Recently through discussions with my advisers, I have become curious about juxtapositions: worlds colliding: worlds created from that collision.
To conduct this collision effectively, you have to be intimate with both worlds.
But I think that too much intimacy: too much knowledge restricts the work or the world you’re trying to create. My aim is to juxtapose the art of comic book illustration with the art of gender-bending in drag and trans performance.
I know the genre of superhero comic art very well, particularly the work of Canadian comic artist, John Byrne, whose work on the X-men in the late 70’s fuels the movie franchises we see in theaters today.
I know drag performance as much or as little as anyone who is a part of queer culture. Well, maybe slightly more; I am very good friends with a trans-performer and am acquainted with several other drag performers in NYC.
These are two entertainment genres that have interested me and I wondered how they would work together.
I could easily conceive the visual: drag performer painted portraits overlay on top of comic book backgrounds—perhaps clumsily so—or maybe fully integrated and interacting with the comic book background.
But all of this to what purpose?
The easy answer was to lionize drag and trans performers: I would research comic book pages that I wanted to replicate (say a splash page featuring Wonder Woman punching out a villain), then ask the drag performer to strike a similar pose, record the pose, and render both the comic background and the comic hero on a large scale but replacing the hero figure (Wonder Woman) with the drag or trans performer.
But this seemed too easy and too uninteresting.
I wanted to say something with these portraits but at the same time, I did not want to say anything. I wanted to find the balance between the work having relevancy and sparking interest without the work being obvious and hit-you-over-the-head-progressive and preachy.
Without direction, I began to just peruse the internet for images: Splash pages by John Byrne (chosen because he was and is my favorite superhero comic artist of all time).
A splash page is the first page a reader opens up to in a comic book. It is the first image of an issue and it usually is used for exposition but also carries a high element of drama to pull the reader in. It is my belief that a comic book splash page offers the perfect stage for a project on drag and trans performers because it positions them into performance (the drama of the splash page) but offers room to subvert that drama through the text feature of the comic page.
My first objective in this project was to gather John Byrne splash pages that interested me aesthetically as well as dramatically (I tried not to “see” my drag subjects in them yet).
I found that I was drawn to splash pages where the hero was in some way bound: trapped under a building—struggling to hold it up, strapped to a machine for some experiment, floating unconscious: held in the air by an invisible force. These were the situations I found most interesting: perhaps because I wanted the work to explore the nature of drag and trans performers and people: I want maybe to test their strength (?). Maybe I thought it would be interesting to see these usually large personalities quiet and passive and up for inspection or struggling and under duress. Perhaps by putting them in a situation (either passive or active) that was not posed as on a stage I am trying to humanize them in a way. I’m not sure yet.
Once I got the images down, I had to think about text. Text was a must if I were to be true to the form of comic book art. But what would I replace with the copious squares and rectangles full of exposition that appear on a splash page? My first thought was replacing the exposition with something biographical about each subject but that seemed, right away, too passe.
After beating my brains to death, I decided the best course was to allow research to dictate the next move and (as the maxim of Transart suggests) allow myself to play.
So, I google searched articles on drag performance, articles on drag psychology, articles on trans versus drag and I perused whatever came up searching for anything that would match the images I found (heroes bound or under duress).
This is perhaps the most interesting part of the project: I am attempting to find articles that seek to bind or put drag and trans performers under duress but I am eliminating articles that are, somehow, too much. I am allowing in ignorant voices, but only when I believe one can find the humor and naivete in the ignorance. I am finding voices that challenge and inform or seek to inform but sound ridiculous in its attempts at authority.
I have to start thinking about material (I am thinking of large un-stretched canvas) and acrylic. I have to start arranging sittings of the drag performers I will use. I have to think about the text feature (free hand or stencils). I am anxious to begin. Below are the answers to any questions that may have escaped the above description.
Working Title of Project: Translations of Perception
Suggested Advisors: David Antonio Cruz and I have just begun to work together and it is fruitful so I would like to stay with him. Jean Marie, of course, is a treasure and I’d hate to lose her but it may be interesting to work with a trans-artist. I am wondering if Transart has one in residence, can find one, or would be interested in working with one of the trans-artists who I know or who I am acquainted with.
Description of Project Report: I feel this time around that I would like to attempt a project report over a thesis paper. It would include my process which I would synthesize with my own growing understanding of drag and trans lives through research that would coincide with my work. The work itself explores the ignorance of how we have diagnosed, how we perceive, even some clumsy ways of how we accept drag performers and trans people. I would balance that work with research on drag performance and trans lives and report on the contrasts or even any intersections between the ignorance and the researched realities.
Project Results: I have in mind a series of 10 pieces where I am juxtaposing portraits of drag or trans performers onto comic book splash pages. The first iteration may be actual illustrations of the compositions on the 11X17 bristol board comic artists traditionally worked with using non-reproducing blue pencil and finished with India ink. The final versions may be large un-stretched canvases done with acrylics.
Trans bodies, Trans selves. Edited by Laura Erickson-Schroth
God and the Transgender. Debate by Andrew T Walker
The Changing Room. Sex, Drag and Theater. by Laurence Senelick
Why Drag? by Magnus Hastings
Various opinion articles and blog entries on transgender people and drag performance.
Abstract of Written Element: Why are we so fascinated by drag and gender bending? I ask: are we fascinated with gender bending as a whole phenomenon (male to female/ female to male) or are we fascinated with men who dress, act, and some who actually become women?
It seems to be the latter. Male to female impersonation and transformation appears more prolific, more covered in media and entertainment, and more outrageous.
Male to women drag or transformation is performance and therefore more fascinating. One might argue that female to male is also performance (one might argue all gender is performance) but male to female performance , for some reason, seems to lend itself to buffoonery. I have never seen a drag show that contained a line up of female to male trans or drag performers pretending to mimic old Hollywood stars or contemporary male divas. I have never seen female drag performers or trans men on a stage exaggerating the movements and the vocalizations of men in over-the-top caricatures of men’s costumes (suits?)(jeans and T-shirt’s?). Why aren’t lesbian bars filled on Friday and Saturday nights with trans-men lip-syncing to Justin Bieber or Bruno Mars?
Could it be that women just do not have that entertainment instinct as strongly as men do? Or are they not brave enough to make a fool of themselves onstage? Have we oppressed women so much over the ages that they fear the awkwardness of transformation and self deprecation? Are women afraid to make fun of men and the way we move, speak, dress, coif because of the patriarchal structure that still attempts to control their reproductive rights?
Or are men—as subject matter— just...boring?
I submit that drag and trans performance is a result of men’s (both gay and straight) fascination with the complexity of what it is to be a woman. In addition, I submit that we watch drag and trans performance out of fascination of that fascination: We are watching men enact our own fascination with what it is to be a woman.
But fascination without education can lead to ignorance, clumsy attempts at being an ally, and, in some cases where that fascination is repressed—violence (or a violence of words, or a violence of diagnoses). This projects puts that ignorance and violence on display in order to provoke questions and promote conversation.
Timeline for Realization of Project: The initial Bristol board pieces will begin in June for the first two to three weeks. I am hoping to have 2-3 canvases done by the time I arrive to Berlin in August.