CRISTY ROAD INTERVIEW
Conducted in late December 2005, via the internet by Chandler Briggs.
When I met Cristy Road she was sitting down in a restaurant, waiting to order food. Her bag was tossed on the table. The front reads "KEEPIN' IT REAL" and inside are a collection of headphones, zines, postcards, papers & pens. We ate some greasy vegan diner food and discussed the cold NYC weather. Cristy is a punk rock illustrator, writer, Latina woman. Her drawings and writings have appeared all over the place--from punk rock settings like record covers, posters, fliers and magazine covers to not so punk rock settings: posters and magazines. Her work is often politicized, even in its very nature, thanks to the whitewashing of many communities in the world. Her refusal to join the status quo is embodied in her insistence on inclusion--of women, people of color, queers, and anyone else who does not fit the mainstream representation of beauty. Her work is inspiring and insightful, which is why I wanted to bring her words and drawings to the HeartattaCk readers. She is indeed "keepin' it real." Enjoy.
HeartattaCk: If you just met a "peer" and they asked "So, what do you do?" how would you respond?
Cristy Road: I think this happens often and I usually answer with, "I make drawings and write stories." Unless if its, you know, someone I need to impress, I can say, "I'm a freelance illustrator and an independent publisher," but how often do I need to impress someone?? For real. And the latter response sounds b-o-r-i-n-g.
HaC: Besides writing and drawing, what sorts of things do you like to do to maintain sanity?
CR: In the recent month, maintaining sanity has been a big part of my life and my ability to even make drawings, and that definitely changes. A year ago, I had to be involved in 40 million organizations that focused on varied human rights to maintain sanity, but then I realized that that abundance of meetings and overanalyzing what I define as "change" was making me insane. I think there's this overwhelming dismissal of mental health in activist communities I've been directly involved with, where not being okay isn't an excuse to not show up at a meeting. So, right now, I'm really excited about clarity and being involved socially with both my community and communities I've tried to support in the past. So its safe to say that not going to 40 meetings and choosing to embrace commotion, people, diverse communities, and then the raging parties is very productive towards my clarity. I think Ive been around one too many middle class white kids who have the energy and privilege to constantly complain of oppressions they havent even experienced, but can see and identify in things like, say, mainstream media. So Im like, "Hey! Try experiencing racism every fucking day as oppose to just reading about it in your book collection! You'll realize how important it is to seek lighthearted methods of sanity and chill out every once in a while!" Some people meditate- I go to routes of raging commotion. I grew up in small hoods with loud neighbors in loud homes and if I don't have that, I kind of lose my mind. So I guess I'm saying that all I ever do is make drawings, write stories, and party real buckwild with different communities?
HaC: Location is an interesting topic, one that seems to have a constant place in your writing. Can you tell me about your time in--and move from--Florida, and how these places have specifically affected you in relation to your work?
CR: Well, I went from Florida, to Pennsylvania, to New York. For a while, romanticizing travel and exploration made a lot of sense to me, but as much as learning what's out there is intriguing, coming and going involves a lot of privilege, and that romantic embrace of travel that exists in sects of punk rock can only forego for so long, you know? I lived in Florida for 22 years and I'm pretty excited to live in New York for another 22. Right now I need to romanticize and embrace that culture ingrained in where I live and the culture I'm going to gather from it and create there. I think there's a history that exists in New York that is far from existing in Florida--not better or worse, just different. And I identify with it in spectacular ways. Everyone asks if the reason I'm in New York is cause rock n roll bars are open later, you're not required to clean up after your dog when it shits in the street, and its easier to find other wingnut artists- and in a way, yes, but that is half the truth. Things like scenery, seasons, and the historical backdrop of native people and places is so vibrant here. It's so effective towards the growth of what I make.
HaC: In your writing, you tackle subjects ranging from your Latina identity, to queerness, gender, and to punk rock. How have to addressed this in your artwork?
CR: At first, I was afraid of tackling too much in my art, because I felt one issue would be marginalized and it would come off as, you know, my "token piece on sex and feminism", or my "token piece on Cuba". But at the same time, I felt, if anyone thought I was doing that, it would be a little busted because those are backgrounds that I identify with. And I apologize for sounding jaded, but I've basically come to realize that a lot of criticism in "radical" communities comes from headstrong activists who didn't even grow up poor, non-white, or a girl. So why should a Cuban girl take it, right? However, I am critical on myself and I think it would be relatively cheesy if I had "token" pieces on varying subjects. So I try to stick with what is affecting me at the time, let alone what projects I'm involved with. Because while my identities are things that I, and those around me, have to interact with everyday, I think that they aren't going to persist with every single drawing I make because different battles affect me more or less at different times. And although making art that strictly defines these identities/struggles is important to me, I still like to make art that the concept is neutral. However, it is safe to say that my political identity is always gonna seep through one of my "neutral" drawings. Like, I did a drawing for the cover of MAXIMUMROCKNROLL the other day [Spring 2005], and I just drew a bunch of kids hanging out playing music, but when choosing who I wanted to draw, I was pretty damn crazy about not everyone being male, not everyone being white- you know. White boys grace punk rock art like its nobody's business, and its nice to counteract that, especially because that's how my life is- I hang out with a diverse setting, so I'm gonna execute that in my art. Lately, reaching that inclusiveness in my art has been difficult, because I've been doing lots of work in small periods of time, and its mostly been work for projects I'm doing with other people. Although in the end, at the time of executing the drawing- that need for representing my identity through random ideas is always somehow generated.
HaC: Do you find it difficult having this identity in the current punk community? What issues do you deal with on a day to day basis, in relation to punk rock?
CR: I think that as much I identify, hang out, and draw record sleeves and flyers for punk rock bands/people--I've become a lot less critical then I was around age 19, about punk rock. That's when I came to realize that punk rock wasn't the multi-cultural haven that it was in Miami, where I grew up--and I kind of back-lashed the scene entirely because of that realization. And I wouldn't say I'm giving up on my morals--they still exist--but you cant be an idealist adult. You have to admit that you adore something, like punk rock, and constructively embrace its positives and criticize its negatives. I grew up in a community that was 80 percent Latino and most of my friends were angry young girls--this gave me the foundation to embrace punk rock and dismiss any of its obvious flaws. And I'm never going to deny that it potentially gave me safety and belonging as a teenager, but I've grown up now. And it is great to see other young folks who feel as embraced by punk rock, however, I'm pretty old now, and I've realized punk rock isn't out to prove total inclusiveness and embrace of all people. And back to the concept of sanity and clarity--why constantly fight that or want that instead of just enjoying the show or leaving the show if it sucks? I have to focus on the people and projects who are right on, and avoid those that seem counterproductive, oppressive, shitty--anything. There are some good bands out there, there are some good publications out there, and there are some good shows out there despite the occasional bonehead that is gonna show up and get in our way, you know? I think its unsafe to romanticize punk rock as this super-tight, posi, ultimately safe community- because how easy is it achieve ultimate safety? That's hardly simple. I think that even the pockets of punk rock culture where "radical" ideology is stressed deserve a large bout of criticism. You know? I don't want some kids telling me that the revolution is happening in their basement cause some all-boy hardcore band is singing down there about feminism without realizing that there is a more prominent revolution of economically disenfranchised people rising up, down the street from my house, on Bushwick Ave., you know? I'm not saying a good basement show is not worthy of a smile--I just think that if you're going to politicize your subculture, you should take the time to learn from other communities that also have that intention of revolution and change. And while I feel like social change is well in the hands of my Latino, queer, and feminist brothers and sisters who may or may not even know what punk rock is--it is safe to say that I still embrace punk rock for what it is, politicized or not. Honestly, I sometimes don't want to deal with discussing my "identities" at a show or while playing in a band, you know? I think that if another punk who wants to bond over mutual backgrounds, its great and I would encourage that. But I don't want my identity politicized in a neutral zone where were supposed to be hanging out enjoying some band. Fishing for that discussion in a punk rock setting is often means for being tokenized. How many times have I been asked to sing a Spanish song in some all-white-kid band? That is bullshit, honey. I'd rather just have a good time at the show and occasionally sing Spanish songs if I personally choose to or if, you know, I'm drunk enough to try.
HaC: Going back to what you said earlier about the drawing for MRR : in Greenzine #14 you had a disclaimer regarding diversity in your drawings. You mentioned making sure your drawings are inclusive of the diverse communities you are a part of. Can you explain the reasoning for this disclaimer, and perhaps provide some background on this issue for the readers?
CR: The disclaimer said that my art wasn't supposed to be a fabricated representation of what an ideal, or inclusive, punk rock community "should look like". I know that half the time punk rock can lack diversity--I'm not in a bubble where I think some imaginary all-Latino-dyke band is as big as the Ramones in the US. My art, when its done on a personal level (in my zines, books, etc.) is basically drawings of my friends who I happen to know. I draw those around me and what I know--it's a pretty simple concept. Some don't realize that I frankly cant pull people out of my ass and that this is my crew who are accessible enough for me to draw--not a manifestation of what I think punk rock should look like. I think this goes hand in hand with what I said earlier about picking and choosing the punk-specific environments that support me. It has been possible for me to be in situations where I feel safety--so I draw those situations. I don't want viewers to dig too deep on why I draw hair on women's legs, or present more androgyny than binary gender representations- I'm not inventing a utopia, I'm just drawing what I see or identify as. I'm not out to take applications for creating a scene, you know? If I'm disappointed with a scene, I'm not going to draw it, you know? Although, in a lot of instances, I'm going to focus on a demographic because its what I'm drawing, you know? If its personal, I'm drawing my life--if it's somebody else's, I'm drawing their life. I'm not going to draw 2 white punk kids in a poster for an Anarchist People of Color Conference. However, I don't think its counter-productive to still depict those two white kids in some other piece, where its relevant--like a record cover for some band that consists of two white punk kids. But it is safe to say, I think, that that ability to want to, or be able to, depict any diversity in art is only the product of understanding it, associating with it, or living it.
HaC: In what ways are you attempting to reach outside of the radical/punk community with your artwork?
CR: I think I basically pick and choose who I'm going to make art for--the only medium that represents my art collectively (both apolitical punk art, personal projects, and political art) is my webpage (www.croadcore.org). However, I engage in different projects that are ultimately gonna engage different crowds--and personally, I am okay with that. And while I'll voluntarily do art for flyers and zines or get paid to draw some bands CD cover, I'm still gonna contribute art for non-punk organizations/publications (INCITE Women of color against Violence, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Left Turn Magazine, SPREAD Magazine). I think there is a line between making art for punk, making art for social reasons, and making art for politics. On instances that line can be blurred, but on instances it cant be--and that's fine. I feel like a lot of the work I've been doing for bands and punk-publications lately has been relatively apolitical. They can be politicized in the sense that I'm not drawing the typical image of man and woman--but I guess that is the basic fuel of everything I do, right? On the other hand, I do publish zines and books and getting a diverse response from those projects has been hit or miss. INDESTRUCTIBLE, the new zine/book I'm working on, may have a non-punk-specific emphasis on class, culture, substance-abuse, sexuality, puberty, and gender--it is STILL about teen angst, and Miami punk rock In the early 90s. And while the non-punk assets will assist in getting a non-punk crowd reading it, I'm sure it'll find more a place in the heart of other people who grew up with punk, or any outcasted culture--and I'm okay with that. I think a lot of media embraces of the underground have affected non-subculture-identified people because of the projects distribution or promotion. I think that choosing to make a project accessible or exclusive is the deciding factor on whether or not a diverse crowd is gonna look at it.
HaC: You've done Greenzine for almost ten years now. How has the zine changed and/or developed?
CR: It has changed because I've changed--10 years is a long time. I used to write a lot about bands and the zine involved a lot more humor, and I eventually decided to write stories. I think my use of punctuation has gotten a little bit better after ten years. Just a little, though. Like any ongoing project, it has seen a million faces. Not that humans are inevitably two-faced, but we grow everyday. A few of the recent issues that I've done in the last four years focus a lot on political values, and I'm still in on that, but I'm moving away from it with this issue. Although Ill tap on things like race, gender, and class--I focus on those things as human qualities we deal with as people, as oppose to how to deal with them as activists. And I think that's where I'm at now in my life. The issue I'm working on now is less like a zine and more like a graphic novel and I think that that's what I want my literature to become. I think zines have an exclusive audience, and although that culture is great and thriving more than ever, I want to make illustrated books that can be accessible to punks, comic book nerds, and teenage girls in the inner city, you know? I think I am or have been all of those things and I would like to embrace all those identities with what I do.
HaC: Sexual violence and assault are large topics in your writing. Can you explain how you approach these in both writing an artwork.
CR: I think its always been difficult for me to illustrate the concept of or concepts around sexual violence--I've tackled it in my art in subversive personal ways. It is incredibly touchy for me. I think that writing about it has pretty much involved years of learning how to support other individuals. Unfortunately, in the community I'm coming from, this is the form of violence that tortures us and breaks us the most frequently. Writing about it in any setting is inevitable for me. Approaching the topic can be angry or involve a lot of healing--obviously, there isn't a concrete answer to your question. Every time I've written about assault, the outcome has been based on how empowered I feel in the route of fighting it. Sometimes I've written about how small it makes us feel--how true it is that sexual violence can completely disrupt a once functioning community. Other times I've written about how substantial support and understanding can be, or how healing can give us that much poise and an ability to raise our voice.
HaC: According to your website, your zines are available back to issue #12. Why not keep older copies in print?
CR: Actually, I don't even have 12 available anymore. I think its just a personal thing. People like to see how much people grow and change in their work, and people like to analyze and criticize that growth, as if they actually KNOW the person. But I'd rather just conceal the stories about my past to the people who have the energy to actually get to know me. I think that in the past I've misrepresented things in order to come off as funny or even strong--and I don't feel that confident showing work I did at a time that I wasn't that confident.
HaC: You mentioned you have a new zine/book coming out this spring, Indestructible . What is that all about?
CR: INDESTRUCTIBLE is technically Greenzine 15, however, it may be the last issue of Greenzine. It reads like a novel and the second pressing may or may not have the Greenzine 15 subtitle. But don't tell anyone. It's the first thing I've written that is a long story where each chapter flows into the next, instead of lots of short stories. Basically, it is fifteen chapters on being fifteen, although in the end of the story, most of the characters are seventeen. It is all based on experiences I had, people I knew, and the general concept of being a dubbed a "troubled" teenager. Indestructible is a lot about how class, culture, sexuality, familial drama, substance abuse, mental health, the sake of belonging to something, and growing up in the punk scene all intersect. I have so many other Latino friends who grew up in the punk subculture and often weren't white enough for punks, or Latino enough for their culture, and it's a shame and a hassle. However, I felt culturally supported in the scene I came out of--I wasn't the only brown girl, you know? And that sustained my undying embrace of this community that helped me cope with friends dying or peers getting ragged on for being broke or gay. Its half text, half artwork, and it feels incredibly nice to clarify all those things I wrote about at that age that I wasn't confident enough to fully conceal. In a way, this is the perfect ending to a zine I started when I was fifteen. And while I conceal those old issues and not let any strangers in on my secrets--that whole idea of this being the perfect end may not mean shit to anyone because I'm so secretive. However, it means a lot to me. And hopefully this project can mean something to other angst-ridden teens of the past, present, and future.
HaC: Currently, what other projects are you working on?
CR: I'm doing art for several publications like SPREAD, Left Turn, Razorcake, to name some. I still do art for bands, friends, cool groups, birthdays, weddings--you know, truthfully, it is my day job. However, I'm also working on this other graphic novel with my friend who is a filmmaker, Esther Bell (www.etherbell.com). She wants to promote her next feature, Flaming Heterosexual Female , through a series of comic books, and I'm doing those with her. The first issue in the series is almost done. It is a sweet tale about a woman who sets out to prove that monogamy is biologically impossible.
HaC: You've done a lot of work with Microcosm Publishing from Portland; how did that friendship begin and how has working with them been?
CR: I actually met them about seven or eight years ago, and it just grew via mutual interest in what we did, you know? I liked the way they operated and they liked my drawings, so we grew and grew. I'm really into the way they're functioning these days, and the amount of work and money they put into publishing and distributing other people's projects is totally admirable. They're really respectful of what I do--people always talk smack and say they use my art without my permission, but hello, who is getting fat checks and who's been their friend for over seven years? I do a lot voluntarily, but we both understand that we live in the united states and we have to put food on our tables and pay rent. Financially supporting one another is this adult concept that we both have under grasp, so its nice to know I don't have to hold a gun to their head in order to make them understand the economic worth of the work I do. Its great to have a creative, business, and social relationship with the people you work with, you know? My emails with them will begin with talking about images for new shirts and end with side notes on how fucked up I got that one night, or hot that one person is. Work exchange can get go stuffy and uncomfortable. Its extremely tight when you can work with friends and talk business and smack in one conversation.
HaC: What materials and mediums do you work with, and why? Has this changed over your history as an artist?
CR: I started with using micron pens for my line drawings, and I would color the spurts of color and gray with pantone markers. I still do that sometimes, but what I've noticed is that there is an uncanny demand for digital representations of art--no one wants original pieces anymore. And I'm okay with that, because I finally got a decent computer a year and a half ago. So since then, I've replaced the markers with digital color because its so much easier, cheaper, and cleaner. It almost looks exactly the same, I have the files ready to send to printers/clients, and it doesn't cost three dollars every time I waste a marker or mistakenly flush one down the toilet, you know? But I still draw with microns, I still make my friends pose for everything, and I still draw dust, dots, and hairs on everything I draw--living, inanimate, or dead.
HaC: A recent issue of HeartattaCk was devoted to the theme of work. In line with that, how are you able to support yourself with artwork and writing, or do you have to do other things to compensate? Are you able to "do what you love, love what you do," as the saying goes?
CR: Fortunately, yes--for now at least. I do a lot of paid drawings for bands and magazines like Bitch and BUST who have adequate funds to pay artists. And I make money from my own projects on the side, so it all works out pretty okay. Sometimes I'll get a random gig that pays a lot for a ridiculous little image, and that is always helpful for survival. I'm scraping by, but the abandon of luxury is totally worth it, you know? Was I ever luxurious, anyway? No, I wear the same outfit everyday. Really.
HaC: Okay, a totally dorky question, but worthwhile, I think: any words of advice for other aspiring artists and writers?
CR: So, here is a totally dorky answer--keep it real and do what makes sense. For a long time I was trying to submit to the style of illustration that I thought would "sell" and I kept my style adoration of all things scandalous to my personal activities, and I thought "I'll live off these stupid realistic drawings, but have a good time drawing impure crazy things with my usual style." But why be two-faced? I think its important to know what you love to do and let it grow and see how it can fit in pockets other than the ones that you're used to. Its reassuring to learn that something deemed obscure, wayward, or wrong can be legitimately appreciated by people outside your circle. And eventually, if you adore it enough, others will recognize and adore it too.
HaC: Right on. Any last words for the readers?
CR: Rock hard like Nikki Six. You might cheat death and get a second chance.