FEATURES

Funny Angry: An Interview with Jane Mai

Cover

I first heard of Jane Mai through her memoir-based book for Koyama Press, Sunday in the Park with Boys. Sunday explored anxiety and depression at home and working at a library, most memorably through the magical realist device of a centipede growing larger and following Jane’s character throughout the story. She followed up with a minicomic for Koyama, Sorry I Can’t Come in on Monday I’m Really Really Sick, further investigating the crossroads of mental health and day jobs; and Pond Smelt, based on the Animal Crossing games, for the Stockholm-based Peow! Studio. Jane returns with See You Next Tuesday from Koyama, a raucous bunch of short comics and scraps. This third book in what appears to be a loose trilogy is lighter and funnier, but allows itself to go deeper and darker as a result. As a reader, you cut into a charming loligoth cake, only to find ants swarming inside.

I spoke with Jane by Skype, where she called from her extravagantly collaged Brooklyn bedroom.

ANNIE MOK: Whoa. Your room is so intense.

JANE MAI: Yes, I know! It was kind of… a mistake.

MOK: [laughs] Because it’s so much all the time?

MAI: Yeah, now I don’t even look at anything because it’s always up there.

MOK: Speaking of big collages, I’m interested in how you put together this big group of disparate work [in See You Next Tuesday], from what seems like a sketchbook.

MAI: This sounds bad, but I currently don’t have a sketchbook. Something about it being in a book… I just draw on loose paper.

MOK: Is it stressful to keep it?

MAI: I think so. Even though it’s a sketchbook, it’s still like, an object, and it should be niiice. But if you use shitty computer paper, which is what I did for all my journal comics, it’s low commitment. It’s okay if it’s shitty. That’s my reasoning.

MOK: Lynda Barry’s talked about how she has nice paper she hasn’t touched since the 1970’s, and so she started drawing on legal pads… I felt a little nervous about this interview because your work is so incredibly personal, so I wanted to be careful about boundaries.

MAI: I think if it’s already in the book, I’m okay talking with it, because there’s stuff that was taken out. It became too much of a pity party.

MOK: I talked to Corinne Mucha once when she was developing her book [Get Over It!], the one about the breakup, and she said that autobio comics are a weird thing, because you’re deciding what to keep hidden. It’s this illusion of revealing all.

MAI: It’s true. I also have this weird thing, where—there’s two Jane Mais, there’s the blond one—well, there’s three, there’s too many to keep track of. And even though they’re based on me, I don’t consider them representative of me. They’re like these side characters that do stupid things.

MOK: In the beginning you make a main character list, the main characters being you and your friends: you, Greasy, Paril, and your best friend Evelyn. There’s Jane Mai who’s blond, Jane Mai with dyed black hair, Jane Mai with an eyepatch, and “Nurse Janey, a fictional character.” Aside from Nurse Janey, who seems to be used in more fantastical situations—or maybe not. There’s the one where Nurse Janey’s working with the vet to take care of the guinea pig’s terrible poop sickness, and it feels in fantastical because you’re not a nurse in real life. But then in some way, it’s “Well, this doesn’t seem like a very outlandish problem. Maybe Jane dealt with this IRL.” Can you talk about these different characters, and how they maybe have an intuitive separation for you between the four of them?

Koyama_Press_See_You_Next_Tuesday_2

 

MAI: Nurse Janey is supposed to be more fantastical, even though I did do the guinea pig thing, and it was horrible.

MOK: It seemed based on real life.

MAI: Yes… I had some mini comics that I had done that were more fantastical, monsters and weird stuff, about Nurse Janey and Dr. Paril. They were these stupid little things I was doing for fun, and no one liked them! [laughs] So I stopped doing them, even though I’d like to get back into it. She’s a really fringe character for more exploratory, monster stuff. I feel like nurses and doctors are respectable positions to have, and I’m not [laughs] a really respectable person, so I made her a nurse. She’s not idealized, but she’s supposed to be almost a regular person. Except that she lives in a fantasy world with monsters and stuff.

MOK: That makes me think of this trend in video games being popular, a game about being a lawyer or a farmer...

MAI: Really normal simulator games! [laughs]

MOK: Simulator games where people—“millennials”—are having an actual job and connecting with other people outside in the world. Like Animal Crossing, looking at bugs and trees.

MAI: Oh, I love Animal Crossing.

MOK: I liked how your comic about Animal Crossing, Pond Smelt, played with the strange relationships in that game. The character relationships in that game can be bullying or codependent.

MAI: They’re bizarre.

MOK: I sometimes wonder about what that imparts to young kids playing that game. Can you talk about that comic in relation to playing that game, which is such an enveloping experience?

MAI: When [the comic] first came out, it was a limited run. I don’t know what happened, but it sold out, and people kept emailing me asking if I would ever reprint it. I was like, “No.” At that point I wasn’t into it anymore. We did the digital version with extra stuff in the back as a bonus. At the time that I was playing [Animal Crossing:] Wild World, I was super depressed, and that was the birth of black-haired Jane Mai.

MOK: That’s Sunday in the Park with Boys-era Jane Mai.

MAI: Yes. So I was super depressed, I wasn’t going out much, I was isolated and I didn’t want to do anything. An ex of mine was into it, I never got into it when we were together. And then I got dumped, and then I finally got into it. And it was really helpful, ‘cause even though they’re dumb, fake relationships that you have with weird animals, it was nice to write to them everyday. That’s what I did, which sounds really sad [laughs]. I didn’t want to deal with my real world problems, so I wrote to my fake animal friends every day and thanked them for being good neighbors. It helped me a lot to deal with my stuff. It’s a good game for that, if you’re sad and lonely, and you can replace everything with your animal friends.

MOK: I’ve read about gratitude being a powerful force, that if you’re depressed and you feel thankful for something, it can be an energy shift.

MAI: I think so.

Koyama_Press_See_You_Next_Tuesday_1

MOK: In See You Next Tuesday, that you had [the comics] on separate sheets of paper makes sense, because it seems intuitive in how you organized it. There are all these jumps that are kind of fun, even when the subject matter is difficult. You’ll have comics, and then you’ll have a page of all handwritten notes about depression, and you say, “Let a bitch have some gravitas, okay?” Can you talk about this idea of feeling that you’re not entitled to be sad or depressed, and a feeling that you have to have some anger or pride in it to be allowed your basic emotions?

MAI: I know now that every once in awhile I’ll just have to cry for awhile and let it out. It comes and goes, and obviously I’m not going to be very sad all the time. I’ve been told before that I like to wallow in my misery, which made me very angry. Sometimes you just have to do it, and then you get over it, and it’s fine. It’s not going to affect your life that much if you’re crying a little bit now and then. It’s much better to let that sort of stuff go than to bottle it up and pretend to be happy for other people’s sake anyway. Which is why I put that in there [laughs].

MOK: There’s a defiance that I enjoy and identify with this book. There’s that scene where you’re at a concert and you’re, almost randomly, punching at people, even your friends. Your friend Diego comes up to hug you, and you just punch him in the stomach.

MAI: I know, it’s so bad! [laughs]

MOK: [laughs] But in a world where that kind of behavior is tolerated and maybe even celebrated for white men, and not a lot for anyone but white men, there’s a gleeful element to that, even if it’s shitty. And reading that is vicariously pretty awesome. Can you talk about spurts of rage, and dealing with that in comics?

MAI: I think… I normally don’t like to put down rage in a comic unless it has a funny punchline. I’m still afraid of being angry, and allowing myself to be angry. I do get angry from time to time, over almost irrational stuff, or even if I’m justified, I don’t like to put that down. I’ll tweet about it—I’ll complain, a lot. But for some reason, in comic form… Which doesn’t make any sense, it can go super sad, but I like to keep it light and not so angry. I don’t know why that is.

Koyama_Press_See_You_Next_Tuesday_3

MOK: It’s still funny, but there’s reactions [in the stories] that have anger underneath them, even though they’re light. There’s this part that says, “Somebody called me a cunt once on the internet. Isn’t that weird? You don’t even know me. That’s when I started making t-shirts that said CUNT IS SUCH AN UGLY WORD. I’M SO PRETTY THOUGH and it was a bestseller.” So to me, that’s an angry gesture, but it’s also funny, and a middle finger.

MAI: I try to deal with things in a funny way. It’s kind of scary to deal with them any other way. I didn’t try to touch on this in the book, and it’s not something I ever actually thought about, but I think it has a lot to do with growing up. Sometimes my mom would get really angry, randomly, extremely scarily, and I don’t want to be like that. Except for when, like, the punching thing happens, which is funny but shitty of me to think it’s funny. [laughs] I try to shy away from overtly just angry instead of funny angry, like the “cunt” t-shirts. Which are ridiculous! I don’t know who that person is, or if they ever came back and saw that I made those t-shirts.

MOK: That makes a lot of sense to me because I know from my experience, my mom would get rageful for terrifyingly no reason or very little reason, out of the blue. Growing up, I think people take in their models for emotions from their caretakers, or people around them. And if your model for rage or love or any kind of emotion or basic sensation is fucked up, then I think it’s natural to wanna distance yourself from it.

MAI: Yeah.

MOK: ‘Cause what you have to do then is basically parent yourself and teach yourself a new way to do anything.

MAI: Yeah, that’s true. And until I put the book together, which is fairly recently, even though some of the comics in there are three years old… It’s weird, putting together a snapshot of your life at a certain amount of time, and then realizing things about yourself, and how you grew up, and how it affected you, and that’s why this book came out the way it was. I love my mom very much, and she’s chill now because she’s menopausal. But growing up, it was kind of a nightmare. It’s not anything I’d explored before because I always felt bad, thinking, “She’s my mom, she loves me, I shouldn’t badmouth her,” which is doing her a disservice. But this is stuff I’m dealing with now, slowly, because I’m such a late bloomer.

MOK: For me, having a weird and kind of unsafe childhood will definitely make anybody into a late bloomer. ‘Cause you can’t bloom! [laughs] You have to be in a safe space to bloom, or a relatively safe space. Speaking of putting the book together, I love books that are assemblages of different moments and modes. Vanessa Davis’s early Spaniel Rage book is one of my favorite comics, and I love that [See You Next Tuesday] jumps from straightforwardly laid-out comics, to strips, to open-layout things, to weird—I don’t mean this in a pejorative way—big, internet-y, weird pages. There’s this page where you say, “I am not a team player!!! I am a princess” and there’s a bunch of horrific distorted yelling and frowning faces scribbled at the bottom. Did you have an organizing principle, either explicit or intuitive, for putting the book together? Having them on single sheets is interesting, ‘cause it gives you freedom.

MAI: I do like to have everything on single sheets because it’s easy to re-organize if I need to. For this book it was kind of a nightmare because there were so many pages and I don’t have the physical room or attention span to deal with it. So I had a very long PDF. I tried to put it together in a way that wasn’t boring to read or super repetitive. It gets tiring if it’s a lot of text over and over with no breaks, so I tried to break that up. It was more of a pacing thing. Every once in awhile I thought it needed some breaks, and I tried to keep the sad comics spread out so you wouldn’t get too bogged down. ‘Cause it’s supposed to be “the fun, light book,” compared to the other ones I’ve done for Koyama Press, which were well-received, but still very sad. [laughs]

Koyama_Press_See_You_Next_Tuesday_4

MOK: For being the “fun, light book,” while it’s funny and breezy at times—and Sunday in the Park with Boys and Sorry I Can’t Come in on Monday I’m Really Really Sick are of course heavier—but by the same token, you’re taking threads from the earlier comics and by dealing with things in a funny way, getting a lot deeper. And continuing working through this iconography you’re developing. I love these little flowers on the eyes when you’re worried. And also bugs. Bugs have been coming up in your work for a few years now, since Sunday in the Park with Boys from 2012-2013, where your character is tormented by this centipede that grows larger throughout the book, and represents growing anxiety and depression. Then in this book, the centipede is back sometimes. There’s also ants, that you imagine, with great pleasure, swarming your body while you say “Yes, come to your queen” [Jane laughs]. Then there’s this part where you’re talking about exploring gender identity, and you say that your ideal form is of an insect, and you show a [praying mantis]. Insects don’t have defined characteristics that we as humans in a fucked up socialized world define as “male” or “female.” Can you talk about what insects mean to you?

MAI: It’s broad and some of it comes from fascination with gross stuff. When I was younger, I was terrified of insects. I did not like them at all. Ants I could deal with because they’re so tiny that they don’t actually pose a threat to you, but if there’s tons of them...

MOK: Bigger bugs, you also see the individual horror of their eyes and stuff, but ants it’s, “Oh, you’re a little dot.”

MAI: Big bugs are like horrible monsters, they’re so detailed. Bleh. But just thinking about them gives me this sense of horror and pleasure [laughs]. And something about them, that they have this hard little shell, and I imagine that they don’t have feelings. It’s very nice to me. I would like to have a hard shell and not have feelings and be terrifying all the time. Which I don’t think I am, but it’s nice to think about. And that whole centipede thing is, I have always hated centipedes. They’re super creepy, they have too many legs! But all the time when Sunday came out, or sometime before, there were so many in my house, and I felt like they were taunting me. I was finding them everywhere on the walls and on the floor. And one day I found one resting on my pillow. I decided I was just gonna leave it alone, and that it would go away and not hurt me. And it did! Now, every once in awhile, I see them, and I’m like, “I’m okay with you. We are okay with each other.” [laughs] It was this weird shift where I decided they were okay with me. I still would not want them anywhere near me or my body, but looking at them wasn’t frightening and I didn’t want to kill them. I think they’re pretty cool! They do amazing things, things that I can’t do. They have cool bodies, even if they’re disgusting, and they’re really fascinating. Sometimes once in awhile I like to Google them and read about them, but I get too grossed out by the pictures and I have to stop. That’s why I draw them kind of unrealistically. But praying mantises I think are really cool. Someone I work with had one as a pet and brought it in, this little baby guy. It was so cute! So tiny. I think they’re adorable, with the little... thing that they do!

MOK: Then of course there’s how [the females] eat the head of the men [after mating]. Talk about that.

MAI: I like that too. [laughs]

MOK: [laughs] In the book, your character is dating men and having sex with men, but there’s a lot of shaming men, or using them or destroying them. You have this comic about the “bumpkin spice latté,” where your character drinks a pumpkin spice latté and accidentally sprays this incredibly hot latté all over this guy’s dick [while blowing him]. You talk about having a sugar daddy-type relationship at one point. There’s one with Paril where he says, “No one tells me I’m cute” and you say “People tell me I’m cute every day. Hundreds of them. Buy me things” and then at the bottom it says, “Update: he did.” [laughs] So many people who I know, myself included, date men but have such an ambivalent relationship [to dating men]. Where it’s, “They are these people who are stronger than you, and some of them are nice, but even the ones who are nice are still affected by patriarchy.” It’s kind of terrifying. I love the ways that you get revenge, or use it to your advantage in this book.

Koyama_Press_See_You_Next_Tuesday_6

MAI: I didn’t specifically think of it as revenge. I don’t actively revenge myself [laughs] in that way. It’s this weird area where I’m kind of a bad person who does bad things. I have a weird relationship with dating men. A lot of it comes from being a late bloomer. I never dated in high school and people thought I was weird. I was called a lesbian a lot of times. It never really bothered me, because it’s not a thing to be bothered by, and I didn’t think about it until later, when I was like, [affecting a worried voice] “Maybe, maybe I am a lesbian.” It’s weird thinking about this stuff when a lot of your friends are straight and they’ve been straight, and they’ve had regular, normal sexual relationships, and you haven’t. Like, [they’d] talk about things they find attractive in men. I don’t generally find men attractive, but I keep dating them for some reason [nervous laughter] and it makes me feel really weird. It’s something I sort of touched on in this book, but I don’t really because it’s still something I’m figuring out.

MOK: There’s that scene where you’re talking with your mom and she says, “Why can’t you keep a man?” and you say, “I don’t know mom, I just want to look at naked ladies.”

MAI: It’s… a problem. It’s not a problem, it’s just something that I don’t even know what to do with right now. It’s a lot of stuff I’ve purposely not thought about for a long time, because in high school, when everyone starts dating boys and I didn’t, I was like, “Well, I don’t want to. That’s fine, that’s normal.” And I didn’t in college, and it became a thing I didn’t want to think about. I was just so depressed, I had other sad things to deal with. Around that time, my cat died and it set off this whole depression that I couldn’t get out of for a long time. It was this symbol of my childhood dying. It’s just now that I’m thinking about this stuff in terms of my own sexual identity and my own gender. I have friends that are supportive, and I have a good, tight-knit circle right now that I feel comfortable with. It’s not something I had growing up. I had some good friends, but I wasn’t comfortable expressing my thoughts on things, or even talking about being depressed, because I was depressed for a long time and no one knew. I think the internet helps, because there’s visibility in terms of people that are out to be themselves, and I don’t think I ever was. It’s something I never explored, and hopefully I can explore it in a healthy way and not ignore, like I have. And sometimes, it would come out, in weird things. Like every once in awhile, I would do these bad minicomics. People liked them, I don’t know why, they were really shitty. And I don’t think it’s just that—you know how you do work, and down the road you think it’s not good anymore? I don’t think it’s that, I think they’re just straight-up bad. From my very early comics career, where I played around with the name-calling, where I was called a lesbian all the time. It’s not something I was critically thinking about, I just put it out there, as… I wouldn’t say “clickbait,” ‘cause it’s just a shitty thing on the internet. Just to test the waters to see if someone would ask me about it. Only one person did, an anonymous tumblr person, and they asked me about all the lesbian stuff, if I was dating men. I was too shy to talk about all this stuff, so I just decided to tell them I was straight, and that was that. That was [laughs] the furthest I got with it. I don’t know... It’s very difficult.

MOK: Can I ask what pronouns you’re using currently?

MAI: Just “her.” I like the sound of “her.”

MOK: Yeah. And obviously, it’s cool to use whatever pronouns no matter how you’re identifying. When I read some of the comics, I felt a little uncomfortable with parts of it. I didn’t think that you shouldn’t have drawn it, but it was weird for me to read the parts where you’re like, “Wouldn’t it be fun or funny to have a dick” ‘cause just for me, my stuff [laughs] is like that, and it’s not fun or funny. But I don’t think that other people who don’t have the experience that I do shouldn’t play with that, because that’s their experience, but it’s just uncomfortable for me to read.

MAI: I’m sorry.

MOK: That’s okay. Or thanks, I guess. I like this part where you talk about Dorothy Gale [the main character in The Wizard of Oz]. At the beginning you have this quote from her, where she says, “‘Cause I’ve been lost before, and always got found again.” Which makes me think of this thing you say about depression, about how it comes in waves and cycles. Then you talk at the end about how “Once you read all of [L. Frank] Baum’s work, you realize the girl power he was in favor of only applied to white girls.” That’s such a constant thing, that anyone who’s engaging in culture who doesn’t have the lens of max privilege has to deal with, engaging in culture that’s not made for them, and sometimes aggressively not made for them. Can you talk about that?

MAI: I tend to not look for these things because it’s really sad but it’s not a thing I can help. It just naturally comes up. Especially now with the whole thing of Taylor Swift being thrown in the spotlight with her own little brand of feminism.

MOK: [laughs] Yeah, always fun. I love her music, but oh my god, what a shitshow.

MAI: She’s something. She’s just a businesswoman, she doesn’t care. But the whole L. Frank Baum thing I was actually really sad about because growing up I really liked the Wizard of Oz books, but I didn’t read all of them.

MOK: There’s so many.

MAI: Yeah, I just read a couple because they were at the library. I always had positive memories of them because they’re about this little girl that had adventures, and she was a powerful figure in this giant fantasy world. Recently I read all of the Oz books over, and although they are all about white people, it’s something I sort of ignored because it’s not as if it’s something that relevant in terms of the story. I could just imagine them being other characters and it was fine. But it was when I reached the thirteenth book, and it was actually published posthumously, where it got super racist and I just had to stop and I had to reevaluate my whole nostalgia for these things, and how fucked up it is that they teach this to children. [Note: Jane later realized that it was the fifteenth book she read, The Royal Book of Oz, actually written under Baum’s name by Ruth Plumly Thompson. However, in case you were wondering, Baum himself was super racist.—A.M.] In a lot of pop culture, you see it often, no one wants to say a word when there is casual racism which is still pretty bad. Everyone has something to say when it’s violent, overt racism, but passing comments that are still hurtful to black women or any women of color, no one really has anything to say about that, and they sweep it under the rug. People that are white feminists decide that it’s not apparently important enough to deal with right now. Which is really weird, because it’s still bad. You remember when Girls came out? There was a hubbub over Girls ‘cause the main cast was all white. This was before I actually saw Girls ‘cause I don’t have HBO, but I was annoyed by [the whiteness] because it’s set in Brooklyn, where I grew up, and I grew up with tons of other kids my age who were not white! And the show is really, really white. This woman, who’s supposed to be a feminist and progressive and whatever, makes a show that’s all white and she’s kind of a racist but people are celebrating her for doing this minimal amount of work. I was talking to someone about it, and they were like, “Maybe it’s this thing where white women get this, and then it trickles down,” and I got really mad, and I was like, “Why would you say that?” That doesn’t work in any other sort of circumstance.

Koyama_Press_See_You_Next_Tuesday_5

MOK: I think the phrase “trickle down” was started by Reagan, or around the time of Reagan, with this idea of “trickle down economics.” [Note: the term was coined in the Great Depression, and then used by Reagan’s critics to describe his financial policies of tax breaks for the wealthy.—A.M.]

MAI: It doesn’t work!

MOK: I think people raised the point at the time of, “You’re talking about peeing on us… So, great.” That’s the argument that’s been used for gay marriage, [to try to placate] trans people, homeless queer and trans people of color, incarcerated queer and trans people of color, and the idea that [rights and legal protections] will trickle down. “This is where we’ll start, then we’ll get to this other stuff once we’re completely satisfied.”

MAI: And of course, no one is ever satisfied. Growing up, I didn’t like to think about social issues very much, ‘cause I was in a bubble and just angry and sad for no reason. I was a brat. But now these things, I find them really glaring. I’m revisiting stuff that I looked at when I was a child, and my own shit that I’ve done when I was younger that were problematic, or transphobic, or racist. Examining this through a lens of pop culture, which I’m really into—too into, like I shouldn’t be, but I love celebrity gossip. It’s the worst habit ever. I don’t recommend it. I know everything about the Kardashians. It’s sickening to think about how you grew up and they were super shitty, and you thought they were funny at the time but now it’s, “Why did I ever think this was funny? It’s horrible.” That’s a product of growing up on the internet as well. It’s thinking about how I can be a better person and not just like… Comedians that just use shock value? I feel like I used to be, and I try not to anymore, and people get mad, like “Why don’t you do this anymore?” “Because I’m not... stupid anymore…” I’m still stupid, I try not to be. That’s why I get so Debbie Downer about these things sometimes. And every once in awhile I complain on the internet, and ten people unfollow me. It’s frustrating because I don’t really know what I can do to make it better.

MOK: Personally, I would recommend not keeping track of who unfollows you [laughs]. If I kept track of who unfollowed me...

MAI: I usually don’t, but it’s such a visible disparity. [laughs]

MOK: Oh, so you don’t even use a [tracker app]?

MAI: No, every once in awhile I notice that the number is different.

MOK: That is fucking wild. This gets back to this thing that you talk about in the book. You say, “What’s the deal with Jane Mai? Well. I dunno. She was a product I made and sold. People loved her, I don’t know why. And the sadder she got the more popular she was. It’s weird. My most popular creation to date is that there even is a Jane Mai. Did you know I sell something called a ‘Jane Mai girlfriend experience box’? It’s a box full of mystery garbage. Curated by Jane Mai. People go nuts over this shit.” This gets back to this idea of internet culture and internet celebrity, and people projecting onto people or artists on the internet what they want. And when they reveal themselves to be a real person, with ideas, who aren’t gonna do what they want—especially for white men following people on the internet—then they get pissed off. And it’s so frustrating because it’s like, what were you following me for in the first place?

MAI: Yeah, it’s weird. Like I said before, I don’t consider the Jane Mai character a true representation of myself. A lot of the time, with the blond Jane Mai, who I consider to be the dumbest, that’s the worst stuff. She’s this exaggerated jester kind of thing that you’re supposed to laugh at and not really supposed to like because she’s so horrible. But people I guess really like those kinds of characters.

Koyama_Press_See_You_Next_Tuesday_8

MOK: It’s fun to identify with because art does this service. There’s this book, Letters to a Young Novelist by [Peruvian novelist] Mario Vargas Llosa. He talks about art being this escape valve, and people who make art are aggressively escaping the real world. That’s a wonderful service about art that has gross characters, especially characters that are not men. It lets off this pressure valve. It relates to this thing I’m interested in [in See You Next Tuesday], this thing about princess vibes. You’re like, “Buy me things,” and all these moments, like “I dressed up to have tea and champagne like a bourgeois shit, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t take a selfie.” A lot of victory lap stuff. Can you talk about that kind of tone?

MAI: I like the term “princess vibes.” Like a lot of people growing up watching Disney princess movies, I wish I was a princess. I’m actually working on something with my friend [the cartoonist Saicoink] about lolita fashion. We’re doing a book of sorts. It’s not directly about the fashion, but there are stories and illustrations in it that are inspired by the aesthetic. This also ties into that. I would like to be a princess because growing up I didn’t have a lot of things. And obviously when you don’t, you just want things, and the first minute you get some kind of income, you spend it on stuff you don’t need because you grow up thinking that you want everything. And, “All this stuff is really cool and nice and it makes you super special,” and it obviously doesn’t, and I’m still struggling with that because I’ve become kind of a hoarder. But a lot of that comes from just being poor.

MOK: There’s this moment when your character is huddled in the corner, and you say, “If I’m gonna die alone, I might as well be surrounded by nice things.” [laughs] I struggle with spending a lot, and I struggle with wanting a lot of things I don’t need. Especially if you get a mania for it, which I know I can, those two things can go hand in hand. I always call it “the void.” You can throw things in the void, but as long as there’s a void, you can’t fill it up.

MAI: It’s so true!

MOK: It’s not like, a hole that has a bottom, that you can fill up and then walk over.

MAI: No!

MOK: You just gotta live with it.

MAI: And sometimes the void just gets bigger and bigger. ‘Cause once you have this stuff, then you need this other stuff. It’s endless.

MOK: It can be a way to distract yourself.

MAI: It is. There’s also this nice feeling that comes with getting mail, a box. ‘Cause it’s a present for you, for no reason! It’s a present, ‘cause you’re you! It just gets so addictive.

MOK: There’s a lot of identification but also stress in this book about childlike desires, free desires. There’s this spread where your character is drawn in a more cutesy style than in the rest of the book. There’s a moon with an eye, the character’s whistling to herself and looking at a hill, and then she says, “That’s a sexy-ass hill.” She pulls down her collar and sweats, and she says, “I wanna roll the fuck down that hill!” And she doesn’t do it. And unrelated, I have always loved the way you draw yourself naked. [You draw the character] with a flat chest, and as a fairly-flat chested woman, I’m relieved by that, to see that depiction.

MAI: I’m glad someone likes or appreciates the flat chest thing. I’m not particularly well-endowed, but I would always draw myself with a flat chest just because that’s ideally what I would like. Some people have asked me, “Why don’t you draw yourself more womanly looking?” Because I don’t really want to and I don’t have to. It’s not like it adds anything to the story. It’s just easier to draw the flat chest. I guess for some people when they see it, it’s creepy if I’m a grown-ass adult person and I draw myself as a child, as a precocious child thing that does horrible sex things.

MOK: But it’s different if it’s you making it.

MAI: That has to do with how I think of myself. I generally feel childlike. I try to do adult things. Right now, I have two day jobs and I have to juggle all this stuff and make money. I think I do okay with all those things, but every once in awhile I think I’m a child dressing up, playing pretend and doing my pretend jobs. I feel like I have a sense, a childlike curiosity or wonder, and that’s why I think fart jokes and poop jokes are so funny. It does come out in the way I draw myself. I almost never draw myself grown-up because I don’t feel grown-up. I guess I don’t really want to be. The flat-chested thing has to do with my idea of being neutral.

FILED UNDER:

One Response to Funny Angry: An Interview with Jane Mai

  1. LukePski says:

    ” But in a world where that kind of behavior is tolerated and maybe even celebrated for white men, and not a lot for anyone but white men,..”

    Yeah, people cheer when white guys walk around assaulting people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *