Interview with Donna Barr

Donna Barr is the creator of four highly regarded independent comics: The Desert Peach, Stinz, Bosom Enemies, and Hader and the Colonel. She's one of my favorite comics artists; I've been reading her stuff pretty much since she started publishing. She also provided the fully-drawn introduction to my graphic novel book way back when. She has a biography posted on her website, so go take a look at it, and then come back and see what she has to say.

For The Comics Get Serious, Donna has kindly consented to answer a few questions regarding her work of the past, present, and future.

Who are your influences, both visual and verbal?

Hm. Visual: Holling C. Holling. Egyptian Tomb art. Most "primitive" or tribal arts. Oriental art.

Verbal: Kipling, Dickens, Gogol (well, in translation). Thurber, of course. Mark Twain. Fontane.

Why is the sequential art format the ideal medium for your stories?

Because I can write and I can draw.

What elements of the language of comics provide your readers with experiences beyond the ken of text-only books?

They're prettier! And I get to show ALL the facial expressions!

What is your opinion of the state of comics today?

Is that like the State of Texas? Insular, limited in vision, self-contained, half desert, self-satisfied, way out there on the edge, unable to see past its own borders, not as big as it thinks it is....

Or is that America?

How has the Internet helped (or hindered) your work?

Best little advertising medium ever invented!

"Fiercely independent" is a good way to describe your work. What sacrifices have you made in order to stay independent, and how has independence benefited you?

What's to sacrifice? The comics industry makes a billion dollars a year, mostly as advertising for toys and games. The cat-food industry makes nine billion. This industry is a joke.

Given unlimited funds, assistance, interest, and time, what is your dream project?

Ooh. Just let me keep churning out books any way I like them, as they pop into my little pointed head.

Or a really BIG mural, just the way I like it, with a crew of fifteen....

The Peach has evolved quite a bit since you first started writing about him. Please give us an outline of your thought processes over time-what did you initially expect of him, what has he grown into, what about him has surprised you, etc.

Thought? You think THOUGHT was involved in this? I'm not in charge here -- my characters have a union. I'm just management. Ideas float by me and I pop them into the books. Stories pop into my head, and I float 'em past my readers. It's completely organic. And the characters are based on human beings. What can you expect? You can't out-weird reality.

I think of all your story threads, Stinz took the most radical twists and turns. How did your thinking on that series evolve?

See "Desert Peach." I don't keep track of this stuff. Sometimes I have to go back and re-read things before I write a book. Did I tell you I was hit in the head with an axe when I was seven, and have no memory?

Do you have an overarching philosophy that colors your books?

Think, or die.

Those of us who love graphic novels often have a tough time convincing "normals" that they're serious literature. What is your approach to this problem?

Well, I don't use a silly half-Latin, half Greek term like "graphic novel." It means "Something new that is written." Oh, ya, real good way to get a library or the literate to respect you. I tell people I do "drawn books." Immediately, they perk up -- "Art and writing?" say their brains. Then I describe. THEN they say -- "Oh, like comic books?" But when they say it, they're already interested, and not turned off. Get it through your heads, people -- "comic book" means "stupid cheap kids' or adolescent boys' book." The term is tainted -- and it's all our fault!

Bosom Enemies is probably your most immediately disturbing work. Can you describe the impulses that caused you to create it, and the reaction that it's had on readers?

It's another book that suffers from my urge to draw horses AND people. And it's about slavery -- or that's how it's perceived. I'm an American. With my country's horrible, despicable, messy race background -- how could it NOT be about slavery?

One of my pet peeves is the prevalence of poorly researched history and geography in comics; visual and textual errors abound. As one of comics' premier historians, what is your take on this issue?

Who? ME? I don't read this dumb stuff. And outside of the ASM (Adolescent Specialty Market) nobody else does either! Buy a clue, marketing lads.

Where do you feel is your place in the subuniverse of women's comics? In gay comics?

I'm in my own little universe. I don't know where anybody else thinks I am. You'll have to answer that one for me -- I don't think about it. I only believe in two genres -- fiction and nonfiction. And that gets grey, sometimes.

What's the best work you ever did, and why was it the best?

The little dumb story about how to survive on the street. It was ripped off, and reprinted in a little survival handbook for streetkids, that was left in toilets and other public places for them to find. To help them keep from dying. Best day's work I ever did.

Are there any questions you've always wanted to answer in an interview? Here's the opportunity to answer them! Or, if not, do you have any closing words of wisdom for the wide-eyed children of the world and all us jaded adults? Upcoming projects? Reassurances or dire predictions?

Right now, I seem to be involved in painting murals in Bremerton! I need to go up today and finish a mural on the south wall of a guy's bedroom. My first abstract piece. Abstraction is VERY hard. It's produced when a mature artist needs to make that jump into the next level of development, and uses it to study form, color, values, etc. My advice -- don't even touch it before you've been working 20 years (I've been working since 1954).

But it's VERY fun. The guy ruint his leg the other day, and is home from work, and gets to watch me work. While the paint dries (NO, we don't WATCH it), we sit in the living room, drinking coffee and whiskey and watching bad

Poking at the Desert Peach novel. Writing and trying to sell poetry and short fiction. Producing paintings for a local gallery.

Words of wisdom? (ha ha ha -- from me?)

Okay, I'll try: There are four stages of development to reach any


And I'm NOT being funny.

Donna has also very kindly provided two drawn stories: the single-page 'Nuf Said and the multipage Can't!

Intrigued? Check out Donna's website!

Copyright 2002, D. Aviva Rothschild and Donna Barr


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