Rescue dogs, interspecies manifestos, and vegan pizza: An interview with Nicole J. Georges.

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

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(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.

 

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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.

Book Review: Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home by Nicole J. Georges (2017)

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

oh h*ck.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review. Trigger warning for allusions to rape, child abuse, domestic violence, animal abuse, alcoholism, self-harm, and suicidal ideation.)

I first discovered Nicole Georges’s artwork nestled within the pages of Bitch Magazine. Instantaneously smitten, my adoration only grew when I learned that Georges was a vegan who referred to her furry sidekick Beija as her “canine life partner.” Her 2010 Invincible Summer Queer Animal Odyssey calendar still rests in the plastic protective covering it arrived in. (Don’t worry, I take it out every once in awhile for much-deserved admiration.) I enjoyed her debut graphic novel, Invincible Summer: An Anthology, well enough, though haven’t quite gotten around to reading Calling Dr. Laura. Even so, I can say with 99.9% certainty that Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home is her best work yet.

2017-07-14 - For My Dog Mags (Fetch) - 0011 [flickr]

My Mags, more noodle than dog.
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At the tender age of sixteen, Georges adopted a dog as a gift for her then-boyfriend and first love, Tom. The ensuing back-and-forth demonstrates why you should never give a dog as a gift: despite clearing it ahead of time with Tom’s mother, Tom’s stepfather did not sign off on the deal. Nicole’s mom reluctantly allowed her to keep the dog, but Beija’s many behavioral problems quickly wore her patience thin.

Beija harbored an intense dislike/fear of men, children, and veterinarians; did not enjoy being picked up or touched on her sides; did not suffer invasions of space lightly; and frequently antagonized/was victimized by other dogs. She was temperamental and required patience, compassion, and understanding – much like her new human.

And so, in a situation so weird and improbable that it seems like the plot of a bad Fox sitcom, you have both sets of parents conspiring to push their teenagers out of the nest and into a seedy apartment, just so they could have a Beija-free home: “Starting now, this gift would change the course of both our lives. […] All of this in order to keep the dog. As if we’d had a teen pregnancy.”

While Nicole’s relationship with Tom would soon implode, her partnership with Bejia proved to be for keeps. Through unhealthy relationships, annoying roommates, professional upheavals, and the trials and tribulations of growing up and discovering oneself, there was one constant in Nicole life. And if she just so happened to have four legs, a soft tummy, and spoke in a series of barks, whimpers, and tail wags, so what? Family is what you make of it.

2017-07-14 - O-Ren Hearts Fetch - 0011 [flickr]

Fetch is Rennie-approved.
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Most of the blurbs I’ve read so far focus on the coming-of-age aspect of Fetch (e.g., it’s not “just” a book about a dog). And while it is indeed that – after all, at the time of her death, Beija had lived with Nicole for almost exactly half of Nicole’s life – to me Fetch is, above all else, a love letter to and everlasting celebration of a best friend. A soul mate. A patronus, to quote Georges. (A daemon, in my vocab.) The dogs, they will always come first. PRIORITIES.

There’s this one Mutts comic I love: It’s a lovely day, and Ozzie is walking Earl on a long leash. A little heart bobs in a thought bubble above the human’s head. To the right is a quote by one W.R. Purche: “Everyone thinks they have the best dog. And none of them are wrong.”

To borrow a phrase from an online friend (Marji Beach, who works at another awesome animal sanctuary called Animal Place), it’s clear that Nicole considers Beija the best worst dog ever. Their love for one another shines through every panel and page, making the inevitable goodbye that much more heartbreaking. It took me a full week to read the book, just because I couldn’t bear to face the last forty pages.

I think it’s safe to say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, especially when it comes to Fetch, and animal lovers will take something a little extra special away from their experience. When I say “animal lovers,” I mean both in the conventional sense – i.e., those who care for culturally appropriate animals, such as dogs, cats, horses, and rabbits – as well as those of use who extend that circle of compassion to all nonhumans. There are precious few comic books that I could call overtly vegan – only two come to mind, namely Matt Miner’s Liberator and The Animal Man by Grant Morrison – and I’m happy to add Fetch to the list. While Georges only drops the v*-word (vegetarian or vegan) a handful of times, she does introduce readers to animal rights issues in a gentle, subtle way. If you’re not on the lookout (and I always am!), you might just miss it.

Though all the better to sneak into your subconscious, worming and niggling and prodding you to think about the face on your plate or the skin on your back … to see them as someones rather than somethings, more alike than different from the dog snuggled up next to you or fast asleep at your feet.

2017-07-14 - O-Ren Hearts Fetch - 0009 [flickr]

Full disclosure: In between bites of spider trappings, Rennie assisted me in writing this review.
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I especially loved Bejia’s manifesto, “I am not a stuffed animal,” which surreptitiously introduces readers to the idea of intersectionality: “It’s kind of like feminism, but for dogs.” That line (along with countless others) literally had me squealing for joy. Little Beija-Boo – is she a shar pei-doxy mix? corgi and beagle? who knows! – is adorable and tubby, even as she’s telling you to back the fuck off.

I could go on and on – about the many weird parallels between Georges’s life and mine; about how I see pieces of Bejia in my own dogs; about the many ways, both large and small, that my loved ones and I have adapted our everyday routines and very existences to better accommodate our four-legged family members – but suffice it to say that Fetch is a must-read for anyone who’s ever loved (and lost) a dog (though you may want to wait until the loss isn’t quite so fresh – the ending is freaking brutal).

Ditto: anyone who just likes good storytelling or quirky artwork. I know I’ve focused on the nonhumans for most of my review – hey, that’s how I do – but even those rare scenes sans doggos are beautifully rendered and engaging.

In summary: Fetch is easily my favorite book of 2017 thus far, graphic novel or no.

Aaaaand just in case the previous 1,000 words didn’t convince you, here are a few of my favorite panels to help seal the deal.

(That last one? So charming that it displaced foster doggy as the background on my desktop. Temporarily, but still.)

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Invincible Summer: An Anthology, Volume 1, Nicole Georges (2007)

Monday, January 13th, 2014

Like peeking inside a stranger’s diary…

three out of five stars

I first became acquainted with Nicole Georges’s charming and whimsical artwork through Bitch magazine, to which Georges is (was?) a “friend and contributor.” Her annual Invincible Summer calendars (available on etsy) are simply adorable, brimming as they are with nonhuman animals both familiar (dogs, pigs, chickens) and unusual (sloths, whales, and – yes! – unicorns!). Her two Invincible Summer zine anthologies have been on my wishlist for years, and Christmas 2013 was the year that Volume 1 finally found its way under my tree. It had the distinction (however dubious) of being my first read of the new year!

Invincible Summer: An Anthology is like peeking inside a stranger’s diary. (Indeed, Georges refers to her zines as “Diaryland.”) Georges explores her life in Portland from the spring of 2001 through the summer of 2004-ish, with some sketches from the 2006 calendar thrown in for good measure. (Though it’s missing April and May! *frowny face*) Entries range from the mundane (daily chores, to-do lists, recipes; chickpea meatballs, must try!) to the less so (apparent PTSD in the wake of a car crash; “on car accidents” is especially haunting).

In particular, I was able to relate to the loneliness and alienation Georges felt after moving to a strange new city, as well as her outlandish dreams (most of them dental in nature), and vestigial tail obsession. Plus you have to love a zine that’s heavy on the animals: Georges’s dogs Beija (whom she describes as her “life partner”) and Penny make frequent appearances, and she also spends a month interning at Farm Sanctuary in California and later takes a summer-long job there. Through this, Georges addresses the horrors of animal agriculture, including egg production and animal auctions.

(More below the fold…)