GIJON, Spain (Reuters) - Graphic novelist Phoebe Gloeckner, whose depiction of sex and childhood traumas has courted controversy, is now contributing to a book about the largely unsolved murders and disappearances of hundreds of women near the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez.
Due out later this year, “I Live Here,” which is funded by human rights group Amnesty International, also tells the stories of women and child refugees from places such as Chechnya.
Gloeckner worked as a medical illustrator but always drew comic strips and began publishing graphic novels in 1998.
On the sidelines of the recent “Semana Negra” literary festival in Spain, she spoke to Reuters about future plans, censorship and the conflict between genre and mainstream fiction.
Q. Can you tell us about your next book?
A. It’s about a girl called Elena Chavez Caldera, who disappeared in 2000, aged 15, on her way home. I wanted to write about her because there’s almost nothing left of her.
Her parents had just one photograph, which they gave to the police, so now all they have is a wrinkled photocopy of the “missing” poster.
Q. The case is still unsolved?
A. It’s unsolved. The book comes out of the research I did into the women of Juarez. It’s about borders, not just between the United States and Mexico, although that is a big issue, but between the living and the dead, between memory and those who are just forgotten.
Q. How long have you been working on it?
A. For four years. My interest became so deep. Out of 12 children, this girl was very shy, never said anything. Even her brothers and sisters said she was nice, very quiet. So the question is how do you pin down what is left of the memories and preserve it in a book.
Q. How did you become a graphic novelist?
A. My father was an artist, but unsuccessful, and I had doctors in the family, so I studied biomedical communications. I’d done comics for a punk publisher before college, who asked me to illustrate a book by British writer J.G. Ballard (author of “Empire of the Sun,” later filmed by Steven Spielberg).
Q. But you worked as a medical illustrator for some years?
A. Yes, I did mostly eyeballs for the Ophthalmology Institute — that and sex manuals. You tend to get pigeon-holed in illustration.
Q. Is it true that somebody sought to ban one of your books in a public library in California?
A. Yes. There was a mayor of a town called Stockton, California, and a book of mine, “A Child’s Life,” was brought to his attention. A boy’s mother had found the book in the library, mistakenly put in the children’s rather than the adults’ section, and she was enraged that her son could see such “inappropriate” imagery.
This mayor was running for California Congress. He took my book to a press conference and said it was a “handbook for pedophiles” and pledged to wash the library clean of such things. But he lost the election and I don’t know what happened to my book.
Q. Where do you stand on the mainstream versus genre debate?
A. I don’t believe in this hierarchy of genre debate. In the end, it doesn’t matter what the story is about — a story’s a story. What really matters is making it understandable to some one else.
Editing by Miral Fahmy