(INTERVIEW) This Suit: An Interview with Suki Hollywood
[content note: mention of sexual violence]
In this interview, writer Suki Hollywood speaks to River Ellen MacAskill about recent publication, This Suit, out with OrangeApple Press in 2020: a work that merges together the comic book and long poem, with an accompanying film, to explore multiple modes of journeying, pop culture feminism, and sex ambivilance from a queer perspective whilst advocating for reader accessibility.
Hi Suki Hollywood. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with me today. Are you calling in from a different time zone? Where are you right now?
I’m calling from my Malibu penthouse.
I love it. What’s your view?
It’s paradise cove. There are beautiful blue waves crashing. I hang out down there to be at one with nature and let the writing flow.
I can see that for you.
We’re here to talk about This Suit (2020). Can you tell the readers what you want them to know about the project?
It’s a comic book long poem, a story about someone who is transformed and goes on a journey both outward and inward. They start fighting crime.
It’s a journey.
The hybrid form of comic book and poem is new to me as a reader. What inspired you to use comics as a vehicle for poems and poems as a vehicle for comics?
I was reading Shemurenga (2013) by d'bi Young, a comic book and long poem. I love comic books as a form and the way they tell stories using colours. People may think of comics as happening within panels and boxes, when there’s a lot of movement in comics. The shapes tell the story. For me, that was an exciting way to think about poetry because I’m a visual person. I studied the d’bi Young book for a course that required us to creatively respond to it. The only way that made sense for me to respond was visually. It grew arms and legs and became its own thing. I wanted to explore how the author had meshed the forms.
I am curious about the colour scheme. Why pink and why monochrome?
I was inspired by a Star Wars comic that has a split perspective. From one character’s point of view, a lot of the backdrop is the colour of their jacket, and from the other character’s point of view, the panels are the colour of their ship.
I researched the conventions of comics as we know them. The comic book font came about because people used stencils to print the text. The ink was part of a physical process. That’s why there’s so much black in the pamphlet. I liked the idea of the story the ink itself was telling.
With the pink, I was half-seriously interrogating ideas of femininity and power, and how that is viewed in pop culture narratives, in comic books and even in music videos. There’s a tendency to show women in these sexy ways in catsuits, and it’s this lazy feminism, but it’s also interesting to watch.
Are there other aspects of pop culture that feed into the pamphlet?
Pop culture feminism in this process was filtered for me through action girls in films like The Avengers and music video adaptations of those films, like Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood. It makes these women seem powerful and sexualises them, and who is that for? The same aesthetics are seen in fetish wear. The pamphlet explores the relationship between these three ideas: female superheroes in comic books, pop culture ‘feminist moments’, and fetish. I didn’t want to be damning or critical of any of those things.
I want to ask about the pressures of representation as a queer woman writing about sex and relationships. Does it affect your process at all?
There’s a narrative that writers feel pressure to use their own experiences in a cathartic way. It can be damaging. You become caught up in the process of working through your personal trauma at the same time as making something that’s going to be presented to other people. A lot of narratives about sexual assault and trauma are affected by this.
In This Suit, I was writing about bad sex as opposed to sexual assault - the culture surrounding bad sex and feeling forced into things, even if ultimately you are consenting. When you start talking about bad sexual experiences, people automatically paint it with a narrative of rape, and there’s a lot of expectation that comes along with that. During the writing process, I felt paranoid that people were going to read the pamphlet as an accusation, when it is not really about me personally. I worry people will perceive it as more personal than it is. It’s hard to write about sex as a woman in not an entirely positive or negative way, but in a way that investigates the grey area.
I want more room for exploring those nuances, which is what poetry can be for. It’s not a court case.
Yes! And you worry people will take it as that.
Many women and queer people have so few vehicles for testimony, it comes down to things like poetry and experimental art to do that, which can be kind of confusing.
You use the fantastical as a portal to the real, and vice versa. Do you find it liberating to use tropes from action films, sci-fi and fantasy to represent something human and tangible?
For me, there’s not a division. Fantastical things are important to me. I’m very interested in cinema. At the end of the day, all sci-fi or fantasy is a representation of someone’s perception of the world, other people and themselves, so it is real. In the same way a nightmare is real. Sometimes people will say more when they’re wearing a costume of fantasy than when they’re writing about their life and exactly how it happened. In your imagination you can express more emotions.
Big air sign energy.
Do you want to talk about the pamphlet’s accompanying film?
I didn’t plan it but it was meant to be. Tommy and Meredith, of OrangeApple Press who published the pamphlet, asked all the poets to make a video about our pamphlets. My project was always visual and poetic at once. It made sense to make it into a little action movie. It was fun because that’s where a lot of the ideas came from. Like when I made the pamphlet, I got obsessed with it. And now we’re going to make a sequel.
In fact, we spent the early part of this evening making the sequel.
[Is the fourth wall broken yet? Are we sitting on a couch in Dennistoun where we share a flat? Does the flat stink of homemade chickpea flour slime leftover from said filming?]
Yes, I just came from the set. [The bathroom.]
You have this goal to make lesbian action films. It’s hard to find genre stuff that’s queer without viewers having to read queerness into it after the fact.
Definitely, and genre films that include queer content sometimes go double on other conservative values, like The Old Guard and Captain Marvel. At different levels of subtextuality, they are both about queer action women but they are also both massive US propaganda films. It’s nice to realise that you can just make things. Lesbian superheroes forever.
Do you have an imagined audience for the pamphlet and films?
Something I find refreshing with genre films is that they don’t attract a high brow audience. I’ve found them very accessible myself. I hope the audience that interacts with my work will include people who are not into small press poetry. I don’t want it to feel like I’m mocking comics or action movies. They can be poetry in their own way.
Genre as anti-snobbery.
Sometimes people think writing a realist book is more intelligent than writing fantasy or sci-fi and that’s bullshit. Equally people who just engage in pop culture content feel intimidated by realist novels or poetry pamphlets. It’s good to engage with what you like as you find it.
I find that exciting about your work - I want to say the crossroads of high and low culture but that’s a bullshit binary anyway. It’s about having a laugh while still exploring resonant stuff in a campy way.
So what are you working on now?
I’m working on my long-awaited novel and I have a backburner project that’s a homoerotic retelling of the Bible. And the sequels, coming soon.
Thank you for getting up so early in Malibu to talk to me.
It’s five o’clock in the morning here.
What are you going with your day? Wake and bake?
I’m going to go surfing, then swim in my private pool.
That’s great. Thank you and goodnight... good morning.
Text: River Ellen MacAskill