An Interview with Ladydrawers’ Anne Elizabeth Moore

Ladydrawers_logoThe Ladydrawers Comics Collective (AKA “The Ladydrawers”) describes themselves “an unofficially affiliated group of women, men, transgender, and non-binary gender folk who research, perform, and publish comics and texts about how economics, race, sexuality, and gender impact the comics industry, other media, and our culture at large.” The Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Review’s Liz Joynt Sandberg spoke with Ladydrawers collaborator Anne Elizabeth Moore about The Ladydrawers’ upcoming exhibit in Chicago, SEX. MONEY. RACE. GENDER.

LJS: What led to the creation of S.M.R.G.? Did the exhibition or the workshops come first? Was it always a dual-component project?

AEM: SEX. MONEY. RACE. GENDER. The Ladydrawers (of Chicago, Ill.) is the first curatorial project The Ladydrawers have ever taken on. Last summer we had—I mean that was a little more me than this is, but last summer I decided to hold a session of the Adventure School for Ladies, which is an experimental graduate school I occasionally mismanage, and a few of the longer-standing Ladydrawers collaborators, once they got a handle on what an experimental graduate school was, worked on it pretty intently too. So when we were asked to apply for the A + D residency, we had this pretty wide set of things we’d done—pedagogical projects, performances, cultural interventions, standard lectures, online comics, book-making, posters, cat-petting—and we wanted to continue experimenting in those spaces between set modes of cultural production, in this curious and experimental collaborative manner.

LJS: There is a wonderfully diverse cast of artists participating in S.M.R.G. how did you amass the group of participants?

AEM: We work with a lot of folks around the country in various ways, so about half of the people involved are just people we like from previous projects and wanted to work with again. The other half came to us through an open call for work. Whenever we do a lecture or have a new strip out or do some kind of cultural intervention (last August we hand-delivered a set of sex-ed books and comics with our pals from Our Bodies, Ourselves to MO Rep. Todd Akin, for example) we have folks who just kind of fall in love with what we do, and this was our first wide-open chance to try to work with everyone we could. Our curators—Lucy Anaya, Gabriela Mendez, and Faina Stefadu—were really thoughtful and engaged with the work and the artists who submitted stuff to us. They were really appropriately and amazingly trusting, and I think it will pay off.

Some of it is also that I collect these amazing people who have a delightful tolerance for me when I ask them to do ridiculous stuff. So all the workshops are people I like that have something in common with each other doing something experimental and maybe even kind of dumb just to see what might happen. And those are all coming together in this intensely exciting way. 

LJS: Your new interactive work Sentimental will be presented. How did you become interested in creating this work?

AEM: I was speaking at the Pop Culture and World Politics Conference last fall in Geneva New York, and one of the venues where we did stuff has this great print shop a friend of mine is involved in. He took me on a little tour in there one night before an event in the space and he was like, “and this is the printer on which the Declaration of Sentiments was printed in 1848.” The Women’s Rights Park in nearby Seneca Falls had deaccessioned it! And there it was, all ready to print. I’d been working in a historical vein for a few weeks before that, thinking about women’s suffrage and some great stuff Emma Goldman said about it, and another friend brought me to Seneca Falls a few days later on that same trip. It’s a strange place, with all this history that isn’t actually terribly well revered. I wrote about it for The Rumpus but that didn’t cure me of this fascination, so Sentimental emerged, too. I’m going to be researching it as a Fellow at the Newberry Library this fall, too. I’m excited about this project.

LJS: What makes S.M.R.G. the right venue to present Sentimental?

AEM: The 1848 Declaration of Sentiments was, we all know, the founding document of the women’s rights movement in the US, but it was also a fairly natural outgrowth of the abolitionist movement. Men were there, at the meeting—Frederick Douglass among them. As such, it sort of marked the end of what we now, today, call intersectionality. 1848! When folks en mass believed, and acted on the belief, that their liberation was tied up in the liberation of others. After that, these capitalist notions that there’s really only enough liberation for a chosen few set in—that there just wasn’t enough pie to go around. The Ladydrawers spends a lot of time thinking about pie, and thinking about pie charts, and we feel pretty strongly that if there isn’t enough pie to go around you have to get more pie.

LJS: Lady Drawers seems like a community-driven outfit. Does S.M.R.G. feel like a natural next step/project? Has it stretched the group?

AEM: Well, Ladydrawers is definitely whoever’s around to answer the email. We run a pretty loose ship, so anything has the potential to be a next step. We had no idea we’d be called on to create a mobile sex-ed library for Missouri congress people, for example—we went by Claire McCaskill’s office, too—so it’s hard to predict what might comes next. There’s very little that can’t be improved by a group of giggly folks across the spectrum of gender identities willing to have adventures and make jokes about cats. 

LJS: Comics, while 2 dimensional, pack a multi-faceted punch. How do you anticipate broadening the performative aspect of your work (considering Lyra Hill’s piece in particular) will further invite the audience to relate to the world and people around them?

AEM: Comics were originally an ephemeral medium—cheaply printed in pamphlets or newspapers, aimed at kids, none of this high-falutin’ graphic novel stuff we have today. And performance is one way to retain that sense that you can have this single engaging silly experience and even though it ends, it can still be important. But so are the installation projects, or the murals—all the work is based on that idea that we don’t have a ton of time together, whether it’s a single night or one person’s whole life. We may as well remake what we can of the world into something that makes us happy.

LJS: The Ladydrawers clearly communicates that you like/welcome everyone to participate. Are there challenges to welcoming everyone while still maintaining a safe space for participants?

AEM: Oh, for sure. Because we work in a pedagogical mode, our approach to safety’s a little haphazard. Nearly every one of our crew has been on the receiving end of some misogynist or transphobic or racist tirade at one point or another in the course of doing work with us. But these are sort of learning moments, as much as they suck to experience.

Apparently last weekend, for example, the documentary crew—we’re shooting a documentary—went to C2E2, a big mainstream comics convention here in Chicago. And they found a guy who was just spewing hateful, horrible stuff about women, and they asked if he was willing to talk to them on video. He was—apparently they didn’t even need to push him too much, he was just doing his shtick for the camera. And at the end they had him sign a release form, of course. And the release form says, basically: look, women make up a big part of the comics industry and we’re making a documentary about why people assume they don’t. Apparently this guy flipped. I was elsewhere at the time but one of our newer younger collaborators was left alone trying to convince this self-avowed misogynist to, basically, look like an ass on camera. And somehow she did it.

Even if that wasn’t a learning moment for him, although I’m willing to bet that it was, it was a learning moment for her. It would be great to avoid people who hate us all the time, but the truth is that sometimes we will have to deal with jerks, have to convince them to do something for us. Generally speaking, friendliness and openness works in most situations.

Of course, we draw the line a little bit differently when we’re choosing to bring people into the fold—who we want to see and work with and hang out with every day. Racist shit does not fly, nor other kinds of intolerance. But, like, if you’re open and friendly and curious, we’ll find a way to bring you in. You don’t even have to know how to draw, really. Although you do have to be willing to try.

LJS: How has the A+D Gallery supported S.M.R.G.?

AEM: They’re great. They invited us to do this residency and have set us up with all this stuff that’ll make it easy—catalog designers and poster deadlines—an organizational structure. Meg and Julianna there are amazing. But it’s a little more than that, too—like I’ll come in with some wacky idea that the crew’s worked out, like building a set from one of our comics there in the gallery or something. And I’ll be sort of presenting this idea as if, you know, they might hate it or think it’s frivolous or silly, but they’re always like, “Oh yeah! We can also …” and then building on the potentially silly idea. Part of that’s just art people, who are the only people in the world that actually trade in the ridiculous. But I think part of it is also that they kind believe in what we do and want to help us create the world that we envision.

LJS: Pretend you’re at opening night of S.M.R.G. What do you see and sense? 

Art openings are strange beasts. The exhibition and the library with both be up, but I bet no one will even look at them because there will be so much else going on. A few of our interactive and installation works will be starting then, including Sentimental and Jacinta Bunnell’s Girls Will Be Boys coloring book pages. Elizabeth White’s Labor will be going up in the front window—a documentation, somehow, of our collective efforts in putting the show together. There is an ongoing mural project going up in one section of the gallery and an in-house comics project going on in another. We’ll have two of my favorite local comedians doing short sets, Ever Mainard and Katie McVay. That’s kind of a meta-joke, about comics. We’re hoping to have a reading series on the bathroom about trans identities and sexualities, and I’m hoping that will be incredibly uncomfortable for everyone. And we’ll have three performances. Lyra’s piece Go Down, which I’ve seen before and is very strange and great. Delia Jean’s Workout Woman, about labor and the food service industry. And Carolina Mayorga’s Maid in America. She’s going to be cleaning the gallery. Francis Kang, who’s shooting the documentary, will be there interviewing people. There will also be food, and probably fancy people milling around trying to look aloof, but I’m fairly certain the totally engaged awesome people who just want to hang out and do stuff together will outnumber them. 

Finally, the Blizzard Babies will play the punk rock music. Up the punks! Up everybody.


SEX. MONEY. RACE. GENDER. opens June 27th (Opening Reception, 5-8PM) at A+D Gallery, Chicago. The exhibit will be available during regular gallery hours June 27-July 27, 2013. Visit A+D Gallery ( for workshop listings, special events, and more.  For more on The Ladydrawers, visit



Liz Joynt Sandberg is a jack of all trades who doesn’t care so much for the second part of that aphorism. She’s a writer, performer, student, hot dog enthusiast, and mother living in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. Her dance and performance art works have been presented at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Links Hall, Defibrillator Gallery, Chicago’s Dance Union and others. She is a columnist for Rebellious Magazine’s PLUCK! Parenting as well as a blog contributor for The Huffington Post. Sandberg studies and performs improvised comedy at iO Chicago and Second City, where she is delighted to currently be performing with Mother Talkers, and The Church of the Saturday Saints. She also performs sporadically as a standup comedian. Occasionally, she even makes dinner.



Matt Bell

Matt Bell is the author of How They Were Found, a collection of fiction published by Keyhole Press in 2010, and Cataclysm Baby, a novella forthcoming from Mud Luscious Press in 2012, as well as three chapbooks, Wolf Parts, The Collectors, and How the Broken Lead the Blind. His fiction has appeared in Conjunctions, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Gulf Coast, Willow Springs, Unsaid, and American Short Fiction, and has been selected for inclusion in anthologies such as Best American Mystery Stories 2010 and Best American Fantasy 2. His book reviews and critical essays have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, American Book Review, and The Quarterly Conversation.

He works as an editor at Dzanc Books, where he also runs the literary magazine The Collagist. He teaches writing at the University of Michigan.

MMR: How They Were Found is a collection of 13 stories, with a subtle, organic progression between one story and the next. Albeit tangentially, there is usually something that ties them together—a knife, a birth, an inventory of life. Yet each story also interplays with the title—How They Were Found—in vastly different ways. In the first story, “The Cartographer’s Girl,” the relation to the title is one of wry humor from an obsessive romantic; but as we progress, the characters are ‘found’ in increasingly more complicated situations. Did you have this intent, the dynamic nature between title and stories, in mind when selecting these pieces? Or did the title ‘make itself known’ only at the end?

MB: The title came out of the very end of the process: I’d written all of the stories before I ever tried to collect them or order them. It was a difficult book to title in some way, and it actually ended up coming from a title that was given to two parts of The Collectors, which were previously published at Wigleaf, under the title:  “How They Were Found and Who They Were That Found Them.” That seemed to fit the obsessions of the book in a variety of different ways that I found pleasing; and that, as you pointed out, grew more complex as the book went on.

MMR: When reading these stories, I was amazed at how fluently and convincingly you transition between such varied voices. In particular, I was surprised by how accurately and movingly you conveyed women. In “His Last Great Gift” and “Her Ennead,” you capture a range of emotions that I thought were purely feminine—the hope and uncertainty, strength and weakness, of birth and labor; the altruistic submissiveness required for comforting another. Were you raised among many sisters? Was it your wife Jessica who taught you so well? How is it that you came to know the feminine mystique so intimately?

MB: I do have two younger sisters, and of course I’ve spent a lot of time with Jessica, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that these qualities come from anyone in specific. Mostly I never think of writing women characters any different than I do of writing men: I don’t think the differences between the genders are so extreme as to require a different approach. For instance, while “Her Ennead” is obviously centered around a woman’s fears of pregnancy, I wrote it out of my fear of the future, fear of loss—I don’t have to be a woman or a parent to know what it’s like to be afraid of a coming change, of losing what I’m sworn to protect, or of hurting the ones I’d love even though I’d do anything to keep from hurting them. It’s those kinds of emotions that I went to for those characters, and really, they’re part of me as a man as much as they are any conception of what I think it would be like to be a woman.

MMR: “Dredge,” one that made my skin crawl and my heart ache, features a protagonist, Punter, who seems to be a combination of Norman Bates and the main character from Slingblade. The tension is severe, and the main character—despite all logic or events—is somehow still emotionally compelling and innocent. Then, in “Hold On to Your Vacuum,” you use metaphor to turn our all-too-human struggle inside out.  The effect creates a disturbing dark comedy of self-reflection.  In “Wolf Parts” and especially in “An Index Of How Our Family Was Killed,” you use a postmodern approach rather than conventional narrative. You’ve been published in over 70 literary magazines and included in best-of anthologies of mystery and fantasy. Do you love to experiment with form and style? Do you have a favorite, or does the story itself determine which form it will take?

MB: I grew up as a reader of mostly genre fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy, so elements of that definitely still pervade my fiction, which accounts for at least some of the range. For the most part, I rarely start with an idea for the structure of a story (with, perhaps, obvious excepts like “An Index of How Our Family Was Killed,” which was form first and content second. Mostly I start writing without any idea at all of what I’m going to be writing about, and then things take off once I find the voice: I mostly just try to expand a story one sentence at a time in the first draft, seeing where the voice is taking me. So for the most part, all these different forms and genres in the book came out of the voice I found, and what that voice had to say. It’s a fun way to write, because I get to experience the thing first as a new story being told, uncovered as it unfolds.

MMR: There are two stories, “The Receiving Tower” and “His Last Great Gift,” that were so provoking and complex that I’d like you to unpack them a bit more. In “The Receiving Tower” you paint a grey dystopia marked by forgetting; where soldiers can no longer distinguish between who leads and who follows, nor tell whether their memories are their own. Is this a commentary on life? The slow death of memory as the prerequisite for living? Or was this a reflection of war, of the endless sacrifices that ultimately remake a person in war’s image?  Where the only escape or comfort is in death? Or what?

MB: One of the themes I didn’t realize I had running through my stories from this period until after I started to collect them is that my characters often take on roles to start the story: They become a detective, or a parent, or a cartographer, and that somehow their fulfillment or failure of this role is what makes the story go. In Maon’s case, his fading memories means that in his role as the protector of the men in the tower he has to constantly make decisions from an unstable understanding of the situation: It was interesting to see how he’d react at each stage of the story, based on what information was and was not available to him, while keeping his essential character—his goodness and concern for the men—fairly static. And I think out of that emerged some of the themes you’ve mentioned, which hopefully have enough ambiguity to them to make them morally useful to the reader.

MMR: “His Last Great Gift” is epic; it felt like a Steampunk nativity tale of the Electric Messiah. An Old-West world inhabited by the spirits of our forefathers, the Electricizers; a Priest tasked with building the New Motor—an engine that will run on the energy of this new Messiah. This world-building and the Priest’s human struggles are magnificent, but I was surprised by the character of Maud Trenton. She, this New Mary, was so inspired; so unexpectedly holy. With her you untangle the great difference between religious hubris and real spirituality, and through her thoughts and words we see a huge love for and reverence of the divine. Is this true? Can you speak to your motivations and inspiration for this story?

MB: “His Last Great Gift” is based loosely on the life of John Murray Spears, a nineteenth-century spiritualist minister and medium, who did build his New Motor in the years before the Civil War. I’ve taken an immense amount of liberties with the story—only his character (and those of the Founding Fathers) are based on real people, and even then only loosely—but I was very much drawn to his writings from that time. He was part of a movement characterized by a sort of spiritual American exceptionalism that I think dates back to the founding of the American colonies, and continues today: There’s a sense in his work that America is the shining city on the hill, and that we’re somehow meant to be an example or a guiding light for the rest of the world. He really did seem to believe that his work, including the New Motor, would kick off an age of enlightenment in America that would result in a better, more just society, and it’s that belief—and the bizarreness of the New Motor and the New Mary—that obsessed me. I first starting thinking about writing about him about a year before I did, and it took a long time to find the voice to make it go. And then I got lucky again with the emergence of Maud Trenton: She’s one of my favorite characters in the book too, and I didn’t know anything about her until she first showed up in Spears’s office, and then started to take charge of the scenes she was in. Definitely one of those incredibly lucky occurrences that comes from sitting in the chair and working carefully.

As far as my own beliefs: I was raised Catholic, was extremely devout for two decades or so, and am an atheist now. But when you believe in something so strongly, it never fully leaves you. I’m an ex-Catholic in a way that is perhaps most like being an expatriate: I may have moved away and renounced my citizenship, but I haven’t lost my old accent just yet.

MMR: “The Collectors,” is a chapbook-length story based on the real lives of the Collyer brothers who lived in Manhattan and died as a result of their hoarding and isolation in 1947. Since then, there have been several attempts to tell their livesby playwrights, through film, even E. L. Doctorow’s speculative fiction. But what makes your rendition so unique, and has earned you such praise throughout the literary world, is your art. You tell this story of two hoarders in a way that actually mimics their living conditions—the details and tangents around and within them; you recreate an entire world within their home, which both shielded and then killed them. Your narrator is powerless to stop it, and powerless to look away. A tale of obsession told by the obsessed. What was it that made you want to recreate this tale? Was it the brothers themselves, their tortured lives? How long did it take you to find your way around their story? And did you edit or change anything in its telling from your original publication?  

MB: I can honestly say I hadn’t seen any of the other takes on the Collyers before I published mine, although certainly I was aware of some of them while doing research. (But not E.L. Doctorow’s Homer and Langley—that came out six months or so after “The Collectors” appeared as a chapbook.) I first read about them the summer before, in a book I found while visiting my mother: It was actually a daily devotional kind of book she had lying around, and they were an example of what happens to people who don’t learn how to let go of things. But that little summary of their life intrigued me, and I started thinking about them quite a bit: It’s really a fantastic tragedy, and all the elements of a good story are sort of pre-existing in the truth. At the time, I was writing a novel draft, so couldn’t stop to focus on a new piece of writing, but I decided I’d write a little bit about them every day, as a warm-up exercise. So after a couple months, I had sixty sections of their story, without any real shape to the manuscript or idea of how to put it together. I spent another couple of months tinkering and revising and trying to find my way toward what eventually became “The Collectors,” with the major new addition being the development of that first-person narrator, obsessed and also uncomfortable with his obsession.

It did change somewhat between the chapbook version and the book in How They Were Found, but in mostly sentence-level ways—a collection shouldn’t just be a gathered pile of recently published work, but should cohere as a book in some way, and that required revisions of all the stories, to make them come together as a whole in a more satisfying way.

MMR: Lastly, we understand that you are two-parts writer, one-part editor and teacher, and another three-parts avid reader. Time must be a rare commodity for you. What projects are you working on now that you’d like to share?

MB: I am involved in The Collagist, and with Dzanc as a whole—I’ve worked full-time there since last July, and remain incredibly excited to be a part of the company. We’ve got some great books coming out right now—the next two are amazing collections by Peter Markus (We Make Mud) and Pamela Ryder (A Tendency to Be Gone), which I can’t recommend enough. As for my own writing, my second book, a novella titled Cataclysm Baby, will be out in April 2012 from Mud Luscious Press, and I’ve just finished the final draft of a novel, which will hopefully follow sometime in the next couple of years.

Thank you so much for your time, and your great questions. It’s been a pleasure to answer them.

MMR: Thank you, Matt. The pleasure was all ours.


Karen Heuler

Karen Heuler

karen.heulerKaren Heuler has published works in StoryQuarterlyWeird Tales, Shenandoah, Night Train MagazineNew York Stories, Virginia Quarterly ReviewAlaska Quarterly Review, Ms. Magazine, Massachusetts Review, and many more. The New York Times described her first collection of short stories as “haunting and quirky.”  In 1998, she won an O’Henry Prize and since then, she has published two novels: The Soft Room and Journey to Bom Goody. She now teaches writing at NYU’s SCPS in addition to offering private workshops.


MMR: Readers can find your short stories in a variety of publications ranging from literary to fabulist to speculative—StoryQuarterly, Paraspheres, Weird Tales…. How has this slipstream experience been for you?

KH: For most of my writing life, I targeted literary magazines and publishers, and I suppose that proves there’s more range there than I sometimes think; after all, Marquez, Lethem, Saunders, Lewis Carroll—a lot of writers who don’t fit the conventional literary profile—still get shelved there. So I have little to complain about, especially now that I’m getting more things published in speculative magazines.

“I love the word speculative, by the way,…”

…because it does seem to fit what I think of while writing—i.e., when I’m in a story I’m speculating, imagining, fantasizing, daydreaming—it’s a very natural, organic, very pleasant mood (we’ll forget for a moment the whole horror of Endings).

And, luckily for me, there’s Slipstream, which is a great, generous territory; I like the slipping part of it, the mobile quality that keeps it from being formulaic.


MMR: Some literary critics, writers, readers have disregarded fabulist or slipstream writing as being “less than.” What is your reaction to this?

KH: It’s very human to want to find your group, your civilization, the people who share your worldview, who won’t kill you because you’re an outsider, who eat the things you think are proper to eat; and this is true for writers and readers as well. What appeals to you is right; what doesn’t appeal to you is wrong.  I went through a period where I compulsively read English cozy mysteries, and I remember the dismissive comments people made about mysteries, how much a waste of time they were—and I would point out that PBS always had mysteries on; was PBS lowbrow? Of course PBS recognizes quality, it doesn’t assign it, but the fact of the matter is that most people get their criteria from someone else—whether it’s a university teacher or the New York Times.

And institutions are not the first to notice cultural change. But it’s hard not to write with the goal of the New York Times in mind (or The New Yorker, of course). So a lot of our judgment is really a reflection of the opinions of people we admire. Which is odd, considering how some of them dress.

Plus, I know that not everyone likes my kind of writing, and I’m fine with that; there’s an awful lot of writing I don’t like; I have my own preferences. But I teach at NYU and I have noticed that peculiar pause when I mention what I teach (writing fairy tales, fantastic fiction, that kind of thing); I can feel my status drifting.


MMR: What new works can we expect in 2010?

KH: I have a hard time getting novels published because it’s hard for a publisher to figure out where I fit. My last published novel, Journey to Bom Goody, is about a retired electronics salesman who brings generators and TVs to the Amazon, where he hopes to show America to the natives the way he’s been seeing the Amazon on PBSdocumentaries. He gets abandoned by his half-dolphin guide, gets rescued by an ethnobotanist trying to record all the native cures before the shamans die out—and there are rumors of strange things in the rain forest, and stories of transformations and a museum of white artifacts in one village—a whole host of things I found quite interesting and funny—but not many others did. I have a similar problem with a book I just finished, about a weird but wondrous plague that destroys most of the population as they sing themselves to death (imagine the screenplay!) and leaves the survivors with a new world where angels and gods and myths keep popping up. This is a wonderful, glorious plague—but it isn’t grim enough to be truly apocalyptic, nor is it light enough to be a new version of I Am Thinking of My Darling by Vincent McHugh. I can see the problem, I suppose; where would they shelve this book?  Not next to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, certainly. Not next to Blade Runner.

So, purely for my own self-interest, I hope there will be an increased interest in publishing slipstream novels. Right now, for instance, I have stories in or coming out in six magazines and three anthologies, in addition to Moon Milk. So, really, whatever I call myself, wherever I fit in, there’s room enough for the likes of me. I just wish I could find a home for some of my novels as well. Although they may not know where they belong, I promise you they’re very well-behaved.

Read Karen Heuler’s short story, “Beds,” featured in Moon Milk Review‘s debut issue.