Art Work #1: Dame Darcy, Cartoonist and Mermaid
On the freelance hustle and being deemed “underground famous”
Dame Darcy, is impossible to describe in just a few sentences, but I’ll try. She’s an illustrator, a graphic novelist, a musician, a filmmaker, a sea captain, and a doll-maker who once made a doll for Francis Bean Cobain using an actual lock of Kurt’s hair. She has met and worked with people like Edward Gorey, Tiny Tim, Courtney Love, Margaret Cho, John Waters, Neil Gaiman, Anna Sui, Tori Amos, and Tim Burton. She has completed over 50 published works along with countless short films, fine art exhibits, albums, and three optioned screenplays — and has had her work knocked off by Forever 21 — yet is still unfairly delegated to the “underground.” Her art is full of beautiful undead ladies, pirate kings, and a fascinating girl named “Richard Dirt.” Her neo-Victorian aesthetic has been hugely influential for the past 2+ decades. Her collected works, published in Meat Cake Bible, were recently nominated for the prestigious Eisner Award. And I’m incredibly lucky that she also happens to be the illustrator of my book, for which she drew 14 of the coolest, goth-iest, witchiest female serial killers you’ll ever see.
PS: I’m gonna buy this Alice in Wonderland print from her Etsy shop and you should, too.
TT: Your work has a distinct gothic/Victorian undertone. Have you always been drawn to this aesthetic, even as a kid?
DD: Asking me interview questions about why I’m goth is like trying to take a sip of water from a blasting fire hydrant. When I’m on the subway, old Russian guys speak to me in Russian, they think I’m from there. That’s because where I am from is like Siberia. Dark, cold, and isolated behind the largest mountain range in the US, and run by a cult.
Though Idaho is also beautiful and I have happy childhood memories, riding my horse and living with bohemian cowboy poets and my fun creative Mom and little brothers, I was also bullied in school and beaten by my father during the Regan regime. I thought the entire USA would be nuked any minute and I would not live long enough to graduate from high school. I spent years of my childhood not feeling like I could relate to anyone, or that anywhere was safe.
Pirate King/rock star Adam Ant saved me on MTV — which I saw once by chance on someone else’s cable because we didn’t have normal stuff like that. I thought, if there is a place in the world for a freak like him, there’s a place for me. I knew if the world didn’t blow up, I had to move to Manhattan.
At the Mormon Salvation Army, Victorian mourning dresses were still miraculously in the store. Eighty years old at the time. Some of the old ladies were still alive who donated their stuff so I could have it for $10. I sat in the dark cold house during those long Idaho winters and emulated the drawings from books from the Victorian era. Then my parents got divorced and Dad moved out. I wore the Victorian dresses to school with a shawl over my head like some kind of deranged kind of burka. I could see through the holes but no one could see me. I was a black blob. Now that I had nothing to lose, it was fun to terrorize my former Christian Cult abusers by pretending I was a Satanic witch. Now I was finally (kind of) free.
Do you make all of your income through art-making? Have you worked any non-art jobs or have you always managed to make a go of it as an artist and creator?
I’m a good enough actress to get hired in a straight job, but after about a week they smell the freak on me and I get fired. Thank The Goddess, I am resourceful and skilled enough that for most my life I have not had a day job. But when I do, it mostly has been teaching art to all ages.
At age 39, while attending a housewarming for my newlywed pals in Manhattan — whose super rich parents bought them an apartment — I realized, This place cost a million dollars, and it’s as big as a doublewide with no yard. Even when I too am a millionaire, the thrifty Dust Bowl granny in me wants more value for my money than that. So when I turned 40 I decided to do something to be normal enough to build a credit score and start doing what I had to in order to own property. So I moved to Savannah, where one can buy a mansion for a box of kittens.
Meat Cake Bible graphic novel — magnum opus of my 25-year career, over 400 pages plus bonus stuff — was just nominated for an Eisner Award, so everything is lining up in my trajectory and will, swiftly, with grace and ease, stay on track.
What is a typical day in the life like for you?
Every day is really different, but basically, for the past two years, I’ve been taking about two months to work my job as ghost host [note: DD works at Escape Room Savannah as “Duchess Rocco Granny Ghost”] in order to appear normal to the triple threat of Bank, Mortgage Lender, and IRS — while creating savings and setting up shows and events to promote my graphic novels on tour. Also, writing/drawing, graphic novel deadlines, and a feature film screenplay. In between games [at the Escape Room], I pack orders, autograph books, set up shows and meetings, edit the videos, and prep the social media.
While in Savannah, I crew for a retired Vietnam Vet/sea captain every Monday. I practice mermaid swimming with my fin at the aquatic center or the beach at sundown or at night with my “tropic-goth” witch pals. Or attend Lolita tea parties with those ladies sometimes. On Tuesday I run errands, and I also have paid interns that help me with all the tasks of being self-employed: post office, constantly shipping out orders of my books and Mermaid Tarot decks from my shop, sending handmade one-of-a-kind spells, art treats, and prizes to patrons, and doing commissions for freelance clients.
My boyfriend Pleasant and I also do video editing, and I take care of other tasks and errands with him, and for him.
Are there any huge dreams you haven’t achieved yet — or just wild things you want to try in the future?
The wild thing I would like to try is to have more time to sleep.
My life is really hectic right now, but once I get Meat Cake Manor [a fantastical hotel DD is planning to open in Savannah], and I’m finished with painting and furnishing the theme rooms, I can quit my day job, hire other people to run my Hotel and my online business, and go into semi-retirement. Hopefully then the Patriarchy will loosen up its grip and I will get the same break I’ve seen many of my male contemporaries get, and my feature film or TV series will be produced. Then I can take it easy, and write draw, paint, and make music and movies because I feel like it rather than have the constant pressure of having to make deadlines on never enough money advances.
Or maybe I won’t make anything at all. I’ve never known what it would be like to make art for art’s sake — there’s always had to be the factor that whatever I spend my time on has to make money or publicity to justify the time I spent on it, or else I can’t afford to make it. I’ve never had the stability of outside financial support from a family, community, or marriage.
Just chill out on the boat more. Explore new places that don’t require shows set up there in order to fund the trip. Go full on tropical in Hawaii, Curaçao, Uruguay, visit my family in the Northwest more or my witch sister Jessie Evans in Brazil. Help with environmental causes like cleaning the ocean of plastic, do oyster reef restoration locally in Savannah, be able to give more time and money to helping dolphins and other animals. Have my life at a leisurely pace on my terms, on my time. Go to the doctor or dentist whenever I want or need to. That would be a dream miracle.
People talk a lot about the “hustle” and the “grind.” What are your thoughts on our obsession with the “hustle”?
When I first moved to Manhattan, I was a scrappy twenty-two-year-old with my published comic book and my animation reel. After living somewhere so isolated, longing to be able to live in a big city with opportunities, I was elated that now I could simply walk into the production studios. I literally just called MTV and Viacom, Village Voice, Paper Mag, New York Press, etc. and made meetings or just showed up at the front desk and asked to work with them. I also befriended established people in my industry and asked them to refer me. That’s how I started my career. These tactics actually worked. I figured I had nothing to lose, so that’s why I tried, and still continue in basically the same way. Making lists of contacts that would apply, throw my concept out there and see what sticks.
I’ve worked as hard as I could and compromised everything normal people would not in order to maintain my career in what I am unfairly deemed as “underground famous.” For my intellectual properties to be mainstream, I don’t just get to call some of my Boys Club cronies and get produced. I’ve had to change the system from the underground up in order to be able to make my own break. And I can’t stop, because if I do, not only am I letting my future old-lady-self down, but also the following generations of women and LBGTQ people. I do everything I do for the abused and magical child I once was to save the lives of LBGTQ people now.
My intention has always been to be mainstream so our kind can be saved and not mistreated, silenced, and marginalized. It’s extremely frustrating and unfair to be delegated to the underground, and my goal is to escape sometime during my lifetime, so I can actually enjoy freedom while I’m still alive.
Do you have any career regrets?
One thing that set me back through the years is when I had opportunities to be heteronormative, and marry handsome white guys who made money, I opted for being independent. Or I made bad decisions as to who to let into my life, because I am an enabler and have no clue as to how to determine bad boundaries.
I lived with my lawyer fiancé in SOHO for seven years. He wanted me to get married and have kids, and I wanted to get my books made into something bigger and make more of my own money first. I want my own money (and power) on my own terms. The way white guys have had the pleasure to live for centuries.
Before I brought someone into the world that totally depended on me I wanted to be able to actually support them on my own if I had to. Most women, when they become mothers, will probably sooner or later become single mothers. For instance, my own mom was not a single mother in 1971, but by 1988 she was a single mother of three. Besides, the ocean is full of plastic and all future generations are doomed unless the corporations suddenly stop doing what they do to make themselves billions at the cost of everything around them. No child of mine is going to battle to the death over water and fundamentals of survival in 2042.
[However,] I am so thankful and lucky to have the support of my fiancé, friends, and the business partners and collaborators I have. Nothing is owed to us in this life and anything we have, from our health to accomplishments and heart connections, should always be looked upon with gratitude.
What’s the biggest thing people misunderstand about your work?
Having legs and feet that have to be encased in hard shoes — instead of gliding with a graceful fin — is strange. Not being able to breathe water and having to speak this creepy Germanic-derived dialect instead of the language of dolphins is weird to me.
I started as an empathic fairy child, one who cares about nature, animals, children, and our ancestors. And through all this disappointment and fuckery I have now had to become a warrior whether I chose to or not. I must fight the good fight or I’m not being true to my beliefs. This might cause a rift somewhere, or may cause some to hate me, but I was born this way and have no other choice.
Sometimes I fear that though I’ve taken so much care to carefully define who I am and why I’ve done what I did, I want to be liked, and I think readers will think I’m crazy or just a plain old jerk. But then, I think, whatever, this was my experience and my perception of reality. As an artist, not only is it my job to show people my version, but it’s the only thing I am entitled to. Maybe it will help someone else the way the people I admire helped me. Witch warts and all.
This post originally appeared on Tori Dot Gov.