I first met Molly Crabapple, the sexy goth girl next door—she’d be as comfortable in the Playboy of yore as she is in this feature—at an alt-comix festival in lower Manhattan about eight years ago. At the time, she was drawing an erotic fin-de-siècle-styled comic book about a Jewish fire-eating burlesque queen named Scarlett O’Herring. Molly, who had actually worked as a fire-eating burlesque queen herself while a struggling art student, soon figured out that comix was a sucker’s game: One usually gets paid far less for making lots of illustrations on a page than for drawing just one. “Comix required a work ethic I didn’t have,” she tells me.
Living across from Zuccotti Park when it was ground zero for the Occupy movement radicalized her—though if the personal is political, she always had a heightened political awareness—and Molly reinvented herself (she’s done a lot of that) as an artist-reporter engagé. She’s an accomplished writer (her jazzy memoir, Drawing Blood, proves that), but her journalistic drawings return art to its Goya-like function of announcing, “I saw this.” The age of Photoshop and Instagram has outed the camera as a slicker liar than any presidential candidate, but a drawing is personal, so you can decide to trust it. As Molly puts it, “You take a photo, but you make a picture.”
Even documenting recent trips to Guantánamo, Turkey, Dubai, Syria and Gaza, her sensuous devouring eye leads to pictures that are simultaneously earnest and smart-assed, serious and playful. Her art proclaims, to paraphrase what her hero Emma Goldman insisted a century ago, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution!”