FLY - NYC squatter/punk/illustratorThe rest of the interview is available in the up and coming "Species Magazine" and her book "PEOPS" can be obtained through Soft Skull Press.
JD: Where did you get the name Fly?
F: In 1988 I decided I was going to do my own zine but I was kind of homeless at the time so I didn't want to have to carry around a lot of stuff so I just did a post card zine -- a monthly zine on a post card. I called it "Fly" because I would use it to irritate people. Another reason for the name was that when shit happens there're flies around. I didn't call myself "Fly" just the zine. I would go out to all these shows and give it out to people. Since I was in a lot of different places at the time I didn't really know people so I would give them my zine and say "Here have a 'Fly.'" They wouldn't remember my name or else I wouldn't tell them. If they saw me again they'd point at me and go "Fly!" [laughs] "That's the "Fly" Girl or simply "Fly." People started calling me "Fly" because of the zine.
JD: Where were you then?
F: I had left Vancouver at that point after living there for two years. I was in Toronto for a little while and my dad got diagnosed with brain tumors and didn't have long to live so I stayed there while he was dying and would hang out with him & he would tell me all kinds of stuff like the fact that polar bears are not white he told me they are really dirty actually & he had seen a lot of them cuz he used to work as the engineer on the big arctic ice breakers. After he died I stayed in Toronto for a little while but became restless as usual and traveled as much as I could. I went to New York as frequently as possible. Eventually I gave up on Toronto and was sort of nomadic and insane for a while. I went to Europe for a while and performed with a noise band and did art shows in Spain and Germany.
JD: Were you formally trained?
F: I took graphic design at the university but I wasn't trained in illustration, painting or drawing.
JD: Were those things self-taught?
F: Pretty much. I did take an illustration class with Carel Mosievitch when I was in Vancouver. She's an incredible illustrator and I love her stuff. I didn't start doing real comics until I moved to New York where I met up with the World War III Illustrated artists. Seth Tobocman was a huge influence on me when it came to doing comics. He looked at my sketchbooks that had a lot of drawings of people and written notes. He saw that I was drawing and writing but not putting them together in comic form. He said "you should be doing comics" & I was like "yeah you're right" also there was this artist called Mutant who put out a magazine called Hype & he used to even give me a little money to do comics for the mag I did these crazy weird comics some of which are reprinted in my book CHRON!IC!RIOTS!PA!SM! (Autonomedia)
JD: This was after the "Fly Zine?"
F: Oh yeah. I started the "Fly Zine" in '88. I called it a "maggotzine." It was about the same time I started coming to New York a lot. I realized I was sort of living here in 1990 and that's when Seth started encouraging me to do comics and when I started doing them. What really got me into other people's underground comics was hanging out with Fiona Smyth in Toronto. She's like a goddess to me. She totally saved me when I had a real problem and was homeless and had nowhere to go. She sort of took me in for a month or so until I had my shit together. I was having a really bad time. I don't want to get into the specifics. Fiona had the whole Love and Rockets collection, the whole run of Peter Bagge's Neat Stuff -- all these super underground comics. Tons of R. Crumb. For a whole month all I did was read comics. That was pretty much my job: rehabilitation and reading comics.
JD: That's a good road to spiritual recovery.
F: Getting back on track.
JD: What was Fiona Smyth's comic called?
F: Nocturnal Emissions was her comic.
JD: Did you ever get into Dame Darcy's stuff?
F: I really love her stuff. She hasn't really influenced me but I love her stuff. Mary Fleener and definitely the Hernandez brothers are inspirations. I love Peter Bagge just because his sense of humor is hilarious.
JD: He's pretty dead on.
F: He's really funny. The way he draws totally suits the way he writes. I've met him and hung out with him. He's so much fun. He's so funny. He's really easy to hang out with but then again the first time we hung out we were drinking so that may be why. We had tons of fun anyway. Joe Sacco's influenced me. I love his work.
JD: Yeah Palestine! I learned more about the Middle East reading that than from anywhere else and he knows his stuff.
F: Well he went to school for journalism. He knows how to report. I have so much respect for him and Seth Tobacman both. They put themselves on the line for their stories.
JD: Your multi-media presentation at Sacrifice was impressive. Where else did you go on your tour?
F: The Peops Tour went all up and down the West Coast. We went to Eugene and Portland, Seattle - I'm missing one, which one am I missing?
JD: Bellingham, Washington?
F: Vancouver, Canada; Ashland, Oregon. I'm missing a few but I did the West Coast with the Killer Banshees. Besides my comics slide show the multi-media stuff was all done by the Killer Banshees (Kirss De Jong & Eliot Daughtry). They are totally amazing! They took my images & projected them & played with them live with music while digitally mixing everything. I toured the East Coast on my own which kind of sucked because when I was traveling with the Killer Banshees they set up their big screen and were doing live image manipulation of my artwork. On my own I was just screening this video which was very small compared to the huge projections. Also with the video it was the same show every night. When I was touring with the Banshees it was different every night because they were doing their image mixing right there and they were constantly doing different things.
JD: So you were actually using a small video screen with still images of your art-work?
F: Not still images because the Killer Banshees had sent me a video version of the Peops Show where they digitally mixed the images onto a tape so there was no live mixing and it would be the same series of images every night.
JD: Okay how did you meet the Killer Banshees?
F: Oh man I met them when I was touring with God is my Copilot. That was really great, that was in Chicago and we played at the Fireside Bowling Lanes or something. A very popular place, very cool place. It was a bowling alley and bands would play there. We went to a big party at The Killer Banshees place after the show and that's where we stayed. They were just incredible hosts. I've never been treated so well in my life.
F: They had this big party for us with snacks and beer.
F: And then when we got up they made this full-on insane breakfast. Just all out everything. That was a really, really good thing because that was the year we touring in the US and we didn't really tour in stateside that much. I didn't really know why we hadn't toured in the US but I found out. You get treated like shit here when you're touring as a band.
F: Unless you're rock stars or unless you are just full on DIY. If you deal with some booking agent like we did that one time, with God Co, it's just a total nightmare. You show up somewhere and they have no idea you're playing. You go to some venue and the people there have no idea because someone else booked you and that person is not present. When the person that booked you finally shows up nothing is arranged and they just laugh when you ask for your guarantee. They don't feed you and they don't give you a place to stay whereas in Europe every place you go they're glad to see you. They help you as much as they can and they feed you dinner, get you a place to stay and they pay you a guarantee.
JD: Wow. I've heard a lot of good stuff from people who have toured over there.
F: It was so insane. In the US we'd show up somewhere and people would have no idea that we were playing there. The venue wouldn't have done any of the publicity.
JD: Do you think the DJ culture maybe effected that? People don't want to see and hear live music? Americans don't care unless they heard about it on MTV?
F: I don't think it's the DJ culture. I think that people here don't have much respect for artists.
JD: Well yeah that's probably it. Are you a musician too or do you just tour with your art?
F: Oh no I was playing bass and doing vocals in God is my Copilot.
F: I toured with Aus Rotten for a couple of little tours in my band Zero Content who were supposed to open up for them. But Zero Content, my band, never showed up at any of the shows so I had to do all of them acappella. I didn't miss a show and did them all myself.
JD: That's funny.
F: It was amazing. It was a whole revolution. The kids loved it. Several times -- quite a few times -- I had a pit.
JD: Really just singing acappella all by yourself?
JD: Wow that's really cool. I want to go back into the past here. Looking in your book it says you used to run marathons and that's what got you into tone to be an artist? I like that.
F: Well I don't know, it taught me self-discipline and how to push my body to dangerous extremes. Totally ridiculous extremes actually. It taught me endurance but it also ran my body down. I don't know. I think I might be aging prematurely because of all the endurance that I've put myself through.
JD: Oh no we don't want that.
F: But it did. It really taught me focus and a certain amount of self-discipline. When I had to get stuff done in my building it was like okay I have to do it. I would work around the clock to get something done. It's only been since I had my extreme back injury that I've had to really try to not push myself.
JD: How did you get your back injury?
F: I broke my back skating.
JD: Oh no. Rollerblading?
F: In-line skates. "Rollerblading" is a brand name.
F: I try not to encourage the corporatizing of language although I know that I do it. I'm a hypocrite but I try not to do it.
JD: I didn't even think of that being a corporate term. Everybody says "Rollerblading."
F: Yeah I mean I understand why everybody calls it that. The reason I don't like to call it that is I do not own Rollerblades. I was Rocesing because my skates are called "Roces." They're really great skates. They're like the European brand of Rollerblades or something.
But anyway I was skating and I had just got back from tour and I was so happy to be on my skates again. I had been away for three months off of them and I was just ecstatic. I was skating through Central Park and I was going really fast down this one hill at the end of the park and this guy who didn't know how to skate comes flailing right out in front of me.
JD: Oh no.
F: So I was in a tuck, full-on speeding down the hill. This guy comes flailing out in front of me and I make the stupidest move. What I do is swerve to miss him and I should have plowed him right over. I probably would have been okay that way. So I swerved to miss him and I landed on my sacrum and right hip. I smashed a vertebrae, I cracked a vertebrae and I knocked my hip out of line by an inch and a half. My whole back spasmd of course. I got temporary paralysis due to the shock and they put me on a spinal board and I was loosing feeling in my hands and my feet. I thought this is it. I'm never going to walk again. Meanwhile that guy who came flailing out in front of me -- he didn't have a scratch. He didn't even go down because I swerved to miss him. I was so pissed!
Anyway they took me to the hospital. They decided I didn't have a spinal chord injury. They left me lying on the board though for an hour and a half. I was screaming in agony -- well I wasn't screaming in agony but I was moaning. Every single breath was a moan. They finally came an hour later and shot me up with some Demerol or something -- which felt so good. So I'm lying on the spinal board, all tied up, and the guy on the gurney next to me takes a shit in his pants!
JD: Was this the general hospital in New York?
F: This was one of the hospitals. I was really happy to be able to walk out of there.
JD: Yeah we're all happy you were able to walk out of there. You wrote that you were on a rowing team.
F: The National Rowing Team yeah.
JD: Was that the Canadian National Rowing Team?
F: Oh yeah that was when I was a kid. Actually that was when I was a kid until I was going to the university also. The only reason that I quit was because I had a skiing injury. I tore up the ligaments in my knee.
F: I was going to try out for the Olympic team that year and I tore the ligaments in my knee.
JD: Is that permanent?
F: Well it wasn't a complete tear -- which was lucky for me -- but it was still too big an injury. I had to be in a cast for six weeks. I couldn't really -- I had to wear this big brace. I was like that's it. I'm not trying out for the Olympics.
It was really funny because up until that time I had really been too fast, moving around too quickly, always running places or just moving too quickly to really get to know anyone.
F: When I was on crutches all of a sudden I was going everybody else's speed. That enabled me to get to know all these artists. That was in Vancouver, I was working one of the ski mountains and that's where I had my accident. I was skiing everyday and it was a really dumb accident but I got to know all these crazy artists because I was on crutches and they could actually talk to me. It was really cool. I started to get involved with a lot of the art scene there and then I started working with these people who were doing this monthly art magazine.
JD: When was that? Early to mid-eighties?
F: This was the later eighties. I'm not that old! [laughs]
JD: No I have no idea how old you are and I wouldn't be able to tell having met you briefly twice. You seem like an ageless artist but I would think you were younger except you've done so much.
F: Yeah I kind of like that "ageless artist." That's what I kind of feel like.
JD: I asked because I was wondering if you got to see much of the Vancouver punk scene.
F: Yeah I used to go out almost every night. I used to take pictures all the time at all the shows: DOA, Death Sentence, the Day Glow Abortions, No Means No, The Mr. T Experience, Short Dogs Grow. I saw The Mr. T Experience play one of their first shows ever before they became this big thing.
JD: So you were from Halifax, Nova Scotia originally?
F: I was born in Halifax. I'm not really from there but I was born there. I guess you could say I'm from there but we moved around so much all the time 'cause my dad was in the Navy.
JD: Okay so when you moved to New York it wasn't as mind blowing as if you'd come from some small town?
F: Not at all. The thing was I came to New York and I immediately felt completely at home. I had no fear. The first time here I had no where to stay so I was hanging out on the street all the time. I ended up staying in the squats with some other freaky people. One night I ended up on the streets. I didn't feel out of place. I felt like this was home.
Peops: Stories and Portraits of People by Fly
Available in soft cover by Soft Skull Press