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
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
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.