Stamps Associate Professor Phoebe Gloeckner discusses her work, creativity, teaching, SpongeBob SquarePants, and the process of selecting work for The Best American Comics 2018 in a wide-ranging interview by Sean T. Collins for The Comics Journal.
Phoebe Gloeckner pretty much interviews herself. As a writer and artist, she is the author of the comics and art collection A Child’s Life and Other Stories; the comics/prose/illustration hybrid The Diary of a Teenage Girl (adapted into a film by Marielle Heller in 2015); and an as-yet-unfinished multimedia project on the family of a murdered teenager in Juárez, Mexico that she’s been working on both at home and abroad for over a decade. As an associate professor at the University of Michigan, she seems to relish the opportunity to work with young cartoonists as they discover their own voices. And as an interview subject, she has a discursive, recursive way of making connections between different aspects of her practice and experience, then circling them over and over until she draws out the meaning she’s looking for. If she feels she hasn’t succeeded, she’ll be the first to tell you.
This makes her a fascinating choice of guest editor for this year’s volume in The Best American Comics anthology series, co-edited as usual by Bill Kartalopoulos. Such anthologies, after all, have the meaning assigned to them right in the title: These are “the best” comics of the year in question, at least out of those that were submitted for consideration. Yet they also place a disparate range of cartoonists, styles, and subgenres between two covers — an implicit challenge to the reader to determine their common ground. Gloeckner’s choice to arrange the work alphabetically by author amounts to doubling down on this challenge: What does a harrowing autobiographical piece by Gabrielle Bell have in common with an excerpt from Geof Darrow’s action extravaganza Shaolin Cowboy featuring a talking killer pig? Well, she happened to like them both, Gloeckner might say… and then spend five minutes autopsying that statement, until not only the comics themselves but also the very concept of determining the quality of a comic have been explored inside and out.