Dame Darcy

As I met Dame Darcy in her small apartment in the East Village, she was in the middle of creating a new series of paintings. I came there, Planet Filly as she calls it, to talk about her comic book, MEAT CAKE. But she turned out to be an artist of many talents. Dame Darcy showed me the dolls that she made. She had previously invited me to see her play banjo at the Fez. I was not feeling well that day so I never made it. She was a painter. She had made animated films, and recently made a pilot film for television. She was very busy as an artist, as well as being well-known in the comic book world where Dame Darcy is gathering a cult following. I met her on Good Friday, so religious themes were in the air. Her work evokes the Victorian and Gothic periods, so by just talking to her I felt that I was a figure at the turn of the century. She showed me some of the letters she received recently including a suicide note from some mental patient who had recently proposed marriage to her. Her birthday is June 19th. If you want to send her birthday presents like colored parasols you can send them to the address: PO Box 730, New York, NY 10009. She really needs a new parasol! She showed me three paintings recently done: one was a house, another was a group of butterflies, and the one she was working on, while we talked, was a bird.

Maybe I should have some questions? Like what I am doing here in your apartment?
Dame Darcy: Yeah. Just ask me any questions.
Do you feel comfortable painting while we're talking?
DD: Do you care?
DD: OK. I just want to get this done before we go out tonight. Or maybe I won't go out because I've been feeling sick lately. We'll see. (Pause). I think these clouds are creating some sort of atmosphere. It's helping. I think that it's important to have some sort of atmosphere going. It's imperative to have atmosphere in all art.
You have a link to nature in all your work?
DD: I don't know. All my paintings have been nature themes so far. But I don't feel a link to nature. I feel that I'm more of a luddite than anything. Even though I would like to have a career in television, I want to use television as a medium to portray ludditian theories, so that way it's a juxtaposition. I love juxtapositions.
How did you come up with the idea for a television pilot that was also an animated film?
DD: Ever since I was eight, I wanted to be an animator. Ever since I found out how people did animation.
How did you figure that out?
DD: I think that I saw an animation special on Zoom. Or maybe on PBS. I remember seeing them doing cut-out animation, not cell animation. Then I got a book about animation, given to me by my Dad. My first animated film was like this: the background was this picture of a barn, and a creepy road leading up to the barn, and there was this ribbon going up the edge of it. It was a stop-motion animation and it was one minute forty seconds long. The ribbon was the blood and the frame. The frame was moving around the barn. I stop-motion animated this rat skull, and it was singing the words to this song by Caroliner, which was a band that I was in at the time. The rat skull had these sculpy limbs. I make the dolls out of sculpy too. The rat was walking around with these arms and legs made out of sculpy.
You had a live rat or you made a rat?
DD: It was a live rat skull. I mean it was a dead rat skull! Of course.
Where did you get this rat skull?
DD: I don't remember. I made a little dress for it and the arms and legs.
You could tell it's a rat skull from watching the film?
DD: What else would you think it was? If I saw a rat skull I would know it. Anybody that knows a rat skull is a numskull. Ha! Ha! Ha! These films were made with a 16mm Bolex. Before that I made hundreds of flipbooks. I kept telling my parents to get me some animation equipment, so I never got to do any of these films till I was eighteen. I lived in Idaho. It was horrible there. I kept begging my parents. In Idaho Falls, animation stands are few and far between. They have crafts stuff. There isn't any painting scene.
What do your parents think of what your doing?
DD: They're artists. My Dad is an artist. My mother is a nurse but she's really crafty. She does little craft things all the time. I have a really big family. I'm really glad that I had my family there, because my Dad really taught me all the skills that I know. My Dad taught me everything when I was really young. He started teaching me perspective, composition, and how to mix colors, hues and shapes, when I was six. He had actually went to art school and learned stuff there. I basically learned from him, so when I went to art school myself I didn't take any drawing classes because I didn't need to. I knew what they were teaching in there. I majored in film so I could learn animation, because that is what I wanted to do.
Who's the better painter: you or your Dad?
DD: Just different painters. Different styles.
Who has better drawing skills?
DD: Probably me. But my Dad is a better musician. He plays the banjo better than me. But he's been playing for thirty years. I don't practice enough. I do a lot of stuff. My Dad told me to focus on just one thing when I was sixteen. Music for me is just a hobby. I still like performing in front of a crowd. I get a lot of fan mail. I love it. I like to respond to it. It's really quaint and personal. But there's nothing like the instant gratification of being on stage and seeing an audience and seeing them react. I figure that if you're talented, you can apply your talent to anything and it will come out with your vision, and come out halfway legitimate. It's a test of talent.
What do you have the most respect for: the art world, the comic book world, or the literary world?
DD: It's all part of the art world. My films are art films, my comic book is underground comic book art, and my paintings are art: I'm an artist. (Laughter). It's all part of my planet, Planet Filly. And Planet Filly is an art planet.
What's up with this Planet Filly stuff?
DD: What do you mean?
Where did that come from?
DD: (Loudly) It came from Planet Filly!!!
Where is Planet Filly?
DD: Your sitting in it!
Oh! I'm in Planet Filly?
DD: Yeah.
What I was saying before was that many people already take paintings seriously, not so with comic books.
DD: That's why I'm doing these paintings. So I'm taken seriously as a fine artist and that takes the comic book up to a new level. Many people recognize Meat Cake as being a legitimate underground comic book; so many people don't think that it's art. So I figured that if I got my name around more as an artist and not just as a cartoonist, that would help my comic books and my films. The only reason I wanted to be a cartoonist, besides being an animator, was the funding. Comic books are a little cheaper to produce. I didn't know anybody who would show my cartoons if I did get them made. I did the comic books while I was waiting to get my animation show on television. At the same time, if I do get a television show, I'm not going to stop doing cartoons because I like to do Meat Cake. I like to do the sequence of stories with little pictures that cartoons are. I think that it's a good medium and a good way to express you. I come up with a lot more stories than I can possibly make films into. So that way at least they get to come out. If I sat here and waited to get all the money to make all the comics into film, I'd only have maybe ten of them done by now, or wait till doomsday to finish them all.
How many hours per day do you work on your art?
DD: Oh. Probably all day.
What? Twenty hours. Then sleep four hours.
DD: Yeah. I don't sleep very much. I'm an insomniac. That helps me get everything finished.
Do you have a secret political agenda?
DD: I don't care about politics. I just want to go back to the 1800s. I like the internet and television, but I would be content being a silent movie star. I like the 1890s up to the 1920s. I just finished a silent film last week, and I'm working on another film. E. Steven Fried directs one of them, and it's about me thinking about the devil and angels, and lust and avarice and greed, all the deadly sins....
This came natural for you?
DD: What?
Did you have to act? Did you ever think about good and evil, or the deadly sins before?
DD: I am Catholic.
And it's Good Friday!
DD: I know.
We should be in church.
DD: I'm going to one tomorrow.
Well, my question before was: Do you think about good and evil a lot and how does this inform your work?
DD: Oh. Um. Good and evil. Um.
Being raised a Catholic.
DD: Oh. Yeah, I guess so. I'm not so preoccupied with it. It was just a story idea. It was a five-minute film. If you asked me to come up with two hundred stories in a week I probably could. They might not all be that brilliant.
So the Catholic influence was a big deal?
DD: I was definitely shaped by the Catholic church. It was definitely a factor in making me the way that I am, and making my art the way it is. I hope that I'm not coming off as too pretentious. You don't think? I really care about people.
In Meat Cake, you reprint many of the letters that you receive. What decides which ones go in the magazine and which ones get left out?
DD: I like the ones that are smart, cute, or funny, or have some reference to science. I like science. If I was a man, I would have been a scientist. Things would have been different if I wasn't dyslexic. I love science because it's so sexy. I really love Devo. I think that Devo's world is really beautiful.
You don't have a talent for adding up numbers?
DD: My brain gets confused by a lot of stuff. It's really hard for me to find my way around as far as directions. I get really confused when people try to explain things to me that have to do with paperwork, numbers, and logistical stuff. I don't see why it's supposed to make so much sense. It's makes me feel stupid and I want to cry. If I was good in school and good at academics, I would have been a scientist. I have always been interested in biology and genetics.
You get many letters from psychos?
DD: Only about ten percent of the mail I get is from psychotic people or lecherous gross people. Nice people write most of the fan mail. I get a lot of letters by ladies. I really like it when ladies write me, because I feel a real kinship with women.
You have a secret feminism agenda then?
DD: No! I am just a philanthropist. I care about the well being of people in general. I have a lot of friends. I have a boyfriend. I have a lot of female friends.
So who are some of the characters in Meat Cake?
DD: There's Richard Dirt. She's the main character. She's a normal girl except that she's kind of wacky. There's Wax Wolf. He's an undead wolf made out of wax and fur. Then there are the Siamese twins, named Hindrance and Perfidia, and Perfidia means "two-faced." Hindrance is a "hindrance" to Perfidia, being the more alpha twin. There's a mermaid named Effluvia, and she has a really great car, and she lives in the ocean. There's Strega Pez whose mother was a witch, and she has pez candy that comes out of her slit throat, and that's how she talks. Her mother gave birth to Strega Pez through her throat as a curse, so that she would die. Strega Pez has been cursed all her life, so she has to do all these horrible menial jobs. Then there's Scampi The Selfish Shellfish, who is Richard's really big pet that has no head. There's Granny who gives them all advice. Granny is kind of demented. There's Igpay who is the Pig Latin speaking pig.
You are a character too?
DD: I'm sort of represented by Richard Dirt.
Which character is the most grounded in the real world?
DD: Friend The Girl. I didn't mention her before. She's the straight character.
Where did this Friend The Girl character come from?
DD: Just a girl. (Laughter). She is just a normal girl. Different people associate themselves with the different characters, and I think it's a psychology test to see who identifies with each character. Or who has a crush on whom. A lot of guys have a crush on Strega Pez. But a lot of girls identify with her because she's shy and hard working. Or the twins. People will write to me about them.
Do you have any advice for younger girls who are looking for ways of expressing themselves in art, or in life, or just rebelling?
DD: I would just say: Figure out what you want to do, then just work towards it, and don't let anybody stop you. If people want to help you, or if you get any encouragement, or any opportunities, follow through on all of them, and follow through on it completely. Don't do anything half-heartedly. Don't stop in the middle. I think that a lot of artists get discouraged. Being an artist is like taking a test. If you can survive it through the lean years, then you'll be OK later. Maybe it will never pay off, and only after you're dead, people discover your work. If you're not crazy when you started being an artist, you'll be eventually driven crazy.
Tell me about your television show?
DD: My television show is called "TURN OF THE CENTURY." I would host it, and we would have a vaudevillian style freak show and variety show. Then we would have little vignettes of animation by different artists, and little short films that were fairy tales. The whole theme of it would have a Victorian kooky, spooky, Gothic esthetic. That's what I'm doing right now. I finished my pilot for that. I sent out the pilot to people and pitch it to people, and see if I get any response.