Seven years in the making, Girl Stories was Lauren Weinstein’s first graphic novel, published by Henry Holt last year. It is a remarkable collection of raw, droll, and richly idiosyncratic stories about the trials of adolescence, delivered in Jolly Rancher colors and visceral drawings. The comics, many of which first premiered on gURL.com, a website for teenage girls, capture the grit of underdog youth. Each one is drawn in a different style, but they all feature Weinstein in middle-school purgatory: struggling to be popular, taking solace in Morrissey, and fending off the searing brutality of the class tyrant, Glenn.
There is a youthful immediacy to these stories, but some are also frank about sexual desire and the merits of navel-piercing. So it is not totally clear how to classify this book, and what demographic it is for (a problem that has vexed both her publisher and retailers). Girl Stories is like mac and cheese for the bullied soul at any age.
Weinstein earned a Xeric Grant to publish her first comics collection, Inside Vineyland, in 2003, which featured some of her darker gag comics originally published in the Stranger, Seattle’s alternative weekly newspaper. The Goddess of War, her graphic novel about a woman whose work is never done, will be published by PictureBox in fall 2007. And she has begun a sequel to Girl Stories, tentatively called Calamity. In 2004 she won an Ignatz Award for “Promising New Talent.” As the frontwoman in the band Flaming Fire, she wears a wig and a toga. The band’s music has been described as really good electro-folk-doom rock.
This interview took place in her Williamsburg, Brooklyn, apartment, surrounded by stacks of comic books and walls of paintings, prints, and the rare ceremonial Aztec headdress. Her dog, Dr. Buddy, barked in the background. She began by explaining her tank top, which had the word Stoned written across it in rhinestones.
THE BELIEVER: What’s it like spending all this time mining your adolescence to find the hardest, darkest, maybe the funniest stories? Is this a way of purging these experiences? Or making sense of them?
LAUREN WEINSTEIN: Even if you’re pulling up old memories, they’re completely unreliable. I remember running into this guy before our ten-year high-school reunion. He said, “Oh, man, what really destroyed high school for me was that I could never date anyone because I wrote that really bad, hyperconservative op-ed piece about how women should be barefoot and tied to the stove.” And I thought, That’s not why no one dated you. But that was his story. In general, everyone’s got their own issues in high school, and they’re not such a big deal to other people.
BLVR: And we create stories that help us make sense of earlier versions of ourselves.
LW: Right, and there’s always going to be an inner editor who cuts things short or moves things around to make them make more sense. I really try to make these stories seem in the moment. I don’t want them to seem nostalgic. I want them to seem like you’re there with that character as surprising and horrible things are happening.
It’s funny, because another thing that’s actually really hard with making comics is expressing joy. What happens to cartoonists is they’re alone in their house, dredging up all these things, and it’s more conducive to thinking about more depressing things. To really make a comic that has joy in it, that has characters really loving somebody or experiencing something amazing and having a great time—and to be really honest about that—is almost more difficult than dredging up really terrible things. Just as often in a teenager’s life they’re going to experience real, wonderful joy. I want to get that across.