Exclusive: Molly Crabapple Takes Manhattan (Again and Again)

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With her retro-chic drawings of fan dancers and pasties-swirling dance molls, artist Molly Crabapple is the Toulouse-Lautrec of New York’s burlesque scene; the pint-sized powerhouse of energy has livened up the pages of the New York Times, Playgirl and Marvel Comics. Ms. Crabapple says she honed her skills “in a Parisian bookstore” and “from hours spent copying Alice in Wonderland and A Tart’s Progress.” Her illustrative talents come with a charming modicum of sass, humor, sex appeal, and nostalgia, but she’s perhaps best known for creating Dr. Sketchy’s Anti Art School, which she began in frustration after having posed for “one too many sterile life-drawing sessions.”

Dr Sketchy’s is a global phenomenon that invites aspiring artists to sketch live burlesque divas, contortionists, circus performers, beautiful transgender girls, tattoo-store employees, porn models, trapeze artists, and the cute punk rocker next door, all while chugging cheap beer at their local bar.

Molly’s latest work is the graphic novel, Scarlett Takes Manhattan, a raunchy vintage romp based in the darker corners of old New York. Based in pre-turn-of-the-century New York City, it’s the tale of young Shifra Helgott, a poor teenager left alone after her mother is done off by an amorous elephant gone wild during a circus parade. Our pretty young protagonist must quickly adjust to a crass and unwelcoming world or fall victim to it. Taken under the wing of a dashing young nogoodnick named Daniel D’Lovely, who is part Fagin, part Casanova, and part P.T. Barnum. Shifra drops her family name to take on the persona of Scarlett O’Herring.

Ms. Crabapple describes her character’s arc as “Horatio Alger’s story with tits and fire.” The pair embark upon an amorous partnership of petty crime, risqué performances, sex work and ultimately some grandiose grifts. The writing is chock full o’ great old-timey euphemisms like flim-flam! Shenaniger! and references to classic Tammany Hall-era political weasels like New York’s notorious Boss Tweed — dubbed Boss Meade in Molly’s version. As she admitted to us, she’s “… in love with both old New York’s maximalist aesthetic and its brutal underbelly.”

Scarlett Takes Manhattan is drawn in Molly’s distinctive pen and ink style. The book has the same Victorian theater poster charm as much of Molly’s work, but by using the comic as a medium, she truly gives the reader an inside look into what the characters in her illustrations — a motley crew of harlots, perverts, aristocrats, con men, and cads — have been smirking at with an arched eyebrow. Scarlett Takes Manhattan’s characters beckon us in (in splendidly graphic detail) and walk us through their raunchy world of speakeasy sex parlors and perfume-scented plot lines.

Scarlett Takes Manhattan is available currently for pre-order through Amazon.com and is hitting bookshelves in July. Book launch events are due at the following venues:

July 8- Slipper Room in New York July 12- Comic Relief in Berkley July 13- Dr. Sketchy’s San Francisco July 14- Meltdown Comics in Hollywood July 21- The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in New York July 23 through 27- San Diego ComicCon

Look for Molly posing for Dr. Sketchy’s in Berlin and Paris in May, and executing paintings based on porn ingenue Justine Joli.