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Rover Arts raves about Susceptible

Updated September 10, 2013

"Growing Up Down"

by Heather Leighton
Rover Arts, May 15, 1013

Susceptible is Geneviève Castrée’s first full-length English-language graphic novel. The multi-disciplinary artist and Quebec native has crafted a moving tale about Goglu, a bright, dreamy little girl who has a less than ideal start in life. As the title implies, she is sensitive, but Vulnerable would have also been a fitting title.
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Featured artist

Geneviève Castrée

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  Canada Writes talks to Peggy Burns

Updated June 5, 2013

Caption This Comic Judge: Peggy Burns from Drawn & Quarterly

Canada Writes, June 3, 2013

Meet the judge of the Caption This Comic Challenge: Peggy Burns, the Associate Publisher of Drawn & Quarterly who has been keeping fanboys in check for over 10 years.

CW: What changes have you seen in the genre and the publishing side of the business since you started first at DC Comics, and then at Drawn & Quarterly?

PB: I started in comics in 2000 right before Persepolis, Jimmy Corrigan and David Boring transformed the entire industry for graphic novels. Over the past ten years, I have witnessed less of a reliance on stunts "let's review comics because there's a new Spiderman movie!" and comparisons "if you like Fun Home, you'll love this." Everyone from retailers to fans to press to librarians to professors now understand the depth and variety of the medium, and most importantly, that is it a medium with many genres.

CW: What characteristics make a manuscript jump out of the slush pile?

PB: We never, ever read scripts. We like to read fully formed comics. We mostly prefer to see mini-comics or pamphlets to truly read the cartoonist's storytelling abilities. For us the art and the words are one, and reading a script gives us no idea if we will like a comic. Most of the submissions that come to the office aren't in tune with our mission, it is more like the artist got out name off a website of comic publishers. We have published submissions, though, notably from Keith Jones of Toronto and Brecht Evens of Belgium. And reactions to their submissions were immediate. We received the package, opened it, were completely floored by their ability and immediately made plans to publish them. Otherwise, we rely on shows like TCAF in Toronto, Expozine in Montreal and SPX in Bethesda MD to look for new artists with new minicomics. (Minicomics are self-published comics, similar to zines.)

CW: You work with a lot of well-known comics artists. Are they different from other people? Is there any truth to the “comic-book-nerd” stereotype?

PB: Maybe in mainstream comics, you'll find a lot of Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, but not in independent comics. You may be surprised to know how well adjusted and fashionable our artists are! It is true that cartoonists would rather just be working, and it is hard for them to be away from their drawing tables for a long period of time. And because they are often alone most of the day, we do often have to convince them to come out to do events, tours, festivals and press. I do think our artists turn down invitations more often than not!

CW: What is it that you love most about your job?

PB: I have been at D+Q for ten years, and I feel honored to be able to promote the work of the world's best cartoonists. The best thing is just being wowed every time you read a comic. I just read Palookaville 21 by Seth. Seth has been mostly working in fiction recently but this time, he shares stories from his youth, and you can see how his upbringing affects his art, which is similar to the book we just published by Gilbert Hernandez, Marble Season, but in opposite directions. Reading the comics just never, ever fails to knock you off your feet. Last Fall, I read an advance of our February 2013 graphic novel Susceptible by Genevieve Castree and I was sincerely moved by Genevieve's ability to tell her childhood story with a gentle and humorous yet serious touch, a careful balance not many authors can do with memoirs. Maybe the best example of being able to still be awe-struck is Building Stories by Chris Ware.
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Gilbert Hernandez
Geneviève Castrée

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Palookaville 21

The Paris Review highlights Susceptible

Updated June 4, 2013

"What We’re Loving: Crapalachia, Welty, Animalia"

by Clare Fentress
The Paris Review, February 22, 2013

My worst reading habit is not reading too fast, or too slow, or stopping books in the middle, or right before the end (though I do all of those things). It’s my persistent impulse to read books that reflect my mood—an impulse that, if indulged often, reduces my reading list to a positively uncatholic range of authors and subjects. But one recent evening, my initial, “safe” pick (James’s The Golden Bowl) was thwarted by Geneviève Castrée’s Susceptible, which, when spotted in a pile of neglected books, looked too intriguing to let alone. An autobiographical comic, the work is less like an illustrated diary and more like a scrapbook; it shows rather than tells, pasting together a series of vignettes to build a narrative of the author’s troubled early life. Castrée’s beautifully toned black-and-white drawings even read more like vintage photographs than they do sketches. The book’s pervasive melancholy is still lingering with me, a reminder of why we really read: to feel things besides our own emotions.
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Featured artist

Geneviève Castrée

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  The Austin Chronicle on The Freddie Stories and Susceptible

Updated June 4, 2013

"Under the Covers: Drawn and Quarterly? Fantagraphics? A Few Recent Releases?"

By Wayne Alan Brenner, Shannon McCormick and Erika May McNichol
The Austin Chronicle, May 10, 2013

Lot of amazing comic books and graphic novels and compilations of sequential art – or whatever label you wanna tag the stuff with – coming out lately.

...The Freddie Stories by Lynda Barry

Do you remember your childhood? At least enough to render it, with all its intricate personal details, as a series of comic strips? Lynda Barry does. That is, she remembers her own childhood, or at least she renders it or a fictionalized version of it (and that of siblings and friends) so vividly, with so many intricate personal (poignant, embarrassing, gnarly, seemingly crazed but perfectly logical at the time) details, as a series of comic strips –

(Perfectly logical at the time? Like when you did that thing with the ants and the cookie crumbs and the garden hose because you'd just seen a movie about General Patton and because Operation: Patton Ants was also less risky, paternal-beltwise, than setting your sister's remaining Barbie on fire?)
– as a series of comic strips that capture the core of being that age, at that time, in those circumstances.

She renders it in such a precise way that it hurts.

("Circumstances," yeah. In the Roast Beef Kazenzakis sense of the word.)

These are The Freddie Stories that Barry conjured for her altweekly-disseminated Ernie Pook's Comeek back in the '90s, presenting "a year in the life of the youngest member of a troubled, often dysfunctional family." Yes, dysfunctional – in a manner unknown to the rumored happy families that are all alike, with the youngest family member here, Freddie, AKA Skreddy 57, helplessly alive with funk and fantasy and terror and sorrow, galvanized (in that electrical-wire-in-a-dead-frog's-leg-muscle way) by the sheer immensity of existence and the relentless array of facts it offers for cataloguing, almost failing to survive the repressive and bully-bludgeoned journey to adolescence. These strips, along with many left out of the collection's earlier iteration, are offered in a beautifully made hardcover edition from Drawn & Quarterly. And, note: Even these strictly black-and-white scratchings of Barry's skilled and lyrical pen are presented against lined fields of color.

"When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you." Good old Freddie Nietzsche said that in another context, but he could've been talking about this presentation of a sort of larval abyss that can be as harrowing as the adult phase some of us carefully avert our gazes from. We recommend you look into this one from Barry and D&Q, see if your mouth isn't occasionally (maybe nervously) laughing while your memory-haunted heart breaks over and over and over.

– Wayne Alan Brenner

....Susceptible by Geneviève Castrée

Geneviève Castrée recounts her upbringing in Quebec, in the autobiographical, coming-of-age piece, Susceptible.

Goglu is the unplanned outcome of young love and a summer romance in Alberta, and details her childhood and adolescence with, mostly, her mother, who flounders with the basics of parenting. A likable but disengaged father, 5000 miles away in Vancouver, serves as a constant spectre in Goglu’s life; many of the sequences where her mother has overlooked or neglected some critical aspect of raising a child (such as getting shit-faced at a New Year’s party with Goglu along, or leaving her to get ready and take herself to school at a young age, or getting shit-faced in front of Goglu’s friends) emphasize his absence. More than a few recollections in Castrée’s book evoked an uncomfortable feeling, like the times you end up with front-row seats to the spontaneous argument between your best friend’s parents. When Goglu’s mother gets stoned and corners her in the basement – despite Goglu’s attempts to avoid her -- you can almost smell her dry mouth and stale breath as she tries to assuage her own insecurities with her daughter.

The self-taught artist renders her story through lovingly executed panels and an interesting narrative, but the book left me feeling empty. Castrée seems to write the book as an exercise in self-reflection, but I struggled to make the jump to connecting with the larger theme of nature vs. nurture. Is Goglu railroaded into the life that her mother lives: irresponsible, self-absorbed and complicit in her lack of forward movement? Castrée seems to point to yes, that she indeed is, in the opening sequence of the book, but leaves this open at the book’s close.

Susceptible was an uncomfortable and emotionally unsatisfying book, personally, but perhaps that’s the point. Castrée translates many of the recollections from her native tongue into English, which left me wondering if something was simply lost in translation. In all, Susceptible was a nice way to mark an evening, but failed to the deliver the lasting ruminations on its content the way other autobiographical works in this medium have.

– Erika May McNichol

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Featured artists

Lynda Barry
Geneviève Castrée

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The Freddie Stories

Inkstuds Interviews Geneviève Castrée

Updated June 4, 2013

"Geneviève Castrée Interview"

Inkstuds, May 16, 2013 2:35 AM

Cartoonist and musician Geneviève Castrée, joined me to talk about her new book from Drawn and Quarterly, "Susceptible". We also talk about some of the many projects she has going on in Anacortes Island in Washington State and musical work under the name Ô Paon.
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Geneviève Castrée

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  Booklist review of Susceptible

Updated May 2, 2013

Sarah Hunter
Booklist, 15 May 2013

In a series of spare first-person vignettes, Castrée pieces together the difficult childhood of Goglu, a French Canadian girl who lives with her alcoholic, self-destructive mother and distant, resentful stepfather. Goglu—tomboyish and with a perpetual self-conscious blush—strains against the influence of her genes, wondering where her own deep sadness comes from and hoping that she won’t succumb to the same troublesome lifestyle of her mother, who is desperate for her daughter’s attention and beset by manic episodes. As Goglu gets older, she seeks refuge in punk rock and drugs, but the strain of her destructive home life becomes too much to bear and she escapes to live with her biological father in Vancouver.

Castrée’s black-and-white, Scarryesque illustrations accompany tiny, precise cursive lettering that gives the whole work a whispered, confessional quality, as if each word were an embarrassing secret. At times, Goglu’s story is overwhelmingly, heartbreakingly sad, but Castrée leaves a glimmer of hope: a redemptive future shaped by art, independence, and unconditional love.

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Geneviève Castrée

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The Comics Journal reviews Susceptible

Updated May 1, 2013

"Reviews: Susceptible"

Rob Clough
The Comics Journal, 19 April 2013

Reading Geneviève Castrée’s childhood memoir is not unlike watching someone pull at every one of their old scabs and scars, leaving themselves bleeding and torn. And I do mean every one, as Castrée chronologically documents every hurt, every slight, every refusal of affection, and every thoughtless maternal dismissal. A child tends to crave routine, affection, agency, and a certain solidity from her parents. From her single mother, Castrée apparently received a life of constantly shifting emotional quicksand. The relationship between the two, especially as Castrée grows older, is less mother/daughter than big sister/little sister. Only the big sister is in charge of her younger sibling and authority has gone to her head, as she uses her position to severely punish her younger sister for any personal slight. Castrée is never given any choices or agency, no matter how small.

The book is divided into roughly two sections: pre- and post-adolescence. Pre-adolescent “Goglu” (Castrée’s stand-in character) is constantly confused and bewildered, desperately wanting to feel safe and secure. Instead, she gets a constant diet of her young mother acting like the immature partier that she is. We get scene after scene of her mother and her friends drunk, high, causing accidents, and getting into loud, upsetting arguments–all with Goglu present to watch them. The most malevolent member of the cast of characters is Omer, her mother’s icy live-in boyfriend. There’s almost a relish with which Castrée draws him–all sneers and furrowed eyebrows, as though he long ago crushed any compassion or gentleness he might have held in his expression. The first half of the book consists of Goglu trying to make sense of her world and come to terms with her absent father, who lives at the other end of Canada, and whom she does not see between the ages of five and fifteen. It climaxes in her overhearing her mother express regret at not getting an abortion, which of course manifests in guilt on Goglu’s part, as she urges her mother to go back to school.

Of course, that would presume that her mother’s emotional development didn’t end at the age of seventeen (when she gave birth). As she gets older, her drunken and stoned antics start to deeply embarrass Goglu, whose house is inhospitable to having friends over. The older her mother gets, the more she seems to regress emotionally. It’s not even a case of benign neglect, as Goglu is punished for arbitrary slights (like using Omer’s stereo or spilling something). Goglu starts talking back to her mother, with the insult of “drunkard” earning not just a grounding, but the silent treatment. As bad as physical abuse is from a parent (and Castrée documents only one occasion of this), emotional abuse can be just as scarring, and being totally shut out is something that inspires despair from a child. It’s also part of her feeling of total alienation that is heightened as a teenager. She’s an outsider at school (as one incident involving a bloody tampon being flung into her mouth demonstrates) and is confronted by the guilt of her mother telling her she’s responsible for her relationship with her boyfriend getting worse. Things come to a head when her mother doesn’t believe Goglu is a virgin and slaps her as Omer encourages that bit of violence. The violence is almost less hurtful than the continual accusations throughout her life that she’s a liar. That leads her to being seen by a doctor and nurse who take her seriously, who note that her anger is being turned back on herself. That’s an important note to consider when reading the end of the book.

Goglu slowly, painfully makes friends in the punk scene and consoles herself by being creative. There is a heavy Julie Doucet influence at work here in more ways than one, but especially in terms of her figure drawing (while lacking Doucet’s almost neurotic need to fill up every panel with details). Indeed, it’s the negative space that most often brings home Goglu’s sense of alienation, like one beautiful page with Goglu at its center, with some art supplies and paper slowly sprawling out from around her, with nothing else on the page. It’s her only connection to the world in that moment. Doucet and other cartoonists had to have been big inspirations, with Doucet being a Canadian cartoonist who broke free of alienating and limiting relationships.

A visit to her father reveals a man who loves her but is every bit the fuck-up her mother is. In this case, however, he has a loving and supportive partner who keeps him centered, so the effect is more a case of benign neglect. He doesn’t know how to help her, but he doesn’t stand in her way, either. Things come full circle for Goglu when she becomes pregnant. Rather than being furious, her mother is supportive and helps her to get an abortion. Her mother wants to help her avoid her own fate, which may be the only really great thing she does for her as a parent. At the same time, when Omer tells them that he wants to leave because Goglu and her mother are too close “and there’s no room for me,” accepting no responsibility for his own actions, Goglu knows things are over. She’s all set to move out but her mother refuses to co-sign on a lease, which leads her to go back to her father, who builds her a log cabin in the wilderness. That last bit was powerful both as a real-world event and as a metaphor: all he can do is give her a proper setting for her loneliness and alienation in hopes that she can come to terms with it.

Castrée does not defend her own actions as a teenager, nor does she have to. She was made to feel like a hopeless failure who can’t do anything right and has a hard time getting away from internalizing that feeling. Guilt and shame are her default feelings. If the end of the book feels a little childish (“I can do whatever I want”), it’s not because she’s acting like a child who makes petulant demands. It’s because she’s finally an adult who understands that she possesses the agency she’s craved all of her life, and that she doesn’t have to stand for the emotional blackmail her mother tries to inflict on her (“Well, you’ve abandoned me…”). Susceptible seems to be the final, necessary externalization of the anger and confusion that Castrée turned inward all her life. It’s telling that it’s been thirteen years since the events at the end of the book; that seems to be enough time to process memories while still feeling the emotions attached to those memories in the present tense. Castrée is clearly not ready to forgive, even if intellectually she understands the position her mother was put in. The result is a primal howl, perhaps less a compendium of wounds than an extended expulsion of built-up bile. I’ll be curious to see how she deals with the subject of her childhood in later work, if she does indeed even choose to do so. Castrée has created something beautiful and ugly as a marker for a childhood of neglect, uncertainty, and alienation.
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Featured artist

Geneviève Castrée

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  Genviève Castrée interviewed by The Comics Journal

Updated May 1, 2013

"The Geneviève Castrée Interview"

Naomi Fry
The Comics Journal, 17 April 2013

Geneviève Castrée is a Quebec-born cartoonist and musician whose gorgeous, carefully observed autobiographical graphic novel, Susceptible, was published in February by Drawn and Quarterly. In her comics as well as in her one-person music project, Ô Paon, Castrée’s sensibility is poignant but never maudlin, even when, as she does in Susceptible, she recounts complex and often painful moments from her childhood years, growing up in Quebec with a young single mother. Castrée, who now lives and works in the small Pacific Northwest town of Anacortes, WA, spoke with me recently over the phone about making art as a self-conscious person, the difficulties of writing truthfully about people close to you, and the relative virtues of walking away from conflict instead of resolving it. -Naomi Fry

“I Mostly Have Psychological Reasons for Wanting to Live Here”

Naomi Fry: How long have you been living in Anacortes?

Geneviève Castrée: Well, officially, as in legally, for about eight years. Before that there was a lot of coming and going and immigration confusion, because my husband and I wanted to move to Canada, but we couldn’t figure out where we wanted to live in Canada, and in 2005 I finally said, although it wasn’t really my life’s goal to move to the USA, that we should move here. My husband was raised in Anacortes, and I didn’t really have a sense of roots anywhere. It’s a small town and there aren’t many young people, which actually gets difficult socially sometimes. It’s great for families, but if you don’t know if you want to raise kids [Laughs,] or you don’t know what you want to do with your life, this is a terrible place to be. You have to have something going on to live here.

It’s pretty unique for an active artist to live in such a small place. How does it work for you?

I mostly have psychological reasons for wanting to live here. It’s funny, I can talk a lot, and I can totally take up space in social situations, but overall I’m quite introverted as a person, and I really appreciate the space. I am rich in space here. It’s actually really nice that way. There’s this sort of magical power to Anacortes. The amount of money we pay per month to own a house here is probably half what somebody would pay to rent a place in New York. I have a room that I can close the door to and make a studio out of, and if I want to make music I have several options, there’s a room in my house that I can use for that, or we also rent this old Catholic church in town that some friends and my husband and I can access whenever I want and make music and practice. That’s the beauty of living in a small town. Since there’s always an exodus to the cities, the artists who choose to live in small towns have all these resources.

I often wonder what it would be like to live in a smaller place.

It’s kind of a total cliché to say this, but this is one of the advantages of this weird digital era we live in. If you’re a cartoonist or a musician or a writer there’s a long list of jobs that you can do from home, and it’s expanding. That’s the exciting part. you don’t have to be in a large city center anymore. I do miss the sense of community. Like, living in this town I really crave women peers who are closer to my age, who make art that I can relate to. Often, if I meet an artist who lives in this town it’s a seventy-year-old lady who does paintings of dolphins [Laughs.] And they’re like, “I know exactly how you feel!” And I’m like, I don’t think you do [Laughs.]

“In fact, I hope you don’t” [Laughter.]

“Weird, Bold Things”

Before Susceptible, your first book with D+Q, you were publishing with L’Oie de Cravan in Montreal, right?

Yeah, I was a teenage cartoonist. The first book that I did with L’Oie de Cravan came out in 2000, when I was 18. I was a lot faster when I was younger. I guess maybe my style or the drawing itself was less developed. And then I did a couple more books with them. The third book, Pamplemoussi, was also a record. That was the first time that I made music. I thought, ok, I want to make a book and I want it to have music, and I don’t want anyone else to write the music, I’m going to do it. So I kind of had to teach myself how to make notes with the guitar, just to figure out a way to write songs and find a way to make some sounds come out of a guitar as I was singing them. And it was after that, in 2007, that I made another book that included a record, in collaboration with K records.

So you weren’t at all a musician before you made music for your own comics?

No, I wasn’t.

What was it about the connection between the visuals and the music that you felt had to happen?

I don’t know. It’s not like I’d never ever considered making music before. When I was a really really little kid I went to this arts oriented school, for the first grade, and we had violin lessons in the morning. We didn’t go very far, we played “Frère Jacques” and that’s about as far as it went [Laughs.] But I do wonder often now that I look back, maybe it just awoke something in me, the way a child who is exposed to a foreign language as a baby has an easier time learning languages as an adult. And I was really obsessed with music as a teenager and I did have a lot of moments where my friends and I would “jam” in a basement, but I didn’t know how to play guitar and I mostly yelled lyrics that I made up on the spot. But I did know for a while that I wanted to make music and this was sort of my chance. People can be really bold when they’re young. I was 20 or 21 when I first got the idea to make music. And I think you do these weird bold things you might not have the self-confidence to do later on. The more I think about making music the more embarrassing I think it is [Laughs.]

Isn’t the whole idea of creative endeavor sort of embarrassing? For me it’s writing, but whether you’re a cartoonist, or a musician, or a writer, isn’t there a level of self-consciousness about the whole idea of self-expression?

For me, with music, even if I just had a show to play tonight, just the act of getting up on stage in front of a bunch of people and singing from the heart (Laughs,) if you think about it too hard it’s never gonna happen: like, oh my god, look at me, I’m singing in this pretty voice, these lyrics that I applied myself to write. If you think about it your lyrics start to sound, like, who the fuck do I think I am? (Laughs.].

Before talking to you I went online to look at Ô Paon videos, and there’s this one clip where you’re wearing this green hood, and you’re singing in front of an audience?

Yes, this was here, in Anacortes, as part of this festival we organize, my friends and my husband and I, which we used to call What the Heck. That hood video, that’s a great example of how embarrassing it can be, the only way it can happen is if you don’t think about it too hard. I had this costume thing that I had made for this photo shoot I was doing with a friend of mine for this other music project that I do called Urine [Laughs.] I just had this costume and on the day of the show I grabbed it on my way out and as one of the organizers of the festival, I was working the door and telling these volunteers what to do, and there’s all this stress, cause I have twenty people staying at my house, and the only way I could switch to performer mode was just to put this dumb green coat over myself (Laughs.] In trying to explain it, in hindsight, it’s like, yeah, I’m wearing this green cloak, because green is the color of nature, trying to give it any other meaning sounds so stupid [Laughs.]

When you switch into performer mode, or even writer mode, or artist mode, you need some sort of theatrical permission to say: ok. I’m doing this. And recognizing this and finding that you need these switches to do these borderline ridiculous acts…

I think that “borderline ridiculous” is a really good way to put it, actually. Because that’s what it feels like sometimes. I know plenty of males feel like this, and I hate making these generalizations about gender, I’m most definitely a feminist and I hate being like, this is what men do, this is what women do. But socially, I think that even if your parents are the coolest, raddest, want to help you break gender boundaries… basically even if your parents are doing this tremendous job, you go out into the world and you go to school, and in school you’ll learn these dumb stereotypes you’re supposed to fit into. And little girls are told to be pleasant, and to please, and boys are told to be boisterous and sturdy and have confidence, and to lose that fragility as a woman, like, oh, people are going to take pictures of me when I’m doing these really ugly faces on stage and I have to be ok with it, it’s really empowering but it’s also… the only way to deal is to completely remove myself… I’m so self-conscious so much of the time that the only way I can be onstage is to stop thinking.

It sounds very stage-centric, what you’re talking about, but can it apply to your comics, especially because they’re so personal? Is it easier to write about yourself as a child and a teenager, rather than, say, as a 26-year-old?

With Susceptible, it wasn’t that embarrassing for me, because the things that happen in it are from such a long time ago, and when you’re a kid you’re just inherently more vulnerable, you’re in this position of, whatever stupid thing you do, it’s not exactly fully your fault yet. I mean, I haven’t really processed what it was like for me as a 26 year old. Also, there’s a part of me that wants to keep it private, since it wasn’t that long ago, I feel as if I’m in exactly the same place I was when I was 26 years old [Laughs.]

But, you asked if it was stage-centric, and actually, I do think it applies for a lot of forms of art. I didn’t go to art school. I just went to high school, got my diploma, and that was that. But I have so many women friends who I really thoroughly admire who have had a fancy-pants arts education and who don’t work in anything related to what they studied, and when they do make art, it sounds horrible to say, but it’s kind of weak, some of the time? Like, a friend who went to this incredible art school made an art show of felted things. I’m not saying that you can’t make something that’s felted and is rad, but if you make a show of felted woodland creatures, why did you need to go to art school? But I think it’s self-consciousness – “I’ve seen other people do it and it works so…”

So do you feel lucky in a way that you hadn’t had an extended arts education?

Yes, I often feel lucky. Mostly because I don’t have that debt to pay back! [Laughs.] But, I feel that I was really unruly, I got out of school and I just wanted to do my thing. Who knows how long I can keep this up? But for the time being… I mean, I stand by everything I made, at least from the point where I started having somebody else publish my work. I sure hope that I do better things now, but I’m not embarrassed by those earlier comic books. And I feel like maybe I had more time to do trial and error before making my D+Q debut, instead of having my D+Q debut be when I was twenty.

“It Took Me 11 Years”

How did the connection with D+Q come about?

Well this is really ironic to say after I’ve told you this story, but the first time I was actually approached by D+Q was when I was 20. I met Chris Oliveros when I was 18, we went to this comics festival in France and there was a big group of people from Quebec. And then when I was 20, I remember I got my first email from Chris in 2001, talking about how he’d like to publish a book by me. And so it took me 11 years to come up with something where I could say, would you like to publish this? [Laughs.]

So, seriously, you’ve been in touch for eleven years?

Yeah. Doesn’t that sound really really really dumb? [Laughter.]

So how did that work? Did you keep in touch occasionally, or did you just lose touch for nine years and then two years ago you were like, hi, I have a book? [Laughs.] This is really fascinating.

I don’t know! [Laughs.] Well, first I felt a huge sense of loyalty to my other publisher in Montreal. He would never have been bothered by me publishing with D+Q. Ever. He actually was very clear about it: if you do a book with D+Q it’s just good for me. I just felt this sense of, I was working on this book project for him, and I think there was a lot of leftover intense family stuff that I didn’t know exactly how to deal with. And the weird self-consciousness stuff got much bigger, and like a lot of artists I struggle with depression, and then I got involved in music, so basically I had too many things going on at the same time.

So this was this sort of thing at the back of your mind, going, I need to take that next step but I’m not ready now…

In all honesty, I don’t think I was ready. It was nice of Chris and so flattering of him to invite me and to see something in me that he felt I was ready to do a project. But I sort of didn’t know what story would be good enough, and then in 2009 I just came to the realization that the best story I have to tell is to get rid of this family thing. I kept feeling I kept telling the same story over and over but in these camouflaged, hidden ways, metaphorically, poetically, talking about the depression I felt related to my childhood. Finally I was like, I just need to take this huge dump and move on! [Laughs.]

Yeah, a lot of your earlier work was more metaphorical and fantastical, less realistic.

I feel that I’m done doing more fantastical things. Who knows, maybe in ten years I’ll be singing a different tune. But it’s weird, because as I was making this book based on reality, I’ve encountered people who’ve said, oh, I wish there was more fantastical elements in this. And I personally feel there’s enough fantasy out there, there are enough beautiful landscapes. In the past, I think there were two factors in making those kinds of fantastical comics. The first factor was mainly that I was terrified, because I felt I still was under this impression that whatever happened at my house when I was a kid was nobody’s business but my own. And the second factor was that I was lazy [Laughs.] My default mechanism was to draw landscapes that were more from my imagination, and that’s kind of easy to draw, because you can make your pencil go and not have to look at anything. And for this book, because I wanted it to be as close to reality as possible, I had to find images, and I had to think of what kind of tree there would be in this or that geographical place, and in some cases look at photographs too, and I personally feel a lot more complete now that I’ve done that, as an artist I feel that I can do this! I can pull it off! And I just feel like a grownup about it. Also I care way more than I used to about facts, I think that all stories deserve to be from… even if I’m making stories that are not autobiographical, that are totally coming from my head, I like the idea that there would be these facts that could anchor it to a specific place in the world.

So, how true-to-life is Susceptible?

These are all memories from my childhood. I changed all of the names. But all the events are exact or as exact as I remember them. I’ve done maybe five interviews about this and I keep saying the same thing because I don’t know how to otherwise put it: I think that real, true autobiography is pretty much impossible. But I did write down all of the stories that I remembered and that I was thinking of doing in the book, and then I crossed some of them off because they were too redundant, or they made the book feel like a total drag to read, and then… it’s really funny to think about it so casually now, because when I was working on it was really really draining and emotional…

It was emotional to read it!

[Laughs.] Yeah, it was definitely emotional to work on! So I would do one kind of harsher story, and one that was milder, and the stuff that I was most excited about drawing right after the one that was hardest to draw. It’s a bit of an illusion because it sort of make the book itself look more consistent, because from page one to page 70 you don’t see this drastic evolution in my style, that I got much better at drawing [Laughs.]

How long were you working on this?

For 2.5 years, but the first year I was allowing myself to do other things, and then the other year and a half this was my only thing I was doing as my drawing project. I went on a music tour but that was pretty much it. Like the rest of my time was just really long hours of working on the book.

“The Most Selfish Thing I had to Do”

This is a question that obviously gets asked a lot of memoirists, but was it difficult for you to present family members in a light that might be compromising, or might open up old wounds?

It’s pretty surreal to do something like this. I was agonizing a lot, especially about my mom. I kept thinking, what am I doing to her? My intention was most definitely not to hurt. Even if it doesn’t feel cruel to other people, if she read it… first of all, I have no idea whether my mom knows this book is out.

Are you not in touch with her?

No, I’m not, and so… here’s the thing. I try to protect my family in this way, that there’s a part of me that wants to protect my family, not talk about them as real people. But then there’s another part of me that’s like, I just did this book. I don’t want to be a hypocrite about it. Like, “Oh, well, you’ll never know” [Laughs.] I feel comfortable basically saying that I was agonizing because I know I’ve broken her heart numerous times, already starting a long time ago. It’s just this thing, I have this magical power to break my mom’s heart.

Well, it seems from the book that she can break your heart too.

Well, it’s this cliché of this mother/daughter relationship. This book is the most selfish thing that I’ve ever had to do but I needed to do it. I could never have called her up and told her all these stories, the minute I would start to talk about it, and this is not just because of her, it’s just the way these conversations go, when things are very tender and sore in a family, you start trying to bring something really intense up and you get interrupted immediately and it just snowballs, and the only way for me to get everything out was to write a book about it. And the reason I wanted to write a book about it was not purely because of me, I was also meeting more and more people who had similar relationships with their families, it’s not straight up abuse, it’s not like Daddy’s Girl by Debbie Drechsler.

Oh God, I’m still traumatized by that book! [Laughter.]

It’s these weird nuances that I was trying to talk about, where you can come from a family where there are these really strange gray zones, and you don’t really understand why it feels so terrible to everyone involved, to the parents, and to the children, but it’s a common thing, so I felt inspired to make this book about how a family can love one another but still do some pretty traumatizing things.

The situation in the book is obviously not like Daddy’s Girl, that’s monstrous, but just thinking about a child like you’re describing yourself being in the book, vulnerable and unprotected in certain ways, it was really powerful. Even though I realized that things were hard for your mom too, being a young mother with no support and so on, it really made me feel angry!

Thanks, I guess, and at the same time, ugh [Laughs.] I was trying to be fair. But that’s the thing. Sometimes when you have an audience or a readership when you’re in conflict with someone… I’m in a conflict with my family but I’m creating this readership so I have something on them. They don’t have that. They don’t have anyone to defend them. They don’t have anyone to say what you just said to me: well, things were hard, or, your daughter is just an ungrateful bastard [Laughs.] I guess with this book I was feeling a lot of anguish about what type of difficulties, of torture, I was creating for my mom. And I just have to accept that weather or not I was going be doing the book, my mom was already feeling tortured by me. I think that no matter what you get from the book, no matter how many times someone is like, well it’s a kid, it’s a kid, you were a kid and you were treated that way, my mom was also put in this horrible situation; having a child at 19, and having to raise it on her own, and the way single moms are treated in our society is totally unacceptable. They don’t have enough help. Another thing is that a 19-year-old having a baby probably thinks it’s going to be easier than it turns out to be [Laughs.] I don’t think that many children are wanted, that’s nothing new. I think a lot of 35-year-olds have babies they weren’t planning on.

Are you in touch with your father?

Yes, mostly over the mail. I haven’t seen him in seven years. He did read the book, and one good thing about that was hearing him say, “at least the parts that I’m in are exactly as I remember them.” So it was good to have that approval. And also I knew that I could be honest about him. I knew starting the book that I had his approval, whatever I wanted to do I knew him and his girlfriend would be like, “the kid needs to do this” [Laughs.]

And also, just the fact that your mother didn’t abandon you, that you lived with her, would probably make that relationship in some ways more tortured. Because maybe it’s easier when there is that distance that your father created.

It was really hard for my mom to see me getting along with my dad because he hardly put any energy into raising me… In fact, he put zero energy into raising me [Laughs,] and then to see me having this relationship with him… I think a lot of teenagers feel like they don’t belong, like they’re aliens, and to find a blood relative of yours, not just a blood relative but your dad, and to find things in common and to be able to have a real conversation, that’s incredible, and that’s something that’s been going on between me and my dad throughout my adult life. With my mother there’s so much that’s left unsaid, and with my father there’s always been this openness, where I can just say whatever I want, including when I’m angry.

You start the book with an epigraph from a Joanne Kyger poem – “but blood does bring curiosity.” What was your intention with this quote?

The way I interpret it is, you’re related to this person: what does it mean? I do feel that way about everyone on my mother’s side of my family, and my dad too. I’m constantly in awe that my dad is my dad. I’m like, what? [Laughs.] But then we look at each other’s features, our faces, our hands, our feet, and clearly we are the same. On the side of my mother’s family it’s sort of a psychological link that I feel. There is this darkness that doesn’t get talked about. I don’t want to expose too many private details but I do think there are a lot of amazing crazy stories in that family that nobody talks about. I was like, I have to finish this book! Because I think there are some cycles in my family that need to be broken.

“Walking Away is not necessarily that Evil”

There’s something brave about deciding to break the cycle, even if it means not being in touch with your family.

Yeah, you just said the magical words, about not being in touch. That was a lot of what went behind making the book. There are a million movies about families that are going through something hard together, and then at the end the kid finally says something to the parents, and the parents accept it, and they’re happy, and they have this tearful embrace, and in real life, things don’t always happen that way, it’s actually quite rare [Laughs.] I wanted to have this story that’s real in the sense of, you know what, you really can’t do anything about it. Move on by yourself.

Or create your own family, or find your own partner.

Yeah. Sometimes fixing a problem, the solution can be… if you’ve tried all other things, walking away is not necessarily that evil [Laughs.] And then this other thing, time heals all wounds, that’s pure fucking bullshit. Maybe it does for some people, but… [Laughs.]

There’s a lot to be said for moving far away from your family, particularly your parents. It makes things a lot easier, in some ways.

Well, sometimes it breaks that weird umbilical cord. The thing I regret with my own relationship with my mother specifically is that something I’ve observed happening with so many of my other friends didn’t happen. I saw many of these friends who finished high school, went to college, and then when they came back for Christmas or whatever to their families, there was this new relationship. The relationship had transitioned. It was not painless, in most cases, but there was this opportunity to know your parents as this new thing. And in my case, I came back, and I was expected to go back to the room I’d been sleeping, and stay there. Continue to go to school, but come home every night, or get an apartment with my mom and just stay there. The opportunity to have a new relationship never came up.

On the one hand it seemed like there was a lot of openness between you and your parents, too much openness. You were exposed to things kids aren’t supposed to be exposed to—drug use, alcohol use, sexual dalliances. But then on the other hand it seemed that your mother and your step-dad were also very strict with you.

My roles were different from those of other kids. I was expected to be more like a friend, from an earlier age – as soon as I was able to have logical conversation, I was all of a sudden a confidante, and I was expected to behave more like a grownup. It’s really funny: I was offered two extremes. I was offered to be like a grownup in some senses, and then in some other senses, I wasn’t trusted with some really simple things, like using the stereo.

Why was that, do you think?

Quebec used to be this place that was super Catholic, and while some of my Montreal friends who are close in age to my mom and her boyfriend, they had these childhoods where there were only two kids, and they’d go to the movie theater, my mom and her boyfriend came from very small villages where the church still held a lot of power. And with my mom coming from a family of 16 children, she came from a different era, and both her and her boyfriend had these values from these olden days. So while the two of them had emancipated themselves from this religious upbringing—he traveled to India, and she smoked hash sometimes, and they thought they were pretty cool people who listened to Pink Floyd—they were still like, “this is not the tone of voice you use to talk to your parents, young lady”. And their idea of what an appropriate punishment would be what I could easily imagine was something from their childhood.

In one of the chapters, your mom comes and sits with you and a boyfriend, and she’s like, do you listen to Pink Floyd, and you want to kill yourself, “I’m so ashamed” [Laughter.]

Yeah, in those parts of the book I also wanted to show that I was kind of a snot, like, “oh, go away.”

I definitely identified with that. Now that I’m getting on in years and I’m a parent myself, I can totally see myself being the embarrassing mom, coming up and asking, oh, do you kids still listen to…

Belle and Sebastian? [Laughter.]


“I Just Procrastinate Until 3 PM”

What are you working on right now?

I’ve been getting into making porcelain volcanoes recently. The thing about this specific porcelain that I use is that it sort of collapses onto itself very easily. And so I’m trying to play with that. I can only build it up so high before it falls. So I’ve been doing things to the volcanoes to make them shoot out, all these tricks. I have made some porcelain sculptures in my house but lately I’ve been using this studio and it’s really great. One of the mad miracles of living here is I met this lady, Sue Roberts, who’s a sculptor, and she lives on the island right next to where I live in Anacortes, so I can ride my bike to the ferry for seven minutes and then the ferry ride takes seven minutes. It’s 15 minutes overall. It’s really exciting, you take a really fast boat and then you’re on the island next door, and I can work with porcelain in her studio. The great thing about porcelain as opposed to drawing is that I need to work a lot faster, and it’s never going to look like what I was planning in my head, so I just have to deal with what the clay is going to let you do.

So you’re saying it has less control than the drawing process?

Yes, probably because I’m just starting, I only started doing this three years ago, and I have so much other stuff going on that I’m definitely a novice. I don’t understand it as well as I understand the other stuff that I do.

How important is control for you in your process as a cartoonist? Do you plot out things in advance very carefully?

I don’t think I have that much perspective on my process. I may say one thing and then somebody else who has seen me at work might say, oh no, that’s totally wrong. I saw this in a couple of places, people saying that: the line is very controlled, and I was like, really? It is? [Laughs.] But, I guess I’m really fussy or we can say anal about how I want things to be, but I think that as I’m getting older, and also as I’m doing other things, I’m excited about the improvisation or mistakes that get made. I look at it and think, actually this looks much better or more alive than it would otherwise. You do things over and over and then there’s a little quirk that happens and you’re like, I’m going to leave it there!

What are you reading right now?

There was this cartoonist in Quebec in the early 80s called Sylvie Rancourt, and she did this autobiographical comic about being a stripper, in French, called Mélody. At the time it was translated into English and redrawn by this cartoonist named Jacques Boivin, and was published by Kitchen Sink. But I’m reading the original, that Ego comme X in France just republished. And it’s incredible, because this woman had no professional training. She sort of read some Tintin, and she sort of read some Archie comics… She decided to draw her adventures as a stripper, and she’d photocopy them or print them maybe and sell them to her customers in the strip club where she worked. And the drawings are really naïve but in a really beautiful way, it’s really rare, they’re always present, their roundness; somebody said that it looks a little bit Japanese inspired, though I don’t know where she would have gotten that from. So I’m reading it now and it’s blowing my mind.

And then this other thing I’m really excited about is this woman Ulli Lust, from Austria. I think she lives in Berlin now, and she has this comic that I read in French a couple of years ago, but Fantagraphics is publishing it now in English, and I’m thrilled. In English it’s called Today is the Last Day of the Rest of your Life. It also takes place in the 80s, and it’s a brick, it’s super thick, and it’s autobiographical. It’s about how when she was a teenager, she and a friend hitchhiked from Austria to Italy, and they were these punk kids, and I feel like, as an autobiographical comic it’s mind-blowing, because the subjects that she brings into her story are things that happen to so many women that aren’t really discussed, that feeling of meeting a young guy your age and he’s basically forcing himself on you, and that awkwardness, and being this open-minded woman, and you don’t really want the guy to touch you a certain way, and these really bad things happen, and you want to be badass about it, but he basically rapes you. And it’s an amazing book, because she never ever has any self-pity, and it was kind of tricky, reading it; I read it as I was working on my book, it was kind of crazy to read something like that, because I was like, I’ll never be able to make something this good [Laughs.]

Are you reading anything that’s not comics?

I’m reading a lot of Margaret Atwood. I’m going through this Atwood obsession, I’m reading this book of interviews with her, and I’m finding it very inspiring. I think at one point Joyce Carol Oates asks her to discuss her day and Margaret Atwood is like, “Oh, I don’t know I just procrastinate until 3 pm and then I frantically start worrying about writing”, and you’re so excited to read it and you’re like, oh, that’s my life! [Laughs.]

I know. You get to this age where you realize that what you’re doing—that’s the way life is. You keep waiting for this moment, you imagine it to be one thing when you’re younger, and when you become an adult you realize, I guess that’s the way most everyone is.

GC: She’s very prolific as a writer, she wrote a lot of great books, and so it’s exciting to think that… this is something’s that’s good and grounding, that people who are productive seeming have the same flaws you’re struggling with. And in her case what’s also exciting is that she didn’t start her writing career until a little bit later. She got it going between the ages of 30 and 35, which is also something I can relate to. And that’s good. I think we have this obsession with youth, and it’s getting worse now, in this digital age, everyone has to be the youngest singer, the youngest platinum-selling whatever… [Laughs.]

“Look at That, They’re all Ladies”

So you’re reading mostly stuff by women?

It’s funny; I’ve been feeling this duty to archive these comic books made by women lately. Often if I’m in a comics store and I find a comic made by a woman either in the past or from now, I’m more drawn to it. It’s not like I’m the sort of person who’s like, oh, I’m going to support sisterhood first before anything else. I just want to buy whatever I want. But lately, somehow, listing things that I’m reading and buying, I find myself going, oh, look at that, they’re all ladies.

Does it have to do with the autobiography thing? That you’re drawn to artists who are able to represent experience truthfully, and so you’re more attracted to women because it makes sense that they’ll represent experiences that matter to you more fully?

Partly. I don’t know what everybody thinks of my book, but a big chunk of the people who have given me good feedback on my book are women who can relate to it. And I assume it’s because the mother/daughter thing is not something many men can relate to. But I guess the reason why I’ve been feeling this duty to archive these women comics is, I do think that there needs to be more of a readership. I feel like it’s so easy to find an incredible woman cartoonist. I could go into a bookstore and I could find you so many women writers and cartoonists, and it wouldn’t be a big deal. But to find a group of women who are interested in comics, that’s a problem. I see some of these women’s books as masterpieces, for instance that book I was telling you about, Mélody, I think of it as this incredible thing, and also Ulli Lust’s book is a masterpiece. And I feel like, why aren’t these people more successful than they are, why weren’t they made a bigger fuss over when they were making these books I’m freaking out over? And people can be like, oh, it’s because of sexism, and I definitely think there’s a shit-ton of sexism, but I also feel like, who’s gonna read these book if none of my lady friends read comics? All these super awesome women I know are not interested in comics. Whenever I have women friends come over to my house I always put books in their hands, you should check this out, this big stack of things, and they’re always really into it.

So you think it’s a question of introduction?

Perhaps. A lot of my friends who I really admire and love and adore Kate Beaton’s comics, but don’t read anything else. And I agree, Kate Beaton is rad, but once you’re finished reading this one Kate Beaton book you have you can check out some other stuff, too!
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Geneviève Castrée

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The Fulcrum praises Susceptible

Updated April 15, 2013

Max Szyc
The Fulcrum, 4 April 2013

4 / 5

QUEBEC CITY NATIVE Geneviève Castrée’s latest book, Susceptible, might appear to be a typical autobiographical graphic novel, as it covers all the norms of the genre, such as the trials and tribulations of teenage life. While its subject matter may be familiar, its strengths lie in Castrée’s ability to juxtapose polished, cartoonish art with emotionally raw excerpts of her life.

Chronicling the artist’s upbringing in Quebec from her birth until her 18th birthday, Susceptible manages to hit an emotional nerve that contemporary autobiographical classics like Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Craig Thompson’s Blankets hit years ago. Despite its occasional humour, Castrée keeps Susceptible mostly serious as she details experiences that include living with her often-unruly mother, her rarely seen father, and her overall feelings of ostracization. Castrée develops a love for punk rock and becomes friends with a group of similar misfits, and also shocks the reader with harrowing experiences including brushes with suicide and an unwanted pregnancy.

Susceptible is a rarity in the comic world because it features mostly cursive text. While visually appealing, it can also be a strain on the eyes, especially on pages that are brimming with dialogue. Fortunately, the short length of about 80 pages means that these strained moments are few and far between. Susceptible does feel notably short, and its brevity will leave readers wanting more, but despite its text issues and length, it manages to be a brave work of art that will hopefully put Castrée on the map.
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  Geneviève Castrée on Dans Ta Bulle

Updated April 4, 2013

"Épisode 210 : Geneviève Castrée"

Laurent Butin
Dans Ta Bulle, 2 March 2013

Julie et Christophe étant en vacances, le troisième comparse en profite pour être créatif et utilise la console pour faire de l'art abstrait. Il réussit quand même à passer l'entrevue que Julie a fait avec Geneviève Castrée, la semaine précédente, lors du lancement de son livre Susceptible à la librairie Drawn & Quarterly, ainsi que quelques-unes de ses chansons !
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Susceptible praised on Bookslut

Updated April 4, 2013


Martyn Peddler
Bookslut, 2 March 2013

When I was young, I wrote only in comic book capitals. The lettering in comics always felt alive to me in ways typesetting couldn't fathom. Isn't that why the world hates poor, desperate Comic Sans? It's a zombie font, pretending to have a life it never earned.

The first thing I noticed about Geneviève Castrée's Susceptible was the lettering: cursive and cramped. Even the publishing details inside the cover is written the same way. That's all it took to convince me I was reading her diary. "I often think about what is innate and what is acquired," she begins. "I wonder if it is possible for a sadness to be passed from one generation to the other."

Underneath the words, a small child becomes tangled in vines, brought to tears, fighting and screaming as she grows older. It's a nightmare -- more so as it happens on an otherwise empty page. But when this girl finally tumbles into a more traditional scene, in which she asks her grandmother for details of their family history, it's still adrift on a sea of white.

It's one of the most striking things about how Castrée illustrates Susceptible. She does use panels, word balloons, and elements you'd expect. Often, though, they fall away, leaving characters suspended in nothing. When backgrounds appear, they're like sets rolled out by invisible stagehands. Instead of making the story seem artificial, it works as subjective realism. Fragments of memory, recreated in ink.

Susceptible is the story of Goglu, a girl growing up in Quebec with her mother, Amere, after her father leaves them for British Columbia: "It's like a mythical kingdom where dads go to disappear." Goglu recalls the night her father sitting on his motorcycle outside, the headlights turning the rain into glowing aura. The way Castrée draws it, it could be beginning of a fairytale.

Goglu's poor enough to have to have water on cereal instead of milk; she's alone enough to get herself ready and off to school before she can read or write. Her mother's boyfriend, Amer, doesn't like her much, and complains that she says hello to him, every day, when he returns from work. As Goglu gets older, despite her best efforts to find a space for herself within the family, it's like she lives alone "with two accountants I can no longer count on."

Rather than a broad biographic sweep of this-and-this-and-then-that-happened, Castrée carefully picks her moments and lets us glue them together. Goglu catches her mother snorting coke. Goglu stays at a friend's house and sleeps in a boy's empty bed. Out at a club, Goglu lies under a table and thinks, "I am a hole." Years pass throughout the book, sometimes announced, sometimes barely noticed. Things get worse before they get better.

But even when Goglu is broken, miserable, trying so hard or giving up altogether, I never thought Castrée was trying hard to break my heart. The narration might be why. It's commenting on the past -- allowing it hilariously prescient chapter titles like "House Fire 1" -- from the safety of the future. It's detail-focused, often dryly funny, and its cursive style means you have to look closely to read it. It slows you down. It demands attention. Castrée tells all, but doesn't show all.

Some grim memories you'd expect to get the most dramatic weight are only spelled out in words. Is Castrée worried they'd read as melodrama? Are some too painful to recreate in pictures? Do words seem more concrete than images, and is that true no matter what their language? Castrée wrote Susceptible first in French, then translated it into English herself, and I wonder how those changes seeped into Goglu's story.

In the hypervisual, hyperconfessional world of comic book memoirs, it's a sweet shock to be told there's something you're not allowed to see. In a chapter titled "In Love," all we see is the outside of a pillow fort: "We draw inside of it and do other things which aren't too serious but I still want to keep them private."

In a recent interview with Chris Randle, Castrée described Susceptible as autobiography, and added that "true autobiography seems impossible once it has been put on the paper." If you think everything here is true, then yeah, it hurts all the more. But you know there's some kind of happiness waiting from the moment Goglu first begins to draw. Or if not happiness, at least the promise she will write and draw the book you're reading. She will be talented and honest and, most of all, older.

Another, earlier moment of happiness: Goglu rides to day camp, grinning, and calls out "See you guys tomorrow! Goodbye!" behind her. The page is otherwise empty. The book's worst family dramas close the page around Goglu, trapping her, infecting her; all this white space isn't loneliness or limbo. It's bliss. Just Goglu in the past and Castrée in the present. Her words thread themselves above and around the art like a lifeline.

"I discover true solitude," she writes, "and I savor it."
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  Vol. 1 Brooklyn talks to Geneviève Castrée about her "deeply compelling" work

Updated April 4, 2013

"Fragmented Memories and Revising Badminton: A Conversation with Geneviève Castrée"

Tobias Carroll
Vol. 1 Brooklyn, 22 March 2013

The work of Geneviève Castrée encompasses art, music, and comics, all of which share a common defiance of tradition. It’s idiosyncratic and deeply compelling, no matter the media where one encounters it. Most recently, she is the author of the autobiographical graphic novel Susceptible, which follows its protagonist Goglu through her childhood. That experience is a more hazardous one than it seems: her mother loses herself in intoxication and a neverending bad relationship. Throughout, there are glimmers of hope: Goglu’s discovery of punk rock among them. I caught up with Castrée via email to discuss her various projects.

Looking at the title of Susceptible, I find myself interpreting it in different ways. Does it apply to the ways that Goglu is hamstrung by circumstances; the way the adults are prone to moments of weakness; or something entirely different?

The title is meant to be applied to all the characters, but originally when I started working the book I was only thinking of Goglu. In Québec the French word “susceptible” is often used to describe a hyper-sensitive person, a person with a quick temper. I liked that about it. I liked starting out the story with a feeling of “Blame the kid. She was born damaged.”

The plant metaphor that opens the book is immediately striking: both beautiful and intensely painful to look at. How did you first come up with it?

To me the plant in the introduction is a bit of a cliché, and I am fine with it. I needed something easily understandable to the reader. I had an organic gardening magazine at my house with tips on how to grow squash. It had many beautiful photos of squash plants with blossoms. I guess I liked that some squashes are native to North America. That was important to me. My thinking process here is disappointingly transparent.

When structuring Susceptible, did you first work on the individual vignettes and then arrange them, or did you have a more set structure in mind?

I get very lazy about drawing the same thing too many times, and also I don’t like being stuck in panels. To make this book I wrote out a long list of memories which felt worthy of sharing. Then I scratched out what I thought was redundant, petty, or impossible to draw in comic form. The memories came as fragments. I didn’t always remember what happened the day before or the week after, but I had a timeline. Other memorable events like birthdays, Christmas, what grade I was in and what town I lived in allowed me to stick to the timeline fairly easily. I guess there were so many intense feeling moments that specific eras of my childhood are more defined for me than they would be for other people my age.

To what extent do you have the composition of pages figured out before you begin drawing them?

For each page I do a very rough sketch of the layout, with rough panels and what I want in them. Because I don’t like that part very much I make the sketches really really small, it saves time and I can still remember what they mean. The rest is in my head. Then I start penciling, a clear line, on the actual page, on bristol board.

In the second half of the book, when you have a few scenes in which Goglu is far from sober, how did you go about reflecting those states of mind in visual terms?

I am not sure… The way I went about it is what you see in the book! Mostly what I remember from my childhood when I think of the “bad vibes” is a feeling of fainting. If an adult was yelling at me, if I had done something bad which would require a punishment, I would feel the blood leaving my head. When I started being clinically depressed, when my grades dropped, and when I started experimenting with harder drugs the same feeling returned. It’s a dizzying tingling sensation accompanied by nausea. The drawing I did of myself passed out under a table, the one with the grey gradients and the white dots, is as close as I got to describing that feeling visually.

You’ve curated exhibits of artwork in Anacortes. Have other artists making comics also found their way there over the years?

I have only curated one exhibition and it is the one that is up right now. I have been one of the three main curators of a summer music festival here in town for the past twelve years but that’s it. Some cartoonists have come to Anacortes, but only as visitors. Anders Nilsen visited a couple summers ago, Gabrielle Bell and Tom Kaczynski were here last October. That’s pretty much it. I wish people came more often, or for longer, but there aren’t that many reasons to be in Anacortes. In the summer this place is magical. It’s small but we have a few lakes which are wonderful for swimming. Days get filled with BADMIMPIM (a new version of badminton my friends and I invented), eating fresh local vegetables, swimming, and probably something involving music, drawing or printing in some way or another. In the winter we all go back inside and stop seeing our friends, even the ones who live in town, for months at a time. It gets pretty lonely and dark. You can see it on people’s face, their brain fogs up, just like the sky. It’s important to keep busy and leave town once in a while so you don’t lose all your social skills.

Do you find that there’s any overlap of themes or images between your comics work and the music that you make as Ô PAON?

This is a very popular question. I think it might be confusing when people do more than one thing. “What are you? A cartoonist? A musician?”. I see my music and drawings as two distinct entities. They require different types of thinking, different aptitudes. Each one is fueled by different aspects of my personality. Something that I am learning is that as show-offy as it is to perform songs in front of an audience, I prefer it to talking in front of a crowd. When I make music there is still a part of it which feels private, hidden, secret, it isn’t so interactive, so outgoing. I talk more than most cartoonists, but it comes at a price. It’s draining and disorienting. Music is cathartic and rewarding. And then nothing beats being alone in my studio, zoning out on drawings for hours. I listen to audiobooks or podcasts and sometimes the sense of peace and quiet makes me feel like my life is so rich. The months following me putting the finishing touches on Susceptible have been pretty chaotic. I can’t wait to get back to work, really.
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Geneviève Castrée interview on Hazlitt

Updated April 4, 2013

"Geneviève Castrée: The Impossibility of Autobiography"

Chris Randle
Hazlitt, 18 March 2013

Hazlitt talks with the Quebecois comics artist about her new book Susceptible, the influence of Montreal's underground comics scene, and the difficult of art of diaristic writing.
Her publisher Drawn & Quarterly describes Susceptible as Geneviève Castrée’s “debut” graphic novel, which is true enough, but don’t assume she’s a rookie: it follows a string of shorter comics, numerous recordings under the bandonyms Woelv and Ô PAON, and appearances in various gallery shows. And one of Susceptible’s central themes is that she was never allowed to be a novice for very long. The use of nicknames for major characters (the protagonist is called “Goglu,” for example) and fragmentary narrative muddy her story’s autobiographical aspects a little without obscuring its stark details.

Raised by a young, mercurial single mother in Quebec, her biker father absent and distant amidst B.C. wilderness, Goglu emerges from teenage self-destruction and the squinting disapproval of maternal boyfriends into a tentative independence. All this is rendered in evocative watercolour tones, the almond-eyed figures and free-floating compositions sometimes resembling visual art or book illustration as much as traditional cartooning. When flames waft from the family’s TV, or Goglu dreams about the aftermath of the École Polytechnique massacre, the imagery’s strange serenity makes its violence still more disquieting. Castrée’s writing is diaristic, down to the sardonic, funny asides: she says that British Columbia is like “a mythical kingdom where dads go to disappear,” and after recounting a boyfriend’s dismissal of her, adds “it’s ok, he’s not that interesting anyway.” I can’t imagine anyone ever saying that about Goglu, or Castrée. She emailed these answers from her current home in the Pacific Northwest.

You’re a multidisciplinary artist—you also make music and sculptures, for example—and I was curious about how you came to each of those mediums. When did you start drawing comics? Do you think the different practices inform each other all?

I was really into drawing and making art in general when I was a kid. I drew my first human figure at age two: a guy wearing a hat with a feather in it. I started drawing comics when I was really young. I remember being nine and being obsessed about comics in a way that I knew I wanted to turn it into my job as a grown-up. There weren’t really many successful comic authors from Québec at the time so I always kept in mind other career possibilities, archeologist, astronaut, always something more adventurous. As a young teenager I struggled with various problems at home and at school, and eventually discovered the underground comic scene in Montréal. I got involved really quickly, participating to photocopied anthologies, making my own mini-comics.

Music came later. It had always been something I wanted to do, but it required more self-confidence. There is something super embarrassing about making music if you think about it too long. You have to be impulsive. I tried to learn how to play guitar a few times and then decided just to play whatever notes I could come up with. I am a very visual guitar player. Having music in my life has been weirdly healing and cathartic, it’s more immediate, it’s a good way to get rid of your demons.

Both drawing and music are forms of meditation to me. I tend to zone out. What is truly improvised is what I have been making out of porcelain. I make small sculptures, nothing really serious yet. The clay goes from being super wet to being gritty within minutes it seems, so I am starting small. I am also playing around with where the clay decides to fall onto itself, using that. It’s not as dainty as when I am drawing, and I have little control or preparation over it. So again, this is a positive development. I don’t want to feel trapped by the things I do. I don’t want to be expected to do only one thing for the rest of my life.

Do you remember the comics you were first obsessed with? When you brought up Montreal’s underground scene a bunch of people popped into my mind, Julie Doucet and others, but I’m wondering what your earliest exposure to the medium was, maybe because you have this unusually illustrative style, almost like a classic children’s book at times.

The first comic books I ever read were Tintin, The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Blue Lotus and Tintin in Tibet, in that exact order. I have a weird memory for that type of details. I grew obsessed with those, but also with Mafalda, a character drawn by an Argentinian cartoonist named Quino, which was pretty huge in Québec in the eighties. People wore t-shirts and had posters with Mafalda on them. As a comic book character, she is brilliant, a little girl with strong opinions living in a country where the government is super corrupt. Obviously I didn’t understand most of it at the time. I also loved the Scrameustache, which was this cute cat-looking creature who had adventures in space. That was definitely more of a kid thing, less interesting to read as a grown-up.

Julie Doucet is the most obvious comparison when people talk about my work. I don’t really know what to say about it anymore. On the one hand she was most definitely a big influence, she was the best. Also, it is clear that she is sorely missed in the comic world. She left a big hole. But I read other stuff, too. I first heard of the possibility of underground comics in Montréal when I read a women’s magazine my mom had brought home from work, Elle Québec. Later my estranged father took me to a comic book store called Legends in Victoria, BC when I visited him. That is where I discovered Julie’s work, as well as Renée French, Chester Brown and a bunch of others.

Maybe there are cartoonists out there who work really hard on perfecting their style. It’s hard for me to relate to, I just sit down and although it comes out better as the years go by, I don’t really practice. Whenever I try to draw from life I feel like I can’t shake off the way I draw, my personal quirks. It just comes out that way. If anything I feel like I have more control over my hand-writing. That has changed more over the years.

Has the improvised nature of those sculptures affected the way you draw at all? Cartooning is so meticulous and controlled in comparison, and artists seem to chafe against it a lot.

I am not sure if it is the sculpting, or just some hangups I feel ready to let go of, but I think I am in the process of getting better at accepting mistakes, the stuff I can’t control. It has been really rewarding to give my hands or the materials I use just a little bit more independence. I am still pretty fussy. I have no problem with re-doing something from the beginning if I am not happy with it. And actually that is the best way sometimes, once in a while I’ll realize I have worked on something too long for it to be any good, so I start over and make a simpler version.

You’ve described Susceptible as “autobiographical,” but the central characters are all identified by nicknames (Goglu, Amere, Tete d’Oeuf) and the narrative is this non-linear cascade of memories. Were you trying to avoid the traditional memoir’s expectations of unadulterated (not to mention impossible) fidelity?

I keep repeating myself, but true autobiography seems impossible once it has been put on the paper. And then it loses even more of its meaning and credibility when it is read by someone else, through their filters. The best way I found I could share these memories was to do it in the style of “Susceptible”. What happened when I was a kid are fragments in my head, so I have fragments in the book. They do follow a timeline, they are in order. They are not everything that ever went on, but they are all true to what I remember and to what some of the other people present remember. I changed the names for two reasons: First because if I had used real names these people would still have been “characters” in my version of the story. Second because I was scared shitless. I don’t think my childhood was over-the-top terrible, but I was raised in this “What happens in our home is nobody’s business but our own.” type of way...So for me to expose so much of these sordid little details to any kind of readership was a big step.

I think the Quebecois specificity of characters like Mafalda or Scrameustache underlines your own background—French is your first language, and this book was also written in French originally, right? There’s the great little moment when Goglu hears her father’s English as an illegible scrawl. Was it difficult translating those very linguistic barriers into a different language entirely?

The book was written in French first, yes. The French version has a colour, a nuance in the language that is lost in the English translation. The French version has more of a sense of place, and perhaps even a sense of time. Expressions fall out of fashion, you know? I translated the book myself thinking that perhaps it would allow the words to still sound like me a little.

Those linguistic barriers were one of the hardest things to get across in comic book form. I borrowed that trick Chester Brown used in Louis Riel with the chevrons. I hope it came across to my readers. That is still one of the most complicated aspects of my childhood when I exchange stories with strangers, the fact that my dad and I didn’t speak the same language.

I was struck by how issues of class and economics recur throughout the book, e.g. when Amere is worrying about her mortgage. She’s portrayed as being capricious or even cruel at times, but you still make it clear that this is a young single mom struggling to support her daughter and forced into difficult choices because of that (staying with Amer, for example).

Honestly, issues of class were not really on my mind when I made the book. In my twenties I felt like so many of my friends were trying to highlight how poor they were when they were kids, almost as if a person should be ashamed of the comfort they experienced as children. Sometimes it feels as though having had a childhood where you had enough love, enough food, enough encouragement is super uncool. Anyway, the difficulties I was trying to get at were more on an emotional level. Here is this young mother raising a kid on her own while all her other friends are still so young and childless. She likes to party and her friends are still partying. And then she is trying so hard to move her and her child out of poverty, which she manages to do. But when it comes to her staying with her boyfriend I think the reasons go beyond class, they are deep and mysterious.

You drew Susceptible while living in the Pacific Northwest, not that far from where your father ends up in the story—do you think that influenced your depiction of Quebec at all? Even when the background is pure negative space, I felt a strong sense of place on the page.

That’s interesting. I was hoping the book would feel like it takes place in Québec, and then in British Columbia. I was hoping it would translate. I think me living on the West Coast for the last fourteen years has greatly influenced my idea of Québec. Maybe I am more sensitive to its culture than I used to be. It’s kind of a thrill to be in an airport and overhear people talking and detect the accent, even when the person speaking is too far away for me to hear the actual words, I can tell by the cadence or even sometimes the clothes they wear that they are from Québec. Now that I live in the United States I find Québec to be even weirder, even more of a rare treasure. t’s a complicated place and while most English-speaking Canadians can jokingly imitate what we sound like, tons of Americans have no clue. Their knowledge of North American geography and history doesn’t always include us.

This isn’t really a question, but that theme of ancestries and the tree/plant motif in the opening made me you wonder if you had seen Shary Boyle’s Canadian Artist project and its huge family tree.

I love Shary Boyle so much! I had the chance to meet her at a festival in Switzerland a few years ago and she is an incredible artist. Extremely inspiring. I am a big fan and try to follow her work as much as I can but I have not seen her Canadian Artist project. I will check it out. In my case, when I made my book I didn’t think drawing a plant to symbolize my family and roots was that groundbreaking. I actually based my drawings on a squash plant with blossoms. I have been sort of obsessed with the idea of burying a full squash in the ground and watching it grow. Will it rot? Will it sprout leaves?

And finally...what are you working on at the moment, comics or otherwise?

I tend to have too many projects on the go and I have a hard time putting the finishing touches on them. I have been carrying around ideas for at least another three books. And there is the music side of my life, too. I have been neglecting some of my life priorities...In the immediate future: I have put together a one-day festival in the town where I live, Anacortes, Washington. The festival coincides with an exhibition I curated at a very nice gallery in town. Fellow Canadians Julie Doucet and Nadia Moss are in it and so am I and there are six other artists. [The festival is called the Anacortes Unknown Music Series vol. II: “OURS”] It’s good to get out of this navel-gazing zone I have been in for the past three years.

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  CBC puts Susceptible among "great books to give to a young woman today"

Updated April 4, 2013

From "Five great books to give to a young woman today"

CBC, 8 March 2013

(...) Quebec writer and artist Castrée has been compared with Lynda Barry for her frank and sometimes painfully personal work. Her new book from Drawn & Quarterly is a devastating coming-of-age graphic memoir about a young girl torn between her divorced parents living on opposite sides of the country and forced to grow up too fast. (...)
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Las Vegas Weekly calls Geneviève Castrée "a rare talent"

Updated April 4, 2013

"Book Review: 'Susceptible'"

J. Caleb Mozzocco
Las Vegas Weekly, 27 February 2013

Canada’s Geneviève Castrée is an artist and a cartoonist, but she’s also a musician, performing under the name Ô Paon. That might explain why her striking and heartbreaking yet oddly uplifting graphic memoir Susceptible seems composed more than written, an album more than a novel. In it Castrée is Goglu, a young girl who doesn’t see her father from age 5 to 15, and whose drinking, drugging mother doesn’t exactly provide a stable environment. In flat black-and-white art featuring characters with a religious icon-like simplicity, sometimes embedded in a void of un-drawn-upon white space, Castrée recounts the depressing story of her childhood, which earns a happy ending merely by ending. Goglu eventually becomes an adult, and thus master of her own destiny. Well, there’s that, and the fact that we know she will grow up to be an incredible artist with a rare talent for emotionally piercing storytelling, the evidence of which we hold in our hands.
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  London Free Press praises Geneviève Castrée's "revealing" memoir

Updated April 4, 2013

"Reader Pulled Into Goglu's Difficult Situation"

Dan Brown,
London Free Press. 28 February 2013

Genevieve Castree’s Susceptible is about claustrophobia — not the kind that comes from being trapped in a small space, but the sort resulting from being raised in a smothering family.

The victim here is Goglu, a young punker growing up in Quebec who can’t seem to escape her mother and stepfather. The power of the book is that the pressure of the situation is palpable to the reader.

Goglu’s sullen face, framed by a hoodie, stares out at us from the cover.

Along with the emotion-torn teen, we experience her first beer, first joint, first snort of PCP, first abortion.

Although Castree follows in the footsteps of another Drawn & Quarterly creator, Paul Rabagliati, this is no Paul Moves Out.

Instead, many of the black-and-white images seem to float in space without any sort of background or tether to the page. The effect is something along the lines of a children’s book that’s been drawn while the illustrator is on acid.

This is a quick read, but not a light one. It is a revealing glimpse into the life of one young person and continues the great Canadian graphic-novel tradition of memoir. Now that she’s got the customary coming-of-age tale out of her system, I can’t wait to read more of Castree’s work.

For further reading: Jeff Lemire’s Essex County, Michel Rabagliati’s Paul books.
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Susceptible one of Portland Mercury's "Comics Worth Reading"

Updated April 4, 2013

From "Comics Worth Reading: Teen Angst and Space Princesses"

Alison Hallett
Portland Mercury, 20 February 2013

THE DEBUT graphic novel from Quebec-born comics artist Geneviève Castrée has the look and feel of an autobiographical comic, though it's not marketed or presented as such. The book feels so personal, though, that it's hard to believe it's fictional.

The story follows a girl named Goglu from childhood to adulthood in Quebec. She's mostly raised by her mother, and by a borderline-abusive stepfather; her elusive birth father disappears and reappears. (He lives in British Columbia, which is "like a mythical kingdom where dads go to disappear.") Her young mom is a heavy drinker who likes to party on weekends, and some of the book's most profound and uncomfortable moments are of a mother's recklessness filtered through the perception of a tiny child.

It's a slim volume, but Castrée's tiny cursive lettering means it takes a surprisingly long time to decipher each page—also she's prone to drawing speech bubbles that crowd and jostle, approximating a jumble of voices talking at once. As absorbing as it is, though, it should be longer—Goglu's childhood is more fully realized and more enlightening than her teen years, which speed by in a blur of drugs, boys, and ever-increasing family strife.
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  McGill Daily praises "real and human" storytelling in Susceptible

Updated April 4, 2013

"A Life In Pictures"

Daniel Woodhouse
McGill Daily, 21 February 2013

Daniel “I wonder if it is possible for a sadness to be passed from one generation to the next…” writes Geneviève Castrée, in her latest graphic novel, Susceptible, as a naked depiction of herself walks across the pages. In the book, she begins as a baby, and grows into adulthood alongside an innocuous-looking plant that soon envelops her and forces her to the ground, overwhelmed. The story that follows is an autobiographical retelling of her early life (with names changed) that makes you wonder about the answer to exactly that question.

We join Goglu, a two-year-old child of separated parents. She lives in Quebec with her mother, Amère, who, having borne Goglu at a young age, now struggles to make ends meet and enjoy a life as a young woman alongside dealing with parental responsibilities. An antagonist looms in the form of Amer, Amère’s boyfriend, who becomes a divisive figure in the relationship between Goglu and her mother, and becomes an increasingly unsympathetic figure as the story unfolds. Fittingly, amer and amère both mean “bitter” in French.

The narrative is formed out of collections of incidents, recollections, and reminiscences. The small details of suffering come alive on the page: Goglu’s rucksack full of toys is stolen on a train journey; she’s sent on lonely trip to the pharmacy in freezing weather for her hungover mother; she eats her cereal with water instead of milk.

The sense of location is faultless. Whether it is the underlying language politics of having a francophone mother and anglophone father, or simply the Montreal metro maps that appear in the background of a frame, wider events creep into the context of her life, from the École Polytechnique shooting to an arson attack on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. Some of these events don’t seem to have significance in the wider context of the story, yet most fall in thematically, and all serve to root the reader in the place and time.

In an email interview, The Daily asked Castrée about the importance of location in her work, as well as how things have changed since left Canada (she now lives in the Pacific Northwest of the United States). “I wanted to make a book that gave a fairly good idea of what Quebec felt like in the eighties and nineties, from the French side of things. In the past my stories have taken place in weird dreamscapes, and that was mostly due to me being sort of lazy and unruly. I found it more fun to draw whatever I wanted. But since I wanted Susceptible to be as real as it could, I made myself study pictures of the locations linked to my childhood memories.”

“I have lived away from Montréal for a long time now. I think the move [that changed] the nature of my stories happened a long time ago, and then it happened again, and again.”

Autobiographical tales have become a staple within the alternative comics world, and serve as a medium in which writers and artists have a fresh way to share incredibly personal stories. Susceptible demonstrates exactly the unique quality that these comics can have.

“I guess comics as a medium helps readers to get a clearer picture because it [is visual],” Castrée said when asked why she thinks comics service this type of story so well. “And then autobiographical comics are so personal if you compare them to movies, because everything comes from the author. Had I made a movie of Susceptible I would have had to hire actors, run around vintage clothing stores and garage sales to find something ‘close to’ what life was like 25 years ago. Comics win. They are a great one-person job.”

After the often brutal honesty of the mother-daughter relationship that plays out through the book, the reader is rewarded with hope in answer to Castrée’s original question, hope that does not fall into the trap of sentimentality or simplification, but is real and human.
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Paste calls Susceptible "a rare lens" into adolescence

Updated April 4, 2013

Hillary Brown
Paste Magazine, 20 February 2013

It’s a relief to discover that Susceptible isn’t the first thing Geneviève Castrée has published, although she’s still a relatively young artist with 32 years behind her. With a few other books and compilation appearances, she’s had time to work up to this impressive offering that otherwise might feel too sui generis. Susceptible is autobiographical, but less a straightforward narrative than a chronologically arranged rendering of discrete childhood memories. And it is deeply sad. As far as those elements are concerned, Castrée’s work bears some resemblance to Lynda Barry’s, but the latter often holds a weird fundamental cheerfulness at its core, no matter how outwardly depressing its events may seem.

Any parent may feel this book almost too intensely. Castrée’s Mother and Father, who view their daughter (nicknamed Goglu) as an unwanted product of a reckless liaison, set her adrift on a path of frustrating self-destructive behavior. That intensity marks the book’s major strength, conveyed through visuals more than verbiage. An English-speaker could read this book in its original French Canadian and still comprehend the confusion and rage at its center, perceptible in its characters’ expressive eyebrows (flushes rendered with subtle wash) and a thousand varieties of poor posture. The tiny cursive that Castrée renders dialogue in is both tightly controlled and loopily delicate. Even the endpapers, which show hundreds of tiny arrows pointing in all directions, contribute to the sense of oppression and lack of control that proves the essence of adolescence.

Thankfully, it’s not all downhill. The conclusion allows for some peace, and even more so, acceptance, although questions about the future remain unanswered and the gnawing sensation in your chest never quite eases. Life is horrifically unpredictable and horrifically predictable at the same time, depending on your perspective, and while that insight may not always make for the most delightful reading, it’s a rare lens for a talent as young as Castrée.
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  Cult MTL delves into Susceptible

Updated April 4, 2013

"The Whole Story: Geneviève Castrée's Susceptible"

Emily Raine
Cult MTL, 18 February 2013

“I guess I’ve been beating around the bush for the last twelve years or so,” explains Geneviève Castrée. “I was basically trying to tell the story in Susceptible over and over again, but in weird, camouflaged, metaphorical ways.”
The prolific West Coast artist, writer and musician has tackled her subject matter numerous ways, including through graphic novels, visual arts and music, first as Woelv and more recently in loop-driven project Ô Paon. But the story she kept coming back to was her own.
Susceptible follows Goglu, a young girl who Castrée says “is definitely me,” through a troubled adolescence to the moment she is poised to leave her mother’s home. Her father is emotionally and geographically distant, a biker living in BC’s gulf islands, and her single mother Amère is stuck in a relationship with Amèr, the creepy boyfriend she refuses to leave. Throughout the book, Goglu is often forced to be the grown-up on behalf of the adults around her.
Goglu daydreams her way through childhood in rural Quebec, embraces punk and struggles with eating disorders as a teen, before coming to adulthood on her own terms as she moves away her mother at 17. The book closes with this realization: “I am eighteen. I have all my teeth. I can do whatever I want.”
For Castrée, this has meant single-mindedly throwing herself into her creative work. “I didn’t pursue any schooling after graduating from high school because I felt so impatient about making my own things,” she says. “I am still always in awe of university students. I find them to be so patient, so dedicated, so focused.”
While a lot of Castrée’s past work has flirted with autobiography, weaving threads from her own life into the crisp but childlike lines in her art, in Susceptible the whole story is Goglu’s coming of age.
“I had been wary of making autobiographical comics, because not all of them are good and also because I didn’t want to create the illusion that people knew me,” she says. “But something I find myself repeating lately is that autobiography is nearly impossible: as soon as you put it on the page it, has been compromised, and once its been processed by the brain of another person, it can be distorted to the point of being unrecognizable.
“It dawned on me that I needed to exorcise some of my ghosts in order to move on. Maybe the story I kept going back to was the best story I had to tell. Doing it ‘for real’ felt like a rite of passage into adulthood.”
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Geneviève Castrée

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The Grid goes in-depth with Geneviève Castrée

Updated April 4, 2013

"Tragic comics"

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk
The Grid TO, 16 February 2013

Quebec-bred, Washington State–based Geneviève Castrée is a comic artist, writer, illustrator, and musician with a backstory that will make your heart ache. In her semi-autobiographical graphic novel, Susceptible, Castrée revisits her ’80s childhood and ’90s adolescence in small-town and suburban Quebec, and describes, through the eyes of her protagonist, Goglu, the burden of having to be the grown-up in a world of unpredictable adults. We asked Castrée, who wrote Susceptible in French and translated it herself, to explain what’s going on in one of the scenes from her book.
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Geneviève Castrée

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  Susceptible featured in The Paris Review's What We're Loving

Updated April 3, 2013

From "What We’re Loving: Crapalachia, Welty, Animalia"

The Paris Review, 22 February 2013

My worst reading habit is not reading too fast, or too slow, or stopping books in the middle, or right before the end (though I do all of those things). It’s my persistent impulse to read books that reflect my mood—an impulse that, if indulged often, reduces my reading list to a positively uncatholic range of authors and subjects. But one recent evening, my initial, “safe” pick (James’s The Golden Bowl) was thwarted by Geneviève Castrée’s Susceptible, which, when spotted in a pile of neglected books, looked too intriguing to let alone. An autobiographical comic, the work is less like an illustrated diary and more like a scrapbook; it shows rather than tells, pasting together a series of vignettes to build a narrative of the author’s troubled early life. Castrée’s beautifully toned black-and-white drawings even read more like vintage photographs than they do sketches. The book’s pervasive melancholy is still lingering with me, a reminder of why we really read: to feel things besides our own emotions.

- Clare Fentress
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Geneviève Castrée

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The Windsor Star's review of Susceptible

Updated April 3, 2013

"Graphic Tale Relates Youth's Isolation"

Ian McGillis
The Windsor Star, 23 February 2013

I can't cite any numbers to support the argument, but it has always seemed to me that graphic literature features a higher proportion of coming-of-age stories than any other literary form. There's something about the medium that's especially well suited to conveying the heightened emotional states of childhood and adolescence.

It could be that because a part of our collective brain will always associate comics with the purely escapist fare that many of us grew up with, it's all the more of a jolt when the form is employed for more serious and subversive ends.

Where our DNA still half-expects Dennis the Menace or The Archies, cutting-edge contemporary cartoonists instead give us something closer to Wes Anderson or David Foster Wallace. (No disrespect intended to Dennis the Menace and The Archies, by the way.)

Genevieve Castrée's Susceptible, a graphic novel about a girl growing up with a single mother in the Quebec of the 1980s and '90s, is an exemplary new case of this tendency. Castrée was born in Quebec and now lives in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, where she works as a visual artist and musician.

Her biography, to the small degree that it is revealed, bears undeniable similarities to that of Susceptible's heroine, Goglu. But while it's not clear exactly how autobiographical Castrée's intent is, the story she tells - in words and, mostly, in stylized, sometimes subtly symbolic images - has the unmistakable ring of life as it is lived.

Goglu is conceived while her Québécoise mother is in Alberta; the mother goes back home to give birth and the Anglo father stays out West, setting the tone for an early life Goglu spends torn between parental poles, both figurative and literal.

Living in a series of cheap apartments and later in a house in a working-class suburb, Goglu is left largely to fend for herself while her mother wrestles with her own problems: drink, poor taste in men, lack of money.

When time and budget permit, Goglu visits her biological father on the West Coast, where their lack of a common language makes for a halting, tentative relationship. Public life intrudes on the private sphere rarely but tellingly: Goglu is too young to fully absorb the implications when the Ecole Polytechnique Massacre happens ("Mom, what does 'feminist' mean?").

The news triggers a nightmare in Goglu, represented by Castrée with a nearly full-page image of blood-spattered young women. A page later, unremarked, we see Marc Lepine's face on a TV screen.

Elsewhere, Castrée employs a bird's-eye-view perspective as a perfect metaphor for the disembodied sensation that anyone who has ever felt alienated as a youth will recall all too well.

The core of the novel is the age-old mother-daughter dynamic. Castrée limns the relationship through the daughter's eyes with great delicacy and nuance, occasionally stepping outside the narrative flow with an adult's retrospective voice.

Goglu and Amère are often more like feuding sisters than parent and child and, as in a remarkable amount of recent fiction (several stories in George Saunders's Tenth of December spring to mind), it's the child, not

the grown-up, who possesses the more reliable moral compass.

Goglu's is exactly the kind of emotional isolation that can drive a girl into the outcast subcultures of punk and goth; that her doing so never appears cliched is a tribute to the compassion of Castrée's eye.

The heroine's slow and halting growth to maturity is reflected in her language, as when she nails a seldom-remarked Canadian truth: "As I get older, I meet other children who have a missing father in British Columbia. It's like a mythical kingdom where dads go to disappear."

At times the focus on the two main characters works to the detriment of the supporting cast: The portrayal of stepfather figure Amer, a control freak who won't allow anyone to adjust the volume knob on his home stereo, feels a bit one-dimensional. But, hey, it's possible that the real-life model, assuming there is one, was a true dyed-in-the-wool jerk.

Regardless, it's a minor issue. Susceptible charts the thorny path from confusion to hard-won wisdom as only the best fiction can, building up to an ending that's genuinely moving.

The world would be a richer place if even a fraction of the Twilight masses tuned in to books like this one, books that show young people groping toward a sense of identity through narratives that unfold in the world of real cause and effect, without leaning on fantasy.

Awkward girls - and their guy counterparts, and anyone who remembers what it was like to be either - will have a friend in Goglu.
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Geneviève Castrée

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  Genviève Castrée provides Largehearted Boy with a soundtrack to her latest work

Updated April 3, 2013

From "Book Notes - Geneviève Castrée 'Susceptible'"

Largehearted Boy, 21 February 2013

Geneviève Castrée's graphic novel Susceptible is a stunning, honest, and often heartbreaking depiction of childhood.
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Geneviève Castrée

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The A.V. Club's Comics Panel on Susceptible: "Astonishing"

Updated April 3, 2013

From "New comics releases include an attention-seeking Justice League and a wine-comics exchange"

Comics Panel, The A.V. Club, 26 February 2013

Compared to other comics memoirists, Geneviève Castrée hasn’t led the most dramatic life. Judging by her book Susceptible (D&Q)—reportedly a mostly autobiographical account of her youth, from birth to age 18, condensed into 80 pages—Castrée had a stressful but not too unusual childhood, raised in Québec by her permissive-but-fretful divorcée mother and the mother’s pissy live-in boyfriend. Castrée’s surrogate in Susceptible—a smart, rebellious young artist named Goglu—gets into comics and punk rock. She takes drugs and fools around with boys. And periodically, she travels across Canada to British Columbia to spend time with her English-speaking hippie father, who allows her even more slack. The heroine’s home life isn’t ideal, but neither is it all that uncommon in the age of the dysfunctional family.
But there’s that old saying, that it’s not what a story’s about, but how it’s about it. From its opening images of Goglu becoming inextricably tangled in a plant’s roots, Susceptible is locked into its main idea: how personal failings get passed down through generations. And Castrée considers this idea not in a self-pitying, “Woe is me” way, but in a more objective, “Here’s what I remember and here’s what I think it means” way. Susceptible divides Goglu’s life into a series of intense anecdotes, some filling only a page, but each as vivid as if Castrée had drawn them immediately after they happened. She doesn’t strike a reflective tone here; instead she recalls her fights with her mom and her adventures with her juvenile-delinquent friends in more of a present tense, lending them more immediacy. Castrée makes her larger points in her art, drawing Goglu as a small figure either dwarfed by blankness or drawn into her mother’s life of drinking, carousing, and making excuses. This book is about an artist trying to understand where she came from, and it’s at times astonishing in both its compactness and clarity…

- Noel Murray
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Geneviève Castrée

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