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Emily Flake

Uli Loskot

By Bret McCabe | Posted 8/3/2005

Here at Baltimore’s most incestuous alternative weekly we often find ourselves wanting to trumpet something that journalistic conflicts of interest recuse us from being able to cover. But when we found out that a book of former intern and current City Paper contributing writer and illustrator Emily Flake’s Lulu Eightball comics was going to be the debut publication from CP contributor and Atomic Books co-owner Benn Ray’s new press, we saw an opportunity to toss our ethics so completely out the window we couldn’t resist. Lulu Eightball debuted in this very paper in 2002 when Maryland Institute College of Art grad Flake was living in Chicago and pitched CP a comic. (“It went something like, ‘Blah blah blah comic,” Flake remembers.) Now, Lulu Eightball is carried in four other alt-weeklies (and, theoretically, an English-language paper in Iceland), and Flake is an in-demand New York-based illustratrix and cartoonist—with a day job. We phoned her up at that day gig and asked her about the book—which has a release party 7-9 p.m. Aug. 6 at Atomic Books—Lulu’s autobiographical nature, and what it’s like when your comic alter ego is a fat chick.

City Paper: So, if you did not write for this paper and we weren’t bound by things like “ethics” and were talking to you about your book, what would you say?

Emily Flake: It’s pretty much about all the strips we could fit in about 100 pages that I hadn’t accidentally erased off my hard drive.

CP: Had you already been working on these characters and ideas when you first pitched the strip?

EF: It was more like pairing funny little drawings with funny little words and I thought maybe I could do that 52 times a year. I think the first few months were sort of like shooting at skeet, which is a nice way of saying it sucked and maybe now it sucks a little less.

CP: How did you arrive at your patented four-panel in one panel treatment?

EF: At first I thought I was going to get in trouble, like I was cheating—because I didn’t have a four-panel strip. I was just trying to cram four panels into my allotted one panel. And then I started to really like the rhythm of it—setup, setup, setup, punch line. And now every once in a while I have an idea for a single panel, but now I feel like I’m cheating if I go back to a single panel, like I’m being lazy.

CP: Does the name have any significance?

EF: I like the way it sounded, and “Lulu” was actually a pet name my parents had for me when I was little. It sounded a little sassier and more attractive than I was. And “eightball” comes from the fact that I always wish I was better at pool. I like watching pool even though I’m terrible at it. I like the sound of—I was about to say, ‘I just like the sound of balls smashing together.’ You’re going to print that, aren’t you?

CP: Of course not. Are Lulu’s arms too short for pool?

EF: Lulu’s arms are too short for almost anything that requires skill or is useful in any way. Lulu’s arms are just about long enough to get the cigarette to her mouth or to reach the pie.

CP: And the bourbon?

EF: Yes. They’re just consumptive flaps, more than anything else.

CP: I noticed on your web site you call yourself an illustratrix and cartoonist. Are comics and cartoonists different? Is it like the difference between hip-hop and rap?

EF: It’s more like an East Coast-West Coast kind of thing. And, you know, I could you show you the scars.

CP: How much of Lulu’s misadventures have some autobiographical basis?

EF: Most of them. If it’s not directly autobiographical, they at least spring from some conversation I had or thought that crossed my mind. Obviously, some of the circus ones aren’t, because I’ve never actually worked for a circus even though I’d like to.

CP: What would you do in the circus?

EF: I’m running the risk of quoting my own cartoon here, but I’d be the slutty girl running the Whack-a-Mole. That is what I’d like to do.

CP: I spent a few hours going through the past two years of Lulu Eightball all at once and noticed a few not so much recurring motifs but things that crop up enough repeatedly to make me wonder about them—such as crying, tears, tear stains. Is there a lot of crying in Lulu’s life?

EF: Tears are funny. I’m not much of an outward crier, but I weep inside nearly constantly.

CP: There’s also a bit of an oral fixation, about how things taste, licking things, the mouthfeel of things.

EF: [laughs] Yes. I bite my nails, I chew on pens, I smoke. Yeah—oh, God, is oral above anal in the Freudian stages?

CP: Not really—you still have some things to work out apparently. You also appear to have a hostile attitude toward childhood clichés.

EF: In what way?

CP: In the sense of looking back at things we’re supposed to remember fondly and then tweaking them into things we’d much rather forget.

EF: Well, a lot of childhood is sort of a scam. Generally, it’s supposed to be treated as this very happy time with no stress whatsoever, and I think a lot of kids are very stressed out. Childhood to me is a very unhappy weird time where you haven’t figured out anything.

CP: Is Lulu’s loneliness and awkwardness in groups of people related to that?

EF: Yes. Oh, yes. I think that’s part of childhood, too, you know—or, at least anybody who is worth anything had a childhood like that. I like to think that some of these things are somewhat universal—or at least solipsistic and whiny.

CP: OK, where do all the latent anxieties that bubble to the surface as full-blown rage come from?

EF: Well, sometimes you just got to take it and run with it. Why just let something bother you a little?

CP: And there are three things that just really leapt out at me because they did noticeably appear a number of times. Flatulence I’ll attribute to your inner teenage boy.

EF: Oh, very much so. That’s entirely fair.

CP: But what’s up with bees?

EF: [laughs] Bees just tickle the hell out of me. I think the word is funny. I think the idea of bees is funny. I think they’re funny in almost every way, how they look, what they do. I’ve never been stung by a bee; maybe that has something to do with it. And obviously bumblebees are funnier than not-bumblebees. And also anybody in a bee suit is funny.

CP: And people wanting to grow horns or having horns?

EF: Again, the entire idea just delights me. I think one of the earlier ones I did was that if people had antennas they wouldn’t fight anymore, and I just really like antennas and horns. I think we would be better off if we had those things—which might be why I always draw myself with two buns, which is how I usually wear my hair, also.

CP: Is that your effort to grow antennae?

EF: That or my refusal to believe that I’m actually a 28-year-old grown woman.

CP: So, have you ever cock-blocked for Christ?

EF: I’d like to think that my very existence is a cock-block for Christ. But I’m not Catholic, so I never really got the chance.

CP: Have you ever received racial tension with your bean pies?

EF: Yes. Often—every time I get one. Does the Nation of Islam still sell bean pies and The Final Call at North [Avenue] and Charles [Street]?

CP: Sometimes.

EF: I love those fucking bean pies. They’re awesome. And many times I’ve been mockingly asked if I would like an issue of The Final Call. And I once asked how much was the bean pie, and they said $2. And I said, “I’m sorry, all I’ve got is $1. I’ll get you on the way back.” And he said, “Don’t all you people have credit cards?” And it didn’t even occur to me to get mad about the “don’t all you people part.” All I was thinking was, You can’t make a $2 credit-card charge.

CP: Speaking of, have you ever actually killed your credit rating?

EF: Oh, God. I beat it so savagely it was unrecognizable. It floated dead in the ocean for weeks, it was bloated and fly-blown by the time they brought it in. I fucked my credit pretty bad—on the stupidest, small things. I never really carried more than 3 and a half grand at one time, it was always those ridiculous, usurious rates that I didn’t pay on time. I’m sure it’s not that much better now. I actually borrowed money from my boyfriend to pay that off.

CP: Is that how you picked him? Did you run his name and Social Security number?

EF: Yes. I sent his digits to Equifax and ran them through real quick.

CP: So why do you draw yourself like the Pillsbury Doughboy’s indie-rock girlfriend?

EF: What? Oh, God, maybe I kind of am the Pillsbury Doughboy’s indie-rock girlfriend. That’s kind of fucked-up, that might be true. Well, the drawing style doesn’t really lend itself to making anyone look attractive. And I think it’s funnier—well, somebody wrote in once saying more or less that he hated my cartoons because everything was kind of sad, that it wasn’t a real go-getter’s cartoon. And the only thing I could think was, How would it be funny if it was? If something good happens that’s awesome, and good things do happen in my life but they’re not very funny. So, along that same vein, it’s not funny to draw yourself as attractive, I guess. And I’m wicked fat.

CP: Do you have any stalker fans? Do comic artists get the stalky types?

EF: Not to my knowledge. I’ll get the odd e-mail—which is very flattering, because I don’t live anywhere where it gets published, so I don’t really know if people are reading it even. So it’s gratifying and daunting to think that people are actually reading it and judging it with their eyes. But no stalkers yet, but Tim [Kreider, cartoonist of CP’s The Pain—When Will It End?] and I both did get very strange, cryptic e-mails from the same guy in Baltimore requesting that we put more fat chicks in our cartoons. And this guy seemed to like Lulu because she was a fat chick. And I thought that was kind of weird.

CP: I’m sure you replied to that forthwith.

EF: His sentiment to me was that he loved this little fat girl and where could he find her. And his sentiment to Tim was, “More fat chicks.”

CP: And I’m sure Mr. Kreider responded in nothing but the kindest of ways.

EF: Oh, I’m sure he did. Tim is a very courtly gentleman.

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