Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir is a poignant and moving work of illustrated non-fiction that’s both easy and fun to get into, no matter your usual reading materials. It’s a work of surprising honesty, and you can practically feel author and cartoonist Nicole J. Georges’ life spilling off the pages into your own heart.
I was fortunate to snag a quick chat with Nicole about the highs and lows of opening her lifestory to the public in comic form, what didn’t make it into the finished book, living with animals, and what fans can expect next from this multi-talented individual. It helps to know a little about Georges’ before diving in, and there’s no better way than pouring through Calling Dr. Laura in a single night (like I did). When you’re finished, be sure to check back to read her keen insights about her graphically illustrated look back on life, love, and following your dreams. You’ll be glad you did.
And for even more fun don’t forget to read our full review of Nicole’s wonderful Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir right HERE!
Where did the idea of illustrating your memoir come from? It’s a heartbreaking story in many places, and your art definitely adds to the emotional impact – especially those adorable animals.
I had originally written the memoir as a short story, because I was delighted that I’d gotten on the air with Doctor Laura and wanted to tell people about it. This led to fleshing out the details of why I called Dr. Laura- specifically, the story of the palm reader, my family, and the person who led me to ask about the truth.I started reading the story on tour to audiences around the country with Sister Spit, Michelle Tea’s queer literary tour. I read it aloud accompanied by projected illustrations. Myself, Dr. Laura, the palm reader, etc.
After our 28th show in as many days, in New York, I was approached by a literary agent who wanted to know if I would consider adapting it into a graphic memoir. I lept at the opportunity. I have been creating autobiographical comics for the past fifteen years, so I was excited.
Who are some of the artists you view as inspirational?
I love Phoebe Gloeckner, Genevieve Castree, Sue Coe, and Lynda Barry.
Your memoir is poignant in ways that are accessibly by a diverse range of readers, be it the LGBT community, teens dealing with divorce, and even those of us who feel like they just don’t have a place in society. What practices did you implement to ensure that your messages were intact no matter what audience picks up your book to read?
I didn’t! My idea going into the book was just to be as vulnerable and honest as possible if I was going to do it at all. I believe that if you make yourself vulnerable and go there with people, they will follow and connect with you. Even though my experiences might seem very specific, the emotions are universal.
What do you consider the toughest parts of the memoir to have worked through, and conversely, which were the most fun?
Working on the book meant having to dwell and visualize a horrible breakup and time in my life years after it happened. It was so long in the past that I should have been well beyond it and not thinking about it on the daily, but then I’d come back to my desk, affix a raincloud over my head, and go back into drawing some of the darkest periods of my life. Writing about my stomach issues as a child was still embarrassing, writing about sad moments as an adult were still sad.
In fact, when I started the book, the whole thing was going to be in the more realistic, grayscale style, but I realized very quickly that it was not fun to draw myself getting traumatized as a child. I had to stop and think of a creative solution, as I knew I would potentially be working on it for years. I decided to draw in a style that was fun for me, which was the black and white simple style that you see in the book now. That made drawing myself getting traumatized a little easier to bear.
I liked drawing all of the weiner dogs.
You have some highly influential people singing your praises on your book. Did you ever think about withholding any of the stories in the book for fear of possibly alienating readers or others who might give the book a read?
No. I didn’t write the book with influential writers in mind. I just wanted to tell my story. I had editors and readers whose judgment I trusted all along the way. That was gold- I knew I could write whatever I wanted to , and they would hem me in or tell me when something was missing.
Was there a particular process you used in order to best tie together the multiple parallel narratives you have going in the book? It’s difficult enough as a writer to write one flowing storyline, and you deftly weave them together in a way that feels natural.
First of all, thank you for saying that. When I sat down to write the book, I had a basic outline of my adult story and my story from childhood. The adult story came together pretty easily- it was very linear. The childhood vignettes were sparse, and I added more details to flesh out the story as I went along, but we did not have an order to the book until the last possible minute.
All of this information existed, it was just a matter of putting it in order, and I’m sure I knew what I was doing on some subconscious level, but in a way it felt like luck that things worked out and fit together the way they did.
You’ve worn many different hats over the years: writer, illustrator, and musician. Are you still dabbling in music these days or have any plans to?
Honestly, I felt injured after being kicked out of my own band by my girlfriend (as seen in the book). I’d never had my creative pursuits judged in that way. So I decided to focus on what I knew I was good at, drawing, and take a break from music. I absolutely love to sing and I love to perform, but I am taking an official break.
I have formed a Minor Threat cover band that has performed a couple of times though, Minor Treat. I am the Ian Mackaye of that band.
In a way, the ever-changing pets and animals in your life represent the quality of your life. Happier times seemed to equal more pets, which is a trend I’ve discovered personally. Would you say there’s any truth to that statement?
I do not! I was very happy to meet so many beautiful little dachshunds, but living with five dogs and three chickens was overwhelming and provided a constant level of anxiety at all times. My brain was Dog T.V. I’ve found that my happiest times have been with just Beija and Lambchop as my companions.
Once I lived at a farm for rescued factory farm animals, Farm Sanctuary, and I was happy to get to visit & befriend the animals who lived there without being their sole caretaker.
Were there any specific instances of your childhood you left out due to space constraints that might have left an impression on readers?
Yes! First of all, I am haunted by the fact that I didn’t add a chapter about my name being legally changed as a kid. That could have been integral, but my to-do list (of stories to add) was so vast that I overlooked it. That may have added to the mystery, and the idea that I was hard to find by my biological father.
I would have liked to put in a section about all of my teeth rotting out as a toddler, literally never brushing my teeth as an adolescent (like in a serious way), getting dozens of cavities and extractions, and having dental issues into adulthood as a result of this, but I felt like I’d already hit the maximum amount of trauma I could bestow upon readers.
Sidenote: I have three gold teeth, so it didn’t turn out all that bad.
What current projects are you working on right now? Are you ready to unveil anything new?
I wish! I have several projects in the hopper right now, I am just waiting to see which one bears fruit. I have been appointed as the 2013/14 Fellow at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction Vermont, which means I will be traveling there this fall and hunkering down to work on a new long-form project. I’ll let you know what it is as soon as it is completed!
In the meantime, I will produce my yearly split comic- Invincible Summer/Clutch this summer, I’ll be putting out a book of my collected interviews and drawings of senior citizens called Tell It Like It Tiz, and I will be making a 2014 calendar. Keep your eyes out around August for these things!