Dame Darcy is an alternative cartoonist of over 50 comic books, a fine artist, doll-maker, film-maker, banjo-player and cabaret performer.
She has been publishing Meat Cake comics with Fantagraphics since 1993, and lives in the old port city of Savannah, U.S.A. as a neo-Victorian mermaid queen.
The Dame has a vast body of work and a uniquely recognisable, glossy gothic, twisted fairytale sensibility.
Dame Darcy has written an autobiography, Hi-Jax and Ji-Jinx and The Meat Cake Bible (Fantagraphics, 2016). She is the creator of the Mermaid and Queen Alice tarot decks, with a worldwide cult following.
Demented Goddess: Meat Cake’s characters express the strange, the gothic and the feminine with a fantastical irreverence; sassy mermaids, vengeful ghosts, a sexy big bad (wax) wolf. One character, Strega Pez, is on the hinge of decapitation and communicates through a Pez-like tablet protruding from her neck. Which aspects of your surreal upbringing informed the creation of the Meat Cake universe?
My foundation is built upon fairytales and classic literature. Mom read to me every night, like Little Women. Though these were tales from a century ago or more I didn’t know the difference, and I found Jo inspiring because she went to work in NYC in publishing in the 1890s (which, at the time, was male-dominated, like being a cartoonist in NYC in the 1990s, which was when I started).
When we were kids, my Grandma had the Oz book series from 1919 which we all read and gave me the classic Alice Through The Looking Glass from 1860. This began my idea of what a graphic novel should look like and is why Gasoline, The illustrated Jane Eyre, Hand Book For Hot Witches and even my latest book, an Autobiography on Feral House 2019 Hi Jax & Hi Jinx, have this format.
It’s also why my second Tarot Deck design, released last year, is based on Alice. Then in high school when I first started Meat Cake Comix, Love and Rockets (Gilbert and Jamie Hernandez) showed me a world of female punk lady protagonists. Because my publisher Fantagraphics cared about this kind of thing, there was hope out there to not be marginalized to the point of no one hearing my message.
DG: I’ve always seen you as Alice who (through serious artistic grind) shares the world of the Looking Glass or Wonderland with others. There’s not much division in the level of fantasy in your illustration and in your life; you craft your dream world around you. How does your witchcraft work aid your ability to realise and share your vision?
Living in Savannah compared to NYC, it was like I moved to a blank slate where nothing is really happening so you can make it into anything you want.
Before I even got there, Savannah looked like the cosmic fantasyland theme park where my characters live. So, I’m planning a whole haunted house hotel called Meat Cake Manor so people can actually visit the world of my comics. It will have a goddess reparations center, seance room and comix library.
All I have to do is buy a cheapass Addams Family house in some neighbourhood and the entire eastern coastal seaboard is mine because I put Ground Zero of witch country on the map right in the middle between NYC and Miami. I’ve been here 7 years of a 5 year plan but getting closer than ever with the support of my partner Mr. Pleasant. If you want to visit Meat Cake Manor please feel free to join our patron family and make the process of buying the house go faster!
I have a lot of nightmares and lately health issues and injuries to my mind body and soul, but I don’t let it stop me. If one wakes up and makes even a small step each day towards their goal that’s progress, even if one wakes up feeling assaulted by the Patriarchy every day. Don’t let money, depression, or location stop you. I say, “ Now is the time, I accept my greatest gift” and watch for the positive changes around me. I’m very inspired by quotes from Florence Shovel Shinn from the 20s. Check her out. She’s amazing.
DG: As an artist, you’ve carved your own path, continually adding strings to your bow. Which artists spurred you most to follow you own star?
Adam Ant saved my life as a 13 year old. I saw the Stand and Deliver video on MTV and realized I wasn’t completely alone, I just had to get out of Idaho. Adam Ant started in art school, became a punk God then the king of the performance art dandies and moved to LA to become an actor.
I loved Erte, Art Deco and art nouveau, (which I believe both have their roots in Japanese traditional design) Aubrey Beardsley, Suehiro Marou, Pre Raphaelite art, Klimt, and Edward Gorey, the goth zine Propaganda, and the music of Siouxsie, the Swans, the Cure, Bauhaus, movies like The Hunger, Dr.Caligari, and Blade Runner.
I loved Daryl Hannah and wanted to look like Priss or Mermaid Madison from Splash and Debbie Harry from Blondie. I was always the White Goth because dying my blonde hair black would’ve looked dumb and fake on me. So I went with an all white ghostly or pastels with black look and got a boyfriend in LA who was a DJ through the pen pal section of Propaganda because the internet didn’t exist yet. When the Idaho redneck kids at my school saw my contemporary goth and music fashion from LA they thought I had landed from the moon.
Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice came out when I was 16, so I was inspired that he could make a movie with this wacky dark sense of humor. I vowed to be the next Tim Burton, but in a girl-focused style, so I majored in film with a minor in animation at the San Francisco Art Institute.
DG: I’m going to ask you a question I sometimes get as an artist of multiple disciplines. Do you feel the most fully “yourself” when you are writing, drawing, performing, or making?
Drawing is probably my most magic power and it’s the skill others hire me the most for. It’s also the medium to drive and manifest the stories, same with the music. However, all of it can be used in movies. I majored in film with a minor in animation at the San Francisco Art Institute. Because I always intended to have stories that I could produce on my own, by drawing, ultimately to become movies or a tv series on Amazon or wherever.
I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to crack through the glass ceiling. But I have optioned 3 movie scripts based on my graphic novel intellectual properties and am still in the game 30 years later though at this point. The Turn of the Century TV series, which was a series of short films produced with Lisa Hammer in the 90’s, was recently included in the Getty Museum, and shown in festivals in NYC. I’m starting to realize, what I got so far might be all that I get, but I’m not going to stop doing what I do!
DG: The Irish mermaid, Selkie or Seal-Maiden, differs from that of the singing siren who lures men to the bottom of the sea. Men may marry the selkie if they capture her coat of seal skin (or sometimes her comb), and though she makes a loving wife, she pines for the sea and one day finds her coat and returns home to it. What meaning does the mermaid carry for you?
It’s funny you should ask, because I just finished a series of little cute videos on Instagram where Friend The Girl interviews Mermaid Effluvia. Here’s an excerpt:
Friend The Girl: Yo ho! Friend The Girl here! Local news correspondent for Meat Cake comix coming to you straight from the Sobriety Straight Dock .
Mermaid Effluvia, what’s the difference between a siren and a mermaid?
Effluvia: All this polarizing nonsense was made up by landlubbers. We’re both two sides of the same coin, it just depends how cute I feel like being that day.
I would say I identify more as a Siren though. I’m a siren when I feel like being sexy and using my magical singing voice to lure sailors ashore, causing them to wreck their ships and then eat their hearts out and steal all their gold. Avast! Even the baddest pirate be no match for a Siren. Yaaaaar!
When I started, several centuries ago ,women used to hate sirens. Always with the complaining, “Men are the breadwinners and now I can’t feed my baby, boo hoo.”. But now with feminism and more women in the work-force the general attitude has shifted to regard us sirens in a much more positive light, I’d say the overall feedback has been, “Men are annoying and rapey. Thank you for making there be less of them.”
DG: Your legacy for women in comics is so important. Meat Cake has been a radically different work to encounter in the comic book shops. Which particular artists within women’s comics, popular, or alternative have been important to you?
First and foremost the life work of Trina Robbins. She’s amazing and I’m honored to say I know her. She’s all about Wonder Woman but in the cool way; the legacy steeped in Goddess Culture from ancient Crete she had on her island full of power bitches.
I love Nell Brinkley from the 1920s. So adorable, whimsical, fashionable and female-centric.
While in art school in San Francisco, I saw a comic by Sue Coe the English artist and illustrator. Her work is in the tradition of social protest art and is highly political. It was about pigs getting tortured in a factory farm. I was 19 at the time and had just become vegetarian (which I still am, partly because of that comic) I was impressed with how dark, truth-telling, and badass Sue could be while still being a lady. So she was a major inspiration for me too.
Fame and money only serve us when we’re alive and we’re here for only a brief moment and dead for eternity. So in the end, the legacy we leave behind to help others of our kind get through the challenges of this mortal coil is all that matters.
Dame Darcy was in conversation with Caoimhe Lavelle.
Follow Dame Darcy, Insta @damedarcy; & Caoimhe , Twitter: @kwoovo.