orchids and green lizards, red and pink clouds splashed across the sky, the turquoise blue ocean. But, like any destination spot, it's filled with appalling, horrible, and hilarious people. These clashes have long infuriated and inspired me. I'm especially attuned to those things in life because of Florida's stark conflicts.

Rumpus: In what ways has your life changed after moving from New York to Santa Rosa?

Davis: Many of the people I've met here are more inherently rebellious, or independent. People moved out here to do what they want, which is why I moved out here, too. But I guess I miss that nebulous, ubiquitous New York feeling that there are old people who expect things of me. In the absence of that, I've internalized it and it's been kind of a drag. For me, specifically, it's Jewish. Also there is no place here to buy a black-and-white cookie and it drives me crazy.

Rumpus: How has it been to tour with your collection, Make Me a Woman?

Davis: One of the best things that happened during my book tour was appearing with Lynda Barry at the Miami Book Fair. I love Lynda Barry so much, it like, hurt to be near her. In a good way. Being up there together, talking about both our books felt insane.

The worst thing about touring is that I have a very hard time working when I'm traveling.

Rumpus: How did Facebook become an effective marketing and community-building tool for you?

Davis: I'm so glad Facebook didn't exist before I started making comics, because so many of my diary strips are exactly like status updates. But I love Facebook so much for this reason. I have no idea how Facebook may have helped or hurt the marketing of my work. I have a “fan page” for updates about comics and stuff, but I suspect many of the people on there think I am Vanessa Davis Griggs, the evangelical self-help writer.

Rumpus: Who do you go to for feedback?

Davis: My boyfriend, Trevor Alixopulos, who is also a cartoonist and a good editor, and a handful of other comic friends. I often ask my friend, Karen Sneider, a cartoonist and comedy writer, for joke help, although the last time I did, I ignored her advice.

Rumpus: Do your mom and sister receive veto power? What's your philosophy on private/public domain?

Davis: No, I don't give anyone any veto power. I know when something isn't my story. It's funny because as an autobiographical writer, people think of me as this dangerous, gossipy person. Meanwhile, other people say the worst, most revealing things about people all the time--in their food blogs, in articles in the newspaper, and on Twitter. So far, I've avoided writing about people I don't love or respect. I'd like to write more about people with whom I've had negative experiences -- I think it'll be a challenge to not exploit them. It's also possible I might be a little too uptight about that, though, and maybe I should just let ‘er rip.

Rumpus: Why are pencil lines and eraser marks often visible in your finished work?

Davis: That probably started with publishing comics that were never inked or “finished” in the first place. It can be fun to see the history or process of a drawing. I had a drawing teacher in high school who said that marks were like wrinkles; they gave a drawing character.

Rumpus: Unlike Spaniel Rage, Make Me a Woman doesn't have a dedication noted. Was that a decision you made?

Davis: No! I was going to make a dedication, though I wasn't sure to whom, but then I'd already submitted the indicia page. I asked my editor about it, but I think it was too late. I have mixed feelings about dedications, anyway.

Rumpus: Any upcoming projects?

Davis: One of the next books I'm working on is about men. Specifically. And not specifically.

Rumpus: Any regrets?

Davis: Oh my god, a million regrets!
click here to read more

Featured artist

Vanessa Davis

           Featured product

Make Me A Woman

  MAKE ME A WOMAN and DENYS WORTMAN'S NEW YORK make The Vulture's Top 10 Comics of 2010

Updated March 11, 2011


A charming collection of autobiographical stories, jokes, and sketches by a clever and honest young cartoonist with a keen eye for her own foibles.


An astonishing rediscovery: a collection of enormous, beautiful single-panel comics by the long-forgotten Gotham cartoonist that serves as a revelatory guide to the vibrant working class of thirties and forties New York.
click here to read more

Featured artists

Vanessa Davis
Denys Wortman

           Featured products

Make Me A Woman
Denys Wortman's New York

The Stranger reviews MAKE ME A WOMAN

Updated March 11, 2011

Vanessa Davis's art is, in fact, deceptively simple. She draws in a noodly, Lynda Barry-like style, full of details and scribbles and words. Make Me a Woman is a collection of short stories about the awkwardness of her teenage years, told in full-color strips, black-and-white strips, and outtakes from Davis's sketchbook in a variety of art styles. Even those sketch pages, which often feature a single cartoon in the center of a blank page, somehow feel claustrophobic; the lines all somehow point inward, as though Davis's art wants to slink away, slump-shouldered, because it's too embarrassed to be seen. Davis owes a lot to Barry (and to Aline Kominsky-Crumb, too, although Davis is a much better cartoonist) but she has her own sensibility, a self-critical distance from the stories. Is it simply generational? Does it have something to do with Facebook or what the fuck ever else cultural critics have said has changed us forever as a species this week? Maybe. But I think it has more to do with Davis as an artist: She's confident, at least, when it comes to putting awkward lines on paper. She's such an assured storyteller that her awkwardness becomes the reader's awkwardness. Davis is a young artist at the very beginning of her career, and this book is a solid first step for an artist who could very well become a Robert Crumb-level talent.
click here to read more

Featured artist

Vanessa Davis

           Featured product

Make Me A Woman

  NPR Best Comics of 2010 Roundup Features Make Me a Woman and Wild Kingdom

Updated February 9, 2011

The Most Memorable Comics and Graphic Novels of 2010, With Caveats
by Glen Weldon
December 29, 2010

I know, I know. Still yet another list, this one appearing during the last week of the year, a time when the national incidence of list-fatigue reaches its annual zenith.

Look, I’ll make you deal. I’ll keep this short. Ish.

If I’ve already written about a book, I’ll just link to it. If I haven’t, I’ll say a few words and link to someone who has.

The usual caveats apply, here: This list is not meant to be definitive – I haven’t read everything. And it’s not even intended as a "best of" list, as my personal reaction to a given comic's style and subject will likely have little to do with yours.

Because the metric I'm using is one of indelibility: The books below are the ones that I found myself thinking about for days, weeks and (on several occasions) months after I finished them. Several very good books that will surely turn up on other "Best of 2010" lists – Darwyn Cooke’s Parker: The Outfit; Greg Rucka and JH Williams’ Batwoman: Elegy; Marvel’s Strange Tales, Volume II; Jim Woodring’s Weathercraft and many more – didn’t quite make the final cut because, for whatever reason, they didn’t linger in my memory after I closed their covers. (I liked the first chapter of Charles Burns' X'ed Out, but its frustrating slimness (just 50 or so pages) prevented it from making a lasting impression.)

So: Here are the books that got their hooks into me this year; I'm reasonably certain they'll do the same for you.

New Work from Old … er, Experienced Hands

Market Day, by James Sturm. I loved this quiet, wistful, elegaic tale of a turn-of-the-century rugmaker finding himself, and his craft, suddenly obsolete.

Not Love but Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! by Fumi Yoshinaga. I devoured the Oishinbo books, which turn Japanese cuisine into hugely entertaining narratives full of high-stakes culinary showdowns. This slim, delightfully manic book by the creator of the gender-flipped samurai series Ooku filled the hole those book left. Johanna Draper Carlson, over at Manga Worth Reading, praised the author's expressive style and recommended that food lovers pick it up.

Werewolves of Montpelier, by Jason. The deadest of deadpan cartoonists returns with a meditation on relationships, burglary and lycanthropy. In France. Rob Clough of The Comics Journal called it "a pitch-perfect, expertly-crafted story by an artist who is clearly working in his comfort zone."

Acme Novelty Library No. 20, by Chris Ware. I agree with critic Douglas Wolk: this latest edition finds Ware stretching himself further than he as in some time. It's exciting to see a master like Ware, known for his exacting, precise technique, loosening himself up, even if he does so with his characteristic deliberateness.

Special Exits, by Joyce Farmer. Yeah, this one got to me.

Wilson, by Daniel Clowes. A portrait of the artist as a middle-aged jerkface. Mordant, darkly funny, with a deliberately fractured approach that keeps Clowes' tone gratifyingly varied and surprising.

Heartening Debuts

Temperance, by Cathy Malkasian. I've said my piece on this ambitious, wonderfully unpredictable fantasy epic grounded in very real, and not altogether pleasant, emotions.

Make Me a Woman, by Vanessa Davis. Davis is my favorite discovery of the year, though I'm a bit ashamed to say that, as I should have known about her before. You'll see the influence of Lynda Barry and Roz Chast, but Davis' voice has a satisfyingly spiky, take-no-prisoners wryness that's all her own.

Set to Sea, by Drew Weing. Weing's largely wordless pages of maritime adventure are gorgeous things, and the tale they tell unfolds with the lulling, implacable rhythm of the sea.

Artichoke Tales, by Megan Kelso. Kelso sets up an intriguing tension between the cartooniness of her art and the serious, adult themes of war and racism that fuel her thoughtful story.

Drinking at the Movies, by Julia Wertz. A funny, smart, self-lacerating book about the kind of growing up that happens after you've told yourself your a grown-up. In the LA Times, David Ulin summed it up nicely: "...a quiet triumph, a portrait of the artist in the act of becoming, a story with heart and soul."

The Troll King, by Kolbeinn Karlsson. You haven't seen anything like this. Trust me.

Axe Cop, by Malachi Nicolle and Ethan Nicolle. "Axe ... Cop?" Yes. Axe Cop. For reminding us of comics' enormous, all-too-often untapped potential for Big Craziness.

Neko Ramen, by Kenji Sonishi. There's this cat, see. He's surly, scheming. Also, he's a cook. That runs a noodle shop. Critic Deb Aoki, who should know, dubs it "a kooky but likeable comic snack for cat-lovers (and maybe cat haters too)." Sonishi doesn't really deviate from a simple, light set-up/punchline formula, but it worked on me.

Write These Names Down: Creators You Should Know

Body World, by Dash Shaw. Shaw produces hugely inventive, very funny and thought-provoking work, whether it's this webcomic-turned-book about a small town caught in the grip of a mysterious drug, or the slightly less accessible weirdness of the Unclothed Man in the 35th Century and, especially, Bottomless Belly Button.

Blammo, by Noah Van Sciver. Inside Van Sciver's anything-for-a-laugh approach lies a smart and sometimes suprisingly poignant writer. I'll let The Daily Cross Hatch's Brian Heater tell you more.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle, by Michael Kupperman. I attempted to verbalize my deep, abiding love for Kupperman's series on one of the first episodes of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Not sure I did it justice, so let me take another whack at it: PICK UP THIS BOOK. VOLUME ONE IS ONCE AGAIN IN PRINT. IT IS FUNNY. BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT.

Wild Kingdom, by Kevin Huizenga. This is some high-wire, risky storytelling, the kind that leaves you convinced another reading will deepen your experience. NOT UNRELATED: In terms of sheer number of times I've returned to a given book this year, Wild Kingdom is the winner, hands down.

You’ll Never Know, Volume II, by C. Tyler. Volume I of Tyler's comics memoir was one of the books I singled out for praise last year at this time, and the next volume only deepens and enriches the work she did in that book. What's more, volume II sees her opening up her scrapbook-style approach, pushing at its boundaries in small, satisfying ways.

Meanwhile, by Jason Shiga. Man, I loved this book, a dizzying, recursive cross between Choose Your Own Adventure and a Richard Feynman lecture.

Ax Volume I: A Collection of Alternative Manga, by various artists. What's "alternative manga," you ask? Damned if I can say. I can, however, point you to this huge, sprawling, dynamic anthology, full of distinctive voices, art that bleeds off the page, and new ideas. The Manga Curmudgeon and several other mangaphiles held a lively and thoughtful discussion of the book on Twitter earlier this year — you can check a transcript on his site.

Revolver, by Matt Kindt. Kindt's story of a man shifting between parallel realities is an exquisitely constructed, ruminative piece of work with something to say about how tragedy changes us — or doesn't.
click here to read more

Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
Vanessa Davis

           Featured products

Wild Kingdom
Make Me A Woman

Jewcy Interviews: Vanessa Davis – Comic Artist/Writer

Updated February 9, 2011

Jewcy Interviews: Vanessa Davis – Comic Artist/Writer
By Jason Diamond
January 3, 2011

The reason that Make Me a Woman, the collection of comics by artist and writer Vanessa Davis, didn’t make it into our top art books of 2010 is simply because we really felt like the book was in a class all of its own. (And also we had this interview lined up…)

The handling of the insanity that is Jewish family life, the awkwardness of growing up, and questioning R. Crumb has never been drawn so well, and the Davis canon is well represented in the beautiful assemblage.

When did you start drawing comics?

I started in 2002 or 2003. I was living in New York and had no room to do any of the art stuff I’d done before. Also I was becoming more aware of artsy comics. So I tried it out. And I met a bunch of other cartoonists living in New York and got sucked in.

You don’t overdo Jewish stories and themes in your comics, but you don’t shy away from them either. Has your Jewish background always been something you drew inspiration from?

No, I never really thought I’d write about being Jewish. I grew up in an all-Jewish community and just never really thought of it as one of my distinguishing characteristics; it was something I very much took for granted. When I got the opportunity to write and draw the column over at Tablet, I was nervous to write about my relationship with Judaism, and my identity as it related to Judaism. But then I got started and it opened up something in my brain, probably because of where I am in my life, and it became this very pertinent topic for me. But I think it comes off casual because I think of it as just a part of me, not the whole thing.

In the last 25 years, comics and graphic novels seem to be edging up to the novel as the popular way to tell stories, why do you think that is?

I think it’s more relevant to be “popular,” and comics are a popular medium. I studied fine art for a long time, and I love art, but I don’t know that the fine art world works best as a place for the most innovative thinking. This might not address your question specifically, but I think that people want to hear idiosyncratic, authentic voices, nuanced concepts. I’m by no means an expert on modern literature but from what I can tell, people want to connect, learn, with their past, the truth, their places. So perhaps people are drawn to comics for the same reason I was: it’s got a lot of uncharted territory so it’s an extremely exciting field to work within.

I notice that the Cheri and “Let’s Party” t-shirts show up a few times in the book. Are there other little things you scatter throughout your comics that I wasn’t picking up on?

I didn’t include them or anything as any type of little joke, or anything like that. They’re just some of my favorite t-shirts. I am really into details of clothing and furniture and what people look like and things they say. Part of my impulse to make comics is to preserve and process all of these details.

You draw a lot in black & white. Any specific reason?

The black and white drawings are mostly from my sketchbook. When I started drawing comics, I just drew in my sketchbook because I didn’t know where to start. Then I just really liked working that way, so I still do it a lot. Also, when I first started, which wasn’t very long ago, but there weren’t a lot of opportunities to print comics in color, and you had to really know computers to post things online. Before I knew what a “webcomic” was, I thought I’d post daily comics on Livejournal. But at the time, you couldn’t post pictures on there. So the medium has definitely been the massage, for me. I didn’t even have my own computer until like, 2 years ago.

What’s next for you?

I still have a lot of stories to write, so I’ll probably do that!
click here to read more

Featured artist

Vanessa Davis

           Featured product

Make Me A Woman

  Vanessa Davis in Book By Its Cover's Top 10 of 2010!

Updated February 9, 2011

December 7, 2010
BEST OF 2010!

At the end of the year, just in time for gift giving, I like to look back at all the posts from the entire year and see what stands out. This year was a very exciting year because along with my two ALSO partners we authored our first book, The Exquisite Book. We are so excited by all the positive feedback we’ve received and I consider it our biggest achievement to date. It has been an incredible experience working with 100 of our very favorite artists, Dave Eggers and especially Chronicle Books, who I am already working on a handful of new projects with. I was glad to be able to share so much of the process of creating the book and have added a section to the categories menu for all of those posts.

There have been some incredible books that have come out this year and below are my picks, readers picks and the best features of the year:
(these are books featured on the blog in 2010- their publication date may have been earlier)

*Honorable Mention to The Exquisite Book- since it wouldn’t be fair to make it #1 ; )
1. Make Me A Woman- Vanessa Davis: this is by far my favorite book of the year! Vanessa’s work is hilarious, refreshingly honest and looks really pretty.
2. Camilla Engman (The Suitcase Series)- What could be better than the combination of Camilla’s work and the graphic design of Uppercase- nothing I tell you.
3. Popville- Anouck Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud: this book is fun and beautifully designed- great for kids and adults.
4. Type: A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles Vol 1- I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used this book this year- it’s an incredible resource for gorgeous oldstyle decorative type and ornaments.
5. I Wonder- Marian Bantjes- an elegant object throughout, loaded with tons of inspiration
6. And the Pursuit of Happiness- Maira Kalman- I love that I learned some history while oogling her charming paintings.
7. Birchfield Close- Jon McNaught: Nobrow continually produces incredible stuff, and this little one is a knock-out!
8. Vera: The Art and Life of an Icon- Susan Seid: She is my idol so it’s hard to not love a book full of her work and history.
9. Penguin 75-Paul Buckley: they’ve included so much about process in this book: sketches, commentary from art directors and designer. It’s very interesting.
10. I Lego NY- Christoph Niemann: I am a huge fan of his blog. He has an incredible imagination and he expresses it in so many ways. Being a New Yorker, I am probably a bit biased on this pick

1. Sarajo Frieden
2. Kate Bingman-Burt
3. Julia Sarcone-Roach
4. Laura Ljungvist
5. Vanessa Davis
1. Lars Henkel
2. Yelena Bryksenkova
3. Alex Eben Meyer
4. Seb Cazes
5. Jon MacNair
Thanks for another great year! xoJulia
click here to read more

Featured artist

Vanessa Davis

           Featured product

Make Me A Woman

Booklist's Francisca Goldsmith on Make Me a Woman

Updated February 8, 2011

Make Me a Woman.
Davis, Vanessa (Author) , Davis, Vanessa (Illustrator)
January 1, 2011

Womanhood is about femininity, but it’s just as much about maturity and marking cultural passages with formal and informal rituals. By collecting years of earlier story arcs and sketch pages in this volume, Davis offers readers access to all the ways in which she has addressed the goal of making herself a woman and being seen as a woman. The lushness and diversity of page types—many full color, talkative snippets that extend across dozens of panels; some black-and-white single-panel cartoons; and others employing the busy but expressive nonlinear relational perspective Lynda Barry has honed—echo the varied story elements, which include Davis’ Bat Mitzvah, changes in girlhood friendships, dealing with parental pressure (and lack of thereof), dating, moving, and changing careers. While the volume can be read front to back as a memoir, each piece stands independently and as such may be attractive to different audiences.

Good browsing for Davis’ cultural peers, their younger sisters, and their parents as well as any readers interested in the complexity of contemporary womanhood.

— Francisca Goldsmith

Featured artist

Vanessa Davis

           Featured product

Make Me A Woman

  D+Q titles top the Daily Cross Hatch Best Comics of 2010 Chosen by the Artists

Updated December 21, 2010

The Best Damn Comics of 2010 Chosen by the Artists

This year-end list my be my favorite annual Cross Hatch feature, if only for the fairly consistent complaints I receive from a litany of prominent cartoonists, writers, publishers, journalists, museum curators, and other industry folks. It’s always the same thing: how dare I ask them to boil down a year’s worth of comics into a list of five books? Don’t I know that we’re in the middle of a sequential art renaissance?

Fair enough, but let’s be honest, given the sheer number of folks who respond to this list each year, five seems like a pretty good cap—it took me a few hours to piece this thing together, as it is.

The other reason I love compiling this list is the opportunity to spot trends amongst those surveyed—do any books seem to stand out as clear favorites? Last year that title belonged to David Mazzucchelli’s modern sequential masterpiece, Asterios Polyp. The year prior, it was a four-way tie with Bottomless Belly Button, What it Is, Swallow Me Whole, and Skyscrapers of the Midwest all nabbing high marks.

While I wouldn’t go so far as choosing a clear “winner” for 2010, Chris Ware really did sneak in last second with the latest issue of Acme Novelty, a book that has blown away nearly everyone who has cracked open its cloth cover, your humble blogger included.

As always, I encourage readers and artists alike to contribute their own lists to the comment section below. Let’s keep the conversation going.

Ellen Abramowitz (MoCCA)
1. Body World by Dash Shaw
2. Acme Novelty Library #20 by Chris Ware
3. Artichoke Tales by Megan Kelso
4. 75 Years of DC Comics The Art of Modern Mythmaking by Paul Levitz
5. To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher by William Ayers


Box Brown (Everything Dies)
1. ACME Novelty Library #20 by Chris Ware-I can’t be too hyperbolic when talking about this book. It should be standard reading for everyone alive. It’s perfect.
2. X’ed Out by Charles Burns-Charles Burns in color? My only problem with this book (series?) is that they need to come out at least twice a year and probably won’t.
3. Pterodactyl Hunters by Brendan Leach-Best “mini-comic” I read this year. Printed on newsprint, which fits with the theme of the story.
4. Lemon Styles by David King-I’ve read through this book a number of times each time I’m equally baffled and fascinated and occasionally I laugh!
5. Pictures for Sad Children-My favorite webcomic. John Campbell innovates where others stagnate.

Jeffrey Brown (Funny Misshapen Body)
1. Acme Novelty #20 by Chris Ware-The latest by the best.
2. h day by Renee French-Normally I’m not a big fan of wordless comics, or one panel a page comics, but this book actually warrants multiple readings, and manages to convey more story and emotion than many comics with lots of words and panels in them.
3. The Playwright by Eddie Campbell and Daren White-A funny and well thought out booked that wraps up neatly but not too neatly, brilliantly drawn by Campbell. The only reason I’m not putting the Alec collection in this spot is because… well, I don’t know why. I just didn’t.
4. Market Day by James Sturm-Sturm’s art is minimal and elegant, pacing a thoughtful story that’s sad, occasionally humorous, but all in all meaningful.
5. Inside Moebius Volume 6 by Moebius-The latest volume of Moebius’s stream-of-conscious semi-autobiographical surreal books. Absolutely beautiful, and unfortunately for me, in French. Why there isn’t more Moebius available in English, I don’t know.


Josh Frankel (Zip Comics)
1.Market Day by James Sturm-I once had a professor who told me that progress has a tendency to destroy people as well as create new opportunities. Market Day is such a beautiful example of that sad truth that affects us to this day. That alone warrants a position on my top five list plus James Sturm’s amazing art does not hurt either.
2.The Search For Smilin Ed by Kim Deitch-Kim Deitch consistently puts out some of the most interesting and well-drawn comics out there. The Search For Smilin Ed is one the weirdest Deitch books, with aliens, demon, and pygmies. It also captures Deitch’s interest in preserving the old culture of television perfectly. Top that off with Deitch’s classic cartoon on acid trip visuals and it is a winner of a book.
3. Acme Novelty Library 20 by Chris Ware-Ware has long shown the suffering of the outcast; while that has been amazing in it’s own way, the new Acme Novelty Library departs a bit. It shows the suffering of the charismatic and somewhat likable Jordan Lint, but that in reality he is as miserable as any of Ware’s usual cast
4.Wilson by Daniel Clowes-Wilson is about a near-sociopathic curmudgeon. While the story is interesting enough, the art is the best reason to pay the price of admission. Clowes changes art styles on every page; while this may seem like a gimmick he does it so masterfully it is actually a selling point.
5. Blindspot by Joseph Remnant-(Disclosure: Joseph is illustrating Harvey
Pekar’s Cleveland, which I am publishing) Blindspot is 30 pages of amazingly witty vignettes. My personal favorite being that of Ace Goddard, a washed-up rock star. Remnant’s art is reminiscent of R. Crumb in the best of ways and is much a reason to buy as the intelligent script.


Brian Heater (The Daily Cross Hatch)
1. Acme Novelty Library #20 by Chris Ware
2. Afrodisiac by Brian Maruca and Jim Rugg
3. The Search for Smilin’ Ed by Kim Deitch
4. Weathercraft by Jim Woodring
5. Make Me a Woman by Vanessa Davis

click here to read more

Featured artists

James Sturm
Chris Ware
Vanessa Davis

           Featured products

Market Day
Acme Novelty Library Volume 20
Make Me A Woman

The Montreal Gazette lists TUBBY, MAKE ME A WOMAN and PICTURE THIS as top comics of 2010!

Updated December 14, 2010

Pictures help tell the story

Graphic novels and classic comics cover a wide range

By IAN MCGILLIS, The Gazette December 11, 2010

When it's done right, graphic literature combines the best qualities of books and film to produce a reading experience of unique immediacy. Here are some of 2010's best titles, suitable for adepts and newcomers alike.


The comics scene is a culture aware of its history and respectful of its elders, with cutting-edge publishers often maintaining a parallel role as curators. A good case in point is The John Stanley Library: Tubby (Drawn & Quarterly, 144 pages, $34.95), a lovingly presented collection of 1954-55 Dell comics featuring the adventures of the rotund boy gourmand of the title. Today, political correctness would probably deep-six the mere idea of it -why, some tubby kids might feel hurt! -but collections like this serve as salient reminders of the roots of a culture, and of the undervalued art of telling a story in a simple sequence of panels. Elsewhere, Rough Justice: The DC Comics Sketches of Alex Ross (Pantheon, 224 pages, $37) de-mystifies the work of one of the leading contemporary painters of superheroes -Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, et al -by showing the original pencil renderings.

Make Me a Woman, by Vanessa Davis (Drawn & Quarterly, 176 pages, $26.95) collects seven years worth of frankly autobiographical comics and drawings centring on the social rituals, private pleasures and identity struggles of a young, self-deprecating, middle-class Jewish American woman. Davis trains the keen eye of a comic anthropologist -a David Sedaris who can draw, you could say -on her friends, family and herself, in the process proving the maxim that the road to the universal runs through the specific.

It isn't exactly new (it came out last year), but Poof! by Line Gamache (Conundrum, 93 pages, $15), the tale of a young woman who loses her inspiration and goes on an epic journey with her talking dog to find it, is too good to miss. Gamache's use of flattened perspective and exuberant detail recall both cave painting and children's art; while not a children's book as such, Poof! is nonetheless one of the few books on this page suitable for even the youngest of readers, infused as it is with wonder, whimsy and a crucial edge of menace. A similar theme is approached from a very different angle in Picture This by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly, 225 pages, $31.95). Barry is a sui generis pioneer with a mission to unlock creativity through memoir; this time around, she explores the question of what causes us to start drawing and, just as pertinently, what causes us to stop. Even more than most graphic books, Picture This resists easy encapsulation; it demands to be seen.

Adolescence can be a drag at the best of times, never mind when you're stuck in a small Quebec town, your peers are ridiculing you over a viral YouTube video and your uncle is achieving dubious Internet stardom of his own. Bigfoot, by Pascal Girard, (Drawn & Quarterly, 48 pages, $20.95) uncannily evokes the sexual confusion and all-round queasiness of what someone once laughably called the wonder years. If you're a teenager
now, this is your life; otherwise, prepare yourself for an emotional time warp.

A new edition of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia (Harper-Collins/Collins Design, 160 pages, $19.99) provides a case study in literary conditioning. We're so accustomed to seeing Carroll's text alongside the iconic illustrations of John Tenniel that any other combination runs the risk of simply looking wrong. Surprisingly quickly, though, Garcia's psychedelia-tinged style insinuates its own charms, and we see a familiar work through refreshed eyes.

Anyone still feeling lost for a way into the comics
world is heartily steered toward The Best American Comics 2010 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 329 pages, $28.95). Editor Neil Gaiman presents a meritocracy where near-unknowns share the table with many of the form's biggest names. While a feast like, say, R. Crumb's vision of the Book of Genesis inevitably loses something in sample size, you couldn't ask for a better hors d'oeuvres tray.

Finally, from slightly outside the graphic lit purview comes Portfolio 24: The Year's Best Canadian Editorial Cartoons (McArthur & Co., 176 pages, $19.95), a showcase for our country's best practitioners of a discipline too often taken for granted.
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Featured artists

Lynda Barry
Vanessa Davis
John Stanley

           Featured products

Picture This
Make Me A Woman

  New York Magazine picks MAKE ME A WOMAN and DENYS WORTMAN'S NEW YORK as Top Ten Comics of 2010

Updated December 14, 2010

The Top Ten Comics of 2010

6. Make Me a Woman by Vanessa Davis

A charming collection of autobiographical stories, jokes, and sketches by a clever and honest young cartoonist with a keen eye for her own foibles.


3. Denys Wortman’s New York Edited by James Sturm and Brandon Elston

An astonishing rediscovery: a collection of enormous, beautiful single-panel comics by the long-forgotten Gotham cartoonist that serves as a revelatory guide to the vibrant working class of thirties and forties New York.
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Featured artists

Vanessa Davis
Denys Wortman

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Make Me A Woman
Denys Wortman's New York

The Providence Phoenix recommends PICTURE THIS and MAKE ME A WOMAN

Updated December 9, 2010

Gift Guide 2010: Graphic novels and comic anthologies

by S.I. Rosenbaum
The Providence Phoenix

There's something about getting a book as a gift that makes you not want to read it. Perhaps there's a faint whiff of homework about it; perhaps it's just all those daunting little black marks covering the pages. Comics are different. They are narrative in freebase form — the exact opposite of homework — and can be ingested in gulps. Give someone a big, hardcover, glossy graphic novel, and you're likely to lose them for the next hour as they gorge themselves on sweet, sweet sequential art.

PICTURE THIS | LYNDA BARRY | DRAWN AND QUARTERLY |204 PAGES | $29.95 | On page 22 of Lynda Barry's Picture This there's a drawing of a child wearing a parka and huddled in a fetal position, above the caption GET ME MY MOM. No explanation; it's a snapshot of a childhood misery that can be neither explained nor healed. But Barry knows that all art is, in a way, an attempt at a do-over — a reworking of some past humiliation.
Picture This is an autobiography, a meditation on art, an activity book, and an artist's notebook. Compiled of sketches, collages, original art, and found text, it features characters from Barry's older comics as well as the author herself, and her muse, the near-sighted monkey. The book explores the ways in which art gets stifled, and the ways in which we all need it desperately.


MAKE ME A WOMAN | VANESSA DAVIS | DRAWN & QUARTERLY | 176 PAGES | $24.95 | In Make Me a Woman, Vanessa Davis does what I would have thought impossible: she draws interesting and funny comics about being a young Jewish woman in the big city. I admit, I rolled my eyes at first; I may even have muttered, "God save me from another graphic memoir by a privileged white 20-something." But Davis proceeded to kick my jaded ass down the street.
Make Me a Woman starts with the story of Davis's bat mitzvah (hence the title) and goes from there. Her pencil, ink-wash and watercolor comics frequently spill all over the page, yet they're incredibly easy to follow. The stories they tell aren't epic: a conversation in an elevator, a trip to the spa with mom, an on-and-off affair with an Israeli douchebag. But they're all spot-on, and never take themselves too seriously. Perhaps nothing epic has happened to Davis yet, but she has a lot of fun telling you about that.
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Featured artists

Lynda Barry
Vanessa Davis

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Picture This
Make Me A Woman

  Douglas Wolk reviews MAKE ME A WOMAN for The New York Times

Updated December 9, 2010


by Douglas Wolk

The New York Times
Sunday Book Review
December 3, 201


The same delight in drawing comes through in Vanessa Davis’s MAKE ME A WOMAN (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95), which otherwise couldn’t be more different from Cooke’s work: it’s proudly girly, chatty and frequently hilarious. Davis’s subjects are herself, her friends and the small pleasures and occasional irritations of her day-to-day existence. (On having her wisdom teeth removed: “I loved the whole experience. It was weird and fascinating and gross.”) Her artwork is doodly and gestural; she doesn’t bother much with panel borders, and her characters look as if they’ve been molded from careful observation, then squished flat onto the page.

“Make Me a Woman” collects Davis’s comics from the past six years, including a multitude of three-page strips — all tangentially about her relationship with Jewish culture — that initially appeared in the online magazine Tablet. Those more finished pieces have fleshed-out narratives and layered, glowing color, but her loosely sketched one-pagers on everyday life (some with half-erasures and false starts left intact) are even more winning. In one episode, Davis fumes at her mother’s suggestions that she should “develop past diary comics” and that “the goal is to get into fiction at some point.” Of course it’s not: the goal, as with the cartoonists of Joyce Farmer’s generation, is to make a new kind of comic out of experiences that never seemed like the stuff of art before.
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Featured artist

Vanessa Davis

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Make Me A Woman

The LA Times Hero Complex reviews MAKE ME A WOMAN

Updated December 2, 2010

‘Make Me a Woman’: A diary of unvarnished truth

by Deborah Vankin
Los Angeles Times
Dec. 01, 2010

On Sunday, Hero Complex contributor Deborah Vankin wrote about Joyce Farmer and her 208-page illustrated family memoir “Special Exits.” Today we continue our look at female cartoonists, with Vankin’s snapshot portrait of Vanessa Davis.

In “Make Me a Woman,” Vanessa Davis lays it all out there — Fat Camp, phone sex, late-night binging, even mustache bleaching. Her second book, in what’s still a relatively young career that also includes columns for Tablet Magazine, collects the rambling, neurotic and admirably honest diary comics she drew throughout her 20s, from 2004 to the present.

The book, out recently from Drawn & Quarterly, stitches together a pastiche of styles: loose, deeply personal pencil sketches, richly colored narrative comics, and full-page, color self-portraits showcasing a spectrum of moods, outfits and haircuts. Plus random drawings that were “just hanging out in my sketchbook,” she says. From the adolescent bat mitzvah circuit of her youth in Florida to the first loves and first jobs that come later in New York, it’s a comedic coming-of-age chronicle.

“The themes are friendship, the yearning for connection, confidence and sense of self, growing up,” she says. Early on, Davis, who now lives in Northern California, was drawn to the work of Debbie Drechsler and Aline Kominsky Crumb. “[They] made the biggest formal influence on me because they drew kind of how I like to draw — cartoony. When I started drawing comics, I was both incorporating and battling their influences,” she says.

Being Jewish also factors heavily in the book — her free-spirited, Reform mom is a central recurring character — though Davis says writing about religion was unintentional. “I never intended on writing about Judaism in my comics. I grew up with a lot of Jewish influences, so I didn’t think it was interesting. I took it for granted.” Instead, she came to cartooning with a devotion to documentation and autobiographical painting and drawing. “Art has always been my real religion,” she says.
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Featured artist

Vanessa Davis

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Make Me A Woman

  The LA Times reviews MAKE ME A WOMAN

Updated November 30, 2010

by Deborah Vankin
Los Angeles Times

In "Make Me a Woman," Vanessa Davis lays it all out there -- Fat Camp, phone sex, late-night binging, even mustache bleaching. Her second book, in what's still a relatively young career that also includes columns for Tablet Magazine, collects the rambling, neurotic and admirably honest diary comics she drew throughout her 20s, from 2004 to the present.

The book, out recently from Drawn & Quarterly, stitches together a pastiche of styles: loose, deeply personal pencil sketches, richly colored narrative comics, and full-page, color self-portraits showcasing a spectrum of moods, outfits and haircuts. Plus random drawings that were "just hanging out in my sketchbook," she says. From the adolescent bat mitzvah circuit of her youth in Florida to the first loves and first jobs that come later in New York, it's a comedic coming-of-age chronicle.

"The themes are friendship, the yearning for connection, confidence and sense of self, growing up," she says.

Early on, Davis, who now lives in Northern California, was drawn to the work of Debbie Drechsler and Aline Kominsky Crumb. "[They] made the biggest formal influence on me because they drew kind of how I like to draw -- cartoony. When I started drawing comics, I was both incorporating and battling their influences," she says.

Being Jewish also factors heavily in the book -- her free-spirited, Reform mom is a central recurring character -- though Davis says writing about religion was unintentional. "I never intended on writing about Judaism in my comics. I grew up with a lot of Jewish influences, so I didn't think it was interesting. I took it for granted." Instead, she came to cartooning with a devotion to documentation and autobiographical painting and drawing. "Art has always been my real religion," she says.

Featured artist

Vanessa Davis

           Featured product

Make Me A Woman

The Comics Journal takes a close look at MAKE ME A WOMAN

Updated November 25, 2010

Comfort Level: Make Me A Woman

by Rob Clough
The Comics Journal
November 25th, 2010

Vanessa Davis’ approach to autobiographical comics is quite different from most of her peers. The best autobiographical cartoonists distance themselves from the reader while revealing details about themselves. Gabrielle Bell, for example, uses a still and quiet line that emphasizes the slight flatness of affect she employs to tell stories about her life. Even though she narrates these tales, it’s almost as though they’re happening to someone else. Robert Crumb dwells on intimate details to make readers uncomfortable as he exposes the raw edges of his desires. Joe Matt and Ariel Schrag like to play up their more negative characteristics to create a tension where they are both protagonist and antagonist in the stories they tell. In each case, the cartoonist is trying to create an atmosphere beyond “here’s what I did today” or directly turn their lives into a traditional narrative with standard story tropes.

Davis uses a different approach in her collection Make Me A Woman, and in some respects, it’s much riskier. Using a highly loose pencil style mixed with vibrant color work, Davis emphasizes warmth and intimacy in telling stories about herself. She has a self-deprecating sense of humor, but stops short of the self-flagellation common to many autobio artists. Davis is comfortable with herself and the depiction of her curvy body. The endpapers of this book show just how comfortable, as we see images of Davis as a slightly crazed, half-dressed cave woman prancing around and drawings of the thick thighs of women wearing knee-high socks. Another early image in the book is of a nude (but tastefully arranged) Davis sitting on a bar stool, playing guitar and harmonica. This is a hilarious image, as she’s slightly too chubby for the stool, but is so totally at ease with herself (as she’s scrunching up her face to play harmonica) that she’s already won over the reader before she’s told a single story.

There’s something about Davis’ casual storytelling voice that makes readers feel like they’re an old friend, and she’s simply filling you in on some details from her life. The closest analog I can think of for her as far as cartoonists go is Carol Tyler, only Davis has had vastly different life experiences. Davis goes cartoonier than Tyler, but shares her background as a fine artist, which greatly informs the choices she makes in doing her color strips. Davis’ comics have a touch of almost grotesque caricature in the way she draws figures (a little like Richard Sala, actually): slightly distorted faces, odd angles, bodies that at times are stretched or bloated, and a highly expressionist quality. That’s especially true in her color pieces, where the bright splashes of yellows, reds and blues directly reflect on mood. Those pieces, originally done for an online, Jewish-centered website called tablet.com, feature three-page narratives based around simple themes. They contrast with Davis’ more off-the-cuff and naturalistic sketchbook diary work. Those drawings are quick, sloppy (especially the lettering) and have a powerful immediacy to them. The third visual approach Davis employs is presenting single-page drawings of various women (usually herself) drawn in a series of sometimes funny, sometimes fashionable (and sometimes both) poses. It speaks to Davis’ nature as an artist who finds beauty in the ways we arrange ourselves as human beings, both in terms of clothing and interaction.

The one-page (or often, one-panel) black-and-white pieces do provide a bit of distancing from the reader in the sense that they are fragments free of context. Davis is not interested in constructing a narrative here, but rather conveys a certain set of feelings about being a certain age at a certain time in a certain place. That’s especially true of her New York City strips, where we see her trying to fit into a dress, deal with specific relationship issues, navigate the New York subways and pass out at parties. These strips don’t often have punch lines, per se; but they are suffused with Davis’ naturally feisty wit, as when a rebuffed lover declaims that she doesn’t have sex on the first date, and she retorts, “Oh, this is a date?” Davis is trying to depict, through specific anecdotes, experiences that are easy to identify with, because they’re about the ways we navigate our youth.

Indeed, the later set of black-and-white stories are a little less fragmented and more centered around her moving to California to be with her new boyfriend Trevor. The black-and-white pieces about this time are less fragmented and coalesce into longer anecdotes, a testament, perhaps, to the way Davis’ own life was changing and molding itself into more recognizable patterns. This is all reflected in the way Make Me A Woman is ordered in a roughly chronological fashion — not by when the story was done, but by when it was set. No individual piece is a particular key to the narrative of her life that she’s assembling, but they’re all part of a greater whole. One can notice this from the earliest strips Trevor appears in, like “Night Moves,” which have a magical quality to them. Later strips feature the couple in bed or around the house, firmly ensconced in relationship roles (like Trevor trying to keep Vanessa on task with regard to her drawing) and squabbling in an amusing fashion.

The color strips from Tablet go from the general to the specific in telling stories about her life, filling in context for a reader happening upon them on the Internet. These stories fill in another crucial part of Davis’ identity that is in the background in her B&W strips: her identity as a Jewish woman. The B&W and the color stories in the book are bridged by a sloppy immediacy and context for an important life experience. That story is that of her bat mitzvah, the adulthood ceremony performed for Jewish children at the age of 13. This story speaks to Davis’ total cultural immersion in Jewish identity in America and the way it bleeds over into larger American culture (like “themed” bar mitzvahs), reflecting the way that Judaism has a status for some that’s somewhere between ethnicity and faith.

The connecting point in these strips about going to fat camp, Hanukkah, raising one’s fashion awareness in a cultural context, the particular frustrations in dating an Israeli man (“our REAL birthright”), Jewish film festivals, etc. is the relationship between Davis and her mother. Mutual aggravation might be one way to say it, especially in the way her mother is obsessed with her own Jewish identity. In the comics, Davis feels frustrated when her mother tells her how she would eventually feel about something — and it turns out her mom is be right. Davis had grown so used to rejecting what her mother had to say that she could no longer process whether or not it made sense. Beyond that, the way Davis sees her religious and ethnic identity clearly changes as she gets older, which is a common occurrence for many who drift away from a childhood faith during their 20s but find themselves returning to it when looking for a bit of footing when they age. The very fact that she’s spent the past couple of years writing about her Jewish identity is in itself a testament to this as she approaches 30.

“Make Me A Woman” is the title of one of Davis’ bat mitzvah stories, one that takes on multiple meanings throughout the book. The literal meaning is that Davis became a woman in the eyes of her faith at 13 years old. That’s a ridiculous notion in modern culture, yet Davis spends the entire book trying to figure out what being a grown-up means. The image accompanying the title on the cover has Davis (her face hidden) actually saying the title, adding a sexy and slightly silly context — she’s uttering a seductive phrase while painting her toenails. As always, Davis is self-deprecating. The ultimate meaning of the phrase is the ways in which her experiences have led her to becoming an adult, even if she’s terrified of this notion. It’s less a case of arrested development and more a fear of being trapped in roles that would prevent her growth as an artist and expressive person. Her initial resentment toward her friends marrying and having children gave way to the understanding that life didn’t have to end at 30, or at marriage, or at having kids, thanks to the interactions she had with those who “grew up” but still led creative lives. “Fast Forward” is about this very idea of giving oneself permission to make a choice, of allowing oneself to put down roots and stop avoiding big decisions. It will be interesting to see how Davis evolves as an artist now that she’s come to this point in her life.
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Featured artist

Vanessa Davis

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Make Me A Woman

  NPR's Monkey See blog recommends MAKE ME A WOMAN to get you through your "turkey coma"

Updated November 25, 2010

Five MORE Tomes to See You Through Your Turkey Coma

by Glen Weldon
November 24, 2010

Is this how you envision the weekend after Thanksgiving? We can help.

We know the situation. You'll be facing it soon.

Thanksgiving is over, the long, starchy and somnolent Thanksgiving weekend has begun, and as topics of sparkling conversation go, Aunt Beth's recent knee operation has begun to pall. You're feeling logy, overstuffed and out-of-sorts, and you just want to park your tryptophan-riddled form on a nearby couch with a book.

Ah, but: There's lots to do this weekend, and you'll only be able to catch a few hours to yourself.

What you require, then, is a book that will whisk you away to another place, a place where nobody tries to push turkey sandwiches on you, and the people are smart enough not to discuss the grislier details of orthopedic surgery while people are trying to eat, AUNT BETH.

You need a thick, immersive book in which you can lose yourself for an afternoon — but finish in time for dinner.

We've said it before (twice before in fact) what you need is a nice, thick graphic novel.

Here, then, are five more rich, satisfying — and hefty — comics that will do the trick.


Make Me a Woman by Vanessa Davis, published by Drawn and Quarterly

Vanessa Davis' words and images tumble across the page as if tossed by a breeze. But don't mistake the deliberately loose, freewheeling style of this pseudo-diary for aimless, stream-of-consciousness journaling; Davis knows exactly what she's doing, and is as comfortable laying out the straightforward story of a hilariously horrible date as she is creating a more expressionistic - and gorgeous - page. You'll see the influence of Lynda Barry and Roz Chast, but Davis' voice has a satisfyingly spiky, take-no-prisoners wryness that's all her own.
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Featured artist

Vanessa Davis

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Make Me A Woman

Worcester Mag reviews MAKE ME A WOMAN

Updated November 23, 2010

Grawlix and Briffits
A glimpse at the latest in comics & graphic novels

by John Seven
Worcester Mag

Make Me A Woman by Vanessa Davis (Drawn And Quarterly)

Eschewing traditional punch lines for observational dabs and a few short stories, Davis doesn’t quite reveal the inner life of a typical Jewish girl, because she’s much more clever than that. Rather, she’s captured the interaction between what’s under her skin and unknown to us with the world around her as it prods her reactions. Feeling more like an illustrated diary than anything else, Davis depicts moments of her day with a great ear for absurd moments that stand out — plus her memories of a childhood in Jewish Day School and “fat camp” are loads of fun.
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Featured artist

Vanessa Davis

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Make Me A Woman

  KQED Arts on happy endings and beauty in VANESSA DAVIS's MAKES ME A WOMAN

Updated November 17, 2010

Vanessa Davis's Comics Celebrate the Awkward Process of Becoming a Woman

by Lisa Hix
Nov 18, 2010

Vanessa Davis doesn't leave out any excruciatingly awkward moments on her autographical comic panels -- not when she's picturing the planning process for her bat mitzvah, not when she's detailing daily life at fat camp. Yet, Davis does something entirely unexpected in underground comics: Comes to a happy ending.

Her new book, Make Me a Woman, a compilation of sketches and panels made over the last five years, starts out with her childhood in Florida, moves through her years as an artist in New York City, and ends up in Santa Rosa, where she currently lives with her boyfriend.

While Davis doesn't shy away from showing life, warts and all, the other shoe never drops, the ironic comeuppance is never delivered. It's refreshing. For all the disappointments and humiliating moments in Make Me a Woman, published by Drawn & Quarterly, the overarching impression is life ain't so bad.

The alternative comics of the '80s and '90s were dark and cynical both as a necessary reaction to the horrors of the world and a counter to the "good triumphs over evil" simplicity of superhero comics. Davis says she gets that, too.

"As much I was into that and I could relate to it, I felt really bogged down by knee-jerk obligatory negativity in alternative comics," she says. "Me and my family, we're all sensitive people with stress and anxiety, but I definitely have an optimistic side, too. Even if I'm complaining about something when I'm in it, I always remember it in a good way. When I was putting the book together, that was a big theme -- I wanted to make a place for a cheery outlook in alternative comics."

Davis, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Vice Magazine, Arthur Magazine, and the online Jewish publication Tablet, often reflects on her Jewish upbringing. She's gotten to the age where she realizes that things she resented about her childhood, which prompted her to seek the art world as a means of escape, have actually shaped her, for better or worse.

"I think my experience is a pretty common one, whether you're Jewish or not," she says. "Everyone has that mix of disdain and affection for their upbringing. You want to reject it and claim yourself for your own, but you can't help notice how it stays with you even after you've left it."

"For example, I didn't like my Jewish day school, but I am really lucky to have gotten to go to that school. There were only 14 kids in my class. I got to learn how to speak Hebrew, and that's a rare experience. It's a sense of perspective that has been really important to me."

In Make Me a Woman, many pages are fully fleshed out watercolor comics; others seem incomplete -- small borderless sketches on a white page done in pencil with visible eraser marks, like something you'd see in a sketchbook. These drawings aren't stories or even jokes. They're more like musings or fleeting thoughts. A peculiar moment. A look exchanged.

"I love writing and I love stories, but I do think there's a lot of value in expressing those small ideas," Davis says. "It's akin to a poem rather than a novel. You can sometimes express a lot with less."

Davis counts artist David Hockney, Love and Rockets creators Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, and cartoonist Debbie Drechsler (who also lives in Santa Rosa) among her influences. In particular, though, Davis says she was most impressed by one of her art-school professors who made a painting a day, which, when shown together, made for "an overwhelming document of his life." That prompted Davis to start recording her life in daily sketches, too.

"When I started doing comics I figured I could start out doing a little every day in my sketchbook, and maybe no one would ever see it," she says. "Then I really got into the format and how I didn't feel held back by these ideas of what comics are supposed to look like. And I saw a lot of value in the strips that were like that, even though they weren't traditionally put together. So it was definitely deliberate to leave them like that."

That theme of embracing imperfection comes through in Make Me a Woman in other ways, too. Like in her first book of diary comics, Spaniel Rage, Davis draws herself and other women in an honest way, with thick thighs and freckles, and then tackles the absurd things women do and say in the quest to live up to a certain ideal, like in her adventures at fat camp.

"Women are always taught to apologize for their flaws and to focus on them as something they need to be constantly working on," she says. "As much as I totally do that myself, I resent it. I do think it's important to take care of oneself, and I'm really into fashion and beauty and all those frivolous things, but at the same time, I don't think that it's worth it to go through life apologizing over the flaws that I supposedly have, according to some arbitrary ideal."

"There's so much beauty you can see if you don't look within those specific parameters or standards that a lot people don't allow themselves to enjoy or see," she continues. "I like being a human being, as humiliating and as gross and as smelly as that can be sometimes. That being human is also sexy and beautiful, and that's reason great stuff can happen."
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Featured artist

Vanessa Davis

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Make Me A Woman

The Miami Herald praises MAKE ME A WOMAN

Updated November 17, 2010

Grisly and disturbing but compelling; GRAPHIC NOVELS

by Richard Pachter
The Miami Herald
31 October 2010


Make Me a Woman. Vanessa Davis. Drawn & Quarterly. 176 pages. $24.95.

Davis grew up in South Florida and returns often to visit family. This wonderful collection of disparate slices of her life conveys humor, intelligence and great heart. She's a terrific and entertaining artist, too, and her penciled work is almost as rich as her beautiful color art. Autobiographical strips may be commonplace, but as Julia Wertz did in Drinking at the Movies, Davis reveals her life without fear or self-aggrandizement, and her strength, humor and vulnerability seep through every page. Much of the art herein originally appeared in Tablet (tabletmag.com) , an online Jewish cultural magazine, and Davis' Judaism unambiguously informs her work in surprising and amusing ways.

Featured artist

Vanessa Davis

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Make Me A Woman

  New York Magazine's Vulture recommends MAKE ME A WOMAN

Updated November 16, 2010

Dan Kois's Great New Autobio Graphic Novels

By Dan Kois

1. Julie Doucet and Michel Gondry's My New New York Diary

Peripatetic director Gondry invited indie-comics heroine Doucet back to New York, the city where she first made her mark twenty years ago. This slight but charming book includes a DVD with the delightful short film they made together during her stay.

2. Sarah Glidden's How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less

Brooklyn artist Glidden touchingly chronicles her "Birthright Israel" tour, which started out as a way to convince herself that Israel didn’t matter in her life, but turned into something much more complex.

3. Lars Martinson's Tonoharu, Part Two

Martinson's thinly-veiled alter ego Dan Wells is a high-school English teacher in rural Japan, and this graphic novel illustrates his loneliness in lovely wood-block-like drawings teeming with detail.

4. Joyce Farmer's Special Exits

The final four years in the lives of underground cartoonist Farmer’s father and stepmother, told with honesty and humor. A book that will resonate for anyone facing the loss of a loved one.

5. Vanessa Davis's Make Me a Woman

A big, bright, quirky collection of charming short pieces, chronicling Davis's interactions with friends, lovers, and her endearing, overbearing mom.
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Featured artist

Vanessa Davis

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Make Me A Woman

Comics Comics reviews MAKE ME A WOMAN

Updated November 10, 2010

Vanessa Davis

by Nicole Rudick
October 11, 2010

I’ve really been looking forward to Vanessa Davis’s new book, Make Me a Woman. I’m a great admirer of Davis’s zaftig ladies and of the minimum of lines she uses to describe them—round, undulating, bumpy, and squiggly, but always lively. The image blown up on the cover is a great example: The long, rubbery curve of the figure’s leg, foot, and arms, the off-kilter half-moon toenails. The tiny smudges of red polish outside the lines, which signifies her imperfect painting technique, is splendid. I also love her characters’ upturned noses, bubble mouths, and the occasional double chin. She’s generous in the way she draws people, not just in size (not everyone is voluptuous) but also in breadth. These autobiographical comics—divided between published strips and pencil drawings from her daily diary—are often as much about her as everyone around her.

Wimmin’s Comix debuted in 1972 as a forum for women cartoonists to publish work that dealt with issues they were interested in and to represent themselves in more realistic terms, and much of this work took the form of autobiography. The popular lineage of these diaristic narratives can be traced to the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century diaries kept by women as a way to be involved in the construction of literature and to depict their daily lives in relation to the world. But it wasn’t until the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and artist/writers like Marie Bashkirtseff and Anaïs Nin, that diaries changed from factual records to a place where anything could be—and was—said; these more recent versions were revelatory of women’s psyches, a means of awareness and therapy. Davis, however, has found a balance between observation and confession in her autobiographic approach to comics.

Hers isn’t autobio as an event-driven narrative (Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, David B.’s Epileptic, David Small’s Stitches) or as scathing self-analysis (Ivan Brunetti’s Schizo, Joe Matt’s Spent). Instead, Davis probes life’s mundanities over a long period of time. Harvey Pekar is the exemplar of this mode: quotidian obsessions, annoyances, and joys writ large over the course of many years’ worth of work—the “autobiography written as it’s happening,” as he described American Splendor. Bechdel did it, too, with Dykes to Watch Out For. And Davis’s comics hew more closely to Bechdel’s: There’s a buoyancy to their stories, and the sense that a span of time, presented either as stretches of many years or as excerpts, leavens the more terrible events that life brings. (A fiction equivalent is Love and Rockets.) It’s a kind of realism that I think only long-term comics narratives can create.
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Vanessa Davis

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Make Me A Woman

  MAKE ME A WOMAN in Vice Magazine's Comic Book Love-In!

Updated November 10, 2010


Make Me a Woman
Vanessa Davis
Drawn & Quarterly

Vanessa Davis’s drawings have a softness to them that feels like sympathetic memories. Maybe I’m off here, but it feels like she views the world in a forgiving way, whether she’s showing us the time when everyone was having bat mitzvahs or some Israeli dude was treating her poorly. Everyone is a lovable goofball. There’s a particularly good comic in here about going to the sex store with Karen of Meh fame and being observed by a Hassidic man. It’s odd when you run into Hassidic men in places like that. I remember seeing a few at that goth/fetish party they used to have at Siberia. I also remember seeing a couple at a Death in June show on a Sunday morning at the Pyramid Club a few years back. Maybe they were just Orthodox.

Anywayahs, as you may have cottoned, there’s a whole load of stories in this book relating to Jewishness. I especially like one strip where she describes how great Purim is to her boyfriend while he turns up his nose at the concept of “gross Jewish food.” Later he is giggling while reading a biography of Hitler before bed.
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Make Me A Woman

Santa Barbara News-Press lovingly reviews MAKE ME A WOMAN

Updated November 10, 2010

Make Me a Woman
by Vanessa Davis
Drawn & Quarterly

by Katie Haegele
Santa Barbara News-Press

Drawn & Quarterly, more than many publishers, understands books as objects; theirs usually feel like a perfect union of form and content. This, after all, is the house that put out that delicious box set 32 Stories, which reproduced a batch of zines Adrian Tomine published as a teenager. To showcase Make Me a Woman, a new collection of work by comics artist Vanessa Davis, the publisher created the perfect space - a tall, hardbound book, each page large enough to showcase her dotty, imperfect style.

The anthology, made up of previous publications as well as unpublished, unfinished sketches, includes both full-color comics that look like watercolors and raw-looking pencil drawings, some with the eraser marks still visible. Each style is appealing in a different way. The completed strips are lively, in bright colors and large shapes, and though her figures and objects are drawn with technical skill they’re also humorously awkward in a way that seems natural and unaffected. The pencil drawings have a rainy-day feel and are often simply a small group of unrelated thoughts and pictures.

The fully-realized pieces tell complete stories that push the narrative forward, helping to give us a sense of a full person behind the work - her family relationships, romantic travails, and childhood memories; her questioning, questing attitude toward Judaism and her own Jewishness; and the occasional hipster dance party. In both style and perspective these pieces owe a lot to the work of Lynda Barry, that other joyously depressive storyteller. But Davis is more meta, thinking and writing about the nature of her psyche and her work, asking questions about her own issues and whether acting "neurotic" has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, a treasured Jewish trait.

This doesn't mean that the stories she's telling always make perfect sense. Some of them have an incomplete, disjointed feeling, either because Davis is an imperfect storyteller or because she assumes a background knowledge of her life or some other topic, which the reader may or may not have.

But there's a gossipy pleasure in collecting little scraps of information about her life. The book's scattershot, sketchbook feel has the interesting effect of making the reader dig for clues. The Harvard Club? Does that mean Davis went to Harvard? And what about Boaz, is he the Israeli guy she became involved with that one night? Are they, like, together now? And truthfully, this might be a more realistic way of depicting reality than any traditional storytelling style. Like getting to know someone in real life, it happens in bits and pieces. Altogether the person we meet in these pages is intelligent, funny, and slightly crabby - very human, in other words, and a rare writer whose company you enjoy.

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Make Me A Woman

  The AV Club finds MAKE ME A WOMAN filled with honesty, humor and insight

Updated November 10, 2010

Cartoonist Vanessa Davis works in the cluttered, autobiographical mode of Lynda Barry and Aline Kominsky-Crumb, filling her pages with observations about culture, relationships, and the obsessions of youth. But Davis is very much her own person and her own artist, and Make Me A Woman (Drawn And Quarterly) is one smartly designed collection, combining Davis’ short stories—mostly three-pagers about being young and Jewish in Florida, New York, and California—with pages from her sketchbook. The result is a book that’s more casually revealing than typical autobio comics, recording both Davis’ fully formed insights into her own life and the tossed-off anecdotes and incidents of her average day. Davis is bright and funny and doesn’t take herself too seriously, but she does honestly grapple with her faith and her family in ways that keep Make Me A Woman from being just page after page of self-absorbed scribbling. Whether Davis can sustain this style and tone for more than just short pieces remains to be seen, but she doesn’t necessarily need to go long when she can pack so much humor and insight into a single drawing… B+
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Make Me A Woman

Book By Its Cover interviews MAKE ME A WOMAN author VANESSA DAVIS

Updated November 9, 2010


Back in 2007 when I first started this blog, one of the first comics I wrote about was Vanessa Davis’s Spaniel Rage: “…It’s honest and personal and very refreshing to read about a normal woman in her twenties who eats pad kee moo in her underwear in front of an air-conditioner and shops at Marshall’s for discounts. I think if Vanessa and I met, we would be friends.” Three years later, I did get to meet Vanessa over drinks and snacks when she was visiting New York! Walking into the bar in bright colorful clothing with a big smile and adorable freckles, I recognized Vanessa immediately based on her cartoon self. From reading her comics over the years I felt like I knew her already. It was as if we were two old friends meeting to catch up. What I love so much about Vanessa’s work is I relate to it so easily. Her auto-biographical comics seem like they could be about my life. I thought feeling so connected to her work was a huge coincidence, like the two of us had some strange cosmic overlap. But then I see other people write about Vanessa’s work, or read other reviews about her comics, and I realize I’m not alone. It seems like everyone can compare their experiences with hers. Her stories are real lessons of life: happiness, humility, love, obsessions… told with personality and without editing. The title Make Me a Woman couldn’t have been better named. In these pages of everyday moments Vanessa learns who she is and as the readers we get to reflect on our own similar memories of growing up. This book collects all of her best work from 2004-2010 and includes published and (as of yet) un-published comics and her sketchbook diary pages. Buy the book here! I interviewed Vanessa about her work which you can see below:

Your comics are so personal. What is it like sharing so much of your private life with the world? Have your family, friends, or boyfriend ever been upset about how you’ve portrayed them or what things you’ve chosen to share?
It doesn’t seem that weird for me to write about my private life, since a lot of it seems very common. I’ve been thinking about it, and I think writing about my personal life is another way to put out feelers, to find out if I’m messing up or doing okay. Like, in life, I tell the same story to friend after friend, to get their feedback and put it all together afterward. I know that probably sounds childish, but I find it’s also a way to have people open up to me in the same way. In any case, I feel a bit unsupervised in the world. Putting the comics out there helps me with that. And it’s one of my most important personal values to try to be real about myself. It drives me crazy when people won’t get real with themselves. I am constantly lamenting, “Why won’t this person just get real with themself!!” If I have to do it, everyone should have to do it.

As for the people in my life, I try to treat them with discretion and respect. I will not draw something that’s not “my story” (unless I have permission, of course!). And I usually don’t write about people I really don’t like. (Yet, anyway.) But people are complicated and nobody (including me) comes off perfect. It’s so subjective. I’ll draw a comic about my mom being a pain, but she ends up looking adorable and loving and a great mom, which she is. I think that comes through because that’s my fundamental feeling about her. If anything, I look like a jerk in the strip for being such a brat.
Mostly, the people who’ve been aggravated about their portrayal in my comics are usually aggravated by something in our relationship, which is revealed in the comic. But they agree that at least the comic is truthful. But it doesn’t happen that often, I’m glad to say.
I did spend a gazillion more hours agonizing over how to describe people and situations delicately than actually drawing, though. Figuring all that out takes the most time. I’m actually thinking about easing up on that process.

You are always using material from your past for your comics. It seems like it would be difficult to keep digging up old memories from years ago, especially such critical ones like conversations with your dad about dating, or going to fat camp. By making comics of these moments, you sort of have to re-live them in your head, and then again on paper many times. Do you find that it’s therapeutic to do this or is it a challenge to return to so many embarrassing or uncomfortable memories? Do you find you are often nostalgic?
I am definitely, constantly, relentlessly nostalgic! I’m like that Chris Eigeman character in Kicking and Screaming, who says, “I’m nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday.” I’m always wistful. So it’s not really obviously therapeutic nor that difficult to think about these things, since I’m thinking of them all the time. I think some people see time in their life as being so long, at least it seems that way. Like for them, say, 2003 was ages ago. But for me it’s a minute. All of these things are always under the surface, I feel close to so many old times. Or, maybe it’s just that all of these small memories exist as stories already in my mind somehow. The stuff I don’t remember can be painful. I was reading an old diary from high school recently, hoping to find some details for a story, and it was horrible to read about myself being so clueless and humiliating, and the ways my friends and I were so mean to each other. So I think the way I remember things can often obscure painful realities. Maybe if I had actual documentation to research for these comics, it’d be a different story.

Because your work is so auto-biographical are you constantly looking for material as you live your life? Have you ever found yourself doing something intentionally because you know later it would make a good story for a comic?
Sometimes I’ll coax myself into doing something I don’t want to do, because it might be good material. But for the most part, not really.
Also, I don’t usually know what I’m going to write about before I start. Even the strips I did for Tablet, I only had the most general of topics that I pitched to them. Like, “I went to Jewish Day School.” But none of the specifics, or no idea beforehand of what the axis of the strip would be.
More often, things will happen and I’ll know immediately that I have to write about it. Even before I was a cartoonist this would happen. Many years ago, I was at a New Year’s party and my ex-boyfriend dragged me into the street and got down on the ground and clutched at my legs, moaning all of these crazy, drunken proclamations at me. And while it was happening, I was thinking, “I should draw this.” But he was performing! People are putting on a show all the time. It’s just a matter of getting it down. They write you the script more often than not.

I really love the more loosely drawn diary entry comics you’ve included in this book. When do these get made? Are you carrying a little sketchbook around with you or do you make mental notes and go home later to add these in?
Both–I try to keep a sketchbook with me but to draw I usually need to concentrate, even doing the loose diary strips. So I often just write down notes. I used to draw them in an impromptu way more often. I wish I did them all the time, but I usually return to diary strips when I’m in between projects, or if I’ve been unproductive and I’m out of comics-making shape. When I’m lost, it gets me back on track.
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Make Me A Woman

  Smith Magazine interviews VANESSA DAVIS

Updated October 27, 2010

Interview: Vanessa Davis, author of Make Me a Woman

by Lisa Qiu

“A huge part of my writing process comes from agonizing over the most delicate and/or diplomatic way to talk about people. Nobody likes to be summed up. But as a writer you have to be authoritative. And as a cartoonist you have to be brief.”

Vanessa Davis is author of Make Me a Woman, a recently released anthology, fifteen years in the making. It shows her creative and life journey as a cartoonist from her Bat Mitzvah to her late twenties and follows her as she moves from New York to California. Drawn with an uninhibited hand, Make Me a Woman documents the highest anxieties in her life, yet then there are whimsical women dressed in colorful and textured outfits to dance the reader into another story. Recently, Davis has collaborated with SMITH Magazine’s very own Pekar Project, illustrating Harvey Pekar’s comic story, Jewish Chops.

In an email interview, Davis offers advice about the craft of creating comics, from her tools to her processes, told through the lens that defines her work: her own life.

You mention women and body image issues in comics. What does a woman’s body in art mean to you and what do you wish to express about womanliness in your own comics?
Doing comics in general is a very revealing activity for me. To write about my own life and have it be interesting, or fair, or meaningful, I really have to explore all of these experiences and figure out why they were important or funny enough to draw about. So in that sense, it helps me understand myself as an adult and woman and person.

As far as body image, and the woman’s body in art–I mean, it’s not like I have a photorealistic style of drawing, but it’s also not the cartooniest. It’s a mix. I like what things actually look like. I’m certainly a product of a beauty-obsessed society. I think my drawing reflects that–both the beauty and imperfections and everything in between. I love looking at people, and it just so happens that I write a lot about myself, so I have to draw myself a lot. I’ve read a few reactions to the book and many have mentioned body image and weight: I only wrote about body image and weight in a couple of instances in the book, so I think it must come from the drawings. I actually have pretty strong feelings about body image–I feel like a lot of even the most progressive and feminist people today still have incredibly backward and conservative ideas about women’s looks. So while I’m not about to pull an Erykah Badu and get all nude walking down the street, I hope to at least imbue the images in my work with a sense of love and self-confidence, appreciation for the beauty in me, on me, and around me.

You put a few rough sketches in the book. Did you want your readers to get a sense of your process or did you do it because you thought it was a cohesive segue to your other pieces?
Usually I regretted not finishing some strips, but what was done was done. Diary strips done later have a very different feel than ones done in the moment. There’s one diary strip where I’m standing in front of a stuffed tiger, but when and where I was drawing it I couldn’t recall what a tiger actually looked like, so I made a note to myself, “Look up tiger.” I never did, but in the end I felt it was a valuable and relevant strip, and the pathetic drawing combined with the note was funny to me and added something I’d never intended in the strip, and made it better.

On the other hand, there was one strip about a fight my sister and I had that in my sketchbook was only drawn as word balloons and the faintest of sketches. I wished I had finished it because it related to another strip that was kept in the book, but it was so hardly drawn it would have been ridiculous to include it.

What qualities did you look for in your past comics that you picked out to be anthology worthy?
Almost everything published (self and otherwise) from the last five or six years was included in Make Me a Woman. I’d planned on doing another Spaniel Rage with diary comics, but ended up not getting a chance to. I liked how those 2004 strips bridged the last book with this one and to the diary strips from more recent times.

I feel pretty good about all the stories and strips I’ve done since Spaniel Rage, even though I’d like to think I’ve become a stronger cartoonist since I did some of the earlier strips in the book. I can only hope I’ll feel that way about my most recent pieces as well, soon enough.

I also put in a bunch of illustrations I did of women, as I got really obsessed with doing those for a long time before the book was put together. I liked the drawings and I felt like they were done in the same spirit as a lot of the strips. The only things I really omitted were a handful of diary entries that were either boring, really unfinished, or posed a threat to current relationships. (Though some kept in are a bit scary, too.) Art’s important but life is more so.

What is your process like? You had many other jobs while you drew your comics in the anthology, how did you balance it? What have you learned? What advice would you give to young twenty-somethings starting in the industry now?
I’ve always struggled with process, it’s almost like a start from scratch with any new project. Getting into comics was in itself an attempt to find a way to draw without all of the hindrances of fine arts–I could work without space, expensive materials, the pressure of a big, white canvas that I’d spent a million hours constructing, gesso-ing, and sanding. I could just do it in my sketchbook and get to work.

Obviously, comics has plenty of time-consuming craft issues, but luckily I didn’t know about them when I first started. At this point, I outline an idea, thinking of both the script and the images I want to include, and then mush them around and cut things out until it’s coherent. Then I pencil, which takes the most time. Then ink and paint and scan and clean. I don’t have a studio or even much space to work, so it has to be pretty bare bones.

When I was first getting into comics, I had a full-time job with a lot of responsibility. I’d often come home from work well into the evening. I wouldn’t get to start my “real work” until late at night. But to twenty-something cartoonists, I’d tell them what my mom told me, “You’re 24, just stay up and do it!” Some countries have great grants and money for the arts and people get to prance around making comics and having plenty of time and money to do so–that wasn’t (isn’t) the case for me! But this is the youngest you’ll ever be for the rest of your life, so gather up that energy and do it. This is what I tell myself.

How do you decide how to portray the people in your life? Do you show your mom or your boyfriend your stories before you go forward to publish? Has anyone ever been offended?
I just try to consider them as much as possible. I am pretty hard on myself and agonize over these things a lot, and I really try not to exploit people and just make a comic that’s like, “Look at this asshole!” That seems cheap to me.

Also, with people I love, like my mom and boyfriend, even when I’m showing myself being mad at them, or annoyed at them, or them acting badly, I hope that it comes through that it’s in context of a loving portrait. I try to show myself the same way. People are complicated and not always perfect. I remind myself that I do have a right to my experiences.

Nonetheless, people have gotten offended from things I’ve written with which I never intended to offend. I recalled a time when I said something stupid in one comic, and the friend I said it to got mad all over again when she saw it. I’d say that a huge part of my writing process comes from agonizing over the most delicate and/or diplomatic way to talk about people. Nobody likes to be summed up. But as a writer you have to be authoritative. And as a cartoonist you have to be brief. So it’s hard not to write about people in a way that will piss them off. But at this point, I’ve spun around so much trying to be sensitive, I’m actually trying now to be less so.

My sister is one of the more notorious “characters” in my comics, and she loves my portrayal of her. For the readings I’ve been doing on tour, I removed one strip that had her basically calling me fat and me basically calling her ugly, because people thought it was more mean than funny. But she thinks it’s hilarious. She has always been good at reminding me that what I say isn’t always so important. It’s good to remember that!

What materials do you use to make your comics? How long does it take for you to make a page?
Writing takes the longest and that can happen within a day or months. Penciling only takes long if there’s a lot to research. Once I have it all planned out, it doesn’t take too long. Doing the strips once a month for Tablet last year helped me really get a lot faster. I would often put those together in about a week or so, after about a week or so of writing. (They were only three pages.)

My favorite supplies for comics are hot press smooth watercolor paper (I like Arches blocks, though I don’t like the price), disposable pencils with B or 2B lead, a clear pica ruler, Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay black india ink, Winsor & Newton series 7 sable brushes, Nikko NG-3 manga nibs, Winsor & Newton pan watercolors, Reeves black pan tempera cakes, and Dr. Ph. Martin’s concentrated watercolors.

And finally, Vanessa Davis, what is your Six-Word Memoir?
Stay up and get it done!
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Make Me A Woman

Read About Comics calls MAKE ME A WOMAN "one of my favorite books of the year"

Updated October 27, 2010

Make Me a Woman

by Greg McElhatton

Vanessa Davis’s comics are not, at a glance, the sort of experiences that would be universally understood. A love/hate relationship with Jewish boys, going to fat camp, celebrating the High Holy Days, a mother who uses slightly inappropriate and sexually tilted words. "That’s not me at all," you’re probably thinking. But what makes Davis’s comics in Make Me a Woman so good is that somehow, she makes everything relatable to the reader, no matter what their background. Boiling down the emotional experiences of each story to their core, there’s a lot to connect with. And more importantly, fall in love with.

The stories in Make Me a Woman are a mixture of recollections and every-day journal entries, and each have their own particular charm. I was initially familiar with Davis’s comics through her more structured stories, where she picks a specific portion of her life to focus on and then tells it to us over the course of several pages. There’s a lot to love there, with stand out stories including the camaraderie and friendship found at fat camp (I totally want to go now, too), trying to live up to expectations (the last two panels in particular are killer), and "going home for Christmas" (which probably sums up everyone’s family experience at least once in their life). Davis is remarkably unselfconscious in her stories, presenting herself in a relaxed, humorous fashion. It’s that utter lack of a wall between her and the reader that helps make each story so relatable; it invites you in and lets you match your own similar emotions to the ones she experienced, making each story feel like you were somehow there.

At the same time, though, Davis serves up less structured snippets and vignettes from her life throughout Make Me a Woman, and I found myself slightly surprised at how much I loved them as well. They’re usually just a brief moment or scene, recorded in comic form for posterity’s sake, and yet somehow they become engrossing. It helps that Davis doesn’t present these as throw-away pieces, or something that doesn’t deserve the same amount of attention as her full-length stories. Even if it’s just a short conversation on an elevator, Davis brings the people she encounters (as well as herself) to life, making you feel like you’re sitting in the corner and observing all of these moments yourself.

One of the things I found the most interesting about Davis’s Make Me a Woman is her approach to page layout and the traditional idea of panels. For some of her full-color stories done for other publishers (like her Tablet stories) there’s a traditional look to her layouts. Stories move from left to right, usually in rows across the page, separated by her words that form gutters separating the columns of art. It’s in her black and white stories, though, that Davis instead uses the entire page as a single, large art form where the image flows from one moment to the next, the passage of time unencumbered by panel borders or separations. As your eye moves across the page, each drawing bleeds into the next, but it’s still incredibly easy to follow. It’s a beautiful technique, one that is hard to pull off even as Davis makes it look effortless. It’s a different type of storytelling than most people are used to in comics, but it’s one that I hope Davis never abandons.

As for the figures within the art, Davis draws people in a relaxed and realistic manner. Davis draws herself so close to reality that when I met her at the Small Press Expo this year I was able to instantly pick her out of a crowd. From the way her hair falls around her face and shoulders, to the freckles on her cheeks and nose, she looks as attractive and down-to-earth on the page as in real life. She’s remarkably good at capturing other details like posture and body language, too; from laughing over a silly note left on food, to a nervous swig from a bottle of beer at a club, people move and act true to life. It’s hard to say whether I like her black and white or color art more; while the black and white drawings come across as much more intimate and personal, she has a strong sense of color that pops off the page without ever looking garish or out of place. It’s a great look and each new page made me fall in love with her art all over again.

When reading Make Me a Woman, it’s hard to not feel like you’ve somehow become friends with Davis by the book’s conclusion. She lets you into her life and share her thoughts, and in such a welcoming, friendly manner. If hanging out with Davis on a regular basis is even half as enjoyable as her book, her boyfriend, family, and friends are all extremely lucky people. This is, easily, one of my favorite books of the year. Highly recommended.
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Make Me A Woman

  The Factual Opinion loved MAKE ME A WOMAN, "didn't want the book to end"

Updated October 27, 2010

Romancing The Stone: Old School Mash Notes

by Nina Stone, 2010

I just finished “Make Me A Woman” by Vanessa Davis, and I feel like I’ve made a friend who I want to hang out with more. I didn’t want the book to end, and I identified with so many of these comics that I'm starting to think Vanessa and I were either cousins or went to Hebrew School together.

It all started on a trip to the comic book store. I was wandering around, trying to find something to read. To be honest, I haven’t been that smitten with anything in some time now, and it was beginning to feel like a bit of a chore to read and write about a comic each week. I picked up this book at random, unaware that it was "new", and the next thing I knew, I was engrossed in the story of Vanessa’s Bat Mitzvah experience.

I know, right? Has anyone every captured this in a comic book? (That's a rhetorical question. I'm sure somebody has.) But this was the first time I'd read one, and the first time I've read anything about that particular experience in a way that takes me back, personally. I rarely (almost never) reflect on that time in my life, but when I do, I usually just marvel that I found the time to practice and memorize a portion of the Torah.

For me, these are very specific "American Jewish Girl" moments that are usually only talked about and relatable in the short time frame in which they actually happen. That period of time, from about 1st grade through 8th grade, the main thrust of all the religious school training that we young Jews have...it's a very specific experience, but it isn't one that has much to do with my adult life, and it isn't one I reflect upon very often. To open a comic and read about it, to have something so specifically relatable to me, but to also get a feeling that it could be a little more universal than I previously expected was like...coming home? I'm digging around here, but that's the only way I can describe it. I felt this comic, on a gut level, but it came out of nowhere and I'm not confident that I'm going to be able to verbalize it very well.

Much later in this collection of comics, there was a series of frames dealing with being an adult Jew in the world, and Davis wrote “I feel lucky to have been brought up in this broad-minded Judaism, that lets me belong, even when I pull away.” It's such a lovely way to crystalize the experience, and I’ve never heard anyone express gratitude for Judaism in that style. It struck me again: this is something I'm relating to on a basic, barely remembered level. These comics aren't about me, but my relation to them, my response to them--it's something further than mere identification. The last thing I’ll say about the whole Jewish-thing (maybe) is that Davis simply references it is as a part of her upbringing. She’s not constantly trying to crack Jewish jokes or throw in a bunch of oy veys. It felt real, it felt honest. It shook me, but not in a negative, overly melodramatic way. To be honest, the most accurate word I'd use for it is that it felt cool, reading something that wasn't corny or overly sentimental.

The other thing that strikes me so much about this book is what Davis is able to capture. There are moments in my life that seem so full, whether they be full of pain or joy or love, but moments and memories that overflow with feeling and meaning. In my life, I tend to try to put those moments into a song or poem. (Often unsuccessfully.) I know how hard that can be, and reading Vanessa’s book, I developed a great love and appreciation for comics as a medium of personal expression. Only in a drawn picture with word and thought balloons can some moments really be captured, it seems. Sometimes, she abandon comments or editorializing, just simply relying on the a particular drawing to deal out a moment that makes its significance known and felt.

Beyond the Judiasm, I related to so much of "Make Me A Woman". Vanessa references places and even a few people in NYC that I’m familiar with. She captures that slightly miserable feeling of dating in New York (and possibly anywhere) by depicting the behavior of single guys and girls and the things they say in a stark yet careful way.

I also adore the way she frames herself and illustrates her own quirks. Particularly sticking out in my mind at the moment is a series of pencil sketches that start with her narrating, “Lately I’ve been experiencing these desperate pangs for people I know...” That sentence alone is hilarious and I know exactly what she was talking about! But then the sketches that follow make it even more hilarious.

This is a wonderfully dense collection of work and I loved every minute of it. It’s a wonderful journey through a life, and the comic critique of Crumb is in just the right place. At no time did I find Vanessa’s (you like how I’ve just gotten so friendly with this person I don't know at all that I’ve taken to calling her by her first name this whole time? No “Davis seems...”. Just “Vanessa is..”. I think that is a reflection on how this book makes one feel like they know her and feel like a friend of hers after reading it) work seem full of ego. As I read her critique on Crumb where she says “Is this why people think auto-bio cartoonists are really self-indulgent assholes?”, I thought “Oh yeah! That IS what I usually think when I've tried to read auto-bio comics!”

It’s true, I have to admit. I’m almost always like, “Ugh....why are you illustrating a totally uninteresting story about your life to me?” But I do not feel that way about these comics/cartoons at all. In fact, there’s always some point beyond “sharing” for each of her anecdotes and tangents. Whether it be simply a form of relatable self-deprecation that seems charming through her comics, or capturing complex relationship dynamics in a fair way, every picture is engaging, fun to look at, and full of life. I’m so glad that I had this opportunity to read this. I’m looking forward to keeping up with Vanessa Davis in the future.
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Vanessa Davis

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Make Me A Woman

MAKE ME A WOMAN tops OC Weekly list of exciting new nonfiction comics

Updated October 20, 2010

Stranger Than Fiction: Nonfiction Writers Who Would Create Awesome Comics

by Joe Vince
OC Weekly

​Comic books have a nasty habit of forever being associated with superheroes. Even among people who should know better: regular comic book readers.

But tying the medium of comics and graphic novels to just stories about Spider-Man and Batman is a bit like saying the novel simply exists to showcase the works of Jane Austen. And who wants that?

Take this week, for instance. The three most exciting works being released aren't even fiction, let alone have anything to do with fighting crime, fighting space aliens or fighting a spandex costume that rides up the crotch. Check out this variety:

Make Me a Woman, Vanessa Davis A collection of Davis's wonderful autobiographical strips, illustrated in beautiful watercolors.

Footnotes in Gaza, Joe Sacco Reportage in graphic novel form isn't as widespread as I'd like, but no one does it better than Sacco. This new softcover edition looks at the bloody and heartbreaking 50-year history of Rafah, a small town on the Gaza Strip.

Everybody Is Stupid Except Me and Other Astute Observations, Peter Bagge He might be most known for his seminal late 1990s series Hate, Bagge has reinvented himself as commentator thanks to a regular gig with Reason magazine. This collects many of his opinion strips.

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Vanessa Davis
Joe Sacco

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Make Me A Woman

  The LA Times on MAKE ME A WOMAN

Updated October 20, 2010

Vanessa Davis- The graphic novelist is known for her vibrant watercolors, used to tell wry, sneakily moving stories of young femininity. Her latest, "Make Me a Woman," is both intimate and particular to growing up Jewish in Florida, yet universal in its close, affectionate eye for the small details of life.
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Vanessa Davis

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Make Me A Woman

The Daily Cross Hatch interviews VANESSA DAVIS

Updated October 5, 2010

Interview: Vanessa Davis Pt. 1

by Brian Heater
The Daily Cross Hatch

It feels like you’re running in circles, sometimes, spending so much time asking questions of people about similar facets of a medium. Even amongst a broad array of artists, there’s bound to be overlap in answers—commonalities in the human and artistic experience, which, after a while, can feel a bit repetitious.

But then you have a conversation with someone like Vanessa Davis, someone who brings as unique a perspective on process as she does the comics she makes, a veritable necessity in both my field and hers, where autobiographical comics have very nearly become the default storytelling mode.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Davis at SPX, where she was promoting her new Drawn and Quarterly book, Make Me a Woman. It was the first time I had ever spoken to (and to the best of my knowledge, met) the cartoonist behind the mini, Spaniel Rage. We swapped coasts at roughly the same time, she to that Schulz stronghold, Santa Rosa, CA from New York, and me to New York from about two and a half hours south of where she ultimately landed.

New York and California alike form the setting for Make Me a Woman’s vignettes. There’s also some of her birthplace, Florida, in there as well—a natural, perhaps, given the theme of growing up that permeates in so much of the book, even when it’s not right out in the open.

Do you feel like you ever put too much of yourself into your work?

Um [laughs]. That’s a weird question.

Is it?

Well, it’s not a weird question. It’s just, on the one hand, it’s very self-based, but on the other hand, I do feel like I think about it a lot—how much I’m putting in. I don’t think it’s an outpouring. I don’t work in a very cathartic way. It’s very considered.

Does it wind up being cathartic, though?

No [laughs]. It’s really agonizing—I mean, it’s fun, too.

The process is agonizing, but once it’s out…

Once it’s out, there’s a weird dissociative thing that happens. It’s kind of like it’s been said, and now I don’t have to say it, which is a good feeling. It’s weird when you talk to people about your work, because there’s a disconnection.

It all happened a long time ago, too.


Do you have trouble reading your own work?

No–it depends. Sometimes. When my new book came out, I had a lot of anxiety, but I think that was just because it a big thing. If I’m in an anxious mood, it all looks horrible. But there other times when I love it, and I need to stop reading it and start reading other people’s work [laughs].

Just sitting there, laughing out loud.


Is it that it’s bringing back those original memories that are associated with it?

Yeah. I was just visiting my mom in Florida last week, and I really miss my boyfriend, Trevor. I was looking at the book, and there are all of these comics of me and Trevor, and I was just like “awwwww.” That is one of the things I love so much about it. It’s a really great way to access all of that information, and I’m a really nostalgic person, so I like to have that entry. I like to have it down.

Is that why you started drawing these?

I think I’ve always had a very documentary-like instinct.

You always walk around framing shots.

Yeah, and interviewing people [laughs].

I actually find myself doing that a lot, when I’m having conversations with people at parties. They’ll turn into interviews.

Well, your job—I have this friend who’s a teen counselor, and we’ll just be hanging out, being normal, 30-something friends, and all of the sudden, she’ll be like, “what do you think is the difference between religion and spirituality?”

I guess there’s a reason we fall into these jobs. This is what our instincts are.

Yeah. Way before I ever did comics, I think it started with adolescent diary-keeping. I went to an art high school, so I had a very diaristic sketchbook. I drew and wrote a lot about my life from then, and I never grew out of it.

I had a very influential teacher who did the same thing. He did a painting a day as a diary entry. My father was a photojournalist. He was documenting a lot things about people’s lives. It wasn’t anything I ever thought about. It’s just kind of my mode.

So you would be doing this if no one was reading it, if you weren’t putting it out there for people.

Yeah. I think so, in some way. People reading it and giving feedback has definitely been a lot of my motivation. Before I did comics, I was trying to figure out my niche. I had been going to art school forever. I went to an art middle school, high school, and college.

After college, I was like, “what is my thing?” I did painting and textiles and stuff.

You knew you were an artistic person.

Yeah, I knew I was an artistic person, but I didn’t know what kind I was. I wasn’t really a painter… When I started doing comics and thinking about it more, I realized that I’ve always done autobio, even though…you don’t think of your topics that way when you’re a painter or another kind of artist.

How abstract was your work?

It wasn’t. It was very figurative. It actually looked a lot like comics, only with one panel and no words. But they were all very narrative.

It was a real event from your life.

All of my stuff was.

What’s an example of something you would have painted?

I did a drawing of me and my boyfriend in the car, and he found an eyelash on my cheek and was holding it out for me to make a wish. I was in college when I drew that. You didn’t know from the drawing what was going on. And it’s really not that big of a deal, but for it was because [whimsical voice] we were in love, and we were breaking up, and it was so ironic that he was holding out to make a wish and of course the only thing I would wish for is for us to get back together.

It’s dumb, but the drawing came out well. That’s where the strength of my work lies, in that mystery. I’m obscuring mundanity of my life by putting them in these well-crafted drawings.

That’s kind of ironic though, right? You ended up adding more context to your work later.

Yeah, right, but there was only that drawing for that story. I didn’t think I should do comics, because I thought that, if I did flesh out the story more, it wouldn’t be interesting anymore. So I really held off from even considering doing comics for a long time, because of that. But the stuff that I wanted to draw was really autobio-based.

What was the question, again?

If it wasn’t out there for people to read, would you still be doing it?

Yeah. In my sketchbook I always do it. I always thought of that as my sketchbook work. It was never what I was supposed to “do” as an artist. I had this one class in college where we had to do a large drawing. It could be anything—just large. It was a formative moment. I thought I was going to do a big drawing of orchid, because I was taking botany and I was living in Florida and I was really into orchids and my mom needing a drawing for her wall.

But at the same time, I had just gone on a trip to California with my mom, and I was doing all of these—what I call—”memory” drawings in my sketchbook. They look just like comics, but without words. But they were just my memory drawings. They were just what I was into. They weren’t artwork.

So I started sketching out these orchids, and my teacher was like, “what are you doing? This seems like an old ladyish, boring drawing. Obviously [diary comics] are what you’re more interested in. You’re doing more interesting drawings in these.” I was like, “really?” They weren’t good drawing. They were cartoony.

You were sharing the drawings?

I was sharing the sketchbook with my ideas in it, and she just saw them. And she was like “what are these?” I thought they would immediately be dismissed, because when you’re in art school, you’re supposed to be drafting and shading and modeling, and these were just pen line drawings.

So it wasn’t until she looked at that that I felt I was allowed to think that that way of drawing had any merit. But that was the way I normally drew. But I just agonized and slogged through drawing classes, because I thought I had to draw in this other way.
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Vanessa Davis

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Make Me A Woman

  Cartoonist Survey with VANESSA DAVIS

Updated October 5, 2010

Vanessa Davis - Cartoonist Survey #171

Illustrator and cartoonist Vanessa Davis has been drawing since she was a little kid. Originally from West Palm Beach, Florida she now lives in Santa Rosa, California. She studied art at Washington University in St. Louis, Maryland Institute College of Art and the University of Florida. Vanessa started out in the comics business by self-publishing and selling her comics at small press fairs and conventions. Her autobio comics are drawn from her daily diary and are beautifully illustrated and colored with watercolors. In 2005 Buenaventura Press published her first collection of comics, Spaniel Rage and just this week her second book, Make Me a Woman, was released by Drawn and Quarterly. Some of the comics from Make Me a Woman were serialized over at Tablet Magazine (“a daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture”). Her comics have also appeared in numerous anthologies including Best American Comics, Kramers Ergot, Pappercutter, Stuck in the Middle and Ivan Brunetti’s An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories. Be sure to check out Vanessa’s website for more of her work. You should also take a listen to this recent podcast with her on the Ink Panthers Show with Mike Dawson and Alex Robinson (Cartoonist Survey #169).

What is your favorite pen to use?
I like using these big Maritime nibs, or manga nibs that my boyfriend orders from New York Central Art Supply. I still haven't figured out my favorite nib.

Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
I use a mechanical pencil and B or 2B lead.

Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?
I usually color with watercolors but am starting to branch out and have been using the lasso-and-paintbucket technique a lot lately.

If you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?
I use Winsor and Newton pan watercolors, tempera cakes, and a Series 7 sable brush.

What type of paper do you use?
I like the Arches Aquarelle watercolor blocks, the hot press. Though they're very expensive.

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
Any time I don't really know what the subject looks like, I hate drawing it.

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
I go to two local independent shops and then sometimes get stuff at/from New York Central Art Supply.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
Many hours of devoted procrastination. Also I have a hard time drawing when housework is undone.

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
Tons of eurotrash pop music and the Savage Love podcast when I need to marathon it.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
I read Archie a lot and I loved all the old comics in there because of the fashion.

What is or was your favorite comic strip?
Probably Peanuts. Also I tried to make myself like LuAnn for a while, but I hated her hair.

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
I loved The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches by Alice Low, and it's still at my mom's house. But they re-illustrated it and it's horrible now.

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
I went to an arts magnet middle- and high school in West Palm Beach, and then I studied art in college, at Washington University in St. Louis, Maryland Institute College of Art, and University of Florida (I transferred a lot). I also took lots of summer classes and programs within those years as well.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
I like it!

Did either of your parents draw?
My dad drew and was a professional photographer, and my mom always liked art. She'd wanted to be a fashion designer but when she was young a teacher told her she couldn't ever be one because she didn't draw well enough.

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
Definitely my parents. And teachers. And friends. Pretty much everyone, I'm lucky.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
Yes! I don't draw in it as much as I should.

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
I've spoken in a couple of classes here and there and really liked it. Hopefully I will get to teach someday.

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
Discipline is the most important. A billion people are talented, talent is no big whoop.

Do you collect anything and if so what?
I collect cardigans, antique postcards, and weird syrups, liqueurs, and extracts. I also have a lot of scarves that I never wear.

If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
I'd want to be Krtek, but who knows.

Are you a righty or lefty?
Righty. I'm starting to get tendinitis in my left hand and that makes no sense to me. But it's probably from typing.

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
I'd love to be a lawyer or doctor or some other very well-paid and passionate executive.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
It's in my living room; it's cluttered and very insufficient.

Do you play any musical instruments?
Absolutely not, and I'm offended by the question. (Not really.)

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
Be good at computer stuff.

Who is your favorite artist?
I love Alice Neel, David Hockney, Pierre Bonnard, Kevin Blechdom, Jaime Hernandez, Lynda Barry and about a million others I am blanking on, and who probably illuminate what I'm into and about even better than these ones I just listed.
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Vanessa Davis

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Make Me A Woman

Graphic Details exhibit at the Cartoon Art Museum with panel discussion featuring VANESSA DAVIS

Updated September 29, 2010


October 1, 2010-January 30, 2011

Cartoon Art Museum
655 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA

While the history of women in comics is well-documented, and the Jewish contribution to the art form widely acknowledged, Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women will be the first museum exhibit to showcase the singular voices of female Jewish artists whose revealing diaristic and confessional work has influenced the world of comics over the last four decades.

Some bare their bodies. Some expose their psyches. All are fearless about sex, romance, politics, body functions, experiences, emotions, and desires.

Please join the Cartoon Art Museum on Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 7:00pm for a very special opportunity to meet and hear some of the artists from its latest exhibition, Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women. Several of the exhibition’s featured artists will discuss their comics and the exhibition’s transition from a newspaper article to a world-touring show. The discussion will be chaired by Dr Laurence Roth, Associate Professor of English at Jewish Susquehanna University. A booksigning will immediately follow the discussion.

Special guests include:

World Famous Herstorian Trina Robbins (The Brinkley Girls)

Comic Artist Sharon Rudahl (A Dangerous Woman)

Comic Artist Vanessa Davis (Make Me A Woman)

and Graphic Details Curators Michael Kaminer and Sarah Lightman
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Vanessa Davis

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Make Me A Woman

  VANESSA DAVIS interviewed on The Ink Panthers Show Podcast

Updated September 23, 2010

Episode 61 – Ultimate Dance Party, featuring Vanessa Davis

Vanessa Davis, the acclaimed cartoonist behind the new collection of autobiographical comics, Make Me A Woman, calls into the Lair this week to explain how parties work. Alex and Mike take notes.
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Vanessa Davis

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Make Me A Woman


Updated September 21, 2010

Make Me a Woman
Vanessa Davis, Drawn & Quarterly

These beautifully rendered watercolor and pencil collages capture confessional moments from bat mitzvah to the author taking her boyfriend home to West Palm Beach, Fla., to visit her mother. While treading in the autobiographical path of many cartoonists before her, Davis’s sweet and well-observed sketch-diary entries and more structured pieces for such magazines as the Tablet deal with growing up as a Jewish woman. Some time is given to fashion and dating, but the focus is mostly on the daily humor of surviving a boring day job and squabbling family. What sets Davis apart, as least as she portrays herself, is her general sanity and good humor. The problems are more Family Circus than Fun Home: a sisterly blowup comes down to the disposition of a doughnut, and a relationship problem involves several half-eaten packages of cheese. An early strip deals with a trip to a fat farm, but even that ends with remarkably little self-loathing. What this collection does show is Davis’s evolution from sometimes awkward swirls of penciled diary pages to constantly inventive and very accomplished painted art. It’s hard not to find something to identify with or smile at in these pages.
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Vanessa Davis

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Make Me A Woman

  Vanessa Davis On the Road: NYC, LA, SF, Portland & Miami

Updated September 16, 2010

MAKE ME A WOMAN is in stores in October, complete with an author tour by Vanessa Davis. For those in attendance at Comic-con, have already witnessed Vanessa's charm and candor and a delightful slide show that she put together for the book. Vanessa is traveling to NYC, LA, SF, Portland and Miami, with more dates to be announced.

9/11 -9/12/10
Vanessa Davis at SPX

WED 10/06/10 NYC 7:00 PM
Tablet Magazine Presents Vanessa Davis with Majorie Ingall
The Strand Bookstore

WED 10/13/10 LA 7:30 PM
Vanessa Davis at Skylight Books

FRIDAY 10/15/10 SF 7:00 PM
Vanessa Davis at Needles & Pens

SAT 10/16/10 & SUN 10/17/10 SF
Vanessa Davis at APE

SAT 10/23/10 PDX 7:00 PM
Vanessa Davis at Reading Frenzy

11/14-21 MIAMI
Vanessa Davis at the Miami Book Festival
Exact Date To Be Announced.
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Vanessa Davis

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Make Me A Woman

CBR talks with VANESSA DAVIS about her new book MAKE ME A WOMAN

Updated September 15, 2010

SDCC ’10 | A womanly chat with Vanessa Davis

by Chris Mautner

One of the more notable indie books debuting at the San Diegoshow this week is Vanessa Davis‘ latest book, Make Me A Woman, published by Drawn & Quarterly.

Ever since she made made her debut in anthologies like True Porn and Kramer’s Ergot, Davis’ work has exuded a warmth, humor, and sense of style that few of her compatriots can match, a fact only underscored by her 2005 book, Spaniel Rage, published by the late, lamented Buenaventura Press.

It’s been far too long since we’ve had a new book from her, but Make Me A Woman is thankfully worth the wait. Lest the title fool you into thinking the book is some saucy romp, let me be quick to dash some cold water on your overheated imagination. Mostly containing stories originally serialized in Tablet magazine, as well as some sketchbook strips and other material, the book explores how her relationship towards her family, friends, religion and self-image has changed as she’s matured. Along the way she talks about her experiences at fat camp, her feelings towards Robert Crumb’s Genesis adaptation and why she’d still like a present for Hanukkah.

I chatted with Davis over email last week about her new book and how she broke into comics. It was a genuine pleasure and I hope I don’t have to wait another five years for the opportunity to talk about her work with her again.

First of all, I was wondering if you could give me a bit of a truncated biography. I realized I don’t know much about your background beyond the work that’s appeared in Spaniel Rage and your new book. When were you first introduced to comics? What were your primary influences? And what made you want to be a cartoonist?

From 'Make Me A Woman'

As a kid I read Archie, and my mom actually tried to get me into comics more seriously as I got older, but we went to a normal comics shop when I was about 11, and really couldn’t find anything I wanted to read. I got one issue of Amethyst because I liked gems, but abandoned it after that. I liked Archie because of the everyday teenage drama, and I loved the vintage styles of the older illustrations, and the clothes.

I went to an arts middle- and high school in South Florida, where I grew up, and they really dissuaded kids from normal youth-directed forms of art, so I forgot about comics and illustration and focused a lot more on worldly painters, fashionable bohemians, and feminist sculptors when I was a teen. I still loved artists with a more narrative/figurative bent, though, like Alice Neel, David Hockney, and Ana Mendieta.

I think my parents are big influences, too: my dad was a funny photojournalist and my mom a writer; both of them with a major curiosity about the world and a passion for observing people and places. I learned about comics way before I ever thought I would ever want to make any, though. I got into Julie Doucet from Sassy magazine, and found a few of her comics at a local record store, and my aunt sent me a copy of Twisted Sisters 2 that I pored over obsessively for years. And my mom got this huge, comprehensive book of Charlotte Salomon paintings, which made a big impact on me as a teenage girl: they were so free-flowing and diaristic and documentary.

In college I learned about Harvey Pekar, and then about Dan Clowes and Chris Ware and the Highwater cartoonists, which was exciting. I still thought I was a painter at the time, though I was doing autobio paintings and drawings. I thought I shouldn’t write — that the strength of my artwork was in its “mystery.” It wasn’t until I moved to NY in my 20s where I had no room to paint, and had internet for the first time and could see more comics going on, that I thought I’d give it a try. And then I got sucked in!

I wanted to ask you about your art style. Thought it’s gotten a bit looser and more relaxed it hasn’t changed that much from when I first encountered your work (which was either in Kramer’s or another anthology). That struck me as interesting since usually you see an artist’s line change dramatically from their early work on up. Your comics seem to have sprung from the ground fully formed, which I’m sure isn’t the case. How conscious are you of your art style and developing it over time? What informs it? Where were you first published? How did you get from deciding to make comics to appearing in Kramer’s and getting your first book, Spaniel Rage?

From "Make Me A Woman"

Oh, I definitely don’t think my comics have sprung from the ground fully formed! Wouldn’t that be nice! I think that I did begin doing comics with and maintain a particular style that was how I naturally drew, for the most part, after many years of drawing and art school. I started drawing comics relatively late, compared to people who’ve deliberately been in a comics frame of mind — in my early 20s. So hopefully I’ve still got a lot of comics development to do!

I’d struggled with drawing, and often got criticism in school for having such an illustrative, “flat” style, since to draw well, you’re supposed to be open and looking, not have a style at all. It was hard because all of my favorite artists had this emphasis on flatness, line, and pattern. It changed in college, somewhat arbitrarily in my opinion, but all of a sudden my teachers were telling me how I was good at drawing — that I was finally processing my ability to draw into a confident, symbolic type of line; that my lazy approach towards perspective was actually “defiant.” I was dubious but also relieved!

Anyways I’ve always kept a sketchbook, and my personal drawings were always a mix of cartoony and trying to draw in earnest. When I decided to start drawing comics, it was a challenge to know how to do it. It seemed like real cartoonists were much more polished, had a visual language that flowed out of them like speech. So for me, I felt like I needed to tighten up and get to that point. I was overwhelmed by not knowing how to start, or what I wanted my comics to look like, so I decided to keep a sketchbook diary, where I could teach myself these things as I went along, make those decisions as they came up. I still keep one, especially when I feel disconnected from comics, either after a period of writers’ block or laziness or whatever.

From "Make Me A Woman"

Now as I’ve become more experienced, taken on different challenges, and I’ve also been exposed to a TON more comics, I think I can’t help but make changes and be influenced by others’ work. You see things that other cartoonists do that you like or you don’t like, seems like it might work for you, etc. I’d always worked in pencil, but I’d never had the means to publish in color. So for Kramers I inked and colored, and I liked it so much, I did comics that way much more often. I always liked avoiding panels, because I wanted to be open to filling up space with as much visual information as seemed necessary. When I started doing some more commercial work, for Tablet, and I needed to be a bit more concise and direct (and fast), panels finally became just what I needed. I tried to adapt that way, and be purposeful. I drew the story about this guy I dated, and he had a pretty distinctive upper lip, so the way I’d shorthandedly drawn guys didn’t work. I had to draw it different, and I realized it looked much better. So I figure out what can be cartoonified and what should be represented as I go.

I decided to draw comics for real when I turned 23. It was my birthday and after eating Thai food with my friend I went home and started drawing scenes from a comic that eventually ended up in my story “Framed!?” that I did last year for Tablet. That never went anywhere but then another friend was telling me about a makeout session gone awry, and I thought it’d be a great story to try to turn into a comic, since all of my own stories seemed really overwhelming, I didn’t know how to start. So I used hers. Then I saw the call for entries to that anthology True Porn, online. So I submitted my story for fun. It got in, and through that project I met Robyn Chapman, who had just moved to New York, and she introduced me to a lot of cartoonists who eventually became good friends and we’d get together weekly to draw. I remember first hanging out with Robyn and being like, “So what ink do I need?” Stuff like that. I learned a lot from meeting other cartoonists and seeing their work. I began doing my sketchbook comics, and made my first Spaniel Rage mini to hand out at MoCCA. I gave one to Sammy Harkham and he liked it. Then at another show Sammy showed my work to Alvin Buenaventura’s wife, who liked it. So a little time went by and I kept making my minis and doing a few other things here and there, and first the book happened, and then Kramers.

One of the things I noticed about your art style is that you avoid gutters and often just let the images flow one into the next without any panel borders at all. Is that a conscious decision and if so, how did it come about?

From "Make Me A Woman"

I avoided panels and gutters from the beginning as part of my diary format. That’s also why I didn’t ink — I just wanted to be spontaneous, I wanted to feel out the process or something. Also, I found panels intimidating, as I had to pre-plan things too much to structure the comic that way. And I liked how the open space left room for details, and improvisational visual connections. I wanted to have as much page space as possible.

Since working on the Tablet strips, which DID need to be pre-planned and organized, and clear and coherent, most of all, I started using them more. I had to do one page with a lot of individual incidents shown, and coming up with whimsical, amorphous visual borders seemed schticky and arbitrary, so I gridded out the page. I really liked how the panels looked and I liked how my writing adapted to using them. So now I’ve been using panels more often.

I also wanted to ask you about your interest in autobiography, which makes up the bulk of both your new book and Spaniel Rage. What is it about this genre that appeals to you?

It’s something that has just always come naturally for me, it was there for me even before I started drawing comics. I always kept a sketchbook diary, so my drawing subject matter was always linked to what was going on in my life. If something exciting happened to me, I’d draw it in my sketchbook, etc. I think, too, that much of what I connected to while in art school, about making art, was inextricably linked with autobiography. I had one painting teacher who painted one painting a day every day, as a diary entry, and when I saw the hundreds of paintings up in his studio that were this documentation of several years of his life, I was extremely affected. I think, also, since my parents were journalists, their own lives were so interesting, as their work took them to lots of cool places and into weird situations, and then of course, the people they were writing about/photographing. It just has always been there, the focus on experiences, it’s always fascinated me. The autobio comics I read as I got into comics inspired me to start working in comic form, I’m sure. Those were always my favorite ones to read.

Your new book, Make Me A Woman, includes a lot of stories you did for Tablet magazine. How did that relationship come about? Did you have a specific goal in mind with those stories (ie. exploring your Jewish heritage) or did they flow out more or less organically?

I started working for Tablet doing spot illustrations. Then a few years ago, they had a concept for a punky, feminist comics version of the story of Purim, and suggested I put it together. They liked how it came out, and we discussed having a more regular comics feature. Since I normally do autobio, we decided it might be cool for me to explore Jewish and not-so-Jewish themes in my life. I grew up in a Jewish community, attended Jewish day school, and have pretty much taken Jewishness as a given for most of my life. As I get older and move different places, I’ve found that my relationship to Judaism changes.

The book’s title, obviously, not only refers specifically to one of the stories, but also the the book’s general theme of self-discovery and maturation. Was this a conscious effort on your part or was it something you realized about the collection after the fact?

No, I hadn’t imagined using “Make Me a Woman” as the entire book’s title until way after the fact. When I titled my bat mitzvah-themed strip, it just popped into my head and seemed funny and strange and maybe a little daring. I definitely didn’t plan on the book’s theme being self-discovery and maturation. I think because of the nature of the autobiographical content and where I am in my life, it just naturally reflected that.

Most of your work to this point has been short stories. Are you interested in attempting something longer or are you more or less happy with working with a shorter page count?

I like doing short stories. My whole life, I’ve been encouraged to “keep it brief.” I am finding the short comic form to be just right for me, at least right now.
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Featured artist

Vanessa Davis

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Make Me A Woman

  Publishers Weekly interviews VANESSA DAVIS

Updated September 8, 2010

Vanessa Davis Keeps It Complicated
by Sasha Watson

In her second collection of autobiographical comics, Make Me A Woman, coming in October from Drawn & Quarterly, Davis creates an intimate portrait of a world you totally want to hang out in. Her chatty-charming personality, quirky memories, and oddball thoughts are all telegraphed in drawings that hum with life. Being a person is weird, Davis seems to be telling her reader, and it's a lot more interesting to examine that weirdness than to try to resolve it.

Whether she’s describing middle school games of spin-the-bottle, or noticing the places where her own ideology differs from that of Jewish and non-Jewish friends, she presents conflicting emotions and inconsistent ideas for what they are, and does it with an incredibly likable sense of humor. She talked to PW Comics Week from her home in Santa Rosa, California.

PW Comics Week: You’re from New York but you live in California. Are you conflicted about the East Coast/West Coast conundrum?

Vanessa Davis: I love Santa Rosa. It's a really beautiful, pleasant place to live but there’s a part of me that always sort of misses the East Coast mood. It's weird, it's like when I’m in New York, even if I'm having a bad time, which I often am in New York, it just feels more like what my life is supposed to be. That might be due to an attitude problem more than anything else, though.

PWCW: A lot of the pieces here come from the series you did for the online magazine Tablet. What was it like to produce those comics for Tablet over the course of a year?

VD: Usually there’s this split between your freelance work and your own work. With the freelance work you're not supposed to agonize over things so much and you have to power through and make compromises that you might not be comfortable with because it's for someone else and there’s a deadline. It was a really good balance with Tablet because there were deadlines and it was for someone else but they gave me a lot of freedom to write about things that I probably would have written about anyway. There's always stuff I can find to say about Judaism, and California, and my childhood. I still can't believe I got that assignment.

PWCW: Have you always done autobiographical comics?

VD: Autobio is definitely my thing but even though I liked autobiographical comics it took me a while to realize that's what I should do. Before I ever thought I would do comics I was an art student and I went to school for painting. I did illustrative paintings that were kind of like comics but there were no words. They were mysterious and you couldn’t understand what was happening in them. I thought that's where the power was, in how silent they were, because I tend to babble a lot, and I was afraid that if I did comics I'd just tell and not show.

PWCW: How’d you end up making the switch from paintings to personal stories?

VD: I had to do a really large drawing for a class, and I thought I should do a rendered drawing of orchids because I was studying botany, and my mom needed something for a wall in her house. My teacher was unimpressed with the orchids, which she said were old-ladyish. She looked at my sketchbook where I was doing a lot of diary stuff about my days, and she said, “Why aren't you doing this?”

PWCW: You write about R. Crumb’s work with some ambivalence in the book.

VD: I probably read Aline's work before I read his because I got Twisted Sisters II in high school. I love her work, it's really funny and cool, and it's so uncompromising. I'd read a lot of Crumb too and admired it but it was more of a technical admiration than that it really spoke to my sensibilities. There's something that annoys me about his perspective on things. I know intellectually that his work was really important and it's not like I think he's sexist and I'm offended or anything. His comics are complicated and that's a really important thing to do in comics, be complicated and not have a simple perspective. I owe a lot to him for that. We all do, I guess.

PWCW: What do you mean by “complicated”?

VD: I think comics are a really fantastic way to talk about nuanced and sharp topics. You can convey idiosyncrasies of personality and experiences so well with them. People are complicated and an experience can involve all kinds of complicated feelings. I think comics are a really good media for those feelings because you can meander and then get seriously into a topic and then pull it back and make a joke. Sometimes there is no conclusion, things are just the way they are. You're raising questions, you're not necessarily answering them. The comics form might not come up with a lot of answers, but it can really illuminate the questions.
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Featured artist

Vanessa Davis

           Featured product

Make Me A Woman

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