The PEOPs have spoken
Comic book artist and illustrator Fly's brilliant subjects come to life

By Lynn Rapoport

A THIRD OF the way through the book I'm reading, a woman from New York City named Fly, thin and wiry, with multicolored hair and laser-beam eyes, starts telling her version of events from Sept. 11. Her hair streaking out behind her like there's a high wind or maybe a fire, she's home watching TV for the first time in two months, and she can't make herself stop.

The details of that day are crammed in handwritten block letters into the space around Fly's image, at the bottom of which are the words "Self-Portrait – 9/11/2K1 – Lower East Side NYC." The book, called PEOPs, is filled with such notations, accompanying almost 200 portraits by Fly. An obsessive sketcher, she draws pretty much everyone she comes in contact with, and the result here is a landscape of pictures and rants such as you might find in a journal left on a bus, one you'd feel guilty about opening but read from cover to cover anyway. This one would be worth it, having remained on the bus for years to be scrawled in by all the passengers.

Fly became Fly about 15 years ago by way of a monthly zine she made from postcards while living out of a backpack in various locations. "I called it Fly because it was this little thing I could irritate people with," she says. "And also it was about, you know, shit happens – when shit happens, flies are there, right? And I always seemed to be there when shit was happening."

Since then she's performed spoken word and played in the bands God Is My Co-Pilot and Zero Content. She's produced countless comics and zines, including the recent Total Disaster, and the 1998 book CHRON!IC!RIOTS!PA!SM! (Autonomedia). She's done illustrations and comics for the New York Press, the Village Voice, the Bay Guardian, World War 3 Illustrated, Maximumrocknroll, and many other publications national, local, and underground. And this month Fly delivers her second book, PEOPs, out on Soft Skull Press.

Fly's life is extraordinarily packed with the kind of crazy, skilled, hardworking, freaky, energetic, wildly intelligent, knowledgeable people who have seen and dealt with a tremendous amount of shit in their lives, people who could very possibly change you for good if you met them, which is part of the reason PEOPs came to be made. Each page contains a portrait; text hand-recorded from conversations in which Fly's subjects volunteered anything from sex dreams to their life stories; and a kind of annotation at the bottom offering bits of biographical detail, testimonials, and sometimes a Web site or e-mail address. There are people she met while on tour with God Is My Co-Pilot (where she first got the idea for the project); activists and performers and writers and illustrators she admired from afar and sought out; folks she got to know through the squat scene, through family and friends, at shows, on sidewalks, in gardens and community centers.

"The people I know tend to have crazy stories, and they're involved in all these amazing things, and I want to write them down," she says. "Part of this whole project is a documentation of a history that isn't acknowledged by mainstream media. The mainstream media kind of has this story that's written for them, and what's actually happening is at a lower level. Maybe it's the people I'm associating with or talk to that tend to be more radical, but they also tend to be more persistent in finding out information and knowing what's going on. They're doing a lot of work to find out the truth of situations and not just accepting what's being told to them."

That covers a lot of ground, and so does the book. The truth of situations is laid out by a boy named Liaizon Wakest who lives in a collective community in southwest Wisconsin, where a gigantic raccoon is slaughtering all the chickens. Elsewhere, it's laid out by Kbanshee, from Killer Banshee Studios in Oakland, who talks about being born in a bathroom to an unconscious woman who dropped large quantities of acid during her third trimester, about the thoughts that ran through her head 20 years later when she met up with her birth mother again. Local poet Sini Anderson experiences organ failure and finds her true family in the courtyard of S.F. General. Wendy-O-Matik describes midnight composting superhero raids in a neighborhood that doesn't make it easy to bury your food.

A coworker of mine shows up early on; a girl I used to have a crush on; people whose exploits I've read or heard about; people I've seen around the neighborhood. Pete Dale and Rachel Holborow from the British band Red Monkey are in there, as are Arwen Curry from Maximumrocknroll, writer-performers Nomy Lamm and Michelle Tea, comix makers Art Spiegelman and Kim Deitch, and illustrator Eric Drooker. Chuck Sperry from poster-art design team Firehouse talks about turning 18, about "mindlessly driving around being mad" in his friend's '68 Mustang and listening to Never Mind the Bollocks on eight-track. A woman named Amy from a squat on the Lower East Side recalls friends who died jumping freights. A guy named Kojak, who spent 10 years in the pen for drug dealing before ending up at Kinko's on the night shift with Fly, describes his stepfather showing him the trade at 13. John Perry Barlow talks about being born with a dead twin and the curriculum of death. New York Press editor John Strasbaugh talks about rock 'n' roll and better times.

Being a person who is attracted to the absolute longest, tiniest graffiti on the bathroom wall, the kind with plot lines, character development, and marginalia in multiple colors of Sharpie, I'm infatuated with Fly's PEOPs. The stories start anywhere and end the same way – restricted mainly by how much space the person takes up on the page. Sometimes the words bleed over onto clothing and flesh when the story's moving too fast to stop. Other times you're left with the planning stages of a street action or the morning after a squat burns down, and you just have to hope you run into this person somewhere and can get the rest of the story.

My short list would include a guy named Dan, whose comedic diatribe on alternative street bands, pie fights with the U.S. Army, learning about your local plants, and the Vancouver 2000 Fool's Day Parade was over way too soon; a Radical Cheerleader named Mary Christmas who organizes against sexual harassment because she's sick of "watching women walk down the street like ghosts"; and a guy named Rolando who celebrates the life of garbage and offers advice for professional squatters. These people and their lives seem exceptional – each page could be a scene instead of a new character. But as Fly understands, such stories are everywhere, unfolding on a lower level. All it takes is warmth and curiosity and persistence enough to find them.

'The PEOP Show Tour.'
Fly presents her work, with audiovisual help from Killer Banshees and readings by PEOPs. With Trina Robbins, Eric Drooker, and Wendy-O-Matik Fri/11, 7 p.m., AK Press Warehouse, 674A 23rd St., Oakl. Free. (510) 208-1700; live PEOPing Sat/12, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Cartoon Art Museum lobby, 655 Mission, S.F. Free. (415) CAR-TOON; with Michelle Tea and Daphne Gottlieb Sun/13, 8 p.m., Marsh, 1062 Valencia, S.F. $5-$10. (415) 826-5750. For more on Fly go to www.bway.net/~fly.


July 9, 2003