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Nicole Georges Explores Family Secrets In 'Calling Dr. Laura'

OPB | March 4, 2013 7:15 a.m.

Contributed By:

Alison Picard

Nicole Georges is an illustrator and zinester based in Portland, Oregon. Growing up, she was told her father had died of colon cancer shortly after she was born. Her mother and older half-sisters had agreed on this story after Georges’ father left the family. When Georges was in her 20s, a palm reader told her that her father was still alive. That’s when she began asking questions.

Georges spoke with Think Out Loud’s Dave Miller in front of a live audience at the Independent Publishing Resource Center in Portland. She said that she wasn’t entirely surprised by the palm reader’s revelation. “When the psychic said what she said, I felt this weird chord go off inside of me. I have always felt adopted because everyone in my family acted a little weird and secretive around me my whole life, including my extended family. They never mentioned my father; they never mentioned him by name. And when the secret came out and I tried to tell them I knew, they still denied knowing.”

Geroges’ search for information about her father forms the foundation of her graphic memoir Calling Dr. Laura. (The title comes from the time she called in to Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s radio show to ask for advice about talking to her family about the situation.) The book’s detailed black-and-white drawings also document her childhood struggles with gastrointestinal problems and her decision to come out to her mom.

On finally learning the truth about her father:
“I knew my sister had a secret. My sister had met my girlfriend six months before. My girlfriend happened to be in San Francisco and I said, ‘Go meet my sister, she’s really great.’ My sister grabbed her and said, ‘I have this secret I’ve been keeping from Nicole her whole life!’ But she wouldn’t say what it was. So my mind was racing and I thought of all these things way more horrible than that. So when she said, ‘Your dad’s alive,’ it was almost a relief. [I had thought] ‘Oh my God, my sister’s my mom and my mom’s my grandma!’ I had so many crazier thoughts that could have been true that finding out about my dad was like, ‘Great, well, I didn’t even know him anyway, so fine.’ “

On calling Dr. Laura for advice:
I’ve been listening to her my entire life. In my mom’s car, I started listening to her when I was a kid and I would recoil at her advice. I hated her and then I would go on road trips and I would tolerate her and at some point I started liking her. I think parts of her advice are great and they actually helped me make sense of my childhood a little bit.

I like harsh advice and I like people that are straightforward. I just feel like I don’t have enough time for people to beat around the bush. So even though I don’t like all of her [answers], I like that she has them and that she sticks with them and that she helps people even though they don’t follow her advice.

I was listening to Dr. Laura one day and I thought, ‘Oh, this would be a great question for Dr. Laura.’ … She gave me a really hard time. I tried to follow all the rules I had secretly been noting in my head my whole life about how to act around Dr. Laura — I only spoke when spoken to, I didn’t ramble, all of her things — and she still was so grouchy. But I did get the full [Dr. Laura] experience because she was not only mean to me, but also was nurturing.

On teaching her students in the Independent Publishing Resource Center’s Comics Program how to make themselves vulnerable on the page:
“I don’t know how successfully I bring it out in my students, but I try. I just want to let them know that a lot of people can be cool in their work and very guarded and that makes such boring work. The only time that you really connect with work is when someone is telling you about a time that was really embarrassing for them or really heartbreaking and those are the things that make you feel for the character. In any movie or novel, that’s the truth. When people are drawing comics and they are in the program and are beginning writers, I just want them to connect with readers so bad that I want to tell them that.”

Listen to the full Think Out Loud conversation with Nicole Georges.

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