By Sean T. Collins
Molly Crabapple is a little bit like a super hero herself. Besides her sweet-and-sour alias, she has her own secret identity: In-demand illustrator and comics artist by day, empress of a burlesque empire by night. No slouch when it comes to burlesque dancing herself, she's presided over a union of her two loves by co-founding Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School, life-drawing sessions that use live dancers and pin-up girls (and guys) as models. Meanwhile, with collaborator John Leavitt, she tells tales of showbiz's salad days and the wild women who strode the stage in her webcomic Backstage as well as her recently released graphic novel Scarlett Takes Manhattan. When it came time for her and Leavitt to pick a character for their contribution to STRANGE TALES, it was no surprise thconey went for one of Marvel's most fabulous females, the Sensational She-Hulk.
Molly took time out of her busy schedule to speak with Marvel.com about her She-Hulk comic, what the modern era has in common with the Victorian Era and why she wouldn't mind seeing a burlesque show starring a certain Cajun mutant.
Marvel.com: What is it about She-Hulk that makes you feel like you're a good fit with that character?
A page from Molly Crabapple's contribution to STRANGE TALES #1
Molly Crabapple: Well, I really like to draw exaggerated women. It's kind of my trademark as an illustrator. Me and John Leavitt were poring through the Marvel catalog, and we knew we wanted to handle a female character, and we thought "Man, wouldn't it be fun if we picked a character like She-Hulk, and put her in a Victorian context and make her kind of a feminist symbol?" Because that's both our styles.
Marvel.com: So is she some sort of suffragette?
Molly Crabapple: Well, no. It's a riff off of "The Yellow Wallpaper," where you don't realize it's She-Hulk at first. You think she's a delicate little woman being locked up by her mother, in preparation for her wedding, because her mother knows about these little fits that she has. And you don't realize it's She-Hulk until the last page, where she Hulks out at the altar and throws her mother into the cake.
Marvel.com: That sounds like the old medical concept of "hysteria" that male doctors believed in back then.
Molly Crabapple: Oh yeah, it's so true. I mean, they medicalized every single female emotion back then, so I thought that She-Hulk Hulking out was such a perfect metaphor for that.
Marvel.com: It's cool that you're able to use the piece for more than just a goofy romp with a Marvel character. Was that important to you, as an artist?
Molly Crabapple: I always like to do pieces that are a little more thoughtful and challenging. I mean, I have no problem with goofy romps, but it's a lot more fun to be able to take a Marvel character and put an entirely different spin on them.
Marvel.com: What exactly is the division of labor between you and John?
Molly Crabapple: Well, me and John have been collaborators for years. Very often, it starts off like this: We get a job and we sit in the coffee shop and we brainstorm and we go through tons of hare-brained ideas, and we work out a brief outline together. Then John will go home and do some research and hammer out the dialogue, and write some fantastically witty script that I would not be capable of. Then, sometimes, he even does some compositional thumbnails for me. Then I go back to him and I refine the script and I do all the rest of the art. John was my co-author for the Dr. Sketchy's Rainy Day Coloring Book, and we wrote Dr. Sketchy's together in New York, so it's a much more fluid and less factory-like division of labor than it usually occurs in the comics industry. I mean, me and John went through school together, we've been working together for years. We're pretty attuned to each other's quirks and talents, so I think we really bring out the best in each other. We're actually doing a web comic together now, on Act-i-vate, called Backstage, a comedy murder mystery. The Marvel project actually inspired it.
Marvel.com: How so?
Molly Crabapple: Well, I'm not really a comics artist, I'm more of an illustrator. And for a long time I was like, "I don't like comics, they're hard! Comics artists have to work so hard!" [Laughs] But I had so much fun with the Marvel job that me and John decided we'd have to do more comics together. The Marvel job was kind of my gateway drug.
Marvel.com: Between this and your projects like Scarlett Takes Manhattan and Backstage, it seems like the Victorian Era is your bread and butter.
Molly Crabapple: Exactly. I think that the Victoriana is such a good metaphor for our times recently. It's this very cruel, artificial time, with these huge divisions in class, where if you wanted to change class, there was all this artifice and social climbing and this very ridiculous etiquette. It's a lot of fun to work with that because you can very clearly use that as a metaphor for what's going on now. Plus, you can take things that are just entirely alien to anything we would deal with. And it's especially relevant if you're in New York, in a kind of unstable field, like I am. New York is one of the most stratified places in the world. And sometimes, you read books on New York like [author Luc Sante's] Low Life and they're talking about the old tenements and stuff and you're like, "Wait a second, that's my apartment building!" So I think it's a really interesting time period to explore and delve into.
A page from Molly Crabapple's contribution to STRANGE TALES #1
Marvel.com: What are you working on these days?
Molly Crabapple: Oh...! I always have way too many projects. Scarlett debuted in July, so I've spent much time touring and sacrificing at the altar of SDCC. I have a number of exciting but top secret comics projects I'm working on, and I'll be in Brazil in October speaking about my work at Pixel Art Show.
Marvel.com: What would you recommend for the readers who come across your story in STRANGE TALES and would like to see more of what you're doing?
Molly Crabapple: I would recommend they check out my and John Leavitt's graphic novel, Scarlett Takes Manhattan. It's a story of gilded age New York, where the poor Shifra Helfgott rises to become the premier fire eater of her time. And they should check out MollyCrabapple.com, which is the general storehouse of information.
Marvel.com: Are there any other Marvel characters that you'd like to take a crack at?
Molly Crabapple: One of the ideas that we really wanted to do was the Dazzler, as a kind of, drunk, older, has-been, Norma Desmond type, judging a reality TV show. She's such a total has-been character. But I was obsessed with the X-Men when I was younger. Essentially, I had a total thing for Gambit. When I was 12, I was...yeah, the fantasies about Gambit were sad. [Laughs]
Marvel.com: I think it'll be reassuring to many fanboys that fangirls thought along similar lines.
Molly Crabapple: Yeah. There was this X-Men book I had where they just had these overwrought drawings of everyone. The men were in these suits where you could not only see every muscle, but also the striations in their muscles...Yeah, when you're 12, you know, your mind is overstimulated enough. So yeah, Gambit rocks.
Marvel.com: It's funny that you're one of those Gambit people.
Molly Crabapple: Oh yeah? Is there a whole subculture of Gambit people?
Marvel.com: There sure is!
Molly Crabapple: That's awesome! It's funny, in the comic, I never thought Wolverine was hot, but then when they did the movie with Hugh Jackman, I was kinda in love. I think that was one of the first examples of taking a non-sexy male character and just totally making him sexy in the movie. They usually do that with the women, but not the men!
Read Molly's story in STRANGE TALES #1, on sale September 2.
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