A couple of months ago I sort of attacked Cristy Road at a Bluestockings bookstore reading. I mean, how could I not? I’d recently read her illustrated memoirs Indestructible & Bad Habits and couldn’t contain that wonderful/embarrassing "Oh my god. She read all my diaries." feeling.
This week, I sat down with Cristy in Brooklyn for an over-caffeinated conversation about queer confessionals, comics, and teen angst in punk rock. And, of course, we talked about her new book Spit & Passion – a graphic novel best described as a love letter to adolescence and Green Day, the band that got her through it. Below, a lightly edited version of that talk.
GeeksOUT: So, given that GeeksOUT is focused on where queer culture, comics, and other nerdy things meet, is there anything you would say you completely nerd out over?
Cristy Road: I think I’m more crazy about punk than anything else. There are a few comics and books that have changed my life – I read Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and was like “Oh my god. Gay comics. This is the dream!” – but I’m just so crazy about punk. If people reference some obscure band that is my life, I get like, “Oh my God! We’re soul mates!”
GO: So how did that start? What was your first band?
CR: Well, the first band I really loved was Aerosmith. I liked musicals too, and The Beatles – catchy weird things, but it wasn’t like “This is who I want to be.” I felt that music was just like producers put it together. It wasn’t really real – it wasn’t punk.
I kind of knew about punk, but not really, only from television. But then I discovered Green Day. MTV had music back then [laughs] and they were on 120 Minutes. I’d also buy music magazines like Hit Parade and Circus and just discover other stuff in their community. I got into Green Day because I liked the songs but then eventually realized that some of their lyrics, specifically “Coming Clean”, were about alienation. That didn’t always have to mean a band was coming from a queer punk scene, but they just were.
GO: I find it interesting that you were able to make that connection between Green Day and queer politics.
CR: Yeah, well, they were these 21 year-old punk guys from Berkeley, where everyone’s really gay and there’s this big hippie culture, and they were on television for the first time in their lives using that platform to address things that they were angry about. They would talk about gay rights all the time. And this was 1994, so of course some random ass magazine would have to note that they were “gay rights advocates”, like it was a thing. And I wasn’t really into music that I knew was gay. Like, Melissa Etheridge was all I knew [laughs], and there wasn’t any Latino gay thing, so I was like “They’re great!”.
GO: Right. My experience was that there wasn’t always room for people of color in punk, women in punk, queerness in punk... I think it’s interesting that Green Day – a popular, straight-identified band – merged that for you. But, did you have positive, or even negative, experiences trying to merge all those identities?
CR: Yeah, oh man. I feel like in my life there first came this need for feminism and women. Because, you know, I was 18 or 19 just feeling like, “I’m gonna be the gay outcast. It’s always gonna be these three gay people. And once I leave Miami it’s always gonna be these three gay people of color.” But then I looked for the specifically DIY, radical punk scene. And then wasn’t just Latino anymore, which makes sense, because it was people coming from all these different disenfranchised communities.
It was an interesting experience being in a predominantly Latino Ska scene, but it was apolitical. And I wanted to find that kind of scene. A lot of my friends were like “Oh, fuck that. It’s just a lot of white people doing Food Not Bombs.” And I was like, “Yeah. But I wanna do Food Not Bombs. I wanna feed the homeless.”
And, so eventually, I went to different communities for different reasons. I found that the battle with sexism [in the punk scene] was such a central struggle. It became a struggle to feel safe when I knew the singer of whatever band was an abusive person and I couldn’t handle that. So I found the queer anarchist community. But then even after a couple of years I felt really tokenized.
GO: Yeah. That path is definitely something you talk about in your other books. Speaking of, I noticed that in Green Zine (2004) you worked out these ideas with a lot of text, and in Indestructible (2006) and Bad Habits (2008) you had a balance between text and images. Now, with Spit & Passion you’ve moved to a graphic novel format. How did you make that transition?
CR: Well, I wanted Bad Habits to be a comic, but I just couldn’t do it. It was too many drawings of things I didn’t want to think about. And my brain just wasn’t as imaginative back then. I was like, “I want to paint the queer punk Norman Rockwell!”
While working on Bad Habits, I started drawing a lot of exposed hearts, weird trippy shit like that, but not as trippy as I would have liked. With Spit & Passion I thought, “I just want to draw weird trippy shit all the time!” So there are a lot of random birds and characters that appear throughout the book that I was really excited about drawing. That’s kind of new. I’ve become more interested in making this piece of art, rather than telling the OCD, chronological story of what happened.
GO: Huh. Interesting. In this story [S&P] you talk a lot about astrology. I grew up in a pretty religious household where that sort of stuff was considered superstitious (read: bad). So, growing up in a Cuban-American household, can you tell me how religion, spirituality and astrology mixed for you?
CR: I always knew about astrology because of my aunts. They were kids in the 70s so all their records said Sagittarius or Libra on them, and I was like, “What is that? Why do you care so much that you’d destroy your records?” Then I found out I was a Gemini, but I didn’t really have a clear picture of what that was until I was a teenager. And I feel like I only started realizing that astrology was a thing I was going to legitimately take into consideration, and not just think was cool, in my 20s.
I’m a Gemini rising, Cancer moon, so I love communicating but I want to do it alone in my room. I love a crazy, sexy dance party with lots of people, but at the end of the day I need to just be alone and draw.
So, maybe some of my family – well, certain relatives – would say “Oh. We’re Catholic.”, or equate astrology with Santeria and be like, “Well that’s just crazy people! People on drugs!”, but my family was not intimidated. I tell my mom now, “Yo, I’m really into Santeria” and my mom’s like, “I knew about that before you!”, not “Why are you doing that? That’s horrible!” My family’s into the fact that I’m into spirituality at all.
GO: That's cool. So, this is kind of going in a different direction, but one of the things I liked is how your art fits into this punk aesthetic – the edgy lines and how you’re not afraid to show slimy, grimy things (I’m thinking of things like Limp Wrist and Black Flag flyers, or what was coming out of the 90s zine culture). Are there any specific artists or influences you’ve had?
CR: Well, I got into specific art like Aaron Cometbus. He wrote these amazing zines and did amazing art with Xerox machines – weird shit like that. He also played drums in this band Crimpshrine and did [the album art for] their 7-inches [Quit Talking, Claude cover was done by Cometbus zine contributor Bobby Madness].
But I grew up with Ren & Stimpy. It’s the only cartoon I loved. I had all the comics! I never got into other things. I tried, but I just didn’t care enough. I was really into that aesthetic of really soft, realistic backgrounds and then a really bold, high-contrast flat image in the front. And the close-ups in Ren & Stimpy? With the detailed boogers? I loved that so much!
Oh, and I was really into Coop but I didn’t know who he was. I just saw his art on the Lords of Acid album. You know, I didn’t really care for what he was drawing. I kind of did sometimes, like, “Oh cool, voluptuous devil women. That’s rad.” but then sometimes it was just annoying, like, “Ok. Again?”
GO: I know. I mean, that’s how I kind of feel with a lot of comics now. There is that gross focus [on women’s bodies].
CR: Yeah, and it’s sexual. But Coop did a few album covers for NOFX [I Heard They Suck Live] and MXPX–
GO: Oh man. I was such a huge MXPX fan.
CR: Well, I didn’t even like MXPX but I loved that album cover he did [Life in General].
The Mash It Up ska comps, all that album art was so good, too. I feel like I drew a zine cover that looked just like one because I loved it so much. I was like “It’s like this girl with a Chelsea haircut. But, you know, mine’s gonna be Latina.”
Yeah so, all those things influenced the aesthetic, but the content - drawing the protest and drawing the queers – is what I love.
GO: Absolutely. So, one last question. It’s the end of the year and you’ve just finished a long-term project. What are you looking forward to in 2013?
CR: I don’t know. Chilling the fuck out? Having a healthy life style? [laughs] I feel like I’m trying to change a lot of things, trying to make how I react to stuff more chill.
I mean, fun stuff happened this year – my book came out! - and I’m gonna go on tour with my band, and tour with Sister Spit in April. But I feel like I’m really excited to do really normal things. You know, like eat vegetables and try to not sit in bed and read horoscopes all day.
Show up for a reading, stay for the dance party! Cristy & co. are at The Spectrum tonight at 8pm for the Spit & Passion launch.
(all images courtesy the artist, croadcore.org)