Leslie Stein makes frank and philosophical watercolor comics about her decision to have an abortion in I Know You Rider (Drawn & Quarterly, May.).
In creating comics about abortion, were there particular pitfalls you wanted to avoid?
I made sure there was no element of “would she or wouldn’t she?” A lot of pop culture, like CW network television shows, use that as an arc. I avoided that trap—when you open the book, you see that this is what is happening. It’s just the experience of it, with no judgment, no having my character justify the decision. The focus is on how to care for the person who’s having the abortion and make sure their situation and experiences are handled with respect.
What made you decide to do a book about this decision?
I did a weekly strip for Vice based on whatever was happening in my life, so I got used to processing my experiences immediately and then drawing them. I’m continuing that practice here, but the subject matter’s broader with many tricky aspects to write about. So, I developed it into a longer narrative.
What writers and artists influence you?
For this book in particular, Debbie Drechsler; in Daddy’s Girl, she writes about difficult subject matter in a very palatable art style, which makes inhabiting those spaces more comfortable. Also, Chester Brown, whose memoir Paying for It brought up a lot of topics about his relationship to sexuality—and made me think about my own relationship to the topic. I didn’t understand them all—or I did. Really, it made me think, which is what I’m trying to do with this book.
In addition to being a cartoonist, you’re also a musician. Do these two art forms inform each other for you?
Comics are rhythmic, so I’m using a bit of rhythm I inherited from playing guitar and applying it.
What would you like readers to take away from the book?
Despite the subject matter, I always want to reward people for looking at the work by making it as beautiful as I can—and funny. I want readers to have a nice experience—that’s the point.
The title comes from a Grateful Dead song, which is performed in the book. What does that song signify?
It’s not a Grateful Dead song. It’s an old song—though I’m glad you asked, because everyone thinks it’s the Grateful Dead’s. But it’s actually an old folk song that they popularized; there are tons of different versions of it by tons of different artists. The lyrics are about freedom.