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"Lonely, Intensely Difficult, and Generally Torturous"

Molly-CrabappleAs an artist and illustrator, Molly Crabapple has unfailingly captured NYC's Zeitgeist, including 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath, the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and beyond. She has traveled to Guantanamo Bay, drawn among Syrian rebels, and earned placement in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. As a writer, she has contributed to The New York Times, and Vanity Fair, and VICE.

Dr. Reza Aslan's 2013 bestseller Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth balanced the Gospels with history to create a provocative biography of Jesus within the context of his time. Here Aslan interviews Molly Crabapple about her new memoir, Drawing Blood, the challenges of writing versus visual media, the intersection of art and politics, and Donald Trump's hair.

Reza Aslan: This is the first book you've released as a writer rather than illustrator. How did the creative process differ when it came to this book compared to your earlier ones?

Molly Crabapple: Drawing is finally natural to me. It's easy, even. I pick up a pen and it flows. The two years it took writing this book were lonely, intensely difficult, and generally torturous. Writing a cohesive narrative was the hardest thing I've ever done.

RA: Talk a little bit about your own journey as an artist and writer and where it has taken you.

MC: I've been obsessed with art since I was four years old. I drew first out of monomania, and only got good after decades of daily slaving. I came of age drawing in burlesque shows, and will always think the tough, sequined citizens of the demimonde were my greatest teachers. I've drawn portraits on the street—and in war zones, refugee camps, nightclubs and press conferences for Donald Trump himself. (Yes, I tried to analyze his hair. No I did not understand.) I started writing professionally a bit over three years ago, and have covered everything from Gaza to Gitmo.

RA: You're 32 years old, but the book reads with the wisdom of someone much older. What drew you to publish a memoir at such a relatively young age?

Drawing-BloodMC: I've always been attracted to memoirs that focused on discrete parts of a person's life: like Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, about coming of age in revolutionary Iran. Honestly, for most people who become well known, the interesting parts of their lives focus on youthful struggle. Acclaim tends to smooth off ones jagged and fascinating edges—and few people really want to read hundreds of pages about going on TV or giving well-compensated speeches at conferences.

RA: So much of the power of your writing in this book is how deeply personal you get in your storytelling. What were some of the biggest challenges in writing this memoir?

MC: Trying to get it right. Insofar as it is art, every memoir is full of omission. Art is in the editing, after all. I wanted so hard to do right by the memories of those I loved, for it to ring true to them. That was really what tortured me. I fact-checked this beast to death.

RA: There are so many great stories in here where you talk about yourself as an artist, a writer, a political activist, a woman—how did you decide to balance these various parts of yourself while writing this book?

MC: I decided to focus this book on becoming an artist, and insofar as these other things mattered, it was how they affected my art. Art was my obsession and my lens.

RA: Which part of this book resonates the most with you and why?

MC: Writing about being in London, during the student protests, painting pigs on the wall of what would be the most lavish and depraved nightclub. It was a moment of personal confrontation, of deciding who I was, and what side I was on, and I'd never explored it before.

Reza-AslanRA: One thing I love about this book is how you use your own experiences to dispel myths about art, politics, and the intersections between the two. What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions that people have about that fertile ground of where art and politics meet?

MC: People either make too much of art or too little. They either find it to be frivolous, or think it's a great mystical la-di-da thing in the sky. Art is half carpentry and half metaphysics, and we artists are blue-collar craftsmen with pretenses of the sublime. We can apply art to politics, or anything else in the world.

RA: What do you think are some of the strengths and limitations of political art?

MC: Art can seduce. It can slug you, get past your defenses, make you cry and hope and love. But it's not the same as organizing. Art cannot change the world alone, and the pen is no match for the predator drone.

RA: How did writing this book affect your own views on art and politics—and how you see yourself as an artist, a writer, and political activist?

MC: Tough questions, Reza! I just try to draw and write as well as I can. I never identify as an activist because I associate that with hardcore organizers and I just try to support them. This book made the weird glittery bizarre awkward fragments of my life make sense and even seem inevitable, which I suppose is what art always does. It makes the mistakes seem intentional.

RA: What do you hope people take away from reading this book?

MC: I hope people look at the book and see that life can be bigger and weirder and more daring and lovely than they might have previously suspected, in this giant horrid beautiful world.

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