This Girl is the Cat's Meow: an interview with Dorothy Gambrell by Leah Fitzgerald
She has three comics and a sketchbook online, works part time at a hospital and hates sundried tomatoes. Or does she? Dorothy Gambrell, the creator behind Cat and Girl, The New Adventures of Death (on Modern Tales) and The Four-Fours (at Splendid), lives in New York, where she takes donations to support her need for a third pair of pants, subway trips and cat food, and provides accountability by explaining where that PayPal cash goes. A woman of principles, she refuses to support any vice, so Cat, rather notoriously, eats paint.
Comixpedia: How did you get involved in comics?
Dorothy Gambrell: I started drawing comics when I was 9 years old, single panel gag cartoons influenced by the Far Side. For some reason I decided at 9 that drawing cartoons would provide me with an easy living. By the time I realized how wrong I was it was too late to get out.
I began drawing Cat and Girl in June of 1999, distributing them by taping them on signposts and store windows. I was in school at the time, and while I had no free access to a photocopier I could make unlimited numbers of computer print-outs. To take advantage of this I found myself using a computer in the cartoon creation process for the first time. After I had drawn about 4 cartoons a friend of mine told me I ought to put them on my website. Heck, it was no skin off my back, so I did.
CP: You're involved in many projects (Modern Tales, Cat and Girl, Splendid, Little Commie, etc) - where do you find the time and the creativity?
DG: I worked at a hospital for the last year and a half running errands, making photocopies and ending up in painful medical experiments. I've recently cut my hours down to one day a week, which leaves me with a lot more time to try and accomplish all those things I'd like to be doing, although I'm finding that I only wind up with more projects that are perpetually halfway to done.
I find time and creativity in absurd amounts of coffee, cup by cup until I've figured out a plan or a punchline. Sometimes I end up with a bad idea, but there's always something there at the end of an hour that I can take action on.
CP: What caused you to start asking for donations on the Cat and Girl site? Why did you decide to draw comics for donations over $5?
DG: I had seen other webcomics using the donation system before but had felt uncomfortable just asking for money. Then it just – it just occured to me that I could provide an accountability and a physical object thank-you by drawing what I did with the money. I've made up more complicated critical justifications of that decision since (a patronage system in a capitalist society, where the funding itself is what's glorified on the altarpiece, is a personal favorite), but really – it just occured to me.
CP: How do you feel about taking donations and selling merchandise?
DG: Er, conflicted. I like designing merchandise, and it's a nice feeling to have created physical objects along those lines, but at the same time – I don't like stuff. I realize this makes me an ideological nutcase, and really some of my best friends like stuff, but… I don't buy merchandise myself, I think having too much stuff limits mobility, that making a habit of purchasing things you don't need ties you into a world of working five days a week just to be able to afford the freedom of the other two. I really don't think most people need more stuff. But, assuming they're going to acquire more stuff anyway – well, gee, wouldn't it be delightful if it featured Cat and Girl?
CP: Your forum on talkaboutcomics.com is often rife with debate about the proletariat, the bourgeois and things that are cool. Where do you think Cat and Girl and your other works seat you politically?
DG: Are the proletariat cool? Or is talking about the proletariat cool? I'm interested in culture, in society – I have generally found that politics are not nearly as important as politicians claim they are.
Unless, of course, Politics starts running around the room waving its arms and shouting incoherently, as it's been doing lately. I haven't considered myself political in the past, but I can see people around me becoming much more political. I wouldn't be surprised to soon find myself among them.
CP: What's with your bio on Modern Tales?
DG: I've never survived extreme adversity or failed in a mission to the South Pole or even moved to a city where I didn't know anyone. I'm just one of the mob along the suburb to liberal arts college to happenin' city path, discussing the same damn things in the same damn bars, finding that swell band or t-shirt a whole 3 months before Teen People. And really, what's more interesting - that, or the Scopes monkey trial?
CP: What brought about "I have no superfluous leisure"?
DG: It was a quote in an old yearbook I once saw. I just have a large amount of pointless material sitting on my hard drive or half-crumpled and lost beneath furniture that would never see the light of day otherwise.
CP: Cat and Girl alternately embrace the life of the hipster and express their disdain for all things hip. Why the dichotomy?
DG: I'd like to think that that dichotomy exists for everything in Cat and Girl. Questions are more interesting than answers – the babbling in Cat and Girl should read as half-formed thought rather than finished, cogent arguments.
CP: How come Boy hasn't been around as much lately? Are Boy and Girl ever going to like each other?
DG: Boy hasn't been around much lately because... well, it's certainly not random, it's because... he is working on a large-scale project in his basement constructing a space ship or a... life sized replica of Sutton Hoo... so he has been busy.
Boy and Girl do like each other. Girl doesn't pay as much attention to Boy as he'd like, having distractions like the frosting factory and other friends to occupy her time. That inequality in their friendship can never end without throwing the whole strip into anticlimactic resolution. Only if there was a major motion picture – then, I guess, at the end it could be resolved. And it would star Carole Lombard.
CP: How do you feel about being labeled as counter-culture or alternative?
DG: I wasn't really aware of being labeled that way. Who has said that? And where can I find them?
CP: How did The Four-Fours start?
DG: Splendid's Mr. Zahora approached me about starting a music-type cartoon, and – well, I've been geekily college radio-y obsessed with music for quite some time. I wanted to try to get some of that out in a cartoon, preferably one about shiny bubblegum failure.
CP: Cat and Girl involves a lot of social commentary, especially about being a sheep. How do you feel about the tendency in our culture to follow trends?
DG: I am not up in arms against the tendency to follow trends. If you don't care very much about food and suddenly everything you order comes back with sun dried tomatoes on it – are you following trends? And so having come across them at the same time as everyone else, if you decide that you love sun dried tomatoes around the same time everyone else, and then you
get sick of them around the same time as everyone else – does that mean you're following trends? I do believe in a zeitgeist, that subgroups within a culture are just ready for certain things at certain times, and that subgroups take their cues (whether in copying or reeling away) from other subgroups, and so suddenly everyone loves sundried tomatoes or mules (the shoe) or mules (not the shoe). These trends are fine, as I think everyone recognizes them for what they are.
And now I will veer into the irredeemably pretentious.
What does bother me are trends disguised as inevitabilities – like, say, marriage, or having a full time job. There are lots of excellent reasons to have a full-time job – money and stability and getting out of the house - and there are lots of good reasons to not have a full time job - like owning your own time. If you choose to make that trade off, between stability and time, time and money, that's fine, but I do feel that a lot of people never realize that there was a choice to be made. That's what I rail against half-incoherently (and half covered in spittle) – how hard it can be, and how necessary it is, to see that whenever you are given two choices there is a third choice hiding just out of sight.
Or perhaps I really, really dislike sundried tomatoes.