Numlock Sunday: Mattie Lubchansky on Boys Weekend
By Walt Hickey
Welcome to the Numlock Sunday edition.
This week I spoke to Mattie Lubchansky, the author of Boys Weekend, an acclaimed new graphic novel out this week, and a longtime contributor to iconic comics publication The Nib. I am a huge fan of their work and have been really excited to see their debut full-length graphic novel..
This interview has been condensed and edited.
You are out with a brand new comic this week called Boys Weekend. Can you tell me a little bit about the idea for the comic and maybe where it came from?
Sure. The book is about a trans femme who is fairly recently out of the closet to their college friends, that has been out for a while, and is invited to go on a bachelor weekend for one of their friends who wants them to be his best man. It takes place, it's like a libertarian seasteading Las Vegas, set in the near future where anything goes. Then once Sammy, our main character, gets there, it seems like some weird goings-on are happening even worse than the horrible party that they're stuck at.
I was going to say the journey, the idea was it was very different circumstances with friends that I'm still friends with and like. But I did, when I was barely out of the closet, I did go on a bachelor party weekend with some college friends and I had the very, very early kernel of the idea then. But then it took a couple years to refine it into something that was not just about my experience and something a little more interesting.
One thing that I really enjoy about your work in general is that it does take a tough view on business practices that were once considered a scammy way of doing business but have now become the standard way of doing business. Your concept of libertarian Las Vegas on the ocean I think really leans into this quite a bit. How has that kind of worldview factored into this work?
I've had a lot of projects come and go where I've been thinking a lot about libertarianism as a thing. Obviously we don't live in a libertarian society in any real sense of the word. You are surveilled, and that's not really the dream we're living. But I think definitely in the last couple of years, society has gotten to a point where people don't have to owe each other anything, really. And the capitalists are basically allowed to do whatever they want. They get to look in a libertarian society.
And I'm just obsessed with the idea of people like seasteaders who think that given no regulation or no oversight or no sort of societal contract, they can build whatever they want and it won't be the most unpleasant thing imaginable. And it's I think built into the book, this setting of just anything goes, but for a very specific subgroup of people.
I think one of the tensions in the book and also just in life in general is that there are people who are very amenable to change, or at least willing to accept change as it happens. And then there are lots of folks that are not. That doesn't necessarily cleanly divide on political terms; that doesn't necessarily conveniently divide on even personality terms. It's just a thing that reveals itself over time. And dealing with that it can be hard.
I just was wondering if you could speak to some of the ideas in the book when it comes to resistance to change and the acceptance of change and transition.
Right. I think there are two versions of this.
Like you said, it doesn't just divide cleanly, necessarily. I'd say at the beginning of the book, Sammy, the main character, is almost as resistant to change in terms of making a positive change for their own life for something they need, say, not going on a trip or setting boundaries or what have you. There's definitely a difference between that and the resistance to change that all the other characters in the book are resistant to, which is not necessarily change, but just respecting another person's humanity, which are two very different things I'd say.
I try to get at this some in the book. So much of this stuff about getting people's names right, or their pronouns, or just basic social interaction, social contract stuff — it's that thing where their pronouns are not the end-of-the-world important thing. The thing is bodily autonomy and liberation are important, top list items. But then pronouns are important, because what it does is it is a willingness on behalf of another party to say that I am taking you at your word for what you say you are. I'm doing the work in my own brain to fundamentally change how I think of you, which, it’s being fluent in the language.
If I have to think to myself every time that I'm doing my friend a favor by having the pronouns I want to say, and then I stop and I think about it and then I can get the right one, it's like I'm sitting around thinking about it, which means you haven't actually altered in your brain, "I see the person"; you don't really believe them.
And again I think, yeah, there's a big undercurrent in the book. The big fundamental thing with transness generally with people is that they're just unwilling to believe that it's real in another person because they've never experienced it.
There's a lack of empathy there.
Yeah. And just straight up almost disbelief that they can't conceive of it.
Talking a little bit more about the book, you've written other longer-form comics in the past, but this is a significantly longer work than stuff you've done before.
Oh yeah. This is the longest thing I've ever done.
How was that?
It was a real learning process, let me tell you. I'm really grateful to my editor at Pantheon, Anna Kaufman, and a whole host of people; there's a big list in the back of the book about basically everyone I showed my original pitch to. People slapped me around and helped me out to get into fighting shape. Then it was not just a big bundle of ideas, but a story with characters and stuff.
The thing I wanted to do always was make books, longer-form novels and things. And I fell backwards into doing gag strips and political cartoons. It was never my intention with comics. I always wanted to make longer fiction work. It took me almost 10 years of being a professional cartoonist to get to the point where I could do it. But I spent those 10 years teaching myself a lot of habits in terms of how you tell a story or how you make a point. And I had to unlearn a lot of it.
But then again, there are a lot of lessons I took from it that I think were really handy. I've gotten a lot of feedback on the book so far that people think that the pacing — I feel like I have a good sense that every X amount of time there should be something happening, almost like I've got this sense of rhythm that a page should tell us a little bit of a mini-story every time. And I try to carry that through with me.
Good at having a longer arcs, but also each page is a delight in and of itself.
I try very hard that if not a page, a spread or a little chunklet, I'm writing in almost vignettes and this book, too, is nine scenes. It's that the gag cartoonist in me will never die. I'm glad that they're there. But it was learning a whole new skill set and how to write something long for.
That's pretty exciting. That sounds like it's a good step to try to reach.
No, I'm really glad for it. I feel like I'm a much stronger writer now. I'm working on my second graphic novel right now, actually. And writing it was a lot easier because I had a different toolbox at my disposal. It was different. Writers talk about how you have to learn how to write every time you write a new book, which is absolutely true. But I was much more prepared for a process of doing that this time.
I would like to talk a little bit about some of the work that folks may know you from, your day-to-day, which is The Nib, which just a few weeks ago announced that it would be closing its doors. You were really instrumental in being there for quite a long time and also developing some of the tone and structure of it. Do you want to reflect a little bit on that magazine?
We're still running till the end of the summer. We've got one last issue out that you can get now, that I think people should really get because it is one of my favorites that we've done.
It's been published for 10 years. I was there for nine of them, nine and a half. It was the first job I got. The day I was fired from my last real job was the day I had my interview to be the editorial assistant there in 2014. It was a really amazing place that nurtured me as an artist. I'm so forever thankful to Matt Bors. He gave me my first paid comics work, at The Nib. Before I worked there I had a couple of comics published there.
I don't know, it was an amazing place to be. And Bors did so much to grow this community and also my colleagues, Eleri, Shay, Andy, Whit and Mark. It was such an inspirational place, people to be around. It's hard to overstate what kind of impact on a young cartoonist’s career it is to have faith put in you by a place that pays you well and on time. There's a lot you can say about the site, but we always tried to pay well and on time, which are two things that no places that run comics do. And I think that's good enough for me.
It was a completely dizzying amount of generational talent that we would run, too many contributors to name who really made the magic happen more than I think I did. We tried to have a real editorial process, which I think was really impactful for a lot of people, myself included, to learn how to be edited, and to learn how to collaborate on things. Because cartooning, so many of us are just locked in our dark rooms drawing our little pictures. There's very little collaboration. There's very little editorial feedback for a lot of us, unless you're making a big book or you're working for a huge publisher. It's just a different sort of thing.
I think it's just a nice experience for people to get. I did a lot of editing of the shorter-form work. I just did my best to steer it in a place that I thought was interesting. I think there are a lot of political cartoons out there, the form itself is a little staid, especially if you're looking at major work that's in newspapers and wins Pulitzers and all that stuff. We tried to just keep it interesting formally, and the jokes that were in it, just stuff that was less obvious was always what we were striving for.
Points of view that you wouldn't see in your traditional newspapers.
It's a huge one. Yeah, it's a huge pivot.
I just feel like the cartooning scene would be unrecognizable without The Nib. I'm a very grateful subscriber of many years. I don't know, I'm sad to see it go but you guys really did something very impressive there.
Thank you. It's really sad that it is stopping, but 10 years is a crazy long run for any publication. We survived two big corporate overlords. We're all very proud of what we managed to do. Even when we had those corporate people in charge of us, I think Bors did just an incredible job of us keeping our voice and our independence in a way. He was doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work that is really impressive and hard to quantify. I'm massively proud to have been a part of it.
It's excellent that not only do you have this new one coming out, but it sounds like you're working on your next one. I suppose do you want to tell folks about where they can find Boys Weekend and where they can find you?
Oh sure. You can find me on every social media site that has people on it, basically. I'm easy to find. I'm the only person with my last name that makes comics, that I know of. You can find Boys Weekend in any store that sells books. I recommend your local bookstore, or your local comic bookshop is a great place to get it, or bookshop.org. You can also find me on social media. I've got a newsletter that goes out that's free. It's just monthly and that's an easy way to keep up with what I'm doing.
I enjoy your free monthly newsletter. It's very good. Mattie Lubchansky, thank you so much for coming on.
Thank you for having me.
If you have anything you’d like to see in this Sunday special, shoot me an email. Comment below! Thanks for reading, and thanks so much for supporting Numlock.