Seven years ago, artist Camille Rose Garcia endured a full-fledged dental nightmare. Over the course of a single week, she underwent 11 root canals, a full-mouth reconstruction, and surgery on her gums. On top of that, an anti-anxiety drug intended to take the edge off the trauma instead caused her to suffer through a series of frightening hallucinations.
The pop-surrealist and native Angeleno, known for her cute-meets-macabre style and, more recently, her dystopian interpretations of popular fairy tales, turned the psychologically transformative experience into a fairy tale all her own.
The 200-page illustrated book The Cabinet of Dr. Deekay, the first installment in a series about a boy named Alex who wakes up in a dystopian hospital to discover pieces of his person are missing, is being released later this summer. In the meantime (through June 16), Corey Helford Gallery in Boyle Heights is hosting The Wonderful World of Dr. Deekay, an exhibit that’s a prelude to the book’s release, featuring paintings associated with the characters in the book, as well as a stop-motion animation project she’s working on with animator Martin Meunier of Coraline and James and the Giant Peach fame.
She answered some questions via email about fairy tales, the fear of falling apart, and the sad state of dental care for creatives.
Your previous two books were based on dystopian visions of existing fairy tales—Snow White and Cinderella. Is it more creatively fulfilling to create your own fairy tale?
Oh absolutely! Even though I really enjoy illustrating the fairy tales, I was a bit frustrated with interpreting the Cinderella story, and it occurred to me how many of these fairy tales are written by men, from more of a male perspective.
I am fortunate to live in a time where women do have the freedom to create their own stories. I think we have very few examples in history of women writing and illustrating their own fairy tales. I also read that J.K. Rowling used the initials because the publisher didn’t think Harry Potter would sell as well if people knew it was written by a woman.
How does The Cabinet of Dr. Deekay reflect your own experience of having traumatic dental surgery?
The Cabinet of Dr. Deekay is a story that came to me in a weird vision a few weeks after having a terrible experience that was really made so much worse by being given the pill Ativan. I had an atypical reaction to the drug that caused me to hallucinate and have suicidal thoughts. It was incredibly terrifying and I’m glad it didn’t do any permanent damage.
I realized the experience of feeling like your mind is being erased could be used as a greater metaphor for history being erased, land being erased, people being erased. So the story became greater than myself and felt more like an allegory for our modern civilization.
As a self-employed creative, was it difficult—especially when you were less established—to regularly access dental care? I think for many creatives, things like health and dental insurance are not readily accessible.
Absolutely, without question. I’ve had dental problems since I was a child and as a young adult wasn’t really able afford any kind of health care. Again this is, I think, such a universal problem in this country, and one of the main themes in the book is the fear of falling completely apart, either physically or mentally.
When is the book officially being released? Will there be future installments of the The Cabinet of Dr. Deekay story?
The book should be out by late summer/early fall and is being published by Sympathetic Press, which is an indie publisher started by the record company Sympathy for the Record Industry.
I imagined this book as a trilogy but to be honest, I would love to write this series for the rest of my life. Some of my greatest inspirations come from Dystopian fiction. Franz Kafka, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard. It’s very satisfying to be able to use words and illustrations to convey an idea.
Can you tell me about the process of creating a stop-motion animation for the Corey Helford exhibit? Do you feel like it’s something you’ll experiment with again in the future?
Oh, the stop-motion project is ongoing! I’m collaborating with Martin Meunier Films and we are really in the very beginnings of the project. Originally we were going to make a two-minute film, but we are realizing now the story would be well suited to a series.
I am having so much fun working with them, its just inspiring me in a way I haven’t felt for a long time. it’s usually just me in the studio alone, but I’m finding I really enjoy collaborating with Martin and his team.