Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked


June 21, 2009

Making a Show of It

Artist and founder of the world's most popular cabaret drawing class Molly Crabapple gets sketchy with Gelf.

Adam Rosen

Chalk it up to the contemporary blessings of a 9.1% unemployment rate and increasingly uninspiring beer ads, but gazing longingly toward the past is hardly a conservatives-only diversion. The urban educated have their fetish for Back Then™, too, as seen most plainly through the celestial ascension of Mad Men and American Apparel.

Even more curious may be burlesque. In an era of on-demand quadruple-penetration shots, the licentious—but not even double-penetrating!—Victorian spectacle is currently one of the most popular forms of live entertainment in New York City. Artist Molly Crabapple (not her real name), a former burlesque model who now oversees an empire of cabaret-themed drawing classes, has had no small part in this.

Molly Crabapple. Photo by Seth Kushner
"I hope when I'm old and wrinkly, my work will be so divine I can tell my brand to jump in a lake."

Molly Crabapple. Photo by Seth Kushner

Crabapple, who is all of 25 and a born-and-bred New Yorker, founded Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School on a whim in 2005, and now counts over 100 franchises on five continents. As impressive as that is, she's also co-authored a book, Dr. Sketchy's Official Rainy Day Colouring Book, has done illustrations for Marvel Comics and the New York Times, and has a graphic novel coming out next month. In the following interview, which has been edited for clarity, Crabapple illustrates why Victorianism prevails, what puts the sketchy in Dr. Sketchy, and why self-promotion may be more important than talent.

Gelf Magazine: Why is there such a contemporary reverence of the Victorian era and its trappings?

Molly Crabapple: We live in an artifice-laden, socially stratified time with a decayed social safety net. Also, Victorian stuff is pretty.

Gelf Magazine: Will this aesthetic endure? Taste is notoriously fickle in some of the cooler New York circles.

Molly Crabapple: One of the nice things about the internet is that everything is cool forever somewhere on it. 1980's goth is still rocking on

Gelf Magazine: How'd you come up with the name Dr. Sketchy's?

Molly Crabapple: The girl I did the first few events with, A.V. Phibes, was riffing that since it was a sketch class, we should make a pun on the word "sketchy." Eventually, with enough booze, my friends and I decided on Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School, and came up with the character of Dr. Sketchy, a perverse and drunken colleague of Freud who got booted from Vienna.

Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School in action.

Gelf Magazine: How are Dr. Sketchy's franchises set up? How do you maintain quality control, and your brand, over 30 different locations?

Molly Crabapple: It's actually nearly 100 locations now. I choose good people, have strong guidelines and check up on them all the time. If a branch is screwing up, the Dr. Sketchy's community will let me know.

Gelf Magazine: Where's the most surprising place a Dr. Sketchy's has popped up?

Molly Crabapple: It's a tie between Singapore and Missoula.

Gelf Magazine: Your bio says you learned to draw at Shakespeare & Company, but surely you had training beforehand, or after. Right?

Molly Crabapple: I went to art school, which I left in disgust. My mom used to be an illustrator, which taught me a lot.

Gelf Magazine: In the introduction to Dr. Sketchy's Official Rainy Day Colouring Book, you write, "If nothing else, tireless self-promotion taught me the hard lesson that success in a creative field does not hinge on being smarter or more talented than anyone else." Are you being specific to New York?

Molly Crabapple: Not really. Maybe in Europe, where there is governmental support for the arts and a strong social safety net, things are different, but in the U.S. succeeding in a creative field is a tooth and nail climb. Unless you have a trust fund.

Gelf Magazine: It seems like a lesson many might prefer not to know about. How important do you think your brand, "Molly Crabapple," is to the success of Dr. Sketchy's, and your own work?

Molly Crabapple: Very important to my own work, less so to Dr. Sketchy's. Though I hope when I'm old and wrinkly, my work will be so divine I can tell my brand to jump in a lake.

Gelf Magazine: In your interview with Jewcy, you said you weren't into doing graphic novels. Why'd you change your mind?

Molly Crabapple: Peer pressure.

Gelf Magazine:How did you come up with the idea for Scarlett Takes Manhattan? Just how does Scarlett take Manhattan?

Molly Crabapple: Scarlett Takes over Manhattan. Scarlett's actually the prequel for "Backstage," a webcomic I did for most of 2008 on act-i-vate. "Backstage" is about the murder of New York's top fire eater, Miss Scarlett O'Herring. Scarlett Takes Manhattan tells how she got to the top.

Gelf Magazine: Would you consider doing a graphic novel with a more modern setting?

Molly Crabapple: Yes, as long as I could avoid drawing t-shirts and hideous modern architecture.

Gelf Magazine: Are you completely done with modeling?

Molly Crabapple: I pose for magazine photos, but since they're to accompany articles about, I don't get paid.

Adam Rosen

Adam Rosen is a contributing editor of Gelf, and host of the Non-Motivational Speaker Series.

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Article by Adam Rosen

Adam Rosen is a contributing editor of Gelf, and host of the Non-Motivational Speaker Series.

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