In New York City, the month of June culminates with the City Pride March, which sees thousands of people cheering on the streets and embracing the bonds of community. In her first cover for the magazine, Nicole Rifkin portrays a quieter moment, where self-presentation is freed from public perception. We recently spoke with the artist about the music, identity and how the images both influenced her and deepened her connection to her family.
You identify as queer and non-binary, but you also mentioned feeling out of the norm because of your height (six foot five). As a culture, do you think we are becoming more open to a range of body types?
I do. My pronouns are she / she and they / them. Both seem right to me. But I think gender identity and gender identity, while completely different things, are each a conversation that we have with ourselves throughout our lives. As an extremely tall and fairly androgynous person, I constantly make mistakes or wonder if I play basketball. (For the record, I don’t. I’m bad.) It’s the worst feeling when I get an “Excuse me, sir” because of the way people perceive me. I think we’re in the early stages of body acceptance, and I’m excited for the day when I can buy pants long enough for myself from a chain store.
You are also a musician and you have included many musical references in this image. How do music and art intersect for you?
I started illustrating because my high school band and my friends’ bands needed art. To me being in a band and being an illustrator are very similar: you pour everything you have into something you love. It is an act of faith, in a way, to give oneself to a creative effort and to be open to collaboration.
As for being on stage, singing, screaming and rolling through the glass (it only happened once, but it hurt the next day) was intoxicating. I feel that when I start a drawing now. I get a glimpse of what it’s like to be a different person and to feel different things.
You support yourself as an illustrator, but you also do cartoons. What inspired your interest in comics?
I grew up in Gainesville, Florida, and remember reading Daniel Clowes’ “Ghost World” in high school. I also read his comic book “Art School Confidential”, which was part of his book “Eightball”. In the strip, there is a sign of a young man turning over burgers with a degree from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn behind them. This panel – and the thought of all the bands I would have the opportunity to see in New York – definitely made me want to go to school there.
When I was in Pratt I visited Desert Island, a gallery / store where I first saw the work of Charles Burns, Jordan Crane, Adrian Tomine and the Hernandez brothers. It completely changed my life. I immersed myself deeply in these comics and found unique ways to tell stories.
Communicating through images has become a lifeline for your autistic younger brother. Can you tell us more about how you helped him?
When my brother was diagnosed with autism, my parents worked tirelessly to help him learn to communicate. They would take Polaroids of people and objects, label the pictures, and hope my brother would start associating the letters with the things of the world. At the time, he was about eight or nine years old, and he pointed to a map when he wanted something or someone. Eventually I started to draw cards that would help her communicate feelings like thirst or anger. I remember very well when he started to speak in full sentences. Now he’s a real talker, and he laughs at me in his own way, which I adore.
Almost anyone can interpret what is happening in a picture, regardless of their literacy level. Like music, it is a mode of communication that transcends words.
See below for more covers that celebrate pride: