Are there (or have there been) syndication ambitions for Max & Lily? What are your ultimate ambitions for the series?
DRESEN: No. Again, syndication would force me to limit my language and content. I guess I just want to continue producing the strips and collecting them in books when I have enough of them. To be under the pressure to produce a strip every day or every week would really compromise the quality. I don't want to hack out a page because I have to. That's ludicrous. I would grow resentful and bitter - well, more bitter than I already am - very quickly. I love Max & Lily too much and I don't ever want to tire of them. In terms of the long-run, besides continuing to draw the strips, I think Max & Lily would make a damn fine animated series. But only if I had absolute control over it.
Max & Lily has been compared to Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For. Do you think that's a valid comparison?
DRESEN: Sort of. I love Alison's work and I think DTWOF is one the best comics out there. And I know that my artwork has been compared to hers. I mean, OK, we're both gay women who draw a comic featuring gay characters. But I think that's where the comparisons end. DTWOF is more about a sub-culture within a sub-culture. I adore the characters but I don't recognize myself or anyone I know in them. Alison's cast is political, vegetarian for the most part, and underachieving. They're so unlike the people I surround myself with. Co-ops? Communal living? Minimum wage jobs at 35? And where are the men? With Max & Lily I created characters who are a reflection of me and my world. My closest friends are men. I know many workaholic over-achievers, myself included, who sacrifice everything for their art.
We all have careers, not jobs. Max is a graphic designer, Lily manages Wicker World, a Pier 1 Imports-type store. I'm not politically active so the characters aren't. And they like red meat, dammit! So that's what I write about. Oh, and they're cynical as all hell.
The problem with comparing the strips is that, like most everything in the world, they're labeled as a certain type - in this case as being "gay" - and that immediately pigeonholes them. DTWOF does not accurately reflect the lesbian lifestyle. Neither does Max & Lily. You cannot be a straight person and read DTWOF and/or M&L and say that you have a firm grasp on what it means to be gay in America today. That's like saying you read Dick Tracy and understand what it's like being a cop. But if by reading these strips and others like Curbside, Steven's Comics, and The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green, it exposes the public to these wildly different perspectives, then perhaps that will lead to more and more gay characters in "mainstream" comics. Of course, the biggest problem is that all of these aforementioned strips pretty much run in gay publications - we're preaching to the converted.
Alison's strip is also quite graphic, sex-wise. Personally, I have no problem with depictions of sex in comics. But when I first started discovering all of these comics by gay artists, I noticed that nearly 100% of them included graphic sex. I found that a bit bothersome. Yes, sex is a key element in being gay, but I felt that if every strip done by a gay artist showed sex it was feeding into the "all queers are perverts who want to fuck you" stereotype. So I intentionally stay away from it.
You've said that Max & Lily is mostly autobiographical, with Lily playing the role of whomever you were with. Has anyone reacted adversely to this? Do you notice increased reticence or grandstanding among your "potential material"?
DRESEN: Well, Max & Lily isn't truly autobiographical. The events in the strips did happen to me, but I took them, filtered them through my head, and rewrote them to be funnier and more interesting than the actual occurrence. And a lot of times Lily becomes the voice of my rational side speaking to the irrational me in Max, like in the strips where Max starts dating again.
Most of the people who recognize themselves in the strips enjoy it and are good sports. A few grandstand and I tolerate it. The only time I met any real hostility was in regards to the "Pressure Treated" strips where Max & Lily get snubbed at a fancy restaurant. That did happen to me and a woman I was with. I drew the strips not long after and when she saw them she thought they were funny but kept insisting that what I portrayed isn't what happened. I explained the whole filtering process but she wasn't buying it. I guess it was because the dialogue wasn't the conversation we actually had that evening. OK, whatever. It's a comic strip. Get over it.
Now, whenever something weird happens, friends say "This is a Max & Lily strip!" Which, of course, immediately makes me NOT want to use it.
Where did Max & Lily come from? Is the strip primarily a place for you to be a writer? How important is the mostly one-page newspaper strip-like format?
DRESEN: Max & Lily started out as characters in a strip I was writing called "...To Others." Then, some guy roped me into contributing to a project where 4 cartoonists would draw a one-page strip a week for a year. Each strip had to be about some event that happened during that week. The concept being that at the end of the year, he would publish this big comic that gave 4 different accounts of that year. I pulled Max & Lily and made them the focus of my contribution, figuring that it would be easier to write for the same 2 characters all year rather than have a new character in each strip. Like all comic projects, it quickly fell apart and I was left with these strips that I really liked and enjoyed drawing and writing and decided that I'd keep doing them. I tried to maintain the current event theme, but it quickly delved into becoming a more personal piece. And looking back, the news-based strips seem dated and a bit obscure.
I don't really consider myself a writer, so Max & Lily isn't about satisfying my ego. I do surprise myself when I go back and look at the strips and realize that they don't suck and are funny.
I didn't think that the one-page newspaper format was that important until I tried to write Max & Lily in a graphic novel format. That's when I discovered that there's a rhythm to their dialogue that I've worked out for the 12 panel layout. When I tried to write a continuous piece for them, it quickly became trite and boring. They're a fine tuned comedy team who just can't do Shakespeare! So the newspaper format will stick around. I like it though, because it's a challenge to write a cohesive piece to play out in that format. And not many other artists outside of syndicated strips are approaching comics in that style.