Although I had always been interested in drawing, particularly of faces (along with the inevitable horse phase, of course), and also writing (I made a number of illustrated books in my early years, such as the now-classic the ??Monster who ate Mr. M??–-my beloved gym teacher), my first comic-like illustration of any kind was a one-panel illustration in my high school newspaper, the Evanstonian, of which I was a news editor, during my senior year. It depicted me and my best friends as members of a hypothetical, though extremely cool band, the Lilliputians. We were doing something or other that involved being in a hole in the ground. I can’t remember what.
My first actual sequential-art comic was done as a way to cop out on writing a final paper for Classics 101 (that is, ancient Greek literature) my freshman year of college. (This method of getting out of research-oriented work was to become a sort of leit-motif during my college years.) I did an outer-space version of Medea. I got an A; I think mostly because the teacher didn’t know what exactly to do with it. I don’t think I have this early effort anymore, but I can guarantee that it was absolutely awful. I was struggling so hard with the materials (a very fine-pointed technical pen) and the very idea of backgrounds, not to mention actual storytelling, that I seem to recall having my friend Sharon letter for me when I realized I just could not grapple with yet another skill I did not have. (During my junior year of college, I did a second version of Medea, this time a sort of slapstick-mafia take on it, for Feminism and the Classics. Believe it or not, I had sort of forgotten at the time that I had already done Medea only two years before. But, anyway, I got an A on that one, too.)
After my freshman year, I transferred from Carleton College to the University of Chicago, and, during the fall quarter of my sophomore year, I noticed a flyer up around campus for a student comics group asking for submissions of comics by students to publish in a student anthology. I went to the organizational meeting, and there I first met Mr. Ivan Brunetti, among others. The student-organization-funded Breakdown came out once during that year. My contribution was the first part of “the Junkie.” This story was spawned the previous spring, when I was visiting my best friend from high school who was at Berkeley. While there, she showed me a stream-of-consciousness piece of erotic writing she’d done, and I was extremely impressed. Looking at it now, it’s a bit embarrassing for both of us, but at the time, it felt really powerful. Anyway, inspired by countless crushes of my own and a sense that I wouldn’t be able to write anything so palpably right, I asked her if I could use her story, and wrote my own story in order to make a setting for hers. Her part became a sort of daydream or musing of the main character in my story.
However, the first half of “the Junkie” is all my part of the story, and that’s what ran in the first issue of Breakdown. The next year, I became editor of Breakdown, and almost single-handedly put out three issues, including a number of my own stories: the second half of “the Junkie,” some funny stories, and some miserable self-pitying drek. My senior year I was very burned out, and didn’t do Breakdown at all, and so it devolved into a horrible mess of a zine, and then disappeared. Sometimes you gotta just do stuff yourself, you know?
At the same time, I had gotten permission to do a comic as my final thesis project, and so was hard at work on that. In the end, I finished a five-chapter script for a graphic novel called Salt and one chapter’s worth of the images, and that got me graduated with honors. I never finished it, and am now glad I didn’t, so it’s never been published anywhere.
After I graduated, Ivan Brunetti began publishing an anthology that featured many of the artists from Breakdown, called Biff Bang Pow. I re-drew a couple of my pieces from Breakdown, and did a couple of new ones, while simultaneously re-drawing the Junkie (which version I later reprinted in Soundtrack) to use to try to get myself published somewhere else. At the time, I was sure I’d never do anything half as good again. In early ’92, I submitted an entry to the “win a date with Stinky” contest in Peter Bagge’s series Hate –-a sort of joke contest where the winner would get herself drawn into a strip in Hate. I won, and Pete Bagge was planning to come to the Chicago Comic-Con in the summer, so we arranged to meet there so he could draw me. Excited, I hurriedly put together the first issue of Artbabe, so as to have something presentable to give to Pete and Gary Groth etc., in order to get published by Fantagraphics. Well, it didn’t have much effect on Gary, but Pete liked it, and kindly plugged it in Hate #10, the issue in which angry young me appears in a strip on the back cover. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this was the beginning of my self-publishing career. I got a moderate response to the first issue of Artbabe, enough to have to reprint several times, eventually, and enough to convince me I should keep on self-publishing. So I did another issue–-a year later.