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   Mary Fleener
Artist/Writer

W.I.G.: What happened to Slutburger?
Mary: Slutburger is over. I'd gotten enough therapy out of doing it. It's all 100% true with some of the names changed. I lived in Redondo Beach and in the South Bay area, played music in Orange County. I had a lot of trouble with that title "Slutburger." That word is just a button pusher. I tried to make it really irreverent, using that term. It's a woman that's sexually active so it's wrong. But if a guy's sexually active, it's admired and he's a stud. Fantagraphics put out this big 160-page book called "Life of the Party." So the Fantagraphics book is a collection; sort of my autobiographical tombstone [for Slutburger]. But what I'm currently working on is Fleener for Bongo/Zongo comics. It's all fictional characters, strictly my imagination.

What's your take on mature comics?
People are afraid. I'm just doing stories about what really happened to me and it's not anything different than what you'd find in a bookstore. You'll find plenty of graphic sex in there, but there's just something about a woman drawing it. We're called "bad girl cartoonists."

Do you think that the diversification of the reader base of comics could influence a resurgence of the comic industry?
I believe that for the comics industry to stay alive they're going to have to get women readers. In bookstores, women account for 75-80% of all books sold. So women like to read, but women don't like to go into comic book stores. In a lot of bookstores like Borders, they're starting to have a graphic novel section. I think we should start calling what we do "Illustories," because the word "comic" and "cartoon" refer to something that's quickly drawn, and simple, mildly humorous and not very serious.

Are comics art in your mind?
The word "cartoon" in Michelangelo's time meant a preliminary sketch. It had nothing to do with humor. There was no emotion attached to it. And then the word comic book showed up. It was something that kids read with very simple drawing like the stuff you see in the paper. A cartoon is a way of telling a story in a sequential manner, panel by panel, so what we're doing is a lot different from a "comic book." That's why Will Eisner, a very well-known cartoonist, said "We've got to get rid of this 5-letter word the comic," it just doesn't adequately describe what we're doing and I think we have to educate the public that there's something new.

Explain your style.
I love murals and I'm influenced by Egyptian wall design. I was influenced by the Zap Comics and I studied those for years and years and I saw all the immitators. When I started drawing, I was so influenced by Crumb that I started doing my first cartoons with a Sharpie pen just to purposely avoid that. If you're truly original, defy category, it's the only thing that's going to save you. So I remember in the beginning of the '80s seeing a more European style showing up in the graphics world and in illustrations; a lot of black and white. I was influenced by the op-art stuff in the sixties and always liked drawing geometrically ever since I was a kid.

What do you think about how women are portrayed in comics?
I think pin-up art is really great. It's funny because you've got this squeaky-clean Action Girl character, "13- year-old- girl-in-a-uniform" on one side, and then on the other side you've got these statuesque super women. There's room enough for everybody. Of course, in-between, you've got the autobiographical Twisted Sister stuff.

We heard you surf.
You can compare women in cartooning and women in surfing. There's an explosion of women taking it up now. Although there is a lot of sexism out in the waves. But surfing is like meditation. What you get to thinking about is really breathing and when you're so focused on something that you don't worry about anything. The movement of the water is undulating and sensual and in riding waves, there's an interesting light physics involved in water that stimulates parts of your brain. If I don't surf for about a week or so I get real lethargic and not very creative. Everybody's got to have a little joy in their life that makes it worthwhile and that's what surfing is to me.
 
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