Molly Go Round: Cartoonist Molly Crabapple Breaks the Mold

Molly Go Round: Cartoonist Molly Crabapp

Artist Molly Crabapple is perhaps best known as the co-founder and public face of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, a touring burlesque life-drawing class that is part education and part performance art. Crabapple is an artist on her own, doing illustrations for several notable magazines and newspaper as well as the poster for the recent MoCCA convention. Her upcoming work includes a piece in Marvel’s Strange Tales MAX Indie anthology, as well as the debut of her first full-length graphic novel,Scarlett Takes Manhattan.

image from Scarlett Takes Manhattan

Scheduled for release next month, Scarlett Takes Manhattan is a late 1880's period piece set in the world of vaudeville. It’s the story of a street urchin named Shifra who re-invents herself as a vaudeville celebrity as Scarlett O’Herring, star fire eater. It’s backstage drama in a time gone by, mixing the burlesque with the carnival scene in an irreverent and jocular style that evocates a tearfully – and joyful – revelry.

For that, and more, we talked with Crabapple by email from her home in Brooklyn earlier this year.

Newsarama: Let's start with an easy one, Molly – what are you working on today?

Molly Crabapple: Today I'm working on SketchyCon, the first ever convention of Dr. Sketchy's organizers. It's happening in April, and folks are flying in from around the world to meet each other, sharpen their skills, and stir up a little mayhem. [This interview was conducted in early March 2009]

NRAMA: 2. You're all over the place, Molly. When someone asks what you do for a living, what do you say?

MC: I say I'm an artist. Or, when pressed to give a biographical sentence "Molly Crabapple is an artist, author, and the founder of Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School, the largest chain of drawing clubs in the world."

NRAMA: What are the big projects on the horizon for you?

image from Scarlett Takes Manhattan

MC: Besides SketchyCon and launching the graphic novel Scarlett Takes Manhattan in July, I have a Dr. Sketchy's European mini-tour coming up in May, there's a Dr. Sketchy's documentary in the works, and I'm plotting new, secret projects with co-conspirator John Leavitt and the good folks at Fugu Press.

NRAMA: You mentioned Scarlett Takes Manhattan, which is your first full-length graphic novel – written by John Leavitt. What can you tell us about it?

MC: Scarlett Takes Manhattan is a love story set in the 1880's vaudeville world. It's the tale of a poor girl from the slums, Shifra Helfgott, who becomes star fire eater Scarlett O'Herring, and her relationship with theatre impresario Daniel D'Lovely. Throw in crime, corruption, Tammany hall, cameos by famous historians and some really dirty stuff.

NRAMA: I found an old interview with you from back in 2006 and when asked if you would consider doing graphic novels, you said it was "not my thing". What led to the change in thought?

MC: Peer pressure! So many of my friends were doing inspiring, brilliant comics, and I got the bug. Special kudos goes to Dean Haspiel, who gave me the chance to do my first comic, Backstage, on his comics collective, Act-i-vate (www.act-i-vate.com). I got to sharpen my skills and show my work alongside seriously talented creators. Dino rocks! Scarlett Takes Manhattan is the prequel to Backstage.

NRAMA: Your work seems to reference the world of the burlesque. Why would you say you're so focused on that?

MC: I grew up with a Toulouse Lautrec fetish. The idea of artists sketching dancers in some decadent nightclub is the stuff of my deepest fantasies. So I love flamboyant, subversive, underground performers.

NRAMA: I've discovered that art is in your blood, with your mother also being an illustrator. Can you describe growing up in your artistic household?

MC: My mom is a brilliant illustrator! Back in the days when packaging design was an elaborate, hand-crafted affair, my mother turned out lavish work for brands like the Cabbage Patch Kids. We have many things artistically in common- a devotion to detail and line work, swirly hair, not so much of an aptitude for 3 point perspective. My mom's work is sweeter though. Growing up with an artist for a mom meant that there was never any of the negative, "Artist isn't a real job" attitude that so many creative people have to overcome. My mom also taught me that noses are not upside down 7's.

NRAMA: You're primarily known for founding Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School, which we talked to you about at-length before. But now that it's coming on four years old, what do you see in its future?

Molly Go Round: Cartoonist Molly Crabapp
Molly Go Round: Cartoonist Molly Crabapp
Molly Crabapple

MC: I'm so excited for Dr. Sketchy's growth! As of today, we have nearly 80 branches, including in cities like Sao Paolo, Paris and Singapore. I'm incredibly proud of the international movement we've created. As Dr. Sketchy's comes up on its 4th year, I'm most interested in collaborations with artists I admire (check out our collaboration with street art legend Ron English http://arrestedmotion.com/2009/02/dr-sketchy-anti-art-school-with-ron-english/#more-11824), projects that pay tribute to our international scope, getting in a branch in Africa, and, of course, Dr. Sketchy's Antarctica.

NRAMA: And finally, what do you do when you're not doing art, Molly?

MC: I like history books, coffee, toasted marshmallow milkshakes, hanging out at The Box, and being inspired by my creative, ambitious friends.

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