If you’re like us, you may find yourself wondering why there aren’t more occasions to exalt sassiness to the level of art. After all, the epigram was once—in a time when conversation was valued above all other signs of intelligence—considered to be an art form in itself. But as in all things, Gina Garan, photographer and doll enthusiast, alongside Justin Vivian Bond, musician, performance artist, and writer, are working for the greater good, fighting for culture and the triumph of wit with their first collaborative book project, Susie Says, just released by Powerhouse Books. Garan’s pictures of a haunted-looking doll named Susie are accompanied by text from Bond’s tweets, and the end result is something you will want to expose pretty much everyone to, from small children to grown adults, early and often. We spoke with Garan and Bond about their friendship, the complex world of Susie, and future collaborations.
How did you both meet?
Justin Vivian Bond: I met Gina many years ago on the beach at Fire Island, she was surrounded by a bunch of cute gay boys and she was on a very fancy towel. I was like, “Who’s that lady?” I went over and sat on her towel and we’ve been friends ever since.
Gina Garan: That’s so cute. I think that’s actually the first time anyone asked how we met.
Garan: We’ve been friends what, fifteen years?
Bond: Probably. And then Gina started coming to my Kiki and Herb shows, and we started making little beaded handmade Kiki and Herb bracelets, so we’d get stoned and make people dyed bracelets. She got married and I sand at her wedding—lots of stuff like that. Then Gina came up with the idea to do her Blythe book, which I loved, and then she was doing the Susie Says book and she asked me to write pithy one-liners for Susie.
When you were approached with this, did you see it more as an art project, or a fun thing between friends?
Bond: Kind of both. I love Susie, I think the doll’s amazing looking, and Gina’s photos are so creative and gorgeous. I was a little worried that I wouldn’t get the right tone for Susie, but Gina asked for some samples for the prototype, and honestly I just went to my Twitter account and took all these tweets off my feed and I sent them to Gina and they really worked well with the photographs. So actually it was very easy for me, because the entire book is comprised of text that used to be tweets. Evidently Susie and I have the same perspective.
Bond: It’s like I’m a sad-eyed doll.
Garan: And it was really fun because I got all of Justin’s tweets and I typed them out, cut them into strips. I had my entire apartment sprinkled with photos and these little strips of paper, and I would just sprinkle them around and see what fit which photo. If I couldn’t find one that fit properly I’d say, ‘could you write something specific for this photo’.
Bond: It’s very William Burroughs, the cutting. Only with dolls instead of cats.
Have either of you read The Lonely Doll?
Garan: It’s so funny you say that. I’ve been a doll person for years, which I’m both proud and ashamed of, and when that book came out I somehow got an advanced copy of it and I read it on a flight to Japan without even getting up to go to the bathroom, I just read it straight through. I just recently found it on my bookshelf and I’m rereading it right now. I love it. I love the whole story.
And I was reading into the backstory of the woman who wrote it and it was very dark. I definitely thought of that when I looked at Susie Says. Because usually I’m terrified by dolls in any form—especially after seeing The Woman in Black—have you seen that yet?
It puts dolls in a terrifying context.
Bond: Dolls and children. I sometimes get them mixed up. There was some kid that looked like one of those Chucky dolls—I was like ‘oh my god that kid is fucked up’.
Garan: When I was doing a lot of stuff with Blythe, especially when I was in Asia they would always tell me ‘oh, you look just like your doll.’ I was never sure if that was good or bad.
Bond: She actually looks just like Blythe and so does her kid.
So who’s your ideal audience for this book? It’s obviously not really meant for kids,
Garan: I feel like I know who’s going to pick up the book and I hope that I’m right. I have a pretty big following with my other books, and most of the people who buy them are like, riot girls, cute gay boys, and I feel that Justin has a very similar following. I think between the two of us there’s a lot of crossover with who likes what we do. I’m hoping that that same audience is going to buy this book.
Bond: My niece is eleven and she’s kind of a smart, writerly—she’s an eleven year-old poet and she loved it. So I think it can be anywhere from a too-smart 6th grader to a not-that-bright middle aged person.
It has that zine-like flavor.
Bond: A lot of people would assume that Susie’s a girl—I think she’s pretty gender neutral. As far as what she says and what she does.
I remember that image of her in the book where she’s topless and it’s doll boobs, which are totally nondescript flesh mounds without nipples or anything and I was like, interesting. Because dolls are the most gendered objects, and at the same time they don’t have crotches.
Garan: And I have 2,000 dolls and can tell you that Susie is the most genderless doll I have.
Garan: I mean, she’s got nothing. No indentations, nothing.
Was the name Susie yours, or did it come with the doll?
Garan: It came with the doll. It was made in the sixties under the name ‘Susie Sad Eyes’, but I’m hoping to re-release the doll in a much nicer form—better plastic, articulated, I want to bring the doll back. So I couldn’t legally call it ‘Susie Sad Eyes’, but I could have Susie in her name somewhere.
I like that idea of reclaiming through this doll. Do you see future collaborations together?
Bond: I hope so! We don’t have any plans, but the two of us are always doing something. And Susie’s fun, so we’ll see what happens with her.
It would be cool if this spawned a series.
Garan: I would love that.
Bond: Susie would make a good cartoon.
Do you think there’s a network that would be ready for that?
Bond: I don’t know. I don’t pay that much attention, so I guess if I started paying attention I could find one.
Garan: I could see it as something almost like—a two-minute episode that’s part of another show. I don’t know if you could carry a 30-minute show but I could see it just as a little punchy thing to produce at the end of something. Like when Amy Sedaris had her show—something offbeat.
Like those Monty Python cartoons.
Garan: Exactly. Or Pee Wee’s Playhouse, he had Penny, this little clay girl. It was amazing, like three seconds long in the middle of nowhere.
Bond: Didn’t she cry a lot?
Garan: She did, she cried about everything. But it didn’t make sense within the rest of the show, they just sort of dropped it in. I’d love to see something like that.
Bond: She could be the spokesmodel for planned parenthood.