Lion's Tooth co-founder Cris Siqueira in conversation with cartoonist Dame Darcy
Cris Siqueira first interviewed Dame Darcy in New York City in 1997. Twenty-two years later they met again in a restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, and this time Darcy brought along her impossibly adorable (and demanding) doll Isabelle, who became a big part of the evening.
Dame Darcy was the first cartoonist I interviewed during that visit to the U.S. in the ’90s. She was (and is) a goddess to me. I used to order her Meat Cake comic directly from Fantagraphics and each issue was an absolute treasure, so I was more than eager to meet her at her apartment in New York City. So eager that I got there too early with my photographer friend Carolina Pfister. Darcy was asleep and we had to wait almost an hour for her to get into her gorgeous Victorian get up.
These days it seems that everyone is a “renaissance” person, but few are as deserving of that title as Dame Darcy. Besides writing and drawing comics, she is a gifted sign painter, doll maker, and banjo player (she also plays the saw). Back in the ’90s she starred in her own public access show, Turn Of The Century, with skits, stop motion animation shorts, and special guests such as Courtney Love. This connection has been chronicled by Darcy in a comic strip and in this article. She is also a mermaid, a witch, and she can read your future. Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore has raved about her divination abilities and she even used to do long distance palm reading if you sent her a Xerox of your hand.
In 1997 Darcy read my palm and told me the worst of my life was over, but I would be late to find true love and wouldn’t have kids—not what I wanted to hear at that time. She repeated these predictions this fall over watermelon strawberry salad and shrimp rolls. She also brought along her doll Isabelle, who added her own unique touch to our reunion.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Cris Siqueira, Dec 5 2019 - Intro and excerpt featured in the Milwaukee Record
Darcy: Isabelle was begging to come out, so I flipped a coin. I flip a coin to make a lot of important decisions. The coin said yes, and so Isabelle came out tonight.
Isabelle: I wanted to, it's time I get what I want!
Darcy: Isabelle, this is not your interview, you don't talk.
Isabelle: I can talk if I want to.
Feel free to add anything you want, Isabelle.
Isabelle: I can talk if I want to!
Darcy: She's really bratty. She put on a really fancy dress for this occasion.
[The waiter brings Isabelle a tiny drink.]
Darcy: I appreciate that. [About the waiter] She cares about dolls.
Isabelle: It's called small fabricated people, get with it, bitches!
Darcy: That's a new politically correct term. "Small fabricated people."
Isabelle has been with you forever. Did her personality change over the years?
Darcy: No. She's ready and horrible, and insane as always, slutty. A super whore and a total drunk. She never changed this whole time. Me, I've had to step it up. I've started paying taxes. I've had to build a credit score. The thing is, when you move to Savannah the prices are like 1990 compared to Manhattan, so you actually have a chance to put money aside to build your business, build your credit score, do all the things.
Have you been able to make a living out of comic books or cartooning?
Darcy: Yes, but only because I started doing bigger graphic novels on major publishing companies, and getting bigger advances. I did Jane Eyre, Gasoline, Frightful Fairy Tales. All of those came out when I was in LA. I was also selling my fine art in LA. Because it's easier to break into the fine art market in LA than in New York. New York is way harder, there's a lot more people trying that.
Where are you from, originally?
Darcy: I'm from Idaho Falls, Idaho, which is a four-hour journey from the border of Utah. The closest city was Salt Lake City. There's 80% Mormon where I'm from and I'm not Mormon.
What was your family like?
Darcy: I have a lot of brothers. There's nothing to cure you of wanting a baby more than being the oldest of a bunch of kids. I think everybody who wants to be a parent should volunteer and help little kids with their homework after school, and pick them up and take them to school, change diapers, change peepee sheets. Put them down for naps, take care of troubled teens and advise them, and if you did all that and thought it was so great, then have a baby. It would help society and all those psycho cat ladies would have a place to put their nurturing gene.
When we first met in '97 you had been in New York for a while already, right?
Darcy: Yes, I moved there in '92. I applied to art school in a bunch of different places: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles. I ended up getting a scholarship in San Francisco, so I went there for four years, and then I went to New York City because I always wanted to be a New Yorker. I was there for 10 years, and then an additional eight years later, but that time I was bicoastal, New York-LA. I moved to New York because I knew it would be a good place for publishing, a place that cares about underground cartoonists, and it would be a good foundation to start my career, and it was. San Francisco was too, because Crumb started there, they care about comics and know what it is.
How did you get involved with comics?
Darcy: I started self-publishing zines, photocopy zines, during the whole zine trend in the early '90s. I went on tour with Lisa Suckdog, she did her zine, I was in her zine, that kind of stuff. Then I got published by an independent company that wasn't as big as Fantagraphics to start with. Back then, if you got published, you did tours and that was the only way that you'd be seen, there was no social media and all this craziness. But the old school '90s way cuts through all of that social media crap, with real-life experiences, being able to draw with your hand, all that still has the edge it always did.
Darcy: I'm doing a combination of old school and social media now.
Isabelle: Instagram be "Isagram", bitches!
Darcy: She's drunk already, that's why she's saying "Isagram". Isabelle thinks she's going to get so famous that she's going to take over Instagram. Anyway, I was doing my comic book series [Meat Cake] in New York City, getting published in New York magazines, and doing animation. I had my cabaret night, Naughty Nautical Night, and I had my TV show, Turn of the Century, with Lisa Hammer.
How did you end up in LA?
Darcy: My mom's from LA, I always went to LA as a kid, I had a boyfriend in LA when I was a teen, and I always knew that I was going to live in LA one day. Also because I always wanted to create a feature film of my comic book, or a TV series, or something. Then I got my first movie optioned, it was called Planet Blue, and they didn't produce it, which is a thing that happens. Part of it because I wasn't writing it and getting it produced, part of it because I just sold it as intellectual property. That happens a lot and I got it. But I still got money. Then Gasoline was published and it got optioned as well. Again, that movie didn't get produced so by then I'm over it. I'm like, "I'm out. I'm going back to New York City." I go back to New York, I meet one of my soul mates, I've met more than one. But then he turns into a big jerk and dumps me, breaks my heart. We were sharing the rent. Our rent was $3,000. I was in my late 30s at this point. 39. First, I had to pay twice the amount of money on rent because he was gone. Second, the rent was going up even higher than $3,000. Third, they were going to end up selling the building or kicking us out at some point anyway because that's what always happens in New York, so I had to start thinking of a place where I could buy property that's cheap.
Darcy: Sorry, don't fall off the chair! Jeez, okay, honey. Here. She hasn't even been drinking that much. Anyway, what was I saying? I'm sorry.
When did you come to Savannah?
I moved here in 2012.
Darcy: I saw a place in my mind. I can remember this day so clearly. I was in my apartment in Manhattan, on Ludlow Street in Chinatown, and I was looking up the street toward the skyline. We had a really good view, actually, and I saw this vision. I was like, "Okay, it's got antebellum architecture, yet it's got tropical plants and palm trees. Is this Trinidad?"
You had the vision before you knew where it was?
Darcy: Yes, and I was like, "Is this Uruguay? Is this Trinidad and Tobago? Is this Cuba? Is this somewhere in America?" I saw the vision and I was like, "Okay, if I find out where that is, I can buy property and I can control my own life." Then I came to a friend's wedding here and I discovered it was here. I was like, "It's a two-hour flight from New York, I'll totally go there." I came and moved into a gay house called the Rainbow House.
A community house?
Darcy: For gay men. I was like Smurfette there. I was scared of Southerners, for good reason, they are racist and it's scary. They're Trump supporters and it's scary. I knew there would be scary rednecks here, so I hid in the gay community like it was my nunnery. I eventually moved out to my own place.
[Isabelle stares at Cris] She keeps looking at me.
Darcy: I know. She's got those creepy side eyes.
(To Isabelle): Turn around a little for me, Isabelle.
Isabelle: I'd rather not.
Darcy: She loves Marilyn Monroe, they're both Geminis. Marilyn Monroe was a sex doll. And Isabelle is a sex doll. That's why she likes Marilyn.
Isabelle holding her doll, who is called Dame Darcy (from her Instagram)
How do you deal with the conservative side of Savannah?
Darcy: I know how to deal because I was raised in Idaho. High school was like prison. I had only a few choices because I was marginalized. If you're a skinny Goth girl and you're only 15 and these big scary guys with mullets and cowboy boots that are jocks are going to threaten to rape and kill you, you don't really have a whole lot to work with. Even though that was a hardcore and brutal situation to be in as a young girl, it did prepare me for Trump's Red States of America. This world that we live in now, I already went through this in the '80s as a teenager. Trump won and that was nightmarish, but I knew what to do because I lived in Idaho as a teen.
Have you been able to do more art, living in a less expensive city?
Darcy: I make enough money online to live here [Dame Darcy runs a successful Etsy store], but I need to make extra to get a house. I've had different jobs here. I was teaching painting and got fired for being a witch when The Handbook for Hot Witches came out. I got two book deals at the same time. One was about female murderers, written by Tori Telfer, called Lady Killers.
Darcy: Then I also called Fantagraphics because they were supposed to do a new compilation. So I talked to Kim [publisher Kim Thompson], and I was like, "Kim, let's put this out." He was like, "Let's put this out." Then I called again and Kim had freaking died. I didn't even know he was sick. It was a total surprise for me. Now, I don't talk to Kim every day, but... Eric Reynolds told me, I was in shock and horrified.
Darcy: I'm also like, "Eric, who's going to handle my shit now?" Because it was always Kim since I was 20 years old. I thought he was going to do it for the rest of my life. And Eric's like, "I’ll handle it." Eric is great. I've always loved Eric, he's always helped me out. We did The Meat Cake Bible and it got nominated for the Eisner Award in 2017. Now a friend of mine who helped me pitch Gasoline to a bunch of hedge fund millionaire dudes in Manhattan moved to Los Angeles and is working as a movie producer. So The Meat Cake Bible got auctioned and now it's in the Hollywood process again. This is my third movie deal. This time, because I would be involved, I actually think it might happen. I wrote the screenplay while I was on tour for the book. I want to make a comic series based on the screenplay for Fantagraphics, except they don't publish the little pamphlets anymore, they only publish the big 100-page books. They only do graphic novels now.
What is the screenplay like?
Darcy: It's a nautical pirate adventure, a linear story instead of all the little chopped up stories like Meat Cake usually is. I wrote in a role for Isabelle, so she's going to be a giant movie star, which is why she'll take over Instagram and then it will be "Isagram". She did a live Instagram video stream on her birthday. For 45 minutes she was opening her gifts. She got a pet bat from her fans. Look at this photo. That's a nasty one. She has no humbleness.
Isabelle: Yes, that's because I'm sexy!
Darcy: She just thinks she's great.
Isabelle being sexy on Instagram
Darcy: Anyway, I was in Chicago for a month while I was on tour. It was in Halloween, it was October, I went to a hundred Halloween parties and they have the most amazing new Goth music scene. I love Chicago! It's my favorite now because New York got too dumb.
I remember you showed a film in Chicago, in the same festival I did, back in the early 2000s. ["Women in the Director's Chair"]
Darcy: I think I did, with Lisa Hammer. Oh my God. I love how our paths keep crossing. That's so great.
You're working in production now, right? Set design?
Darcy: I'm working in The Underground Railroad series for Amazon [based on the novel by Colson Whitehead and directed by Barry Jenkins], which I can't wait to see. I do a lot of the repetitive little stuff. I'm into aging and dyeing. Those are my specifics, aging and dyeing.
With the double meaning...
Darcy: Yes, I'm really good at gracefully aging and dying. [laughs] I'm aging and dyeing huge, massive amounts of rope in this big cauldron of dye, stirring it with a broomstick, outside, in the heat. Nothing could have been more perfect because I'm super Goth and they're making me age all this stuff: furniture, silver dishes...
Isabelle: She looks really butch when she goes to work.
Darcy: Yes, we've been definitely dressed down a lot at work. We basically wear what we wear on a farm or crewing on a boat and it's hot and sweaty. And I wear pants, which is really weird. I have this little room in the back, it's my Goth girl cave. Everybody's like, "Don't you want to go to set? Don't you want to see what the action is?" I'm like, "No." I'm also painting hand-painted signs. My dad is a sign painter and I was raised in a sign shop. I was trained to paint signs when I was a kid. My baby brother is really good at it, too.
Darcy working on set design (from her Instagram)
Tell me about the haunted hotel you're planning, the Meat Cake Manor.
Darcy: It's going to be great. It's going to be an art gallery and also a B&B. We're going to do healing from trauma meditations, tarot readings with my tarot decks, the Mermaid tarot deck and the Alice tarot, and séances, and doll crafting. There's going to be a Zen library. And everything is for sale. All the art is for sale, all the dolls are for sale. Anything you see anywhere, all the lamps, accessories, clothing. Enter and exit through the gift shop. No one can kick me out, nobody can sell my building, nobody can screw me over.
Are you doing that project by yourself?
Darcy: With my boyfriend. He is a successful artist as well. His name is Mr. Pleasant. His dad was a sign painter too and he learned how to sign paint from him, that's how I met him. He's from here, but he also lived in Manhattan at the same time I did. When you interviewed me [in 1997], he lived two blocks away on 5th Street. But we never met. I've been with Pleasant three and a half years.
Isabelle: He's my boyfriend too!
Darcy: Yes, my doll stole him, stole my boyfriend. She always steals my boyfriends. She steals my drink too, as you can see.
Darcy: Meat Cake Manor is going to be a sustainable compound too, like a sustainable utopian compound where my godchildren can live after all of the water runs out and the ocean is full of plastic and all people are doomed. I have 13 godchildren. I love the confidence these people have in my abilities to take care of their kids, but half of them are older now. I'm very honored and I take it seriously, I try to keep in touch with everybody. It's hard because there's 13, but I love that I have a coven of godchildren.
Darcy seeks inspiration for her haunted hotel (from her Instagram)
Do you think Savannah will survive the climate apocalypse?
Darcy: This place will survive because water falls from the sky and, in the future, water will be gold. The desert is not the place to live. The thing about Savannah is, it gets extremely hot in the summer, but people forget that it is temperate because it's subtropical. Not tropical like Florida, subtropical, so it stays very temperate, eight, maybe nine months of the year. It only goes above 90 degrees for four months and those four months it's like a freaking nightmare apocalypse where you feel like your face is melting off. It's so hardcore that people forget it's only for four months. So, as long as we have our power source, we can keep our AC going. As long as we're off the grid, we'll be fine. Also, nobody gets to come into the Meat Cake Manor unless they pay for a room or unless they know lyrics to Siouxsie songs [laughs]. If you don't know who I'm talking about, if you don't know what I'm talking about, you don't get to come in, bitch. That's a very good barometer.
Isabelle: Yeah, right? I know! [Sings:] "Following the footsteps of a rag doll dance, we are entranced, spellbound!"
Darcy: That's Isabelle's favorite song, obviously! All of her shit is always self referential. She thinks that Interview with the Vampire is a rom-com about two dads and their daughter. She doesn't know it's a horror movie. She identifies with the little girl, because she doesn't age!
Yes, isn't she's supposed to be 90?
Isabelle: I'm 92 now!
Darcy: Yes, Isabelle was born in 1927.
Savannah does seem like the perfect place for a haunted hotel.
Darcy: Yes! I was a ghost host in a haunted house game, an immersive game, for three years. I would put together the games, and give people clues, and host the thing. Only 100,000 people live here, but three million people come through Savannah as tourists. There is a huge tourist industry especially for the haunted, and gothic, and ghost stuff.
[Tubeway Army's "Are Friends Electric" starts playing over the restaurant's speakers]
Darcy: By the way, this is one of my favorite songs.
Isabelle: God, it's a classic!
Darcy (to Isabelle): We saw him live, remember?
Isabelle: Yes, we saw Gary Numan.
Darcy: Anyway, Isabelle, please be quiet.
When I first met you in 1997 you invited us to a party for Peter Bagge in Queen Itchie's apartment [Queen Itchie is the moniker of zinester/artist Jenny Nixon].
Darcy: Yes, she's in LA. She's doing okay. She was married to Johnny Ryan for a while. I'm in touch with her, but I don't hang out with her like I used to. Weirdly, I don't remember that party at all, but I went out in New York every fricking night for over a decade. I can't remember everything.
You also told me about your funeral arrangements. Are they still the same or have they changed? What do you want to do with your body when you pass away?
Darcy: Okay, I know that I wanted to be taxidermied and put on the front of a ship like a bowsprit on my boat, called "The Goddess". Of course I'm eventually getting a boat here because it's a nautical town. I also went to school to be a captain and get a sea captain's license, but I ended up not getting it because I failed my trigonometry.
Darcy: Anyway, I really loved that plan. I still think it's cute. What Isabelle wants me to do is this thing... they take the bones of your ancestors, the ashes, and make it into a vase or something with Delft porcelain, and we love it. Isabelle wants to make a porcelain doll of me, so we can hang out forever, and ever, and ever. We have our little godchildren, they could inherit us. The problem is, I don't want to do that either because I don't want to get stuck here... I don't want to be a ghost. Maybe because I'm a ghost in real life, in my afterlife I won't have to be one. I've been a ghost since I was 13. My first suicide attempt was when I was 13 and ever since then I have been a ghost, kind of, which has been kind of freeing, because I don't give a shit. I've been through the valley of death and I survived. I died and came back to life. There's something really liberating in that. I'm not afraid of death. That's what makes me the ultimate Goth.
Are you afraid of anything?
Darcy: Physical pain, which is why I don't have a baby. I'm afraid of all kinds of shit, like when our bodies start to breakdown. I have a twisted ankle and bad knees and sciatic shit. Aging is real. We would have been dead by now. That's why menopause is like a thing they're just focusing on now, because women used to die before menopause.
[New Order's Blue Monday starts playing]
Darcy: This is another of the songs in my DJ set. It's funny, they're playing all of the stuff I play in my car because we're the only ones here, so I'm vibing this. [laughs]
Can you talk about what it is like to be a female cartoonist?
Darcy: I was taught feminists can do anything that guys can do. That's why I'm working on the set making the same money as the guys. That's why I have my own world, my own career, my own haunted house hotel, blah, blah. I can do what I want, but it's really a shame it takes us more of our time, more struggle, more blood, sweat, and tears, then we're getting judged by our beauty on top of it. Look, I am an alpha bitch. I can be friends with other alpha bitches who are not toxic and we can all be alpha bitch. Do you see what I mean? We can do our power thing together... and I'll help the beta bitches too, who don't want to be power bitches because it's really hard to do this, so it's fine. I'll just help the girls out, be supportive.
With all these projects, do you think you will continue to make comics?
Darcy: Oh, yeah. I'm not going to stop until I freaking die. They can try and stop me, bitches. [laughs]