Jane Zei is a cartoonist shrouded in secrecy. I mean, aside from the fact that her comic The Pigeon Gazette is semi-autobiographical, plus she's active on social media, and she goes by her real name... listen, we had a hard time figuring out a few factoids about her and her work on Tumblr, so we did an interview.
Now, the secret is out! Zei's cool! That actually wasn't a secret, but scroll down to read our full interview and you'll discover new, specific facts supporting and perhaps even elevating her coolness.
GC: I read that you are in grad school. Do grad school classes have the thing like undergrad classes where there's that one person who asks a bunch of dumb questions and the rest of the class is like "Ugh, not this again. There's like 50 Powerpoint slides to get through, c'mon!"
JZ: Yes. Oh god yes. Here’s a lesson to take to heart Timmy, there’s no weeding them out. You try so hard to pick out all the purple skittles but somehow an orange one just gets in there. Why do orange skittles even exist? Nobody likes them. Their flavor isn’t even orange. I mean none of them are true fruit flavors but their lies are subtle, enjoyable, you can look the other way. Not orange skittle. Orange skittle wants you to feel the lie all the way down.
GC: I haven't seen you publicly explain the title The Pigeon Gazette and I ran at least two Tumblr searches, so please do so as a reply to this statement.
JZ: I’ve always considered the pigeon the perfect, compassionate metaphor for the humbly average human being. You see pigeons every day, drab and gray, dirty with the city dust, pecking away at crumbs, milling about aimlessly in flocks, fearful of your feet. They’re so often dismissed as just another urban vermin with little grace, intelligence, or purpose to them. But if you look closer, if you really take the time to observe their existence, you notice the delicate patterns to their plumage. The occasional splash of white or a starkly dark-tipped wing. You see the grace with which they fly, in the few moments they take to wing. You notice the way they cock their heads and really take in the environment around them. You begin to sense how comfortable they are with their humble lives, they simply exist as they are, in their little corner, and there’s a beauty to that. And there’s a beauty to all of our lives, no matter how ordinary or plain we think we are. And I wanted a “Gazette” for us pigeons to flock together, to read the humble joys of our little lives together.
I’m just kidding. My grandmother fed me pigeon soup after school when I was in elementary so I figured pigeons and I had some connection and ‘Gazette” sounded fancy so I picked that too.
GC: The Pigeon Gazette reads as semi-autobiographical. How do you decide which parts of your personal life you want to include and which parts you need to keep private?
JZ: Pretty much anything that occurs in broad daylight is fair game. I’m too immature to draw boobs and private parts like a proper grown-up so I can’t share anything sexual, and obviously can’t share anything criminal because I watch CSI and stuff like that may hold up in court and I’m too smart for that.
GC: You've talked about how you endeavor to balance school, a part-time job and comics on your social channels. Have you accepted that even after you graduate you will be walking a similar tightrope until you perish (possibly while making a comic)?
JZ: I have given many a thought to dying from exhaustion while drawing a comic, so thank you for that extra reminder. I will say that I do have a strategy to just make a comic about every aspect of my life, career, love life, raising a family. I’m going to put it all to work for me. Especially my kids. If they don’t make the funny I will prod them with sticks and threats of replacing them with funnier spawn. I will live in a state of constant meta. It will be amazing.
GC: You're an anime and manga fan and that inspiration is clear in your humor and your dynamic visual aesthetic. If you could go to Six Flags St. Louis with any mangaka, who would it be and why?
JZ: Why St. Louis? Is it the godfather of all Six Flags? I would want to go with Rumiko Takahashi, author of Ranma ½, Inuyasha, and a lot of other series I read during the formative years of my childhood. Plus I think she’s what, a 60-year-old Asian lady right now? Imagine riding roller coasters with an adorable diminutive 60-year old Asian lady with a sense of humor as potent as hers. Plus I hear she’s loaded so she can, you know, pay for everything.
GC: Your The Pigeon Gazette avatar is pretty boisterous. Is it actually a tulpa or other stylized thoughtform feeding off of your life energy until it replaces you completely? Will we have a memory of you once its work is done, or will it have rewritten history as well?
JZ: So google tells me that “tulpa” is a complete fabrication of the mind, therefore no, I guess, is the answer. TPG’s Jane tends to be a caricature of whatever I’m honestly feeling at the moment, and composition-wise is curated from the enjoyable, wackier aspects of my personality, as well as the lazy, less than admirable parts of myself. We all want to be amazing, motivated, masterpieces of a person, and our social media is filled with people advertising themselves as such, even though most of the time we’re actually quite small, discouraged, and ordinary. We still chase and hold onto that veneer though, because it’s only through that journey that we have a chance to improve as individuals. I like that my comic can occasionally offer solidarity in that ongoing struggle, but only if I can add a humorous spin to pass along the message that it’s okay if you’re having a less-than-shiny day. If I’m feeling down but I can’t think of a way to laugh at it, I won’t make it into a comic because people don’t need help feeling down in the dumps.
Wasn’t expecting a straight answer, were you?
GC: Which Sesame Street character do you most identify with? You are not allowed to say Oscar and do that thing young people do when they call themselves "trash," because you are not trash. Okay, I can't stop you, but I will judge you if you do.
JZ: I’m the schizophrenic fusion of Bert & Ernie. One minute I’m upbeat, energetic and earnest, the next I’m a bitter sourpuss poo-pooing the world. Their apartment is the mansion of my mind, and the two of them are locked in eternal conflict, struggling for an unachievable dominance over the entity of Jane. Probably more Bert though because I have a unibrow.