Molly Crabapple is a Renaissance woman with a dirty Victorian mind wrapped up in a voluptuously Rococo body. She is an artist, an artist's model, a burlesque dancer and a businesswoman. And a very sharp cookie. She is the devious mind behind the global art salon Dr. Sketchy's, a graphic novelist, and a kinky illustrator. Her work and her world have appeared in the New York Times, on TV, and online in all the most interesting, offbeat spots.
I'm lucky to have known her since her arrival in New York and watched as her steampunk flying machine rose to the top. (Sure, I could've said meteoric rise, but what fun would that have been?) The New York Observer named her one of "The Insurgents of 2010." I prefer the title "Revolutionary," but will let you be the judge once you've made her acquaintance. I enjoyed spending a few moments with her as she responded to my most pressing questions.
CarnalNation: Tell us about your arts education. Self-taught? Art school?
Molly Crabapple: My mom is a wonderful illustrator, so her early tutelage helped me avoid a lot of beginner's mistakes children make. Later, I studied at FIT, but I dropped out and credit most of my education to being friends with badass artists.
CN: What are your inspirations?
MC: Burlesque, low-end theatrics, the Victorian and Rococo eras, mocking the powerful.
CN: Explain the attraction of pen and ink and watercolor as your media.
MC: I love to get detailed. I love the scratch of an ink on paper. Lately, I've been getting into doing acrylic on wood panel paintings, but tight detail is always what draws me.
CN: Tell us why you find the Victorian and Rococo periods appealing.
MC: Cruelty. Artifice. Class warfare. Really frilly ruffs.
CN: What do you think of the current popularity of "steampunk?"
MC: While I do have a soft spot for the genre—and just did the cover of the Weird Tales steampunk issue—steampunks sometimes have a rosy view of the past that I just don't get. Sure, you can love the neat clothing of 1893, but society was also impossibly fucked up in a way that all the brass cogs in the world wouldn't have made better. My own views of the past are more represented in books like Luc Sante's Low Life and Michael Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White.
CN: Okay, that's hilarious! Do you have any muses?
CN: Genius! They happen to be inspirations for us, as well! How did Dr. Sketchy's begin?
MC: Take one disaffected former artists' model. Add a Brooklyn dive bar, a burlesque dancer body, a cadre of cool friends, and a mulish stubbornness to triumph.
CN: There are Dr. Sketchy's all over the world now! How did that all happen?
MC: The internet! My very first branch was started by a fan of mine, artist Melanie Knight, in Melbourne, Australia. A combination of aggressive press, word of mouth and internet viral gobbledygook spread it all from there.
CN: You're also a burlesque performer. Tell us about your decision to come out from behind your easel!
MC: Well, I believe you discovered me, Madame Editrix. I remember my first performance taking place on the Mondo Porno stage to "A tisket, a tasket, I lost my little basket."
MC: For most of 2007, I did a free web comic on Act-i-vate called Backstage. It was a murder mystery set in the slums and vaudeville halls of Old New York. In 2008, Christophe, big cheese at Blowfish, launched Fugu Press and asked if I would do his first comic book. Scarlett is Backstage's prequel.
MC: Not even close! [Laughter.]
CN: And you've recently collaborated with photographer Najva Sol for a series on Filthy Gorgeous Things. Whose concept was that? And what was it like working with photographic images?
MC: I have a total hard-on for surreal, high end fashion photography, but, since I'm an illustrator, didn't know how I could participate. Impossible Couture is my attempt to do fashion photography, with my drawings as the clothing. And damn did Najva provide a beautiful canvas.
CN: Margaret Cho appears to be a big fan of yours. Any other celebs who love you?
MC: Warren Ellis has advocated for me longer than just about anyone else, and I'm incredibly honored to be doing a poem poster for my favorite writer, Neil Gaiman. Moby was also kind enough to give my comics work some props.
CN: Any interesting patrons or collectors?
MC: There's a major Republican lobbyist who collects my work.
CN: Really? Quel scandale! We won't ask you to divulge any political secrets. Looking forward, what is your vision of the perfect future?
MC: I just got approved for a secret project I can't tell anyone about yet, except that it's going to be the biggest, baddest, frilliest, most awesomesauce thing that I've yet done. Seriously, I'm bursting about it.
CN: Oooh, well we will anxiously await your awesoemsauce project! Thank you, Molly.