Interview by Sara Lautman
I’ve known Yoko OK and her work since 2008. Our projects together (the longest running being our bands, Lady Bright and Tight Little Ship) pushed me into something incredibly valuable, even more valuable that I was aware of at the time: a close knit creative scene that existed because its participants enjoyed making art for fun. Yet they were serious about it. I’m sure I had no idea how much I was learning at the time; from Yoko, who demonstrated passionate applied DIY in pretty much everything she did, and from our peers. She and I talk regularly about what’s going on in our lives, so this conversation isn’t so unusual. Just a little more structured. And a tiny bit more Yoko-centric.
Boog City: Did you think about to the questions I sent you an hour-and-a-half ago?
Yoko OK: I did! It enabled me to go into my archives, ‘cuz I’m at my parents’ house and dug up my very first … I didn’t know the term “zine” when I was 12 years old, but it was my very first multi-page folded, stapled publication. It was 1993 or 1994 and I was attending Wagner Junior High School on the Upper East Side. I was really obsessed with Archie comics at the time. I guess a couple other kids at school would read them because they knew I was into them, and they were available at the local newsstands. But I don’t remember having another [obsessed] friend … and there was no internet … well there was, but I never thought to go on AOL and find an Archie Comics group. I just liked my personal life of collecting them and reading them. And I would study them! I looked at how panels were done and how certain actions were drawn. A lot of the drawings in my first comics were kind of copied from Archie but with my own characters.
My dad had one of those lightboxes that was maybe like 11” x 14” so I would do my first drafts using pencil and a ruler. My dad was a technical illustrator and he had a lot of drawing tools and cool pencils. So I would use all that and then [after I was done] I would trace it onto another piece of paper using the lightbox. I think my pen of choice was the thin Sharpie.
They had thin Sharpies back then?
Yeah! You never had them? I think that’s what I used! It was either that or the Pilot Precise roller ball pens that I like to use still. From the quality of the line. [Holds up the only copy of Wagner KIDZ, 36 pages, black and white] This is my first zine.
That looks good!
So in my memory and in my mind, I was looking for this today and expected it to be the same size as this one [holds up most recent zine, Textured Elevation, 8.5” x 5.5”] but this one [holds up Wagner KIDZ] is actually BIG! [laughs]
I remember going to the copy shop and it was probably like $4 to make each one. Thinking back I’m like why was it $4 to make each one? It’s completely black and white. I thought it was letter-sized but now I’m thinking it was more expensive because they had to put it on 11” x 17” and cut it down to whatever the hell size this is.
It’s some kind of non-standard size?
Yeah it’s a very weird size [maybe 9.5” x 6.5”]. I also didn’t go to a commercial copy shop, I went to an independent copy shop that was in SoHo … and maybe their rent was going up and they needed to charge me, a 12-year-old, four dollars for each copy. So I only ever had two copies made of this. [laughs] I don’t know where the other one is!
It’s limited edition.
Yes! [flipping through, showing Sara the comic]
That’s a real value buy. You got a lot of stuff in there.
There’s even an advice column.
What’s the question? Did you write the question yourself?
Okay, this is embarrassing. I don’t know if I want to tell this in the …
Well, you can edit this however the fuck you want.
Okay. It’s really interesting that I chose this topic. [giggles] The person who is responding to the advice, the advice columnist, is Dr. Kibby Bubban, M.D.
So this is from Chris, from Chappaqua, N.Y. Their assigned birth gender is not specified. They say, “Dear Kibby, I’m 40 and unmarried because of this problem. I can’t figure out if I was meant to be a boy or a girl. I’ve had a sex change eight times and I like it both ways.”
Oh my god!
“But now my plastic surgeon says I’m getting too old to have a sex change every month. [giggles] What do I do? Please help me.” Do you want to hear the advice?
It’s actually pretty non-judgmental! Dr. Bubban says, “Dear Chris, well if you want to be a boy AND a girl, why not?”
That’s so nice.
I know! “I know of this specialist in New York City that may be able to help. Of course, it may take awhile to get used to, but it probably will help. And the best part is, when you get married, you can be your own spouse! Heart, Kibby!”
All right, Kibby’s kind of a freak.
Who would the specialist be?
Um. Maybe like … a gender-affirming therapist?
But in 1994 I had never heard of trans people, or intersex people, or nonbinary people. So … I think that was actually pretty solid for a 12-year-old to write!
I like Kibby’s advice and I really hope that person has found a way to be their best self.
Me too. So anyway, the rest of the zine is just stories about me and my “friends”… I really didn’t know how to make friends until I got into music. Maybe it’s something about connecting to the emotional quality of music that made me feel closer to people who liked the same music as me or maybe it’s that I didn’t have many shared interests before [I got into music]. So the way that I knew how to make friends was to draw comics with people in them that I knew, to impress them. But it’s not that they loved comics, they just liked being the subject of a drawing. These people who are in the comic, I didn’t really feel like I was their friend, the whole time. But the me in the comics was. [holding up comic to a page with the story title “Once In A Blue Ice”] So here is me and my friend Emiko and we’re in front of the pizza place across from where we went to junior high. And in it I encourage her to buy a blue Italian ice, which is why it’s called Once In A Blue Ice. And then she eats the ice, and for some reason it makes her nauseous and what ends up happening is she ends up puking in the face of our Social Studies teacher! [shows panel with girl projectile-vomiting liquid into a woman’s face]
It’s a pretty good drawing, right?
Yeah, the liquid quality of the vomit really comes through.
I don’t know if you can tell, but the teacher is holding a [lit] cigarette. In real life this teacher smoked cigarettes and we all knew it, and I guess I felt judgmental toward her for it so I put it in the comic to be funny. But what ended up happening was I got in trouble because she found out!
So what ends up happening in the comic is Emiko gets in trouble and the teacher gives her a list of chores she wants her to do. She basically becomes this Cinderella figure, scrubbing the floors, cleaning the whole classroom, shining the teacher’s shoes. And then at the end—I guess because of Archie comics I knew it had to end with some kind of zinger, so we’re on the bus home and she ends up blaming me for the whole incident and storms off the bus, and the last panel is a close-up of my face, saying “Something tells me next time I should let her stick to that sugar-free diet of hers!” [giggles]
Yup, that’s an Archie joke.
It’s really silly. And then there’re horoscopes …
Damn, that’s a good book. It has a whole story, there’s a joke …
It has four stories, an advice column, horoscopes, “deep thoughts” a la Saturday Night Live. So that’s the first zine I ever made.
Did you go to zine fairs?
I have never been to a zine fair. Wait … that’s not true. I’ve never been IN a zine fair. I have been to some zine fairs but not many. And not since the pandemic, obviously. And the majority of the zines I’ve made have been after the pandemic started.
But you made these zines back in the day.
Okay, here is the history of my zine making. Wagner KIDZ.. Then, a zine with about 16 contributors called Abstract Extract which I made in college. That was the last time I made a zine until 2006, when Phoebe Kreutz and I made a zine called Belliphant. Her side of it was very cohesive.
My side was very random. Like, a list of stuff I put in the time capsule we buried in the floor at Integral Yoga [Natural Foods, on West 13th St, now closed]. The person doing the construction was a co-worker, and they wanted to bury a time capsule there so I made a bundle of things to put in there and that was listed in the zine. I feel like the rest of it was random stuff, some drawings … I remember not feeling very proud of it at the end. Still it was fun to make because Phoebe and I got to hang out, and in a way, the zine is sort of its own time capsule. I was going through a rough period so she and I were hanging out a lot and then one of us had the idea to make the zine.
Was it a bonding time, like “and that’s the time I started becoming better friends with Phoebe?”
Yeah! I think beforehand it was only group hangouts all the time. But then I was going through a breakup, and a period of heavy drinking. So I would walk to her house after work and we would hang out. Definitely we got closer then.
So then after that I didn’t make another zine until … I guess the Jon Glovin comics in 2010? Does that count as a zine?
Yeah. That’s a classic zine.
That was another weird time in my life! That’s the first time I approached drawing comics again. They were all very loose, simple, I didn’t use any photo references. They were all based on quotes from Jon Glovin that made me laugh during a very depressed year.
Yeah. That’s a great zine. It’s such a perfect little … like, the artwork is really pulled back, it’s just these nice lines, the theme is really funny and specific, it’s just like this one guy….it’s just *chef’s kiss*
How do I transcribe that little “mwah” that you just did?
A thought just came to me which is that all my zines before my current zinemaking practice [Wagner KIDZ, Abstract Extract, Belliphant, and the Jon Glovin comic] were all sort of like … maybe like a life raft for me, during these four traumatic times in my life. They sprouted from an extended period of feeling low.
Totally. I can understand that. I started having a regular drawing practice because I was depressed. I just needed something to focus on.
Doodles in an emergency. [Name of Sara’s Tumblr from 2008.] Yeah, I feel like these were sort of like, “Zines in an emergency.” [laughs] Since I started drawing every day [in 2018] maybe it’s more like … the regular release of creativity has evened me out a little bit. So I’m not like building up all this energy and then going BLAH! and making a zine every four to 10 years… now I’m releasing things on a more regular basis because I’m in the practice of doing it.
It’s not just about making stuff, it’s also about releasing it, and connecting with people. A lot of the zines you were just talking about are collaborations. So there’s connecting with people around you, connecting with people who would read the zine, the work itself … you get a lot out of it.
When I released this zine [holding up Textured Elevation, released in June 2021] I thought to myself I hadn’t released a collaborative zine since [Abstract Extract in] 2002. But that’s not true because Belliphant and the Jon Glovin comics are also. So maybe the actual truth is that I only have a couple of zines that are not collaborations.
What is your least collaborative zine?
[Holding up Plica Fimbriata #1 and #2] I guess these ones? They’re both zines of my daily drawings between 2018 and 2020. Those are just me. No one helped me with them besides the people who encouraged me, like my friends and family, patrons, and people on Instagram.
Can you talk a little about Textured Elevation?
It’s a zine of maps! You’re in it! [laugh] I really love maps and always have. So in April I put a call out for anyone who wanted to submit either a map or a song about maps. It went well! So many good people are part of it. Friends, and some folks I’ve never met, including some pen pals I have. A few are incarcerated in San Quentin, right across the Bay from where I live. Their art and writing blows me away. It’s got 44 pages and it’s full color. My friend Dana even wrote a foreword.
Where can people buy it?
For now, on my website, Yoko-OK.com. In the future, in zine stores around the country. Maybe a few internationally!
How’s music going?
[sigh/laugh] Even though I just drank caffeine, my brain feels very mushy. Let me think about that though, because I should practice answering questions. Music is going well …
It doesn’t have to be going well.
It actually IS going well. I’ve been in this Music Every Week [MEW] club since November 2019. It was started by my friend Marissa. Every week the assignment is to write a song and record it. It can be a phone recording or a professional studio recording. Whatever you want. We have to submit it by 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday. And if you don’t …
You get killed!
[laugh] You get kicked out. But the rounds are shorter than they used to be. And we’re doing great. I guess there is the question of … Is a quick song as good as a song you spend six months refining? I don’t know! I really like the songs that I’ve written.
Has it been like, you finish the song, and that’s the song?
It was, until I started writing songs with Dibs [Dibson T Hoffweiler]. Yesterday was our anniversary of collaborating. Normally we mix a quick version that’s good enough to submit for MEW, but we also have a plan to release a few albums of more refined versions of our songs. So far we’ve released one [People Pleasing this past March].
When did you meet Dibs?
I think I was like 21 or 22 the first time I met him. But then we were in the same friend group solidly by the time I was 23 and he was 21.
What would you say if someone said back then, “You will be collaborating with this person until you’re 40?”
Dan Fishback just told me he wishes he could tell that to my 23-year-old self! I would say, “No fucking way!” But I would probably have felt happy and surprised.
SARA LAUTMAN (www.saralautman.com) is a cartoonist living in Baltimore, Md. Her graphic novel, Jason, will be published later this year from Diskette Press. She teaches comics at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
@slautow upon IG and @saralautman upon Twitter
YOKO OK is a New Yorker who has been living in the Bay Area of California for the past 10 years. She makes a comic every day as part of her Daily Drawing project which began in 2018. She is also a musician. Recently she released a collaborative zine called Textured Elevation, a compilation of maps and stories and songs about maps, by almost 40 artists, writers, and musicians. It is available on her website Yoko-OK.com.