March 29, 2012

Interview with Sharon Lintz - Author of Pornhounds.

This Interview Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
I recently had the good fortune to read and review Sharon Lintz's Pornhounds #2 for Comics Bulletin, and I was struck by the originality of its voice and its brave take on the subject of breast cancer. As I said in the review, “What starts off as an exploration of loneliness, personality, sexuality and creativity is transformed by the end of the book as a statement of survival and hope.”

I wanted to find out some more about its creator, and Sharon Lintz was kind enough to answer some of my questions about her influences, how women are portrayed in comics, and what the future holds for her.

Daniel Elkin for Comics Bulletin: I don't really know how else to ask this question, so I'll just come out and ask it: Why Comics?

Sharon Lintz: After I produced Pornhounds #1, I was hooked. But you know I've often wondered what originally inspired me to write the script for Pornhounds #1 to begin with, and I really can’t remember any "a-ha” moment. I do know that I'd tried writing about that time of my life in prose form, but that it had never quite worked for me. I also know I was going through a crazed period of reading comics around the time I wrote Pornhounds #1, reading stuff like The Watchmen and V for Vendetta and The Invisibles and The Preacher, and on and on, lots of titles that are generally considered classics but that I hadn't yet read. So comics were on my mind then, a lot.

CB: Who do you cite as your influences, and how have they influenced you?

Lintz: Comics-wise, I grew up reading Mad magazine starting from when I was young, like 8-9 years old. So it was Mad that cracked my brain open to comics. Back then they were sold at our local grocery store at the checkout, along with stuff like the National Enquirer and the TV Guide (a magazine of paramount importance in my household). I *loved* Mad even when I was too young to get a lot of the references. Like their film parodies -- a lot of those movies I wouldn't wind up actually seeing until I was old enough to rent them.

Years and years later I wound up stumbling on RAW, and from there I began seeking out more work by RAW artists, like Charles Burns' Hard-Boiled Defective Stories and Mark Beyer's Amy and Jordan series. Those two works in particular sort of blew my mind. And while I don't see that they've had any direct influence on the two comics I've written, I can only hope the sheer weirdness of those titles have altered my creative DNA somehow.

Same goes for Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. I love so much of their work and can only hope it's all somehow cumulatively altered my brain chemistry. Although actually, I guess I can say that The Courtyard has had a direct influence on my writing -- I reference it in Pornhounds #1, and then again, in a much longer fashion, in Pornhounds #2.

As far as influential autobiographical comics go, around the time I was reading RAW I also began reading comics by Mary Fleener, which I loved. I don't know that I'd read autobiographical comics before that, and I thought her work was hilarious. I was also a fan of a comic called Real Stuff, by Dennis Eichorn, which featured stories from Eichorn's life illustrated by different artists. I think Eichorn's work is often summed up as being about "sex-drugs-violence," but a lot of the stories to me felt pretty poignant. And he often included stories that focused more on people he'd encountered in his life rather than himself, and those stories were always really interesting snapshots. Also on the autobiographical front, I remember an old housemate of mine coming home with a comic book by a woman named Eve Gilbert. I read it and it really stuck with me. Years later I bought her book of collected autobiographical comics, called Tits, Ass and Real Estate. I loved it. She’s got this awesomely bleak sense of humor and she really, completely bares herself. I mean I do maybe 1/100th of the soul-baring she does, if that.

And then there was TV. I grew up glued to the TV, so for better or worse I'm sure it all influenced me and my writing and my general perception of the universe on some primordial level. I was obsessed with reruns of Lost in Space when I was really little. I loved HR Puff-n-Stuff. And I have to have seen every rerun of the Rocky and Bullwinkle show multiple times. For some reason my favorite part of that show was a cartoon called "Fractured Fairy Tales," which always ended with the princess surrounded by her screaming children, and she'd be screaming at the prince, and the prince would be hunched over a table paying bills. Also, I loved any and all horror movies and would actually comb through the TV Guide each week and circle as many as I could find to make sure I didn't miss any. All that horror has definitely influenced my writing--I reference horror movies I saw as a kid, both directly and indirectly, in both Pornhounds #1 and #2.

CB: Can you talk a little about the process you went through to get Pornhounds 2 published?

Lintz: For the first Pornhounds, I had no idea how to go about getting a comic book together, so I simply put up a few ads up on craigslist. Given the subject matter, though -- working at an X-rated weekly, which I briefly described in the ads -- I wound up getting an avalanche of responses that read more like responses to a "casual encounters" ad, I mean like so many I eventually stopped going through them. So I'm guessing I had to have missed some legitimate responses from legitimate illustrators. Still, I did wind up finding a few illustrators though craigslist. And then at some point it occurred to me I could simply contact artists whose work I'd seen and ask if they wanted to illustrate for me. A lot said no, but some said yes, which is how I found most of the artists who worked on Pornhounds 2.

All told, Pornhounds 2 took a pretty long time to come together. I definitely wanted to pay people, and in order to do that I needed to stagger the times I'd have chapters illustrated. And then because it was taking so long, I wound up writing more chapters. Plus I was working full time. From start to finish, the whole process took about five years. (Yikes! I still can't believe it's actually finished.)

CB: What is it that you hope people ultimately take away from their experience reading your book?

Lintz: Hmmm. For readers dealing with cancer, I hope in some way they’re able to experience even a shred of humor about whatever they’re dealing with, and that reading it might lighten their load, even for a short while. I hope readers with breast cancer will feel less anxiety at the prospect of any impending mastectomy. I also hope I’ve demystified breast reconstruction at least a little bit, because for some insane reason one rarely hears about it in the world of Lifetime-type breast cancer movies, it’s like it practically doesn’t exist in that world, which is fucking ridiculous.

Overall, for any reader, absolute best case scenario, I hope I was able to convey how utterly bizarre this life is, how we all long for human connection, how we’re all of us profoundly vulnerable, how no matter if we’re sitting in an office or a cancer ward, the same terrifying chaos underpins every one of our lives, and that humor is a pretty decent way to deal with all of the above.

Anyway. Hopefully I was able to convey something like that with humor. I’d say more but I’m starting to feel like an episode of Kung Fu.

CB: What sort of reaction have you been getting to Pornhounds 2?

Lintz: So far, positive!

CB: What are you reading right now?

Lintz: I'm almost finished with Roadside Picnic, which is sickeningly good. It's a sci-fi novel from 1971, written by Russian brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.

Comics-wise I just bought The Secret History of D.C. Cooper, which looks awesome. I haven't actually read any comics in a few months, but the last one I did read was called Eye Of The Majestic Creature #5 by Leslie Stein. It seemed like it may have been autobiographical, though I don't know that for sure. Either way, though, I thought it was fantastic and just so clever and poignant. It's about a girl who works in retail in New York City, who is just sort of going about her life, living in a messy apartment, going to bars, walking around the city, spending a lot of time alone. Throughout, all of Stein's captions are actually quotes from Theodore Dreiser's 1900 novel Sister Carrie, which like the comic is about a girl getting by in the city. I thought the technique worked beautifully.

CB: At Comics Bulletin, we've been doing quite a few Op-Ed pieces on gender in comic books (like here  and here for example), and I was wondering if you had any opinions on this topic that you might want to share?

Lintz: I haven't actually read those Catwoman or Starfire comics a lot of people have written about, nor am I well-versed in anything that has to do with superhero comics, so I really can't comment on those comics, specifically. I can say, though, that I do get completely sick of how women are portrayed in other mediums. Take the Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I was so excited when I heard that was coming out. I loved those movies as a kid. But seriously, if you're going to re-imagine a classic sci-fi franchise, why not do some actually interesting re-imagining and make the scientist female? Or the smart chimpanzee? Or both? But—no. Instead, we get a bland girlfriend character, tasked with delivering one of those utterly hackneyed “there-are-some-things-we-shouldn't-meddle-with”-type warnings to her meddling-with-mother-nature scientist boyfriend. A few weeks after seeing the new Apes, I happened to be watching Fringe, and lo and behold, a female character gave that very same "shouldn't meddle" warning to her brilliant scientist husband. So great! And by that I mean the opposite.

But back to comics, you know I initially had a hard time finding a place that would print Pornhounds 2, and that experience did get me thinking about gender representation in comics, in a way. The first printer I tried, a popular print-on-demand place for comics, initially told me they'd print it but that I couldn't keep it in their print-on-demand shop, because they had a policy about selling adult material. They then changed their mind and told me they wouldn't print it at all because it was "too adult." On the covers of comics they did sell, though, were plenty of women with tits out to here, wearing skin-tight leather, or bikinis, or whatever. Which got me generally thinking about the rationale behind the printer's "no," and also about the difference between the women on those covers and the women in Pornhounds 2.

In Pornhounds 2, there are a few chapters with drawings based on pics that were published in a porn magazine, pics of naked or partially clothed women (and some men) who are sometimes engaging in sex acts, sometimes not. The pics aren't meant to titillate, though. The way the women are presented is far removed from the kind of standard sexy-chick-fantasy I saw presented on a lot of those comic covers. I sort of found myself wondering if Pornhounds 2 would have been more palatable to that printer if the adult material had been presented in an exaggerated way meant to titillate, like if the women had bigger tits and tinier waists and were presented within some kind of hot-porn-chick trope. But they definitely were not being presented that way. In fact, most of the X-rated material in Pornhounds 2 feels stripped of any fantasy trappings. I started wondering, without those trappings, does that somehow make sexualized images of women less “sexist”? Without that veneer of fantasy, a lot of the X-rated panels feel strange and bleak and unsexy and awkward. More like real life. Which I suspect translated as "sleazy" to the printer.

Anyway, it's not like I came up with any particular revelation about any of this. But I did find it curious. Then another printer turned me down! Completely ridiculous. I finally heard about SIPS comics up in Canada, and then I went to their website and read this: "Here at SIPS we don't believe in censorship. We feel that being adult means to have the freedom to choose and express oneself and to do so responsibly." They were fantastic.

CB: What does the future hold for Sharon Lintz and will there be a Pornhounds 3?

Lintz: I'm thinking "no" on a Pornhounds #3. Right now I'm working on a science fiction series with Nicholas Breutzman, who was one of the illustrators for Pornhounds #2. But actually, there is some porn in there. It's mostly set in an alternative California. For years, Southern California has been shut to the public after a massive biological disaster, but in the past five years it’s been re-opened. It's sort of this new kind of boomtown, and through one of the characters we see some of how the porn industry has rebuilt and mutated. Also, I have this mini-series I'm scripting that's sort of loosely inspired by Escape from New York, involving five people who have survived a massive chemotherapy overdose.

CB: Looking forward to those, especially as Escape from New York is one of my favorite movies. Finally, I have to ask how your health is now?

Lintz: My health is excellent now. I'm on medication and get an infusion every six months to keep my bones strong. And I'm still getting the kind of shots I mentioned in the second to last chapter of the comic. And I'm lucky in that I haven't had any trouble with side effects, as far as any of this stuff is concerned. Which is great. I feel great.

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