30 July 2014

Over the holiday week I sat down via Facebook to catch up with Columbus’s #1 BB Girl, the comic book and performance artist Left Handed Sophie. We discussed the internet, gender evolution and the super hero within everyone.

AJ. What kind of art you do?

LHS: I consider my art sincere modern pop art, my foundation is cartooning and performance art which I consider very similar. I also incorporate the social network as a medium which i think is exciting and new, all to create an aesthetic I call "Left Handed Sophie." I see it as almost a multimedia mythology.

AJ. Who is Left Handed Sophie?

LHS: She's The Albino Queen of The Jungle, which has multiple meanings, but basically she's a young girl with advance psychic abilities who's been under surveillance her whole life by a shadow government who specializes in creating superhumans. They abduct her and attempt to harness her energy, she escapes and uses what she's learned against them becoming a super-heroine by transforming to an adult "super version" of herself...that's basically who she is.

AJ. How long have you been making this character?

LHS: I’ve had her in my head for about 10 years now.

AJ. How has she evolved?

LHS: Not much except for superficial influences like the internet and drawing styles...but she's always had a pretty clear identity.

AJ. What are your influences?

LHS: Probably my biggest influence as an artist is Frank Miller, best known for his "Sin City" books and my favorite comic "Batman:The Dark Knight Returns." I just always related to his approach to graphics in the service of story. I really can't put my finger on it, he tells big urban stories like they're mythology. I'm also very into Japanese pop culture particularly the extreme "kawaii" subculture of pink and cuteness. They kinda turn the idea of cuteness and "child-likeness" on its head into something bizarrely edgy. I totally relate to that. I also love the late great performance/drag artist Leigh Bowery, he's everything to me. He showed me you can be a cartoon in the real world which makes him the ultimate cartoonist as far as I'm concerned.

AJ. What kind of voice does your work have in the comic/art world?

LHS: That's a tough one. I'd probably be the wrong person to ask since I'm so close to it. I know I try to make fun super-hero comics with a personal edge. I think super-heroes get a bad rap as superficial when they actually deal with very real themes of identity, transformation and power. I mean Friedrich Nietzsche came up with the term "superman." So from the get-go you're dealing with a philosophical concept. Also at the heart is mythology, which is timeless and universal. These, as well as esoteric themes, are what I try to emphasize in Left Handed Sophie, but fun is always the main focus. Comics should be fun.

AJ. How does the internet (web/social media) play a part in your work?

LHS: A big part! I'm no computer wiz by any stretch, but as someone who grew up on comics and sci-fi, I've been waiting for this hi-tech postmodern world we're living in my whole life! I just love it, it makes art an adventure and a more complete experience especially in regards to connecting with people. It literally is a new frontier. I really love the visual aspects of it, like using other images that I may not have created to express myself. It’s like visual "DJ"ing and a big part of what I do. I take it as serious as anything I draw on paper.

AJ. How does performance play a part? Did your music group “Hugs and Kisses” have any influence?

LHS: I wouldn’t be the artist I am today if I didn’t get to be in the "Hugs and Kisses" performance band. I learned everything there. Donny Monaco, the visionary behind the group, is similar to the way I described Leigh Bowery, a cartoonist who uses performance. Being a trained actor, Donny taught me the mechanics of performance, which I now see as the basis of all arts. As a cartoonist, you’re exaggerating human emotion and no matter how different the character is from you, you're always using yourself as a reference point. Therefore every cartoonist is a performer. It’s all about projecting. Hugs and Kisses is also responsible for a big chunk of my aesthetic, which I like to call "cartoon surrealism." It takes a real world situation and makes it into a fantastical experience. Donny is a master at that, very similar to Sacha Baron Cohen or even Charlie Chaplin! Hugs and Kisses is something everyone should check out.

AJ. How does gender, sexuality play a part?

LHS: Again, a big part. Comics are universal because people can interpret the characters in many ways which is the basis of mythology. Gender is such a universal theme and in the 21st century it’s the cause of a lot of fear and hatred. At the same time there is an excitement, like in the next stage of human evolution. So the superhero has always been a potent symbol of transgressing and blurring gender lines. This is something the young understand very well and the old are afraid of, it’s very "Xmen." For me gender is a false dichotomy that was put in place to uphold the oppressive patriarchal system that has failed. Femininity and Masculinity are two halves of the one divided to make us weak so we can be better controlled. The superhero speaks to the rejection of this condition and the desire to return to our complete selves. This is why the hero is always burdened by some pesky alter-ego which is like the false self that society forces on us. The complete self gives the hero power and confidence. That's why in my opinion drag performance artists are the closest thing to super-heroes, they create their own identities! They recreate themselves using clothing which is superman in a nutshell.

AJ. What is going on in the Columbus comic scene? Is there any other artists you are looking at? Is there support? Interest?

LHS: Columbus is really becoming a hotbed for comic culture thanks to stuff like the "Billy Ireland Cartoon Library" at OSU. I’m really into artists like Bryan "Strangethings" Moss and Julian Dassai who expand comics to other aspects of culture.

AJ. Do you need a studio to do your work? Where do you work?

LHS: My studio is wherever I’m at. I’m a pretty mobile person. I actually draw a lot on my lap watching cartoons just like I did as a kid! I don't need much.

AJ. Where do you see your work going?

LHS: Honestly wherever it takes me, like I said, its an adventure.

AJ. Where do you want to see the Columbus arts/comic scene go?

LHS: I actually like where it’s going. It’s a great scene and I’m honored to be a part of it. As with all art, I like to see as much diversity as a possible. That's how creativity is, it’s nourished by drawing from all walks of life. It’s a never ending struggle.

AJ How can people see more of your work?

People can hit me up at Facebook and my Instagram "sophiagaia." I also have a blogspot, sophieharpo.blogspot.com. "Laughing Ogre" is the best place for comics in Columbus.

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