(Photo © Amos Mac.)
Nicole J. Georges is a professor, writer, and illustrator who has been publishing her own zines and comics for twenty years. Her first book, Invincible Summer: An Anthology, published by Tugboat Press in 2004, is a collection of her autobiographic comic Invincible Summer. Since then, she has published several additional books, including Invincible Summer: An Anthology, Volume Two; the Lambda Award-winning graphic memoir Calling Dr. Laura; and Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home, out today from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Her work has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Food & Booze, Baby Remember My Name, and It’s So You. Her custom pet portraits grace the homes of many lucky animal people. (I’M NOT JEALOUS YOU’RE JEALOUS.) Georges lives in Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles, California.
Equal parts coming of age memoir and love letter to a four-legged best friend, Fetch chronicles Georges’s sixteen-year relationship with Beija, a shar pei-doxy mix who Georges adopted at the tender age of sixteen. Meant as a gift for her then-boyfriend Tom, Georges ended up keeping Beija: first when Tom’s step-father wouldn’t allow the exchange; again when multiple attempts at rehoming didn’t pan out; and finally, for good, after her relationship with Tom imploded. Through unhealthy relationships, personal and professional upheavals, kitchen fires and living room concerts, Beija was there. Barking at strangers and friends alike, peeing on the carpet, and chasing down children; Beija was the so-called “bad dog” who helped Georges grow up.
I was lucky enough to receive an early copy of Fetch for review (spoiler alert: it is gushy and oh-so-fangirly) – and to interview Nicole about rescue dogs, interspecies manifestos, and vegan pizza, among other things.
Twenty-nine pages in, I texted my sister a photo of Fetch: “I think you’d like this book Fetch. She’s part Corgi, and the book opens with her attacking two kids at her 15th birthday party.” She’s a dog person; she gets it.
Nicole, I’ve been a fan since I first saw your artwork in Bitch Magazine (longtime subscriber here!). As a self-described “heathen vegan feminist,” I often find that my support for women’s rights and animal rights are intertwined. I especially love how you drew this connection with Beija’s manifesto, “I am not a stuffed animal.” How would you say that your veganism has influenced your feminism, or vice versa?
I think I became a vegan and a feminist at the same time. At first it was about finding my voice and taking up space, speaking for myself and other women. I felt like this was also my obligation with animal issues.
I had this dog, Beija, who was actually a very reasonable animal (coming from a rough puppyhood, she needed a certain level of familiarity with people to trust them enough to be pet by them) , but since she did not perform the function of “friendly, pettable cute thing” for people, they didn’t see her value. It felt like objectification, which felt familiar, and I wanted to write her manifesto to clarify that she still had intrinsic value anyway, as we all do, as beings on this Earth. We don’t need to perform submission and likability to have worth.
One of my mission statements in life has been self empowerment through representation. I try to offer tools to people to share their stories and take up space.
Obviously animals can’t do this (self publish), so I try to represent their stories and intricacies whenever I can.
You draw parallels between your own “feral” nature and Beija’s many behavioral issues. Did your own dysfunctional upbringing make it easier or more difficult to relate to Beija and handle her hangups?
I could relate to her. She just needed patience, and so did I, and I tried my best to give her what I both had and wanted growing up.
I grew up in a very makeshift and scrappy way. I would white knuckle through anything, and make do with whatever I had in front of me. I idolized the Boxcar Children in this way.
I think if I hadn’t grown up with this as the bar, I may not have had the patience and fortitude it took to keep a special needs rescue dog for as long as I did. She barked incessantly, picked fights, peed on the floor religiously, and jumped at strangers and children. I just moved my life around her. I don’t regret it at all. We grew up together and at the end of the day, she was an extension of me.
If adult Nicole could offer teenage Nicole one piece of advice, what would it be?
Go take some figure drawing classes, and start publishing comics immediately. Send your work to small publishers and people you like, but ask for feedback this time.
Also, consider letting your very stable sister adopt Beija when she offers to do so. It will give you more freedom of movement growing up.
If teenage Nicole could offer adult Nicole one piece of advice for surviving a Trump presidency, what would it be?
I would somehow quote both Nina Simone and Shirley Chisolm (which would be extraordinary to hear a teenager do):
It’s the responsibility of the artist to reflect the times we’re living in. -NS
Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this Earth. -SC
Keep making art, keep doing service. Keep your head down and do your own thing, it will be over soon.
I just have to know: What’s with the water bottle Beija’s dragging around on page 179?
OMG GOOD QUESTION. That drawing is based on a polaroid I have of Beija’s leash tied to a giant empty water bottle at a yard sale. It was to slow her down if she tried to run away or run at a dog walking down the street.
Like I said, I really made do with the resources available to me!
If there’s one thing – a lesson, a feeling, an impulse, whatever – you hope that readers take away from this book, what would it be?
I hope that people can cultivate empathy for animals, even ones who are too complicated to pet.
Portland or LA: which city has the best vegan pizza?
I’m sticking with Portland. Because you can walk into Sizzle Pie and buy a slice, get an entire OUTRAGEOUSLY DELICIOUS cornmeal crust pizza at Dove Vivi, or go to Via Chicago and get your own Chicago deep dish.
If Los Angeles has equivalents to these that are within 20 minute drives of each other, I’d like to see them.