Let Them Eat Meat Cake!
A gothic gabfest with indie darling Dame Darcy
by Claire Donner
The mercurial and ethereal Dame Darcy (damedarcy) is a renowned gallery artist, writer, illustrator, animator, rock musician, clothing designer, and interior decorator to stars such as Margaret Cho and Courtney Love. In spite of this grandiose resume, her artistic career began humbly enough with an indie comic called Meat Cake. When Fantagraphics began publishing this alarming title in 1993, there was nothing truly like it on the market. Its blend of gothic literary stylings, burlesque comedy and punk zine composition made Meat Cake a critical part of the strengthening indie comics scene.
In the years since her entry into the indie comics canon, Dame Darcy has contributed to the Women of Marvel series, Image’s Comic Book Tattoo anthology, and Alan Moore’s Tomorrow Stories (perhaps returning the favor for Moore’s earlier guest spot in Meat Cake #9). Alongside these forays into mainstream fame, fine art and fashion, Meat Cake is fondly remembered and still going strong.
ComiXology: Which books inspired you to create something so unusual?
Dame Darcy: I read Love and Rockets when I was in High School it was my favorite. I liked how the Hernandez brothers portrayed life as a girl in such a real way, represented us in such a fair way. It was a dream come true to be published by Fantagraphics a few years later. I also loved a goth magazine called Propaganda and ordered fashion from it. Later, when I toured with (punk zine pioneer) Lisa Suckdog, after the insane rock operas, she would sell her zine and I my comic book. I also did comics for her zine, too.
Growing up in a bohemian household exposed me to art books and styles at an early age. We also lived in a 1902 craftsman only furnished with antiques, and had a lot of books and artifacts from that era, so for me the 1980s and the 1880s blended and I didn’t quite understand that books from 100 years ago were not contemporary.
For instance, I was obsessed with the OZ book series that my Grandma had many of the original editions of…I was inspired to create my own world. The land of OZ was a utopia ruled by a little girl, Ozma, and it had a very dark side: a walking talking voodoo doll…a lady who kept hundreds of heads on stands like other women would do with wigs…a suffragette valkyrie army of flying ladies with giant sewing needles for swords and buttons for shields. When I describe the OZ book series like this, and how I lived in that world for years growing up as a child, it is no surprise Meat Cake is the way it is.
CX: It’s clear that Meat Cake takes cues from many different media aside from other cartoons and comics. What are some of these fine art influences?
DD: I love Aubrey Beardsley, Edward Gorey, silent film stars, fairy tales, Klimt, the Pre-Raphaelites, the poetry of Poe and Bronte and so many others from the turn of the century. Twain, and Austen, and the easy-eating-like-vampire-bon bons amazingness of VC Andrews and Anne Rice.
CX: What are your favorite tools for creating the unique look of Meat Cake?
DD: My favorite for years was a red nib Rapidograph pen and a grey nib, switched out…I used to map everything out with a pencil first, but now I work with an awesome refillable pen my dad gave me for my birthday last year called Lamy, and the ink is Noodlers ink, it apparently is a formula some obsessive guy makes in the northwest…I also draw more directly with the pen straight to paper, taking out more of the pencil sketch step for time efficiency. I follow story boards I draw in another book, and I’m in the process of learning photoshop better – I have to thank my wonderful interns Tasha and Jessica for that.
CX: Readers remember Meat Cake mainly for its special aesthetic, but you’ve also created some unforgettable characters. How do you come up with someone like Strega Pez, a witch who communicates through engraved tablets that pop out of her neck?
DD: I like to play with the concepts of word balloons. Who says they have to be the conventional style? I had an Easter bunny Pez dispenser and I thought, “What if this was a witch, and her thought balloons were written on the Pez? What would be her back story? That she was cursed to only talk this way.” Strega Pez is, in theory, handicapped by this. So, at first she was only able to work minimum wage day jobs like at a clam shack. But she worked extra hard to become a scientist and, through chemistry, combined spider silk with goats milk to invent an incredibly strong invisible string. Because she owns the patent, she is now rich.
CX: Goths get a bad rap for being too serious, but the quintessentially gothic Meat Cake is incredibly funny. Your comics also seem to owe a lot to bawdy cartoonists like Tex Avery. Do you feel a kinship with a lot of comedic creators?
DD: As a young goth, I loved how Tim Burton made Beetlejuice so wacky and hilarious, though it was also soooo goth. That movie really influenced and inspired me at the age of 16 when I saw it at the Idaho Falls drive in. I couldn’t wait to get out into the big world and become part of the mainstream market for my kind of ideas that Tim had shown me was there.
Dark humor is the best because this world is a very dark place, and this kind of humor points out the truths, or makes light of all that darkness. I think it makes me feel better, and I feel many people share in this view as well. Although I always was super goth I thought it was boring, dumb, trite, and self absorbed to take anything too seriously. I practice Buddhism now, and have for over 10 years. There is a philosophy about “the pain body” where you are supposed to separate yourself from it, look at it objectively and not get too wrapped up in it and absorbed by it. I think without knowing it, this is what I was doing through my humor.
Oh and yes, I love Tex Avery, especially that psychedelic wolf who goes bonkers when he sees Red Riding Hood – like, his jaw drops and turns into a staircase and his eyes fall out and bounce down it. I also LOVE me up some of those Betty Boop cartoons from the 1920’s. Sooooo crazy and trippy and dark. Betty Boop was based on silent film star Clara Bow, you know.
CX: Speaking of stars, your persona outlives Meat Cake in many ways – you are something of a fashion innovator, designing and creating your own dolls and flaunting your unique style at events like the Mermaid Parade. Can you talk a bit about your relationship to fashion?
DD: It was very weird and lonely in the 90’s because I didn’t consider myself just goth, I wore pink, frilly fairytale fantasy-style dresses a lot. I was lolita before lolita was a (fashion world) thing, and I’m so glad that Meat Cake and the style of the girls has become more timely and of the moment now than it was 20 years ago with the advent of the lolita movement. I’ve begun creating a game with the ladies who are coordinating Ruffle Con, the first Lolita Convention starting in New Haven CT this October. Now I’m the Lolita Granny, and it is my wish to show the Lolitas I truly understand them through Meat Cake. We can all have fun, fantasy and fashion throughout history, from rococo to Victorian to the 20’s and now beyond.
Claire Donner is a blogger, game critic and comics creator who earned her Art History degree from Bard College for her work on R. Crumb. She has contributed interviews with Gilbert Hernandez and Richard Sala to comiXology, and she hopes to see this list continue to grow in the future.
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