In this feature interview, Maite Urcaregui, GSC Secretary-Treasurer, talks with Melanie West, a comics artist and PhD student in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego, about the process of designing the new GSC logo.
MU: Can you share a bit about how you began drawing comics?
MW: I’ve been drawing since I could pick up a pencil. At an early age, I began drawing comics. When I was child my mother said I used to whisper to my pages when I was doodling. One day she asked me what I was saying and I explained how a stick figure repeated across the page was going to a store, buying milk, running errands, etc. There were no panels to my knowledge, but I was interested in sequential narrative and a consistent character.
MU: Oftentimes as comics scholars, we’re only seeing and analyzing the final product, not all of the creative labor that went into the work. Can you share a bit about your creative process? How did you make the logo and what work was involved?
MW: The logo was a commission, so the creative process was ultimately collaborative. Initially, I brought a pitch to the first meeting. I was interested, as an individual, in seeing a magical girl as the logo. I came to comics through manga. Although I read Archie Comics and other American comic books, manga has influenced me the most and it’s where I also experienced the most feminist empowerment, especially in the magical girl genre. I wanted to blend a sailor scout design from Sailor Moon with the character Tuxedo Mask. That pitch was received well and by the second design I completed the logo. The second design also allowed the initial pitch to evolve as I blended my original character with an early illustration of Batman. In this way, I think the logo ultimately became representative of many cultural and historical references to comics.
MU: You are both a scholar and an artist. Can you talk about how you see these two things coming together in your research and your creative work?
MW: Yes! I have a bachelor’s in studio art and I am currently an A.B.D. (all but dissertation complete, woo!) PhD candidate in Ethnic Studies at UCSD. I am both a practitioner and a political theorist. To me, these are inseparable acts. My dissertation focuses on the MacArthur Fellowship-winning Black science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler. Butler’s work has been hailed for its early interest and critical engagement with the reality of climate change, the inevitable horrors of racial capitalism, and the afterlife of North American chattel slavery. Within Butler’s science fiction and fantasy she critiques the organizing practices of modernity, that cannot be untethered from the logics of empire, which impact our dominant institutions, cultures, and politics: blind allegiance to borders and the nation state, patriarchy, anti-Blackness, white supremacy, neoliberalism, racial capitalism, the assertion of the gender binary accompanied by the denial of gender as a social construct and the inherent and wide chromosomal variance among people, and the assertion that sexuality is also in part binary and categorical rather than a fluid continuum of experiences and self identification. Butler deconstructs all of the aforementioned organizing practices in our lives through her speculative fiction. Butler’s speculative fiction challenges, critiques, and offers alternatives like any other political theorist, but in the incredibly clever vehicle of the most fascinating stories I, and many others, have ever read. I seek to do this in my own work. I am a graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop and the recipient of the 2015 Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship. The third chapter of my dissertation is based on a story I wrote during Clarion and published in the highly acclaimed magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The short story “What You Pass For” then won a spot on prestigious editor, Ellen Datlow’s, list of 2019 Best Horror of the Year. My dissertation begins with an analysis of Butler’s political theory deployed in speculative fiction, with archival materials from the Butler papers in the Huntington Library, and then takes my own speculative prose and two of my own comics and argues for the merit of knowledge production and scholarship outside of traditional mediums in the university. Honestly, I am seeking to redefine what the entire dissertation is. Wish me luck!
MU: How can we follow your work and are there any projects you’re particularly proud of or are excited about that you’d like to share with us?
MW: I am very excited for my longform dissertation comic Selma. It will be 20 pages. In summary, it’s about a young Black woman named Selma who spends a harrowing night in a car with the United States Government, represented by a mysterious blonde man named Ted. It’s an Amerimanga about the fallout of integration and parodies Scooby-Doo in order to call attention to gaslighting from dominant institutions and the surreal horror embedded in maintaining the mythology of the United States as a foundational and progressive democracy. It’s an experimental work. I’m very excited to debut it as hopefully the first comic I formally publish.