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The wacky, wonderful world of Dame Darcy

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POSTED: August 15, 2012 10:44 a.m.
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"I believe this is the next bohemian epicenter," says Dame Darcy. "I've been searching for Savannah for a long time."

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Inside a candy–striped Bull Street storefront festooned with silk flowers, big things are brewing.

This is where artist and illustrator Dame Darcy—internationally beloved for her neo–gothic comic book series Meatcake—has headquartered a burgeoning empire that rings publishing, game design and fashion. Take cover, ‘cause it’s all about to blow:

Her latest book, The Handbook for Hot Witches, drops next week. Her online video game is almost complete. Her retail shop is ready to roll, now that she’s finished imbuing every last corner of this formerly bland real estate office with shimmery pink paint and fancy flourishes.

“I wanted it to feel like being inside a big cake,” muses the dame, dressed in “work” clothes that nevertheless still involve a cute frock with a ruffled hem. “Or maybe an ice cream sundae.”

Part gallery, part high–tech studio with sprinkles of fairy dust and mermaid scales throughout, the House of Dame Darcy is indeed a glorious confection. It’s also place for this eclectic free spirit to pull together her myriad disciplines and finally call home.

A veteran of the alternative comic book scene for almost 20 years, Dame Darcy first began publishing Meatcakewith Seattle–based Fantagraphics in 1993. The comic’s quirky characters spawned legions of fans all over the world (to say she’s huge in Japan is no empty boast) and led to the graphic novels Frightful Fairytales (2002) andGasoline (2008). Famous collaborations include artwork for Marvel Comics writer Alan Moore and social criticPoppy Z. Brite as well as lacy Victorian renderings for The Illustrated Jane Eyre, published by Putnam Penguin in 2006.

Inspired by and informing the girly fashion subculture known as “Gothic Lolita,” Dame Darcy draws a fantasy world that’s as pretty as a little rich girl’s dollhouse but contains deliciously dark shadows: Her spindly pen–and–ink drawings coupled with a penchant for elaborate couture evoke the suspicion that she might be the lovechild of Edward Gorey and Lady Gaga.

Actually, she was raised by “cowboy hippies” in the mountains of Idaho, where it’s not exactly a surprise that she stood out.

“I was definitely goth in high school. The only goth,” she says drolly, recalling that she spent her afternoons drawing little books that included a reimagination of Cinderella with giant feet. “My mother said, ‘Let’s get you into art school.’”

She nabbed a full ride to the San Francisco Art Institute, where she majored in film and animation and crafted her first issue of Meatcake. Arriving in New York after graduation armed with her punk–Victorian fashion sense, impressive animation reel and boundless chutzpah, she talked her way into meetings with the Cartoon Network and MTV. While she built a solid income as a freelancer, the networks didn’t bite on her original concepts.

“I was too weird,” she shrugs. “I was interested in programming for women that was edgy and artistic.”

After 9/11, she decamped to L.A. for prominent fine art gigs that included painting murals in the homes of Courtney Love and Margaret Cho, designing for Anna Sui and a stint teaching art in public schools. All the while, she kept looking for backers to make Meatcake come alive onscreen.

It wasn’t until she found herself in Savannah a year and a half ago that she realized she didn’t need any guys in suits to make her dreams bear fruit. Drawn here first by low overhead and a gamut of tech–headed college students who could help develop an online gaming community, Dame Darcy also found a cozy simpatico in Savannah’s Victorian architecture and charmingly creepy vibe.

“The homes, the trees, the cemeteries, the ocean…I thought, ‘Whoa, this place looks like my mind!”

Properly ensconced in an appropriate gothic setting, she set to work on Paper Doll Dreams, an animated game based on her drawings that allows players to explore and interact in a magical world where mermaids help clean the ocean and characters win fabulous fashions. Bonaventure Cemetery and historic house façades make appearances. (Catch a preview on damedarcy.com.) Aided by a full–time programmer and a committed crew of interns, Dame Darcy has built a virtual world to encompass her books and fashion (her own line as well as other designers) and engage the ever–important under 25 market.

“This is what I wanted to do 20 years ago, what I was pitching to people in big cities,” she says. “Now the technology is so accessible we can do it ourselves.”

The theme of feminist femininity—that girls can be pretty and smart—guides Paper Doll Dreams as it does Dame Darcy’s new book: Geared to crafty and clever young girls 11–15, The Handbook for Hot Witches features her signature sketches of lovely ladies along with practical how–to’s, sane beauty tips, friendly pagan magic and valuable nuggets of feminine empowerment: Think The Daring Book for Girls meets Harry Potter. Cross promotion is a given.

“Multimedia is now an asset, whereas before no one would take you seriously if you wrote graphic novels, were into video games and played the banjo. In today’s world, the more you can do the better, because you can keep referring back to everything else.”

Yes, the banjo: Add “musician” to Dame Darcy’s long resume. She’s recorded several albums with her band, Death By Doll, whose electropop riffs pepper the Paper Doll Dreams soundtrack. Her repertoire also includes hundreds of raucous sea shanties and bluegrass murder ballads. Upcoming gigs include the “Naughty Nautical Cabaret” at the Sparetime on Sept. 28.

Now that she’s planted roots, there’s no stopping the flow: In the works are another graphic novel series, this one based on her rural childhood called Black Rainbow Ranch, as well as one–of–a–kind gift dolls and a deck of illustrated tarot cards.

And now that she’s made the neighborhood a frillier, more colorful place, Dame Darcy wants to forge collaboration with the city’s many artists, musicians and creative weirdos.

“I believe this is the next bohemian epicenter,” she declares. “I’ve been searching for Savannah for a long time.”

Standing in her new domain on a purple–swirled floor next to a giant yellow mushroom, the dame seems right at home.

The Handbook for Hot Witches is available at damedacrycy.com and Amazon.com.

 

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