Philadelphia-born, San Francisco-raised Phoebe Gloeckner is a cartoonist and novelist, known for penning brutally honest stories (e.g., the last panel of her comic Minnie's 3rd Love or: "Nightmare on Polk Street" is some harrowing stuff). She's also a professor at the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan, where she's taught "comics, electronic books, digital painting, and all that crap" for the past 10 years. We chatted her by phone in advance of a lecture she'll give Saturday at MOCAD's Sixth Annual Comic Jam, and discussed her latest project, a movie based on her work, and more.
Metro Times: Is it tough balancing teaching and making comics?
Phoebe Gloeckner: I taught a double load of classes last semester so I could get this one off to work on a book, a long-term project about Juarez, Mexico. I've been going down there a few times a year and tracking this family. In 2010, there were nearly 4,000 people murdered in this one city. It far exceeds any other city in the world that year, including war-torn places.
MT: It sounds pretty different from work you typically do.
Gloeckner: Yeah, I guess it is. Although there's still a lot of sex and violence, pain, and suffering. The themes are there.
I'm making an electronic version that has some animation in it. I intended to do this 10 years ago. At that time, electronic books didn't really exist, and if they did they were just text. I'm not particularly prescient, but I was thinking, "OK, it won't be long before books are on computers or on other devices, and I can do something else with this." I'm aiming to have this thing completely done by August 2016. When it will actually be in stores or wherever, I don't now.
MT: Speaking of moving into other mediums, a film adaptation of your book The Diary of a Teenage Girl recently screened at Sundance. Will that get a wider release this year?
Gloeckner: I think so. Sony Pictures bought it. They're planning to release it I believe in August. It's been well-received generally, so that's a good sign. I don't know how broad the distribution will be, but if it doesn't show in Ann Arbor we're going to show it somehow.
It's been nearly eight years in the making. The director first pushed for making a play — she did that in New York City, and I loved it. Then she asked if she could do a movie. So I've kind of gotten to know her over 10 years. I've been able to consult and give my two cents.
I'll say it is a really good movie. It's different than the book. I think the book is a lot darker than the movie, and you'll have a different feeling in the end. Whether it's exactly like the book or not, it doesn't really matter. It's shorter, distilled, and they didn't put all the really bad stuff in there — the drugs, you know.
MT: What is it about "sex and violence, pain and suffering" that attracts you as an artist?
Gloeckner: I think it's just in my genes and in my blood. It's not something I chose. I think there's some questions that my soul is trying to answer through my work.
MT: With your work, is it important to you to shock people, or at least go where no one else will go?
Gloeckner: No. I'm just being me. Art, at its best, is honest — or appears to be honest. I don't think I've ever done anything just for the shock value, because it would be meaningless — like a horror movie or something.
To me, no human experience is off-limits, because that's what art is about: human experience. To categorize something as shocking or not shocking or boring or not boring, it doesn't really mean anything to me.
MT: What can we expect from your MOCAD lecture?
Gloeckner: I haven't really planned it out. I'm assuming that there will be lots of younger cartoonists — I'll probably talk about how I got from where they are or before to where I am now. And then I'll talk a lot about my current project, my previous work, and the film too. I have a million slides, and I'll respond to the audience.
Comic Jam starts at 5 p.m., lecture starts at 7 p.m.; Saturday, March 14; MOCAD; 4454 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-6622; mocadetroit.org; $5 suggested donation.