I just finished Rent Girl, the new illustrated novel/memoir by Michelle Tea and Laurenn McCubbin, and honestly, I can't recommend highly enough. After hearing lots of favorable buzz, I picked the book up at Bluestockings on my way to Cupcake last Friday night.

Aside from being a fast, fun read, Rent Girl is a really amazing project, in that it's truly collaborative, with Tea and McCubbin both contributing indispensable elements of the story, which is an unflinching, very personal look at one woman's experience as a prostitute. Oh yeah, and it's totally hilarious, in a gritty, glamour-gone-awry sort of way.

Michelle Tea was recently interviewed by Bookslut, and named The Outsiders as one of her early influences: "Literally I slept with it and wondered if I could be in love with a book and was that weird, my feelings for it were so strong."

Both Tea and McCubbin were recently interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle.

If you're new to Michelle Tea's work (as I was), the article notes:
"Valencia" captured the 2000 Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Fiction, was selected by the Voice Literary Supplement as one of the top 25 books of the year, and earned an award from the Rona Jaffe Foundation for young female writers. Tea's third book, "The Chelsea Whistle," was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in the autobiography category, and was selected by The Chronicle as one of the top 100 books of 2002.
She also edited Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class, an anthology that boats contributions from such luminaries as Dorothy Allison, Diane Di Prima, Eileen Myles, and more.

Also noted:
Tea says her biggest challenge in writing the stories in "Rent Girl" was to strike a balance of how to portray the tricking life. "I wanted to talk about the reality of it as an occupation, a job," she says, tapping long fingers on the table. "As opposed to the way it always gets portrayed in our culture as a pathology, or a fantasy. Or something that is completely tragic, or totally empowering, with no hint of sadness."
Tea laughs unexpectedly.

"When Laurenn and I were at Comic-Con [the international conference of comics] in San Diego in June -- which is really boys' town -- I noticed that all of these guys were buying the book. But I ran into some of them at this party and they told me that we had ruined their girl-on-girl fantasy forever. I guess they saw the pictures and read about the male behaviors and it made them sort of sick."

She pauses, and smiles. "So that was exciting."
The second interview notes that there are also more projects in the works for the duo:
"Rent Girl" is only the beginning for Tea and McCubbin. "We want to work on a more typical comic format, with panels and speech balloons," McCubbin says. They are shopping for a publisher for a work tentatively titled "Carrier."

Working in a more traditional format would be new to McCubbin, who didn't grow up as a comic book geek. Besides "shoplifting the odd issue of 'X-Men,' " her interest in cartoon art was piqued by the more literary work of the Hernandez brothers ("Love and Rockets") and other independent publications. It's not surprising that McCubbin would avoid mainstream works: The comic art world is dominated by teenage boys, and the men who draw for them. Both McCubbin and Robbins [Trina Robbins, author of the "Go Girl" comic series and feminist cartoon art historian] welcome the current graphic-novel craze. Robbins says, "Graphic novels are the hope of the future. More women are working in comics than ever, which is wonderful, and if graphic novels can be sold in bookstores, more women will be reading them. Really, I can't stress the importance of getting comics out of the comic book stores. They are like porn stores for juvies."

McCubbin is equally direct: "I hope that it means that we can get away from the garbage that most comic publishers put out. I am fully in support of any attempt to give good work the recognition it deserves, any attempt to raise cartoon art above juvenilia"
Women writers creating graphic novels and comics are a subject near and dear to us here at Cupcake, and we are blessed to have had Phoebe Gloeckner (Diary of a Teenage Girl, A Child's Life and Other Stories) and Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, Persepolis 2) as readers in the past. Elizabeth has also written on the topic.

Both SF Chronicle articles linked above are also worth reading for separate looks at how each contributor approached her work for the book. Apparently, McCubbin relied on hundreds of photographs to create composites for the sharp, punky illustrations, which are really impressive in how casually rendered they seem while conveying an uncanny naturalness to each scene.

New Yorkers take note, as Michelle and Laurenn will be appearing at Cheryl B.'s Atomic Reading Series on October 8, with Rachel Kramer Bussel and Melody Henry. It's billed as "A Special Atomic Presentation: Book Party for "Rent Girl" by Michelle Tea and Laurenn McCubbin." 8-10pm, $5. Definitely a must-do event.

Rachel has a few other stops on the Rent Girl tour listed here.


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