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Mikhaela Reid on "Attack of the 50 ft. Mikhaela"

by Brian Jewell .
Thursday Aug 2, 2007

Legendary lesbian comedian Kate Clinton has described herself as a "fumorist:" she's a feminist humorist, and the world makes her fume. Mikhaela Reid is a fumorist cartoonist: by day a mild mannered graphic designer, by night a tower of power who channels her political outrage into slashingly funny cartoons that attack Right Wing politics and American complacency. With the release of the first compendium of her newspaper work, Attack of the 50 ft. Mikhaela, we spoke with the Bay Windows contributor about being funny, staying angry, and why she owes it all to George W. Bush.

Q: You studied anthropology and photography. How did that evolve into design and cartooning?
A: I always wanted to be a cartoonist or graphic designer, but somehow I ended up at Harvard. I got into art school but I also got into an Ivy League school and I had the idea that I could learn art on my own, but that studying serious sociological and anthropological matters was something else. And all that stuff...women's studies, gay and lesbian studies, sociology, anthropology...has actually been more important to my cartoons than art classes. Not that I didn't take art classes, but when you're a cartoonist the main thing is the writing. If you have nothing to say, it doesn't matter how pretty it is. Of course ideally you have both.

Q: And your own style, which you have certainly developed. It was interesting that you included some of your very early work in the book for the reader to see your style develop. What it was like looking back?
My drawing has changed a lot over the years. I thought the older stuff would be fun to share. I included a cartoon I made when I was three, and my first high school cartoon. I was a very angry punk rock bisexual teen, so I had to express my anger at the high school dress code. I still hate dress codes, I think dressing is part of how people express themselves.

Q: You describe one of the cartoons as your first "all digital" and that made me curious about your process.
A: I used to draw completely by hand. There was no manipulation of the cartoon after I drew it. Then I designed a font so I wouldn't have to hand letter everything. Then I started using the computer the color the cartoons. And at some point I thought, I've gotten so good at using a drawing tablet, why don't I just do it all on the computer. I use a program called Manga Studio, which behaves a lot more like brush and ink than anything else I've tried.

Q: You included your own commentary on a lot of your cartoons. What was it like looking back at your professional work?
It was really fun, actually. My two biggest thoughts going back... the first is that as much as I hate Bush I have him to thank for being a cartoonist. It wasn't until after 9/11 and the Patriot Act came down, and Bush went from hateful President who stole an election to a hateful President bombing other countries and taking away civil liberties and going on a tirade about gay marriage, that being a cartoonist went from something I thought would be fun to something I had to do. I was compelled. So I got into the Harvard Crimson, and then The Boston Phoenix and eventually Bay Windows and other papers. So it all started with Bush, and looking back, the cartoons are really a chronicle of my hatred of the Bush administration. And here's the scary thing: looking at the cartoons from 2002 and 2003, I could do them again today. Very little has changed since this war began. But there are some positives. I used to draw a lot about sodomy laws, but thanks to the work of Lambda Legal and other organizations, it's no longer illegal to have sex. That's very nice. But on the other hand, the Supreme Court we have now...if that had come up before them, I think they would have been all for sodomy laws. We now have a Supreme Court ruling that says segregation is totally cool!

Q: And what's the second thing that stands out as you look back?
A: Thankfully I guess for my book sales, my cartoons have not changed the entire government. But cartoon books can provide a real chronicle. When I was a kid I read my parents' collections of Doonesbury, and they give a whole history of what happened before I was reading the paper. So I like to think a few years from now Bush will be a faint memory, and this book will be a bit of history of the bad old days.

Q: But you won't be hanging up your pen anytime soon.
A: Oh, no. Even if we get a Democratic President, it's not like these guys and ladies are without their flaws. For instance, not one of the major candidates will say they support marriage equality. That's ridiculous. They're supposed to be the party of opposition and change, and they're hemming and hawing. None of them have done much to stop the war. Look at Hillary Clinton. She'll go on about how she disagrees with how Bush has conducted the war, but she's never gone back on her support for the war. I think there's a cartoon in the book about Hillary going back and doing Iraq the "right" way. And of course I've had the experience of chronicling the ups and downs of Romney, and he hasn't gone away. So those cartoons I did about him now have national relevancy and reveal the idiocy we could be in for if that man becomes President. That's what cartoonists are for, really. These people have spin doctors and makeup artists and euphemistic language, and the job of the cartoonist is to show who they really are.

Q: How do you approach finding humor in headlines? Is it just how you look at the world?
A: No, it's a huge challenge. I'm a news junkie and I have to consume a lot of news every week. With Bay Windows it used to be easier because there were less stories out there on the national level. So I have to narrow down what I want to talk about, and that's a balancing act between local and national stories. I do two or three cartoons a week, but in any given week there's ten things I'm pissed off about! And then it's figuring out what's most ridiculous about it. What it really comes down to is: what can I make the most passionate statement about?

Q: You do a lot about gay issues. Does that make the strip a tough sell in other markets?
A: I do worry about that sometimes. In other papers it's more like, how much gay stuff can I get away with. I do cartoons for Chelsea Now in New York, and I recently did a cartoon about the rivalry between Boston and New York. So I made it about where gay life was better. "We have a bigger Pride parade." "We have hotter dykes." I do wonder if it makes it a harder sell, but the papers I'm in are big alternative weeklies. And so many things are tied together. To a Falwell type, gays and feminists and liberals are all the same.

Q: You mentioned angry letters in the book. Do you get a lot of letter from readers?
A: I do, but mostly positive. Most of the hate stuff comes from the internet. People who somehow stumbled across it and have no context and shoot off an email in one second. Some of it is frightening. There are some crazy people in this world. The weirdest hate mail is from people who don't realize I'm pro-gay. They think my satire of homophobia is serious. The Right Wing is such a cartoon that I can kind of understand that. But I also get some really nice fan mail. I got so much wonderful mail, from transgendered women in particular, from people who did an internet search on Gwen Araujo and found my cartoon about her murder.

Q: In the forward to the collection you said you once wanted to be a science fiction writer, and I thought, of course! Because that's another way to talk about contemporary issues in an entertaining way.
A: Exactly. I think it was Ursula K. Le Guin who said science fiction is never about the future. It's always about the present. I would like to combine the two and do a science fiction dystopian graphic novel some day.


Attack of the 50 ft. Mikhaela is in bookstores now. Reid will be reading at New Words Books in Cambridge on September 28. For more information, visit www.mikhaela.net.

Copyright Bay Windows. For more articles from New England's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.baywindows.com


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