Bachelor parties tend to suck so fucking bad, dude. Especially the stereotypical "weekend in Vegas with the boys" variety, which are already a nightmare of hyper-consumption, and, yes, performance of masculinity. Except all the ones I've been on which were nice and normal.
In their new graphic novel Boys Weekend, Mattie Lubchansky further complicates that classic set up with a character who has recently transitioned and has to take on the role of "best man" for their old college buddy on a trip in a near-future, dystopian, somehow even worse version of Las Vegas, where quite literally "anything goes."
I talked to Lubchansky today about the book which is available for pre-order now.
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I didn’t know what to expect from the graphic novel. I’m familiar with your shorter comics, but this really grabbed me straight away and I breezed through it yesterday. It was a lot of fun.
Well thanks, man.
You called me man! That’s one of the things I wanted to talk about.
I’ll get to that in a second. It’s probably just an accident of timing, but it seems like you could broadly slot this book into the thing we’re seeing a lot of lately with “rich assholes getting their comeuppance on an island.”
Totally. I haven’t seen Triangle of Sadness yet, but I think I’ve seen every other “rich assholes getting their comeuppance on an island” movie in the last year and a half. It’s funny because I just saw Infinity Pool, which also has a thing with having to deal with your own clone. It’s this interesting thing where those movies… I don’t think you're ever going to get perfect politics out of a movie, right? You’re never going to get revolutionary art out of a Hollywood movie. With a book that’s coming out through Penguin Random House and Pantheon, I have a lot of my ideas in there, but I don’t think this is where the revolution happens. This is not where revolutionary thought is being published. I think a lot of those movies are very smug in their sort of, well, we solved it didn’t we folks? Someone turns to the camera and winks and says it’s all figured out!
We did a piece on The Menu in here recently, which I really liked.
Me too. I thought it engaged with its own ideas too much, but it was fun, and it had some stuff I really liked.
Your book is also a “final girl” story. Were there horror films or books you had in mind when you came up with the idea?
I wasn’t thinking of anything specific. The genesis of the book is me going to a bachelor party.
So this actually happened?
Well not exactly! The circumstances are much different. The guy whose bachelor party it was I’m still very close with. The friends on the trip are not like these guys, they’re my actual friends from college I’m still friends with. But I went on the trip maybe a couple months after I came out to these guys. No one was weird to me about it. Everyone has been good. But it was in Vegas and I was having an existential issue. I had a fine enough time on the trip, but I think Las Vegas is hell on earth. I really don’t like it. I was trying to convey the feeling of going to Las Vegas in a way. Have you ever read The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin? It’s one of my favorite books. It’s about this guy who is literally from the moon if it were run by anarchists, and he’s experiencing capitalism for the first time. That’s how I felt landing in Las Vegas as an adult. That I’ve never actually experienced America. I’m a trans Jew from New York, I don’t live in America. So it was my first time experiencing America, it was my first time experiencing capitalism, consumerism, whatever. So I was trying to observe that. But Las Vegas is very overwhelming. This idea of a place that is hedonistic and anything goes, as long as you are in this very narrow set of heteronormative, cisgender, capitalist, American ideas. Anything outside of that is not tolerated, but as long as you are a red-blooded American man, anything goes baby. So it's the frision between that sort of idea of a place where “anything goes.”
But what horror stuff am I into? I was thinking a lot about your classic final girl shit like Halloween. I’m very into shitty old horror, but I’m also a fancy bitch that likes the new fancy stuff that’s out now too. There’s a couple of pages of some Cronenberg-y stuff I was thinking about a lot. My horror taste is all over the place, and I was trying to synthesize a lot of it into the sort of classic idea where you know something bad is about to happen, then it happens, and the girl gets away.
On the Vegas thing, I like how you slowly introduce us to the idea of how bad everything fucking sucks in the world the characters live in and in this place they visit. Right when they sit down on the plane they get weighed, and if it’s a few pounds heavier than before, they have to pay more for the seat now. And every single step the characters take they have to swipe the credit card again. That’s a pretty good indication of what it’s like to travel to Vegas, or even to travel anywhere now.
I think Josh Gondelman said this recently, and it gets to something I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around. He said it perfectly in one expression: Everything is becoming the airport.
That’s exactly what I’m trying to get at. Every experience is becoming so class-stratified and surveilled. I don’t know if you saw this story from like a month ago, with the Dolans, who own Madison Square Garden and a bunch of theaters in New York, and also that insane sphere in Las Vegas. They were kicking people out of their theaters if they worked at law firms that were suing the Dolans for anything. Using facial recognition to do punitive whiny rich baby shit to people. I feel like it’s a part of the massive enshittification of society that we’re undergoing. Where everything is becoming unpleasant.
Well artificial intelligence is going to solve for this.
Yes artificial intelligence. When I walk into the Rite Aid it’s going to unlock the cases with stuff that I want in it.
Yeah totally. Unlock the diapers for mothers who need them.
I had to wait in line to get a $3 chapstick unlocked the other day.
Seriously? They’re doing that in New York a lot now?
Yeah everything is locked up. And things that aren’t locked up have tags on them so you can’t use the self checkout, which is its own nightmare.
Well these poor companies, CVS and all that, are being put out of business by shoplifters.
That’s right. Some CEO, I think it was Walgreens, admitted they made that up.
Haha right. We may have overstated that he said.
We may have extremely lied about that, but we’re not going to take anything out of the cases, don't worry.
And all the extra cops cities hired because of the panic will still keep their jobs, don’t worry.
Oh god, I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but all the cops they have on the subway here now...
I haven’t been to New York in a year or so.
Every station now, if your neighborhood is of a certain demographic… Well most of the stations in Manhattan, and then in the outer boroughs if your neighborhood is not sufficiently white enough, there are cops everywhere on the platform. So you get off the train and there are cops standing there with their guns and shit. It’s great. It makes you feel very safe.
By the way, Eric Adams, what is this dude’s deal? He seems like a man uniquely of this time. He would love a bachelor party in Vegas with the boys.
He absolutely would. That’s what he does every night. I think if Eric Adams owned the deli on my block he would be my favorite guy in the world. I would love him so much. If he owned the deli on my block though I’d never find out he’s evil. But because he’s the mayor, I feel like he’s my enemy in a way I haven’t felt about a politician in a long time. He’s so fucking strange.
He really is. But he’s got that swag.
He’s got access to the swag diamonds under Manhattan.
Have you traveled much since the dawn of Covid?
A little bit. Last summer and fall I went places for the first time in a while. Mexico City and Lisbon for some quick little trips. It was nice to fly, but it was like, oh, I forgot the sort of unique hell of having to go into the penis detection machine in the airport.
Oh yeah. That’s got to present its own set of frustrations for people who don’t automatically look like they conform to a gender binary right?
Absolutely. Even people that are like very binary trans people have the worst time at the airport because there’s a chance that something they do or scan or touch or whatever, or on their ID, will be incongruous with some scan or print out. I try to get into some of that in the book where everyone is constantly testing Sammie’s DNA. It’s all over the place. If I’m catching “m’ams” at the airport I’ll feel very good about myself, but then one guy will ruin my whole fucking day by grabbing my dick or something. On my way home from Mexico I was trying to print out my boarding pass. I have an X on my passport, thanks to our beautiful president Joe Brandon who I love so much. But I have an X on my passport, which is neat in America, but I got a printout from the AeroMexico machine that just said “gender not valid.” I was like, that’s the story of my fucking life, dude.
That’s pretty on the nose.
Very on the nose, AeroMexico machine. Look, I think having the X on the passport is neat, and I'm very glad we have it, but internationally it causes some issues. Even here it causes some weird issues sometimes.
I don’t know if this is subtext, or meant as the actual text of the book, but bachelor parties present this type of stress of gender performance for cis straight dudes as well.
You have to be able to “drink like a man,” and this is always one of the weirdest parts for me, you have to perform horniness around your other straight buddies. Is that something you’ve been a part of?
Yeah, when I had to go on them in the past before I came out. I came out late in life, in a relative sense, in my thirties. So I did my time in my twenties going to bachelor parties. There are things that always bothered me. Having to do the Tex Avery whistling type of thing with your boys, which is very strange. And the sort of strip clubs that straight guys want to go to are not the kind of time I want to have. I just find them to be kind of bummers. Looking at the dead eyes of my friends as they get lap dances is not fun for me. No one seems to be having a good time. I don’t have the kind of money to be… If I were loaded, I would go to a strip club and I’d be paying everybody so well and feeling good about it. But now I just want to leave. I don’t want to be in a situation where I can’t pay what these people should be getting paid.
In a way strip clubs are similar to the “everything has become the airport” idea. It’s like, you walk in, and all of a sudden you’ve spent $500 somehow. I just got here! I didn’t even get a beer yet. The ATM charges you $20 to get your own money.
Right. So things like that I can’t stand, but also, and this is basically all straight people regardless of gender, the way that people talk about their spouses is just so brutal to me.
There’s a part in the book where Sammie is like, “I actually like my wife.”
I had a job for a long time working as an engineer in construction, which is a really straight cis kind of place, and all my coworkers would just be complaining about their wives all day. I was like, I like my wife, I like my girlfriend. Why are you with them if you hate them? Me and my partner always joke that it was a nascent sign of whatever queerness in us when people would say “oh you know how men are!” and she'd be like “what do you mean?”
That relates in a way to Sammie in the book talking about her best friend, the bachelor, how they’ve never really talked to each other. “Talking is only reserved for when we’re drunk or high or about to be murdered.” Which is a nice bit of foreshadowing by the way.
I don’t mean this discussion to be an interrogation of how hard it is to be a cis straight guy.
It’s bad for everybody the way things are set up.
There are a lot of guys who probably just understand that they’re supposed to say “my wife is a ball and chain!” without fully meaning it. Wasn’t there an I Think You Should Leave bit about this?
Yeah, where the guy is like “I love my wife!” And he leaves the poker party.
I couldn’t tell if you were really trying to hit it on the nose with all the “man’s” and “dude’s” in the dialogue. For a while I was thinking, ok, it’s really hanging a lantern on this, but on the other side I thought well that is actually how dudes talk to each other.
I still kind of talk that way. If I’m talking to a man I drop the “man’s” and “dude’s” all over the place. It’s like stuck in my speech now. I don’t think I was trying to put too fine of a point on it, I was just trying to write the dialogue in a way that these conversations sound to my ear. I’ve got the script here, let me see real quick… I’m seeing seventy six instances of “man” and twenty instances of “dude.” That’s a lot!
I understand that there are plenty of microaggressions or whatever that you experience when you’re trans, but I guess it never occurred to me to think about how much more common these kinds of probably unconscious verbal tics like “man” or “dude” are.
I was trying to get into this in the book too. We all do ourselves a disservice when we say the be all and end all of all this shit is pronouns and not being misgendered. Getting bogged down in the semantics of getting gendered correctly is not everything. It’s obviously important. It’s important to me. It’s important to people in the community. But the goal is liberation. It’s bodily autonomy. Much more important stuff than getting gendered correctly by strangers and your friends and stuff.
For every trans person there are people in your life that will get things right right off the bat, and they’ll be really good, and never fuck it up. There are people who will fuck it up all the time. And there are people who don’t care and will intentionally fuck it up. The people in the middle category, the problem for a lot of them is that they are saying to themselves, ok, I am going to do this thing for this person by calling them what they ask me to call them, but then not, in their own mind, changing what they say to themselves. They’ll say, my friend Charles, or whatever, is changing his name. He’s a girl now. But the sentence in their head is “he’s a girl,” and not “this is my friend who is a girl.”
It’s almost like the difference between being fluent in a language, where you dream in it, and think in it, and having to translate every single word that you say before you say it.
That’s how I feel when I go to Mexico or something.
Exactly. You’re like, I want to order a beer at this bar, and you think to yourself, I want to order a beer…
And you have to plan it out.
Right. Which is different than being fluent, where you think in your head “una cerveza por favor.” I think a lot of the time the problem people have is they don’t actually do the work in their own mind of uncoupling what they thought they knew about a person. I will say, even before I came out – well, who knows, I was a closeted trans person – but it’s just not that hard. You just do it. So much of it is people having a hard time getting over their own perception of a person, and they want to think they know them better than they know themselves.
This must have taken a lot longer than your shorter comics obviously. I’ve written a few books and that’s hard enough, but I don’t draw, and so I think, my god, what a pain in the ass this must be. Not only do you have to write the thing but then you have to illustrate it too.
It is well documented that comics suck ass to make. It’s the stupidest thing you can do as someone who wants to tell a story. Comics are so good and I love them so much. They are the most accessible version of storytelling. You don’t even have to be able to draw to make them. Anyone can make a comic. They’re easy to read and easy to make, like, semiotically. It just sucks so bad though. The way I always describe it to people is imagine you are making a movie by yourself. You are the scriptwriter, the cinematographer, the director, the lighting designer. You are every actor. The amount of facial expressions I have to make in the mirror during the day, or taking photos of myself in weird poses.
So this thing, start to finish, I came up with the idea in the summer of 2020 and it’s coming out the summer of 2023. I wrote the synopsis very slowly, then pitched it in earnest the next spring. The time from when I had my deal then I handed in my first draft of the finished thing was about fourteen months. I work pretty fast. I can draw a page a day basically once I have it written.
One thing I liked about it is that you stuffed so many gags in there, especially the background gags. Did you write up a huge list of a hundred jokes or what?
Some of them came from when I was writing the script. Here’s something that’s going on in the background. But a lot of them came when I was drawing it and I thought I need to put something else in here. I’m so trained to think every page has to have something going on on it. I wanted every page turn to feel significant in a way too, which is part of making something a book as opposed to for the web. The way that comics work is you spend all this time working on the story and writing it like a script. Then you pencil it, and you ink it, and you color it, and shade it. By the time I’m done I’ve made this book like seven times. So much of it with the background stuff was me keeping myself amused. Also, like any dipshit my age, I grew up a Simpsons obsessive. And Futurama the first couple seasons. I strive for that level of background gag density. Every sign should be funny. Everything happening in the background should be funny. It’s so burned into me. You should not have a business name that is not a joke.
My favorite thing in the book maybe is there's one scene where they’re having brunch, and in the background you see someone trying to use a jetpack and they die. It’s never mentioned. Just to get at the idea that we’re in the shitty future. Flying cars aren’t going to work, jetpacks are going to kill a lot of people.
I don’t want to spoil it for people who haven’t read it yet, but I found the conceit of the ending, the sort of team up if you will, to be really effective and touching. Obviously there’s a lot of psychology going on there. How did that play out in your imagination? Or is that idea just a constant thing humming in the background of your mind?
It is hard to talk about without spoiling the end of the book, but the thing that you’re talking about was an idea I had for another book completely. I needed something to happen in the third act of this thing, and I thought that idea might be thin for a book on its own, but it’s a really interesting detail for this place. That this thing would exist. I think it was on some level humming in the back of my mind, especially for me who came out after my adolescence and after college. I had a whole adult life already when I came out. And that’s hard. The challenges are harder for different reasons at different times in your life. But there’s something about me that when I think of my past there’s this red anger in me. You dipshit, why didn’t you figure this out? Maybe this was me trying to come to terms with it. You couldn’t have known, you dumb little bitch.
My life happened the way it happened. I don’t want to say for a reason, but on some level for a reason. Would I have ever come out if I didn't have the life I had? Who knows? Maybe it wouldn't have happened. Maybe I’d be dead. It’s this sort of thing where you see people on Instagram saying post a photo of you in your twenties and I’m like, absolutely fucking not. I don’t want you to see the kind of beard I was working with. It’s not for you!
Your old self being something you have to kill is not necessarily true. That’s the way that the transphobes think. They’ll have fake funerals for their kids when they come out and shit. I don’t think that’s a useful rubric.
Fake funerals in a damning way?
There’s like a whole network out there called the trans widows. Husbands and wives of people who have come out. They’ll say my husband is dead. No, your wife is alive, you dumb asshole.
Ok before you go, a real simple question. The news media: What the fuck is going on there?
I don’t know! I recently saw some examples of the way the New York Times handled anything to do with gay people over the years. There would be an article from like 1963 called something like “growth of overt homosexuality in city provokes wide concern.” Read any article from the news media from the nineties about Satanic Panic shit. They’re just credulous and fall for everything. These newsrooms don’t have any trans people in them, and if they do they get fired or their voices get suppressed.
The people who are promoting the panics are so much better at getting their shit in the newspaper. And when has the newspaper been very interested in the power and autonomy of marginalized people in any case? They’re always on the side of the powerful. It’s pretty cut and dry. This is a bodily autonomy thing, but they found something to sensationalize and they’re going to try to get their fucking clicks out of it. There’s more money in ginning up panic than there is in quelling it.