Book Review: "Drawing Blood" by Molly Crabapple

Molly Crabapple, the author of the memoir Drawing Blood, is perhaps best-known as an illustrator and journalist, with much of her work appearing in VICE. While Crabapple is not a household name, she brings a double-rainbow array of experiences to her writing, as well as a unique perspective.

If New York is home to legions of half-Jewish, half- Puerto Rican, burlesque-performing, Arabic-speaking, nude pin-up artists with work in MOMA’s collection (like Crabapple), they have found excellent hiding places. Crabapple emerges from the pages as a latter-day bastard step-child of Ralph Steadman (the illustrator known for his work with Hunter S. Thompson) and ... Anais Nin?

The book details her struggles as an emerging artist, and her escapades as a model, as the artist-in-residence at New York’s night club The Box, and as a quasi-official visual diarist for the Occupy movement.

After graduating from high school and a few months of slumming it in Paris, Crabapple enrolled at F.I.T. and met a student who was also a cam girl. Shortly thereafter, Crabapple starts getting naked to finance her art practice.   

“We were young women ... studying for a competitive, ill-paying industry. What did we have to interest people besides our looks?”

Crabapple realizes that she has agency in the decision, however, and writes that sex work was a type of proving ground for her. (One of the ironies of Drawing Blood is that, while much of it revolves around nekkid ladies, it is fairly circumspect in its treatment of sex.) 

Although Crabapple has much more to offer than exposed boobs, it is this vein in the book – the compromises Crabapple makes as an aspiring, (merely) middle class, female artist – that serves as the narrative’s third rail.

It’s a career-trajectory that raises thorny questions, which Crabapple herself tackles with a mix of erudition, empathy, and industrial-strength candor. For me, the two questions Drawing Blood asked with the greatest urgency were, a) is that what it takes to make it, and b) are men really that fucking gross? A number of harrowing tales revolve around Guys With Cameras (GWCs) on Craig’s List. Big suprises there: even the rich, “cultured” GWCs are total pigs. 

Drawing Blood is worth a look if you’re an aspiring artist or are intrigued by the intersection of art, politics, feminism, and journalism. Or if you merely have a thing for polymaths. 

While Drawing Blood passes with flying, pantone colors as a memoir (and as gossip), at times it doesn’t feel fully realized.  

Compared to the segments about her early growth as an artist, the Occupy and foreign correspondent material felt thin. The epilogue is a bullet list of places Crabapple traveled in the preceding year or so.  I’m biased, of course, but I also thought a bit more humor would have gone a long way.

These criticisms aside, Drawing Blood is an impressive writerly debut.  

(Stephen Kosloff)