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#0010 12 JULY 2004

The Persistence of Questions About Memory
The flawed Comics Journal interview with Phoebe Gloeckner

Although deeply flawed, the Phoebe Gloeckner interview in The Comics Journal #261 is still one of the magazine's best ever. That's no small accomplishment for North America's best and longest running magazine about comics.

Fantagraphics/TCJ founder Gary Groth is the interviewer, and I've mentioned many times that his interviews are the artform's national treasure. No interviewer in the history of comics has consistently engaged their subject with such a passion for learning what it is that makes them tick. No one else can claim such skill at placing key figures in comics history into context in the vast tapestry that makes up the industry. And surprisingly, Groth's usually revealing technique fails him in his conversation with Gloeckner, revealing even more powerfully her uniquely human and creative spirit and telling us a great deal about both interviewer and interviewee.

Gloeckner's colourful past has resulted in her becoming a staunchly individualistic artist, and I knew from past interviews I've read with her that she dislikes labels and doesn't like the obvious question about her work, "Is it autobiographical?" Unfortunately, Groth really, really wants to get to the heart of this question, and it results in some tense moments and probably some lost opportunities.

I tend to fall on Phoebe's side when it comes to respecting her wish not to waste time wondering which moments in her work are or are not based on a moment by moment transcription of her memories. As she points out more than once, memory is a tricky thing that cannot ever truly be relied on to present an objective recounting of events as they occurred -- no narrator is capable of acting as a universal conduit for all points of view of a given event, and Phoebe instinctually understands that without that objective, all-encompassing perspective, any interpretation of events is therefore subjective. While she may take this opinion to the extreme, as an artist it is absolutely her right to do so and her wishes should be respected.

Both A Child's Life and The Diary of a Teenage Girl are such rich, complex works that there are hundreds of angles and themes to explore, beyond the possibly prurient question of whether or not this or that thing happened to Phoebe/Minnie decades ago. Unfortunately, and despite Gary Groth's assertion in the body of the interview, I think the accompanying critique of Diary of a Teenage Girl is also a failure, too wrapped up in its own cleverness to clearly tackle the complexities and profundities of Gloeckner's masterwork. As I mentioned in my own review, Diary of a Teenage Girl is both complex and challenging, and few critics have risen to the challenge. As a landmark graphic novel, it deserves more attention than even the full-length interview and lackluster critique found in this issue.

Glockner also correctly calls Groth on the carpet for ignoring her work over the years, and his lack of an explanation is instructive. While the Journal is the finest and most vital publication about comics in the history of the artform, a lot of important work has been ignored over the past few years for reasons not always clear. Groth gets big points from me for including his mea culpa in the interview rather than ignoring the issue or trying to edit it out of the discussion.

Groth does say at the end of the interview that he thinks Gloeckner should be interviewed again. I quite agree.

I do think the current issue of the Journal is a good one, with much to recommend it; it should also be noted that it's the final issue of the "old format," and next issue begins a whole new era for the magazine, as it changes its editorial approach, paper stock, frequency and other key elements under new Managing Editor Dirk Deppey. As someone who's been reading The Comics Journal almost since its very inception, I am excited about the changes and really anticipating great things for the magazine as it begins the next step in its storied history.

-- Alan David Doane



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