JUST DANCE! A Geeks OUT Q&A with Dancer A Day's Jesse Lonergan
As the Bard said,
Just dance, gonna be okay, da da doo-doo-mmm
Just dance, spin that record babe, da da doo-doo-mmm
Just dance, gonna be okay, d-d-d-dance
Dance, dance, just, j-j-just dance
Life’s a bit heavy sometimes, isn’t it? When was the last time you put all the bullshit into a drawer, went out, and just danced? No election-year stress, no making-ends-meet worrying, no giant purple-armored Devourers of Worlds or batshit-crazy reincarnated redheads running amok, no Final Crises. Geeks OUT held a big, fun dance party after NYCC this year, SNIKT!, with precisely this thought in mind and it was a huge triumph. But rockin’ out till the wee hours isn’t always feasible and Vlada is expensive! Thank Stan Lee, then, for Jesse Lonergan’s blog, Dancer A Day.
The concept is gloriously simple: Superheroes and other geeky pop culture figures dancing. Not fighting for their lives or planets, not facing the darkness in their own souls, just grooving and being happy. Don’t overthink it! The joy is as pure as the idea is simple, and for this fanboy, seeing some of my most beloved characters—some of the most iconic, tortured characters in comics, sci-fi, or fantasy—shake what their mamas gave ‘em without a care in the world is a delicious, silly, and almost moving pleasure.
Without suggesting that the blog or Lonergan himself is homosexual (I didn’t ask.), I love the queerness of Dancer A Day. Here, I’m—hopefully not in a precious way—defining queerness as “celebrating a spirited otherness,” which I just made up. We all know you can be queer without being gay. And, sexuality aside, Geeks OUT stands for having the courage and opportunity to be yourself at all times, entirely and to the hilt, and moreover, to have a GREAT DAMN TIME doing it. That kind of ownership and self-celebration, that abandon, is brave and risky and too rare. Being a geek is about living un-cynically with an active, consuming love. You can’t NOT love something and be a geek, so we all know what it’s like. We’re all here because we have an intense, sometimes embarrassing love for something that might be described as somewhat silly: Funny books or video games or elves and orcs or robots who look like blonde supermodels in red dresses. We risk ridicule and isolation for the love of our particular flavor of geekdom, which only makes our devotion all the more ardent and any sincere celebration of that love all the more passionate and open-hearted.
Besides all that, Dancer A Day is just awesome and Geeks OUT is also about things that are awesome. Lonergan, an artist and critically acclaimed graphic novelist, started the blog in January of 2012 and has already earned over 1,300 followers. His comic strip style captures the joy of movement beautifully and adds a touching, angular awkwardness to familiar characters. The range of subjects, too, is impressively broad, taking from more corners of the nerdyverse than one might expect. Superheroes, sure, but you’ll also find real-life historical figures (Presidents Washington and Lincoln bumpin’ butts), Disney and fairy-tale characters, the best of Star Trek and Star Wars, RoboCop, Mister T, Hannibal Lecter, numerous Muppets, Mega Man, the Royal Tenenbaums, Willy Wonka, Elvira, and the full cast of Firefly. So, yeah, it’s a big geeky bonanza and you’ll love it.
GO: Hi, Jesse!
Thanks for taking the time to talk to Geeks OUT. I love visiting Dancer a Day. It's so simple and ...what? Cathartic? There's something joyful in seeing favorite pop culture characters abandon themselves to the dance. Is that part of the project's appeal to you as the artist?
JL: Definitely. I think it's the simplest things that are the most enjoyable, and there is really no explaining why. Dancing is a simply joyous thing, and I don't think people do it nearly enough.
GO: How did this project start?
JL: When I first started drawing comics in high school, I would copy my favorite Marvel, DC and Image artist's drawings, but I lost interest in superheroes in college, and all of my comic book work has been pretty far on the indie side of the line. A while back, I was part of a comic art gallery show at the Medialia Gallery in Manhattan, and Jacob Chabot and Chris Giarusso, who both have worked for Marvel, were in the show as well, and they had some of the superhero work up. I was looking at their pages and just thinking how cool the superheroes looked. There was just something so seductive about them. When I got home, I got home I got out my sketchbook and started drawing Spider-Man, and he just came out dancing.
GO: There's a true fan's love for the genre in the selection of subjects. Do you still read comics? The late-80s geekling in me is very pleased by many of the subjects—Jem and the Holograms, GI Joe, the Thundercats, The Three Amigos, Inspector Gadget, He-Man and She-Ra, et al. Is that your sensibility and geek-upbringing coming through?
JL: I mostly read indie stuff and minis, but I sometimes pick up a mainstream book, and yeah, I'm a geek, more so in the past. Drawing the dancers has kind of been like going through a box of your old stuff and finding all these treasures you'd forgotten about.
I also think it's important to be a fan. It's so easy to be cynical and just see these giant multinational megacompanies that see these stories and characters as commodities to cash in on. You can forget that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are actually pretty awesome.
GO: Naturally I've got a list as long as my arm of characters I’d love to see. Is the process for commissions as simple as this: A fan emails you and names the character, plus any further details (multiple figures, specific era or costume, particular type of dance or music?)? You work out a fee and a schedule and send them the original or a fine print?
JL: Tell me them all! Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a request. Most of the time people just give a character, but sometimes they give an era and a style of dance. Some people request prints or originals and we can work out terms, but if they just want to see it on the blog, I don't see any reason to charge anything.
GO: Do you usually know the characters people request? Have any fans' requests turned you on to something new & awesome you'd never seen before? For instance, I saw your post on Phantom of the Paradise, a CUH-razy film I only saw recently with the Geeks OUT board.
JL: I know most, but Phantom of the Paradise was one I had never even heard of, so she sent me her DVD to watch, which has to be one the coolest internet things to happen to me in a while. The Authority was another one I hadn't heard of (geek gasps commence).
Requests also remind me of stuff I haven't thought about in a long time, like Buckaroo Banzai or Firefly.
GO: What music do you listen to as you draw—I'm assuming you yourself are rocking out to whatever your subject is dancing to? You must have a different soundtrack for each illustration—Juggernaut is beautifully balletic while punk Storm and Mister T are clearly stomping to punk rock. How specifically do you pair characters to music / a song if that's not part of a request?
JL: I don't really choose a specific song for each subject, but there are songs that always make me want to jump and dance, and I listen to those a lot... Around the World by Daft Punk, Three Girl Rhumba by Wire, Off Our Backs by Men, Where Were You? by the Mekons, this Todd Terje remix of Pop Muzik by M (it's hard not stop drawing and start dancing to that one).
GO: A few of these I want to ask about in particular. Geeks OUT is dedicated, in part, to queer visibility in mainstream comics, so one of my favorites is the Apollo and Midnighter couple's dance.
JL: Not really reading superhero comics, I hadn't actually heard of the Authority, so it was kind of an eye-opener. It was better treatment than I would have expected from a mainstream company.
My feeling towards the mainstream companies for a long time has been that their representation of anything other than a white-heterosexual-male's perspective has been pretty weak. It always felt a little bit like there was some board meeting where they debated and took a vote and then told some writer to make a character (but not too important a character) gay, which is never a good way to do anything.
I think this corporate mentality is partly to blame for the lack of queer visibility in mainstream comics. Major characters are not queer because the companies are too afraid of a backlash and losing fans and money. I don't think this would be the case, but I think that is how companies see it. The flagship characters will be straight, minor characters might not be. Apollo and Midnighter are great, but you have to be into superhero comics to know of them. It would be great if there were some Justice League– or Avengers–level gay characters. I know that the companies would say that they have all this history and continuity to consider, but they should just get over it.
GO: As fun as the solos are, I really love the pairings. Buzz Lightyear getting the Dirty Dancing lift from Space Ghost is fabulous.
JL: Some characters just seem to go together. It can be appearance, the way they look, a shared trait. So Fozzy Bear and Dazzler both wear roller skates. Tony the Tiger and Chester Cheetah are both orange and sell food. Adam Ant and Atom Ant have the same name and are both awesome.
GO: Power Girl is one of my favorite DC heroines and "paso boobwindoble" is brilliant. Even as a good feminist, I found a lot to love in the boob window. Where do you stand on this controversial issue?
JL: The boob window doesn't bother me. Superhero costumes stopped being realistic representations of clothes a long time ago. They're kind of pure abstractions, lines and colors on naked bodies, so a circle of cleavage doesn't seem like a big deal. I also think juxtaposition of the words "boob" and "window" is pretty funny.
GO: In October, you started a full week of gender-flipped characters, including a fiercely real Superman having the time of his fucking life in Wonder Woman's classic one-piece costume (NO PANTS!). This is an always-fun trope in comics, what were you looking to explore with that spin?
JL: It is always fun, but I think that the ridiculous gender imbalance, not just in comics, but in all media should get more attention. There are just so few women. Just take a glance at the covers of comics and you'll see almost all men. In movies, think of the number of awesome male characters with rich back-stories and subtlety and complexity, and then think of the roles for women.
GO: Speaking of! Another favorite is Ellen Ripley giving it to the Xenomorph Queen. Geeks OUT is celebrating the singular career and longtime activism of Sigourney Weaver in a one-night event in March 2013, called Dream Weaver. The centerpiece of the night will be a gallery show and raffle of original works inspired by Sigourney Weaver’s status as queer geek icon. Might I put you on the spot to participate in Dream Weaver, possibly even to donate a new, original Dancer?
JL: I'm already thinking about how to make Ripley dance in that mecha-suit!
GO: Your friend, artist Matt Young, depicted you gleefully running with a mirror (dangerous!). You praised its uncanny accuracy—are you the body model for your dancers?
JL: Hahaha! Is this a veiled, "Do you dance?" Definitely, as often as I can, but when it comes to reference I'll look for some experts. I do a lot of very, very serious watching of musicals, break dance documentaries, and Youtube.
GO: You attend conventions across the Northeast, right?, tabling as an artist with prints, minis, and books. Another of Geeks OUT's missions is to foster and support an inclusive environment for queer fans at geek events, including comic book conventions. From that side of the table, what (if anything) have you observed about the queer element of the (growing, changing) geek community?
JL: I do four or five indie shows a year, MoCCA in New York, SPX in Bethesda, MICE here in Boston, and few others. I can't speak for the mainstream shows, but the indie shows are incredibly inclusive. It's one of the things I love about the indie comic scene. I really feel that all are welcome. My friend Jose was selling a Ninja Turtle slash fiction comic at a recent show (he called it a shellxploitation book). My friend Jen was selling uterus cut outs for men to wear. There are Tijuana bible style comics that cover just about everything. And when I get together with friends to draw in a bar or coffee shop, some are gay, some are straight, some are bi, some are transgender.
GO: I was impressed by the thoughtful reviews available online for two of your graphic novels, Flower and Fade and Joe and Azat. Both Publishers Weekly and Newsarama were charmed by your ability to maximize emotion in small situations between characters rather than bombastic action or overwriting the story, even in wildly different relationships. Maybe that's what charms me—and everybody else—about Dancer A Day: It's almost like catching a glimpse of these fantastic, well-known, canonical characters out of their familiar action and ...totally out of character, cutting loose on the dance floor and having a very relatable and enjoyable human moment. Is that the whole idea?
JL: There are all these fictional characters that we all know, and we only ever see them in times of crisis, risking their lives, being tortured in these horrible potentially world ending situations. They're always running and yelling and shooting and punching. They're angry or scared or out for vengeance. They're always facing antagonism. They're always being tested.
We identify with these characters, and their struggles and conflicts are often metaphors for the struggles we face in our day-to-day existence. But we should also get some metaphors of joy, joy that doesn't come from vanquishing some foe or surviving some ordeal, but the joy that comes simply from having a body and the ability to flail it about.
My hope is that my blog will get people dancing. We way not be burdened the way superheroes are, but there is no denying that some days we have pretty heavy loads. Sometimes you just have to let all that stuff go and dance.