Story and Photos Holly Feral
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Originally published in Driftwood Issue One
Nicole J. Georges is a world-famous graphic novelist. She travels the globe teaching, draws with senior citizens, and gives voices to pooches. I hung out with Nicole while she worked on her new book, Fetch, a memoir about the dog who has appeared in many of her comics, and we talked about how scandalous daytime television drafted the course of her life.
The story of Nicole J. Georges...
Was born on a snowy day in Akron, Ohio. I don’t know if I should publicly dispute Wikipedia’s claim that I was born in Kansas.
Before I faked my death and became the new Nicole, I was raised in a variety of places. I was raised by my mom and a couple of teenagers. I was the youngest, so I simultaneously had the feeling of being the youngest child and the only child. My sisters were gone a lot ‘cause they were significantly older than me. So, I had the joy of having laissez faire parenting—which is like, “We’re pretty sure the kid’s not going to die, so we don’t have to do much”—along with the loneliness of the only child.
I was also raised by TV.
Which TV personalities raised you?
A lot of shows from the '60s and '70s that were getting reruns in the '80s. So, The Patty Duke Show, the Dobie Gillis show. Things like that. So, I have a lot of old-school references now. I liked The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Oh! I love Divorce Court. Also, I loved scandalous daytime talk shows.
What other ways did you fill the loneliness?
Through TV and feeding my feelings and drawing and ventriloquism. Oh, my gosh, and pets. Capturing various amphibians and reptiles and keeping them in my room.
You have to tell me all about your illustrious career as a ventriloquist.
It was a short career. I had a Charlie McCarthy doll. I did a routine for the talent show in sixth grade, where the majority of the script was inside jokes about my own dog, which my mom helped me write and nobody else really understood. It’s a pretty clear path from there to here, telling inside jokes about my dog on stage. I have been perfecting it.
I met Steve Buscemi at a party and that’s what we talked about. He did ventriloquism in sixth grade and so did I.
Do you remember the voice you would use?
It’s actually very similar to my voice. Since then, I’ve done many, many dog voices for my various dogs. Beija, towards the end of her life, got the personality of an insecure teenager. She was a straight girl, too, so she’d be like, “Justin Beiber’s so hot.” She actually really loved Taylor Swift and I didn’t. But then, she turned 15, she got cancer, and I started listening to this Taylor Swift song called “Fifteen.”
What was the young Nicole dreaming of?
First, I wanted to be an animator before I realized how much work that actually was. You have to draw hundreds and hundreds of pictures of the same thing. I thought that sounded very unpleasant. The tragic comedy of it is that I draw myself hundreds and hundreds of times, which I’m doing right now!
Then I wanted to be a psychiatrist or psychologist who helps pre-op transgender people. On daytime TV, after my reruns from the '60s were over, were a lot of trashy talk shows. In the '80s and early '90s, there were a lot of shows about Sex Change! It was super scandalous. And from those shows, I learned that these people existed and that there was a process you had to go through before you were allowed to get these surgeries or take these hormones. I thought maybe I’d be part of that process and get a job as a psychiatrist who helps people get clearance to transition if they want to.
I’ve always been attracted to the underdog and I’ve always had a real soft spot for gender nonconforming people or gender-variant people. I felt lucky that I wasn’t trapped in the wrong body.
I also wanted to be a club kid after watching those shows and they were also portrayed as wacko. I wanted to be a club kid called Miz Understood with long, blue braid extensions and crazy platform shoes.
I think the guests on those shows, they went on those shows so they could try to put a little humanity to the face of this experience, and it worked for me. I think that’s why I’ve been attracted to low-paying, nonprofit jobs for most of my life.
What was your first experience with nonprofits?
In high school, I did Food Not Bombs. I did that for four years, which is pretty extreme for a high-schooler to commit to four years of anything every weekend. But I was really interested in social justice from that age forward. I quit high school and I was organizing things for Rock The Vote called Rock the Nation.
I organized a zine conference. I traveled around the country, going to political tribunals and union things. I tried to go to a Marxist camp; my mom said no. I couldn’t wait to intern at Farm Sanctuary one day.
Oh, and I had a girls’ issues group, that should have been called Riot Grrls but wasn’t because I was too dumb. It was called Girl Positive and the flier was like, “We’re not Riot Grrls!” which is the stupidest thing—that I tried to separate myself from such a cool movement of people that would’ve supported me. For me to take the side of the punk boys I was around. I was like, “Riot Grrls are too extreme! There’s no way I’m doing that!” because I didn’t want to threaten any boys around me by being a feminist. I was like, “I’m a feminist, but not like that.”
I went to the Portland Zine Symposium thinking I would just run into vegan zine after vegan zine.
No, no one’s vegan anymore. Yeah, it’s not a hot issue anymore. There are a lot of vegans in Portland, but in the circles I travel in, I’m generally the only vegan. I haven’t run into a vegan zine in a very long time.
I always wanted to show people through my art. I wanted to show them a character who is gay so maybe that will come into their minds if they have to vote or do something that affects gay people. They may not actually have a close relationship with a gay person, but they maybe feel like they do from reading my work.
The same thing with vegan stuff. I show it as not being a drag. I’m not starving to death and it’s not that hard. I live in Portland, and if you can’t be vegan here, there’s something very deeply wrong with you ’cause it is the easiest place in the world to be vegan. Especially in 2015. I went vegan in the '90s in Kansas, eating, ugh, who knows what I was eating.
What inspirations do you have now?
My vegan art inspiration is Sue Coe, who I love very much.
I like Lynda Barry. I like Pheobe Gloeckner, I have an Audible account that I love. I love listening to this poet Eileen Myles read her poetry. I love this woman named Geneviève Castrée, who lives in Anacortes. I love her art.
I like old illustrations. I recently read some books by Donna Tartt. I’m not convinced that she’s not a man. All of her characters are men in the books I read. I like Jennifer Eagan. I like Lois-Ann Yamanaka. I like comics written by women in the '70s and I like really traumatic coming-of-age stories by women of today.
What are you dreaming of these days?
I want to do a book called My Straight Year after [Fetch], which is about moving to the middle of nowhere and giving this retro idea of being straight a go and how that went for me.
I would like to do a couple of kids’ books. I want to do a kids’ book called There’s a Sloth in my Bath, about a sloth in a bath. Stuff like that.
Are you still doing Invincible Summer?
I would. The hard thing is, I hardly have time. Since the last issue, I’ve been around the world and a lot of things happened but I just don’t have time to deal with that. It’s unpaid for the most part and just for fun.
I volunteer with senior citizens and I make a zine about that, which I do almost every week. It’s called Tell it Like It Tiz! We did a Kickstarter a couple of years ago to make it into a book, but we haven’t put out a new zine of that, so I have hundreds of pages of notes from going to the senior center, sitting there and just drawing about their lives, and they’re just in a file folder.
I want somebody to make a movie about my book and I’m trying to manifest that. Calling Dr. Laura. I’m not doing anything besides telling people that to get it done.
Well, I’ll put that in the story and see who bites.
All the vegan movie producers that want to work with a right-on vegan, here I am!
What would be the last chapter of the Nicole Georges book?
Aside from wanting to be Jane Goodall, I still want to draw children’s books ’cause it seems easy. I would just be like Maurice Sendak and keep drawing until I’m dead. I hope that my hands don’t give out before then, ’cause they’re kind of tenuous right now.
I just want to keep drawing and having a good time. I want to have animals but not too many. I would raise a monkey, but there’s no need for me to, and I don’t believe in exotic pets, so… If an orphaned gorilla showed up at my door and it needed me, I would take him in.
I do want to find a way to help animals in a more significant way. That’s been my ulterior motive for so long that I’m ready for it to be a more exterior motive. I’m actually wheeling and dealing a little bit to try to team up with somebody somehow to go to Africa and use art for good. Like, if Jane Goodall’s organization could pay me to do anything, I would be all in.