Beyond The Panel: An interview with Christine Smith of Eve's Apple
Christine Smith is the author of two webcomics, Eve's Apple and The Princess. Today I'm interviewing her about Eve's Apple (EA), a three-year-old webcomic about the titular Eve and her friends, love interests, enemies, and everything in between. Read our conversation about newspaper comics, fat bodies, and Betty and Veronica below!
RMJ: What attracted you to making comics?
CS: A lifetime of reading comics. I always read newspaper comics as a child.... Peanuts, and later Bloom County and Calvin & Hobbes...When I was in school taking painting classes, occasionally we'd be given the assignment to paint with a limited palette. That is to say, a limited set of colors and only those. While it was limiting, it required so much problem solving and creativity that it actually made for very lively pieces. To me, the four panel newspaper style strip is a lot like that. Because I have to work within certain bounds, it sparks creativity...
I really wanted to make [comics], and attempted it a few times, but I couldn't really..... forgive the cliche.... "find my voice." In one, I'd try to be avant garde, or absurdist, or what have you. I drew one for a while in the '90s that briefly ran in a Chicago LGBT paper. I was so shy, I'd fax it in and just tell them to run it.... and for a few weeks they did. But it was absolutely terrible, it wasn't about anything. So mostly I just read and read comics for years. Knew I wanted to make a comic, but couldn't figure out what story I had in me to tell, and almost everything came out as crap. But always in the back of my head, I wanted to make a comic that would be worth reading.
RMJ: So what about Eve's Apple enabled you to find that voice? How'd you find this particular story?
CS: I was working at a terrible job, and a friend of mine and I went out to some bars after work to vent. We ended up at this super chic place on Castro Street. There were the usual men, and quite a few women. Nobody else there was noticeably transgender. There were two women bartending.... Short hair, sleeveless tees, toned arms with tattoos. That kinda hot butchy look that just leaves me weak at the knees. I've never been a bar person, never been "chic," but I kind of imagined what it would be like if I started hanging out at bars where these super rad butch women were. It was a happy fantasy, but also anxiety-inspiring.
As a transgender woman attracted to women, there's always a question whether I'll be accepted in the larger lesbian culture. As attractive as imagining myself hanging out with these people would be, there's that worry of being considered lesser than, not belonging. So Eve's Apple was created with this in mind, asking myself what my twenties might have been like if I had transitioned and been bold enough to hang out in the lesbian demimonde. One Sunday I was bored, so drew the first strip, and just kept going from there.
RMJ: I think your exploration of the intersection between being trans and being fat is such a valuable one. How do you approach the drawing of Eve?
CS: That strip got so much positive response. Almost all of my trans friends commented that they'd had that loneliness and fear that they'd never be touched again, and several cisgender people as well shared their stories with me. As for the intersection between fat and trans bodies, I'm surprising myself there. They're both examples of bodies outside of what's deemed beautiful or acceptable by the general public. Both are seen as freakish, and both are often accompanied by lots of internalized shame. It seems to me that accepting trans bodies and fat bodies is part of the project of rejecting the body images we're sold as acceptable and taking people as they are. So Eve is fat.
The other part of that, is that every trans character I've seen out there has been beautiful by current standards. There's a feeling with trans people that only the beautiful bodies which are not visibly trans are acceptable, that only those people's gender is valid. So I work on not only making Eve fat, but making her fat in a trans body. Whereas a cisgender woman of her weight would be, for example, broader hipped, I leave hers narrower and put more of that weight in her belly. That's the way fat distributes in so many trans MTF bodies. Similarly, she has broader shoulders than a typical cisgender person. There are some things that hormonal and surgical reassignment can change in the shapes of our bodies, but there are some that just can't be changed. But I didn't see any trans artists acknowledging that. There's an invisibility and a shame involved in not acknowledging just how trans bodies specifically tend to be shaped. I think we need to break that down. I'd love to see more artists breaking that down and portraying trans bodies realistically..... and accepting them as beautiful as they are.
RMJ: We've chatted just a bit about Betty and Veronica as a reference point. How is that series an influence, and what are some of your other inspirations for Eve's Apple?
CS: Oh, I love the Betty and Veronica! I come from comic book fandom, which represents an ever-shrinking number of genres and tends to tell the same three or four stories over and over. I eventually had to quit that, but I love the Archie characters because they offer something different... Comics about RELATIONSHIPS! How people interact and how they connect. If you ask just about any so-called "mainstream" comic fan what they think about "relationship comics" and they'll roll their eyes and poke fun. But y'know..... everybody has relationships and devotes a good amount of time or energy either in those relationships, seeking new ones, ending ones, pining for them.... relationships are part of what makes us human and everybody has some investment in them. Even the die hard superhero fan would feel cheated if Superman had no Lois Lane! So Betty and Veronica kept hope open for me.
[O]f course Alison Bechdel's Dykes To Watch Out For has been a TREMENDOUS influence on me..... in the soap opera of that great strip, the web of interconnections between such a large group. Has anyone done it better? Also, her knack for simple, distinctive designs that acknowledge ethnicity without ever becoming caricature I've tried to emulate as well.
Eve's Apple updates on Wednesdays. Read the comic from the beginning, or check out Christine's interview wiith Jos at Feministing last year. And check back next week for part two of our conversation, on The Princess!
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