New Haven Register, April 5, 2021
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down via Zoom for an interview with Alex Dueben from Smash Pages. Every time I have a conversation about Between You and Me, whether it’s with a writer, a class, or a friend, I learn something new about the wild and transformative power of comics. Thank you, Alex, for this conversation!
AD: I would imagine in transitioning there are so many experiences that are completely new, which is exciting and sometimes terrifying.
KC: There was a lot that I was dreading that was painful or uncomfortable or awkward. Those things make really good comics. That helped me. Instead of shrinking away from having those experiences, I would go, this is what I’m going to draw my pages about this week. It made those experiences very valuable for me. For me, transitioning and becoming a cartoonist are two sides of the same coin…
Why would anyone try so hard to stop you?
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About the book: Between You and Me: Transitional Comics is a collection of comics that reflects two transitions—from a person who doesn’t draw to a cartoonist and from a butch lesbian to a transgender dude. I stopped drawing when I was a kid and didn’t start drawing again until I was 33 years old and brave enough to take a course with Lynda Barry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In the four years since, I have continued working closely with her, and in that time, I have quite literally drawn myself into being. It was through the experience of drawing myself in the world on the page that allowed me to draw myself out into the world, to realize that I am transgender and that I wanted to transition—something I had been thinking about for nearly a decade but kept private and suppressed. The comics in Between You and Me reflect the experiences of a transgender and transitioning person navigating the profundities and mundanities of daily life and observing the world around him.
Also present in the book is my transition from non-drawer to someone who identifies as a cartoonist. Though not linearly, readers will note a shift in the confidence of the line as my fluency as an artist increased. The book includes a back section that includes a letter to the reader, early sketchbook pages and commentary on being self-conscious, encouraging people to reclaim drawing as a form of self-expression and a way of looking at the world. The book concludes with a dialogue between me and Lynda Barry, a conversation between student and teacher about gender and drawing and discovery and identity and growing up and everything in between (and then some)!
The book includes reflections that expand beyond my own life and experiences to address social issues. This comes from my grappling with the sincere belief that it is possible for people to fundamentally change—I don’t think people actually want to be “haters”—while at the same time witnessing the violences of racist oppression, patriarchy, and homophobia. The book is entirely nonfiction, but it’s not wholly a memoir, and certainly doesn’t aim to represent any kind of authoritative version of trans experience. The specifics of my experiences of walking down the street, going to the bathroom, going through airport security or to the doctor, of coming out and not coming out are at once particular to my experience and resonate with the sticking points where many trans and gender-fluid people experience confusion, frustration, fear, and delight.
Perhaps the biggest thing that drawing comics has given to me is the push to be out into the world rather that hiding from or suffering from it. Instead of resisting experiences I know will be awkward or difficult, I now actively seek them out because they make for good comics! Interactions I formerly would have considered painful and even shameful, I now am grateful for. Drawing them out as comics gives me a way to own those stories and to share them with others who might not be able to do that yet. It’s no exaggeration to say that drawing comics makes me want to live my life, and it’s my hope that it encourages other trans people to do the same. Comics are the perfect genre to communicate the complexities of trans experience.
2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and a lot of folks are reflecting on what that does (and doesn’t) mean. My contribution to that conversation is a comic that recently came out in a special issue of QED alongside many brilliant scholars. I spent a lot of time imagining what queer and trans* liberation could really look like—beyond legal equality, beyond anything including marriage, beyond acceptance. Read the full piece here!
I’m hand-making little books of the comic for the City-Wide Open Studios / New Haven Night Market Pop Up on October 4. I love playing with size and form, and I love publishing work in scholarly journals that isn’t just for scholars.
Every piece of art is a letter, a thank you note—or a no-thank-you note (RESIST!). This comic is a thank you note I delivered today.
A few weeks ago, I went to pick up some food at Costco for my partner’s LGBT Photo Pop Up event. It was busy—late Sunday morning when everyone is stocking up for the week and the Packers game—and I was running late, so I didn’t stop at customer service to get a new card with my name on it. My old card says “Katherine,” and I really don’t look like a Katherine anymore. I was hoping that the cashier just wouldn’t notice, but she did, and what ensued was the most beautiful moment with a stranger. I’m a cartoonist, so, of course, I made a comic about it.
This morning, I went back—to get a new card, to get a slow cooker that’s on sale, and to give this woman a copy of the comic and a few others. To say thank you. Great idea, right? Well, yes, but once I was actually there, I got nervous–what if she doesn’t remember? What if she thinks this is super weird? What if it’s awkward? What if she doesn’t like it? What if I make an ass of myself? And so on. I hoped that she wouldn’t be working so I could just leave it with someone else to give to her. Then I told all of these voices to knock it off. I took it as a good sign that the woman who made me a new card at first couldn’t find me in the system (“with that address we only have Katherine and Caitlin”), but when I said “yes, that is my old name,” she silently mouthed “AWESOME SAUCE.”
But here’s the really awesome sauce part. The cashier was working today, and was talking with another employee about how happy she was because today is her birthday. She woke up at 2:30 am like a little kid kind of excited about it. She said “nice new card” when I handed mine to her and I said, “Oh, great, I was going to ask if you remember me. I’m a cartoonist and I made a comic about our interaction that I want to give to you.” She said she had thought about our conversation more than once and that she was worried that she said too much or the wrong thing. When I told her that no stranger in public had ever acknowledged to me that it’s hard to be transgender and how much it meant to me, she got goosebumps. Me too. She would have been fine if I had given in to feeling worried and shy and not ever seen her again, but she would have continued to doubt herself. And she never would have known how moving and affirming that experience was for me, and what a difference she can and will make for other trans people out there. We hugged and I wished her a happy birthday, and it was the sweetest thing.
I love making comics because, more often than not, they have me seeking out awkward and uncomfortable situations, not avoiding them. And because each strip is a letter, which means I only have nothing to say when I forget that it’s not about me, it’s a letter for the person on the other side of the register.