In writing words of praise for Debbie Drechsler, I must concede I’m joining a bandwagon that started in 1995 when her work, Daddy’s Girl was first released. As detailed here by her publisher Fantagraphics, “Fantagraphics Books is proud to re-release one of the most powerful and moving books in its distinguished publishing history: Debbie Drechsler’s first collection of short comic stories, Daddy’s Girl. Originally published in 1995 and distributed only to comic book specialty stores, Daddy’s Girl was ahead of its time: Drechsler’s account of her abuse at the hands of her father, told from the point of view of an adolescent, is one of the most searingly honest, empathetic, and profoundly disturbing uses of the comics medium in its history.” With some assistance from Fantagraphics’ Eric Reynolds and the valuable time and effort of Drechsler, I was recently able to email interview her about the re-release of the book, as well as what work she is currently pursuing.
Tim O’Shea: Given the personal, autobiographical nature of your work, do you intentionally avoid reading reviews of your work, or are you able to distinguish that folks are reviewing your storytelling skills, not your life?
Debbie Drechsler: No, I like to read reviews. I call my work autobiographical because there doesn’t seem to be another word that fits. But, really, it’s somewhere in between fact and fiction, I guess. The stories were very deliberately constructed, although I tried to maintain what I call the emotional truth of incest. They’re something I created, not a slice of my life.
O’Shea: These stories started out as a form of catharsis and therapy for you, correct? Can you look at these stories now with a certain sense of detachment, or is there still a level of catharsis when you read them again?
Drechsler: I don’t think that’s how I saw it at the time I created them. I had something I wanted to tell and had, I guess you could say, a strong urge to tell it. Now I find them really hard to look at, but I’m not sure it feels cathartic. I don’t feel like I’m reliving them , and I don’t feel a sense of emotional release, but they’re awfully uncomfortable to hang out with. I guess it feels sort of like I’ve gone back to visit a place I had very fond feelings for and find that a freeway has been built over it. Something bad happened to it and I find it hard to come to terms with that.
O’Shea: Have you ever received feedback from victims of abuse who have been helped or sought help after reading Daddy’s Girl?
Drechsler: Yes. I’ve heard from a few people.
O’Shea: Do you know if your siblings or other family members have read the book, or is that just not a subject that can be broached with your family?
Drechsler: Two of my sisters have read it. One was sympathetic and accepting, and the other never said anything about it after reading it. It’s not a favored topic in my family. I don’t know if anyone else knows about it, or has read it.
O’Shea: In reading the book’s author blurb, I was surprised to read that you feel that you have told all the stories you have left to tell. Does that sadden you to some degree, or do you get more satisfaction from your illustration work these days?
Drechsler: It doesn’t feel sad at all. I’m really happy to have done the comics–it was wonderful doing them, and I’m equally happy not to be doing them anymore. I have a number of interesting things that I work on, besides illustration. In the past few years, I’ve been drawing and painting outdoors. I’m enjoying drawing what’s in front of me instead of what’s in my head. I’m most interested in the things that few people seem to notice–tiny wildflowers, insects, leaf galls and, my favorite, fungi. One of the things I disliked about doing comics was having to be in my studio ALL the time! Now I get to combine two of my favorite things—drawing and being outside!
O’Shea: One of your favorite things to draw is fungi? Is there any chance you would ever try to compile a book of the works or stage an exhibition? What is it about fungi that engages your interest?
Drechsler: I’m not even close to exhibiting. I’ve been sketching for three seasons, now. I’ve done conceptual illustration for so long that I’m still stretching out my “muscles” on this representational stuff. They each use pretty different parts of the brain and eye. I do plan on getting a blog going, so some of the sketches will undoubtedly end up there.
O’Shea: When you are painting some of your outdoor pieces, what painting or drawing mediums do you favor?
Drechsler: Oddly enough, I’ve found that my favorite sketching tool is a ballpoint pen! I can get tone without having to constantly stop to sharpen. It took a while to find one that didn’t do that ballpoint blobby thing. I have a few that I like for different uses. The only drawback is that my favorite (Parker refllable, medium point) won’t work when it’s cold out. Then I use a Bic retractable. Apparently the ink in those isn’t quite as temperature sensitive. And they’re great when I need lots of dark. For color I use watercolor, but I’m still learning how to work with wet, transparent color. I’ve always favored opaque paints so this is entirely new. The watercolor is easier to use in the field and quicker. And you don’t have to mix as much, because of the transparency.
O’Shea: Again, in the back of the book, you thank a number of people for making the book possible, and in particular, editor Gary Groth, for keeping you laughing as you put the book together. How important was it for you to be able to laugh when dealing with such a subject and such a process?
Drechsler: Really, the laughter happened after all the stories were written, and helped more with what I find to be the boring process of revisiting work I’ve already done. Gary was great at keeping me going when I just wanted to go and work on something NEW instead of reworking something already done.
O’Shea: What changes (if any) did you make in this edition versus the edition printed back in the 1990s? Did the original version have color pages in the middle–or how did that come about?
Drechsler: Well, I got to do a new, and in my opinion, better cover, the interior printing is MUCH better–very crisp. Gary wanted to have more pages, so I added the story Constellations, which is in color and really always was a part of this series of stories, anyway.