Detail from Little Stranger, Secret Acres, July 2018

Near the start of Edie Fake’s newest comic collection there are a series of instructional cooking illustrations: a chicken being bound, a ball of dough being pounded, a pastry being twisted and then cut. Sentences like “Fuck me like this” hover over the drawings in hot pink all-caps.

And so the tone is set for a collection that’s mischievous and playful; at times very naughty and unhinged, and at other times raw, personal, and poignant. Until now, Fake’s shorts have only appeared in underground magazines and zines, making them somewhat of a rarity. This month though, Little Stranger, released by Secret Acres, finally brings his shorter works into wider circulation.

Edie Fake, Little Stranger, Secret Acres, July 2018.

Fake has garnered a reputation for his award-winning comic series Gaylord Pheonix, which follows the epic adventures of a sexually non-binary hero, who makes their way through a universe dotted with playful creatures and intricate, geometric architecture on a quest of sexual awakening and transformation. Fake is a trans artist, and the series can be read as an allegory for navigating the world as a queer person. In this new collection, Fake’s short comics similarly carve out distinctly queer spaces, and explore themes like the malleability and slipperiness of gender.

Some of the shorts are rendered in simple, sketchy lines; others are heavily inked, with meticulous detailing and ornamental patterning—attesting to Fake’s fluid sensibility as an artist. In “Foie Gras,” Fake makes explicit the suggestiveness of food preparation, swapping cooking steps for sexual acts. In “Anal Sex for Perverts,” the words “Before I ask say yes” are placed under a shell’s soft, pink opening. In “Farmboy Tales,” an illustrated Fake lovingly milks a cow (you can tell it’s the author when a character has long black hair).  Here, we catch up with Fake to discuss his newest release.

Detail from Little Stranger, Secret Acres, July 2018.

What are you able to explore in a short comic that you might not otherwise in a series like Gaylord Phoenix, where you’re perhaps more invested in world and character building?

The short pieces in Little Stranger represent a lot of experimentation and playing around. While the language in Gaylord Phoenix is very consistent, the language in these stories is much more all over the map. Emotionally, I think that while Gaylord is all about love and transformation, these stories are spaces where I can be raunchier, angrier and scarier… and also goofier, things can fall apart a little more. Collectively, the short work stretches my emotional range in comics. It’s squirrelier, and I think it brings more chaos to the table, which I appreciate.

Why have you found the short comic form useful for articulating and exploring gender identity and queerness? 

I’m most adept at visual communication, so comics has always drawn me in because you can supplement the language you use with the complexities and ambiguities of drawing.

I think there’s a lot about specifically trans and non-binary experience, especially bodily experiences that I feel are currently ineffable—there’s not words yet. So comics has also helped me weasel into those places. My own personal places, and also, I hope, places that the larger culture needs to figure out.

Comics has always drawn me in because you can supplement the language you use with the complexities and ambiguities of drawing.

Detail from Little Stranger, Secret Acres, July 2018

This collection is filled with brilliantly surreal sex scenes, and its rich with symbolism and analogy. Could you expand on your approach to the erotic, and the way that you articulate your own experiences, in relation to one of your stories?

Part of all this sexy horror in Little Stranger is trying to touch the spots in my mind and memory that I can’t see. There’s a lot of blank space in there, somehow. I know I’ve done a lot of living, and yet I have almost no cohesive timeline for it, or memory of it. What’s in those blank spaces?

As a culture we need more language to articulate the sexuality and experience of trans and non-binary bodies, and that’s where most of the stories in Little Stranger have their root. I think about the erogenous parasites in the “Nightcrawlers” story—I wanted to draw how raw and creature-like my genitalia feels like. Also, I had been obsessed with the tongue-eating louse, a parasite that devours—and then lives as—the tongue of its host fish. It felt like my body and that louse were singing a duet, which is what I tried to get into that story.

As a culture we need more language to articulate the sexuality and experience of trans and non-binary bodies.

The “Foie Gras” trilogy is also very evocative and suggestive. Where did you get the idea for this set?

Ha ha. Foie Gras comes out of a deep love for cookbooks, cooking shows, and all types of food preparation. It comes from seeing the gestures of food preparation as suggestive… and then trying to figure out “suggestive of what?”

Little Stranger is made up of stories that have appeared in various zines and magazines. As you went over your oeuvre from the last years, what did you learn about your personal development as a comic artist that you didn’t realize before?

For a while I was really nervous that I was making the same comic over and over again, thinking I was doing something new. With collecting these little pieces I’m still haunted by the idea that I am indeed making the same comic over and over again, but I also see that sometimes I am able to find new and exciting things within familiar structure and territory.

The stories are illustrated using such a breadth of styles and devices. Some of your stories are organized by panels for example, but then eschew conventional speech bubbles. Other stories have no panels at all. What is important to you when considering the pacing and layout of a story?

Panels aren’t intuitive to me, and some of this work quite literally involves me trying to teach myself to use panels. Ultimately, I don’t care about panels. The language and the visuals balance a piece for me. It has to look compelling and say something. Knowing the visual look of a piece is easy for me, and that seems to dictate how pacing and language can work. I’m not a formalist wonk about comics at all.

Detail from Little Stranger, Secret Acres, July 2018

Do you begin with sketching and a story follows, or do you always have the idea in mind before you pick up a pencil?

I usually start with one or two beautiful things I want to draw—things that I know mean something to me but are still sort of undefined. I make very tiny and loose sketches and write out phrases that come to me and then start with drawing what seems like the truest page. Once that page is sorted out I shape the rest of the story or zine around it.

And what draws you to the world of self-publishing and zine making more generally?

Lots of things keep me coming back to zines. I like the small, intimate format. I like that it can be easily shared, traded and gifted. I like the freedom to experiment and try stuff out, the culture of small press and zines has really shaped me and my work. 

Edie Fake was born in Chicago in 1980, and has lived between New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Baltimore. He was one of the first recipients of Printer Matter’s Award for Artists, and in 2011, he helped found the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE). His stories have appeared in Lumpen Magazine and the New York Times. Today, Fake lives and draws in the California High Desert.