Sam Szabo is a cartoonist from the North Shore of Massachusetts, currently living in Chicago. She enjoys risograph printing, pro wrestling, and Phish concerts. Szabo's debut graphic novel, Enlightened Transsexual Comix (Silver Sprocket, May 17, 2023), follows the zany adventures of a magnificent cosmic being.
Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:
I am channeling my hippie ancestors. The underground comix hippies and the gay liberation hippies. I'm telling the hippies about the Internet. They hate it.
On your nightstand now:
I just finished Alison Rumfitt's Tell Me I'm Worthless. It was kind of a thorny read, but I enjoyed it a lot. Next up is The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders. I'm also working on Maybe the People Would Be the Times by Lucy Sante, a delicious book. And the latest poetry collection by Rhina Espaillat.
Favorite book when you were a child:
I was obsessed with Terry Pratchett's Discworld series when I was in middle school. Read like 30 of them in a row from fifth to sixth grade. Had all the computer games. I would actually make my own merch: the local photo developer did custom T-shirts, and I would bring in my favorite illustrations. My parents took me to a fan convention as my bar mitzvah present, and I got to meet Terry. He was very sweet and generous in person. We chopped it up about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy minutiae. Cool guy!
Your top five authors:
Lynda Barry, Gene Wolfe, David Foster Wallace, Philip K. Dick, Gordon Lish.
Book you've faked reading:
Three or four Thomas Pynchon novels. He's a great writer; the fault is entirely mine. I stopped taking my ADHD meds last year. I've also been telling people I read the first four volumes of Karl Ove Knausgård's My Struggle, when in reality I tapped out halfway through volume three. I wasn't lying to anyone intentionally. I just couldn't remember what was going on with that book. What WAS going on with that book? It's all blurring together now. I know he was a child at one point. And there was a divorce? Maybe two divorces?
Book you're an evangelist for:
There's been such an incredible wave of trans lit these past few years. Future Feeling by Joss Lake is one that I think is particularly underrated. Such a funny, breezy, self-assured debut. It's surreal but has a very grounded emotional core. It doesn't sand down the edges of the trans experience, but it keeps a light touch throughout. I lend that one out a lot. I've also been preaching the good word about this new wave of up-and-coming trans cartoonists. Recent discoveries include Frances Cordelia Beaver, Hal Schrieve, Victoria Douglas, Ezra David Mattes--too many to enumerate here, really!
Book you've bought for the cover:
I got into underground comics when I was way too young, mostly because they were filed next to the Calvin and Hobbes anthologies in used bookstores. I'd always pick up the nastiest, freakiest stuff, because those tended to have the most eye-catching covers.
Last week, I bought a first edish of Gene Wolfe's The Fifth Head of Cerberus, even though I already owned it, just because I dug the cover art so much. I don't know who they had painting all those old Gene Wolfe covers, but they're so dope. I got the cover of The Shadow of the Torturer tattooed on my thigh.
Book you hid from your parents:
My parents would let me read whatever I wanted. Except that first paperback collection of headlines from the Onion. I learned how to swear from that book. Then I started cussing in front of my parents, so they confiscated it. I stole it back a couple weeks later. I think the same thing happened with one of Steve Purcell's Sam & Max comics. Both books were huge (bad) influences on me.
Book that changed your life:
I remember reading a collection of John Porcellino's King-Cat comics on the Megabus as a kid and just breaking down, loudly sobbing in public. It really opened my eyes to the full potential of memoir, of comics, of zines--the way he just beamed these memories directly into my skull with such clarity and tenderness. It overpowered me. I knew instantly that I wanted to do what JP was doing. The path unfurled in front of me. He made it look so easy! And yet, somehow, impossible!
Favorite line from a book:
"Darling, I now have a butter dish/ that is shaped like a cow"--Leonard Cohen, Book of Longing.
That's the entire poem. What a terrific poem it is. It echoes in my mind.
Five books you'll never part with:
Hold Me Gorilla Monsoon by Colette Arrand; Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen; Tales Designed to Thrizzle by Michael Kupperman; Nevada by Imogen Binnie; Gaylord Phoenix by Edie Fake.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Howard Cruse's whole bibliography, really. Stuck Rubber Baby changed my understanding of what a comic could be and what kind of stories a comic could tell. Sounds trite when I phrase it like that, but it's true. Stuck Rubber Baby walks a very delicate line between the personal and the political, between fiction and memoir. It came into my life when I was coming to terms with my own queer identity, and it made a very eloquent case for coming out and living authentically. That book blew my mind at a time when my mind needed to be blown. Cruse's Wendel comics also had a big impact on me. I wish there were more of them. I've reread Wendel so many times that I've had to take a tolerance break. I guess that's why I want to read it again for the first time. Man, I miss Howard.