I Have No Political Leisure: An Interview with Dorothy Gambrell

Dorothy Gambrell currently juggles multiple webcomics, including Cat and Girl, The New Adventures of Death and beginning this year, the overtly political The Ralph Bunche. All this plus a job, a band, and who knows what else. Nevertheless, she managed to find a few moments to answer some questions about her newest webcomic and what prompted it.

You're balancing three webcomics at present—Cat and Girl, New Adventures of Death, and the more overtly political, but hilarious Ralphe Bunche. Why did you decide to add the Ralphe Bunche to your many projects? What need does it answer for you?

The idea occured to me. I'm very bad with ideas, I always want to see where they lead or what they become so I end up staying up until 4am for two weeks compiling lists or making maps about zip codes. About 4 years ago I wanted to make a sitcom where all countries were people and the episode would be based on the last week's international news and America would live with Mexico and Canada and everyone would try to set up Israel and Palestine but they'd hate each other. And a few months ago I realized that I might as well do it as a cartoon and pit news against the conventions of daily newspaper strips rather than sitcoms. The need it answered was nothing but having the free time to try it out.


What political figures do you admire or approve of? (And why do I get the feeling it is a much smaller list than those you dislike or despise?)

Er… I like Lincoln. He's the only U.S. president who didn't belong to an organized religion! And FDR was good. They're both far from perfect… The qualities that I admire in people are not the qualities that get anyone anywhere in politics, and probably for good reason.


You have a job, three webcomics, a band you play in—what do you do in your spare time? (All 30 seconds of it…)

I recently found myself in a temp job – and as folks might see I'm no longer able to crank out the three webcomics (I'm struggling with one) – to clarify my definite not-super-ness. In my spare time I read books, do laundry, walk around my neighborhood, meet up with my friends and plan useless, time consuming projects.


Who are your storytelling and humor influences? Who do you admire? (Not
necessarily the same thing.) I know you like Matt Groening…

I like the humor of Ambrose Bierce, Oscar Wilde – crafting sharps jab with substance. Joss Whedon is an incredible storyteller, as is (warning: this may be needlessly obtuse) Edward Tufte. I can't place a wall between influence and admiration, however subdued the influence might be.


You have a very deceptively simple yet engaging style. Who are your artistic influence? Who do you admire? (Again, not necessarily the same thing.)

Windsor McCay, the aforementioned Matt Groening, the contents of the comics page in Newsday between 1985 and 1996. As I've been struggling to develop a style for the Ralph Bunche I've spent a lot of time looking at strips like Blondie and Ziggy and Dennis the Menace – for all the groans their "humor" induces they have an incredible visual minimalism, suggesting concrete places with a few clean lines. The Ralph Bunche is me trying to master that skill.


What countries or political systems do you admire?

I'm really hopelessly ignorant when it comes to other countries – I am American, you know. One of the reasons I began the Ralph Bunche is so I would be forced to pay closer attention to world news. I admire causes – universal health care, global minimum wages, making corporations pay the real cost of their pollution and its health effects – a thirty hour work week because THAT'S THE ONLY WAY WE'RE GOING TO HAVE ENOUGH JOBS FOR EVERYONE ALREADY – but I can't say what countries best espouse those.


Which of your webcomics do you enjoy doing the most–and why?

I really love and dread making them all equally.


Is there any editorial direction given you, since you're putting the Ralphe Bunche out on an anthology title, MODERN TALES? What sort of editorial input do you get on this and the other MT title, THE NEW ADVENTURES OF DEATH?

None at all, which has been fantastic. As Modern Tales was starting we cartoonist folk were asked for biographies and I submitted the biography of Williams Jennings Bryant AND NO ONE CARED. That made me believe I was in the right place.


Do you involved politically in any capacity besides your comics?

I went to the March for Women's Lives – the big anti-war protest – was planning to go to the Republican National Convention but I ended up with the means for vacation that week. That's it, that's my small pathetic list. I would like to do more but I am so busy with my self-important attempt to make a living creatively that I don't have the time or money to offer. And yes, I feel bad about that.


What plans do you have for the Ralphe Bunche, and indeed, all your webcomics? What future creative projects are you planning, both in and out of webcomics?

As soon as this temp job is over I am really looking forward to getting back to all three cartoons and seeing if my hiatus allows me any insight that will allow me to do better. Right now I'm busy trying to create some bad gift ideas to offer people at Christmas — the calendar of photos of the largest sewage processing plant in the Northeast is almost complete, and other projects are in the works.

And I'm really hoping I get the time to clean out my closet sometime soon.