Molly Crabapple

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Molly Crabapple
Molly Crabapple, Istanbul, 2016.jpg
Born Jennifer Caban
(1983-09-13) September 13, 1983 (age 33)
Far Rockaway, Queens, New York City, New York
Nationality American
Alma mater Fashion Institute of Technology
Known for Fine art, illustration, writing
Notable work Shell Game (2013), Week in Hell (2012), Drawing Blood (2015)
Website Official website

Molly Crabapple (born Jennifer Caban September 13, 1983) is an artist and writer living in New York. She is a contributing editor for VICE and has written for The New York Times, The Paris Review, Vanity Fair, The Guardian, CNN and Newsweek. Her published books include her illustrated memoir Drawing Blood (Harper Collins, 2015), Discordia (with Laurie Penny) on the Greek economic crisis, and the art books Devil in the Details and Week in Hell (2012). She regularly speaks to audiences around the world, at institutions such as The Museum of Modern Art, The London School of Economics, and Harvard and Columbia University. Her works are held in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, The Barjeel Art Foundation and the New-York Historical Society.

Early life[edit]

Molly Crabapple was born Jennifer Caban[1] on September 13 1983 in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York City, New York, on September 13, 1983 to a Puerto Rican father and a Jewish mother, who was the daughter of a Belarusian immigrant.[2] Crabapple began drawing at the age of four with guidance from her mother, an illustrator who worked on toy product packaging.[3][4] At age 12, Crabapple remembers herself as a "snotty goth moppet in a pair of Doc Martens, who blared Hole on her Walkman, drew headless cheerleaders, and read the Marquis de Sade in class".[5] Her school diagnosed her with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and she was expelled from the seventh grade.[5][6] In high school, Crabapple described herself as "gothy, dorky, and hated".[7] She never liked her given name so she started using the name Molly Crabapple after a boyfriend suggested it reflected her character.[8]

After graduating at the age of 17, she traveled to Europe. In Paris, she was welcomed by George Whitman, the proprietor of the English-language bookstore Shakespeare and Company.[9][8] After receiving a notebook as a gift she began drawing on a serious basis.[8]


Crabapple went on to work as a life model and a burlesque performer, and modeled for the Society of Illustrators.[8][10] At the age of 19, she was modeling for SuicideGirls,[11] and responding to ads in Craigslist for nude photographic modeling.[12] Working as a model allowed Crabapple to earn more money than a typical day job and to continue working on her illustrations.[12][13] She briefly attended the Fashion Institute of Technology,[14] but withdrew during her first year.[15][16] For four years she worked as the house artist for the Box, a New York City nightclub.[15] Crabapple described her time at the Box as her "artistic coming-of-age".[17]

Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School[edit]

Dr. Sketchy's at Avant Garden bar in Houston, Texas, 2010

After working as an artist's model, Crabapple became disenchanted with the structure of a formal sketch class.[18] She believed that life drawing courses were sufficient for teaching students about anatomy, but the models were treated more like objects rather than like people and the sexual aspects of their modeling were ignored.

In 2005, she and illustrator A. V. Phibes founded Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School, a burlesque life-drawing class.[19][20] In a typical sketching session, artists will drink alcohol, sketch burlesque models, and play art games in a bar or venue like an art museum. After an artist inquired about starting a Dr. Sketchy's in Melbourne, Australia, it began to spread around the world.[21] As of 2010, there were approximately 150 licensees using the Dr. Sketchy's name.[22]


Crabapple (right) at the ACT-I-VATE panel at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival

Crabapple has contributed her illustrations to a number of comics, often with writer John Leavitt. They worked on Backstage (2008), a webcomic at Act-i-vate that tells the story of how fire eater Scarlett O'Herring was murdered. Scarlett Takes Manhattan (2009), a graphic novel published by Fugu Press, is a prequel to Backstage.[3][23][24][25] Puppet Makers (2011), a steampunk web comic that depicts an alternate history of the industrial revolution and the court of Versailles, was released for digital download by DC Comics.[26][27][28][29] Crabapple also illustrated two Marvel anthologies, Strange Tales vol. 2 and Girl Comics vol. 2.[30]

Occupy Wall Street[edit]

In September 2011, Crabapple was living in a studio near Zuccotti Park.[4] Occupy Wall Street protesters had begun to use the Park as a camp to stage their movement, artists began creating posters and Crabapple decided to contribute work and engage in the movement.[31][32] "Before Occupy I felt like using my art for activist causes was exploitive of activist causes," she told the Village Voice. "I think what Occupy let me do was it allowed me to instead of just donating money to politics or just going to marches, it allowed me to engage my art in politics."[33] Artists and journalists who had come from all over the world to report on the protests were using Crabapple's apartment as an "impromptu salon" for the Occupy movement.[4][17][32] In Discordia (2012), British journalist Laurie Penny remembered how "Occupy Wall Street had set up camp two streets away from Crabapple's apartment in Manhattan and we'd just spent a sleepless week documenting arrests. Molly perched at her desk churning out protest posters and handing them to activists to copy and wheat-paste all over the financial district...After three days, the word went out that there was an apartment near the protest camp where you could find hot drinks, basic medical attention and a place to charge your gadgets and file copy. The flat became a temporary sanctuary for stray activists and journalists"[34] "I started doing protest posters," Crabapple recalled. "And in doing these, I found my voice."[31] Author Matt Taibbi called Crabapple "Occupy's greatest artist",[35] noting the use of the "vampire squid" theme in her Occupy artwork.[36] Crabapple, a fan of Taibbi's writing, had read his 2009 Rolling Stone article, "The Great American Bubble Machine".[37] In the article, Taibbi referred to Goldman Sachs as "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money."[38] When Crabapple used Taibbi's metaphor as a stencil depicting a vampire squid and released it for anyone to use, it went viral throughout the Occupy movement.[37]

On September 17, 2012, she was among a group of protesters arrested during a rally to mark the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. She wrote about her experience in a CNN opinion piece.[39] In 2013, the Museum of Modern Art acquired "Poster for the May Day General Strike, 2012" for their Occuprint Portfolio. The poster is a collaborative work by Crabapple, John Leavitt, and Melissa Dowell. The poster, which shows a woman holding a match, plays off the words "to strike" as a homage to the London matchgirls strike of 1888.[40]

Art projects[edit]

In September 2011 Crabapple engaged in a week long performance art piece title Week in Hell. She locked herself inside a hotel room, covered every inch of the walls with paper, and proceeded to spend the next five days filling every inch of the canvas with illustrations. The project was funded using Kickstarter, garnering 745 backers and over $20k in funds. In pitching the work she explained "I'm interested in what happens when an artist leaves their studio, their cliches, and their comfort zone and draws beyond the limits of their endurance."[41] Every day of the endeavour was live-streamed to all backers. During the week she was continuously visited by friends and fellow artists. A book documenting the project was released March 2012 also titled Art of Molly Crabapple Volume 1: Week in Hell.

In 2012, Crabapple raised $30,000 USD on Kickstarter for The Shell Game, a project involving the creation of ten paintings about the Great Recession. She met her goal in two days and finally raised $64,799. An exhibition was held at Smart Clothes Gallery in NYC, in April 2013. The show ultimately sold out.[42][43] Uzoamaka Maduka of The American Reader noted that the paintings were reminiscent of political cartoons during the Gilded Age and the Tammany Hall period of American history, which discussed similar subjects like "greed, corruption, and structural treason...around the American ideal, and how that ideal is both undone and constructed by these forces."[44] She regards drawing as “exposure, confrontation, or reckoning. Every line a weapon.” [45]

Illustrated journalism[edit]

Starting in 2013 Crabapple began to make trips to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base to make sketches recording hearings of Guantanamo military commissions.[46] Her drawings accompanied by written accounts were first published in Vice magazine under the title "It Don't Gitmo Better Than This".[47] Further articles and illustrations were released by Vice, The Paris Review.[48]

Scenes from the Syrian War is a collection illustrated articles serialized in Vanity Fair, made in collaboration with an anonymous source within Syria. Using photos sent via cell phone, Crabapple recreated rare glimpses of daily life in ISIS-occupied Syria. The series so far consists of "Scenes from Daily Life in the De Facto Capital of ISIS",[49] which focuses on the city of Raqqa, "Scenes from Daily Life Inside ISIS-Controlled Mosul",[50] and "Scenes From Inside Aleppo: How Life Has Been Transformed by Rebel Rule".[51]


In December 2015 Harper Collins published Crabapple's illustrated memoir, Drawing Blood. The book covers her life from a rebellious childhood in Far Rockaway, Queens to her current illustrated journalism projects. Each chapter focuses on a period of her life, notably, her time as a model, her tenure as house artist for the New York and London night club, The Box, and her involvement with the Occupy movement and other post-financial crisis protests.[citation needed]

Drawing Blood was well received in the press, garnering attention and praise from many major news outlets. The New York Times said of it: "The book reads like a notebook of New York, a cultural history of a certain set. Filtered through her eyes, we see 9/11, the aftermath of the crash, Occupy Wall Street, Hurricane Sandy and onward... [Crabapple is] a new model for this century’s young woman".[52]


In 2010, Crabapple collaborated with Canadian singer Kim Boekbinder and filmmaker Jim Batt on the crowdsourced, stop motion animated film, I Have Your Heart (2012). The film is based on Boekbinder's song, "The Organ Donor's March". They raised $17,000 USD on Kickstarter from over 400 backers in April 2011.[53]

In June of the same year, Crabapple raised $25,805 USD from 745 backers on Kickstarter for her "Week in Hell" installation project. Crabapple rented a bare room for five days and covered it from floor to ceiling with blank paper. Using 200 fine tip markers, she covered the paper with her illustrations over the course of one work week. Financial backers were entitled to a live-stream of the work in process, to make suggestions for illustrations, and were given different-sized sections of drawings, depending on the level of financial support they gave.[54][55]

Crabapple continued her collaborations with Kim Boekbinder and Jim Batt to create a series of five videos on political topics in 2015 for the media website The videos are composed in a unique combination of live-drawing and animation with voice-over by Crabapple. Each one delves deeply in to a controversial or under-reported issue and provides facts and commentary on the matter.[56]

In 2015, Crabapple, Boekbinder, and Batt collaborated with the Equal Justice Initiative to create the video "Slavery to Mass Incarceration". Crabapple illustrates the animations, paired with Executive Director Bryan Stevenson's narration, which depict the history between mass enslavement and modern-day mass incarceration.[57]

Other work[edit]

Crabapple learned Arabic and traveled to Turkey and Turkish Kurdistan.[58] Near the Syrian border, she was detained by police for a short period.[15][59] Her impressions of the artistry and culture of the Ottoman Empire in the Near East would come to influence her style and work.[15][16]

In 2012 Crabapple was one of several artists commissioned by CNN to illustrate the theme of power for a digital art gallery pertaining to the 2012 Presidential election, as well as the fundamental forces that drive debates over controversial issues such as money, health race and gender. Crabapple created the illustration "Big Fish Eat Little Fish Eat Big Fish" for the gallery.[60]

Style and influence[edit]

Crabapple uses a crosshatch style of illustration based on Arthur L. Guptill's art technique found in Rendering in Pen and Ink (1976), originally published as Drawing with Pen and Ink (1928).[61] Her style is influenced by Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525–1569), English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley (1872–1898), French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901), Russian-American artist Zoetica Ebb, American artist Travis Louie, American photographer Clayton Cubitt, and American illustrator Fred Harper.[62]

Der Spiegel called her approach to writing unique, saying she had created a new role, that of the political journalist-artist ("die politische Journalistenkünstlerin"), [63] and in October 2016 TIME Magazine named her one of its Next Generation Leaders, "sketching from the front lines of conflicts in the U.S. and around the world," noting that "Her work is a perfect slow-media commentary on our current fast-media climate." [64]


  • Drawing Blood (HarperCollins, December 2015)
  • Art of Molly Crabapple Volume 2: Devil in the Details (2012)
  • Art of Molly Crabapple Volume 1: Week in Hell (2012)
  • Scarlett Takes Manhattan (2009)
  • Dr. Sketchy's Official Rainy Day Colouring Book (2006)


  1. ^ Kino, Carole (October 2, 2009). "A World Drawn From Wild Tastes". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Zax, Talya (April 16, 2016). "Molly Crabapple Explains How You Can Be an Artist and an Activist". Forward Magazine.
  3. ^ a b Rosen, Adam (June 21, 2009). Making a Show of It. Gelf magazine. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c Newton, Maud (April 13, 2013). How Occupy Changed Contemporary Art. The New Republic. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
  5. ^ a b Crabapple, Molly (2012). "Rebels and Muses (or why I draw what I draw)". Art of Molly Crabapple, Volume 2: Devil in the Details. Idea & Design Works. ISBN 1613772734.
  6. ^ Crabapple, Molly (February 6, 2013). "Shooter Boys and At-Risk Girls". Vice. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  7. ^ Freydkis, Josh (10 July 2010). "Molly Crabapple In Conversation With Josh Freydkis". Saatchi Art Magazine. Retrieved 14 June 2014. 
  8. ^ a b c d Bussel, Rachel Kramer (December 22, 2005). Molly Crabapple, Artist, Model, Burlesque Performer. Gothamist. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  9. ^ Crabapple, Molly (December 16, 2011). RIP George Whitman. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
  10. ^ Wright, Jennifer (2010). "A Graphic Artist: Whimsical illustrator Molly Crabapple thinks outside The Box". Cityist. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  11. ^ Reynolds, Brandon (February 28, 2007). Moulin Rouge in the Face. Style Weekly. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  12. ^ a b Crabapple, Molly (October 24, 2012). The World of a Professional Naked Girl. Vice. Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  13. ^ Honigman, Ana Finel (May 19, 2009). Apple of Your Eye. Interview magazine. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
  14. ^ Profile: Jennifer Caban and John Leavitt, Illustration Alums Fashion Institute of Technology. State University of New York. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  15. ^ a b c d Kino, Carol (October 2, 2009). A World Drawn From Wild Tastes. The New York Times. Retrieved June 11, 2014.
  16. ^ a b Mokoena, Tshepo (March 20, 2011). "Molly Crabapple". Don't Panic. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  17. ^ a b Filipovic, Jill (August 15, 2013), "Q&A: Occupy's 'Greatest Artist' Writes Her Memoirs", New York Magazine, retrieved June 11, 2014 
  18. ^ Iaccarino, Clara (April 7, 2007). Burlesque girls put sketchers on a learning curve. The Sydney Morning Herald. ISSN 0312-6315
  19. ^ Hampton, Justin (January 4, 2007). Another model of art class. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  20. ^ Smith, Mark (February 19, 2007). Dr Sketchy's Anti-Art School.Time Out London. Archived from the original.
  21. ^ Chalupa, Andrea (May 21, 2014). "Molly Crabapple's DIY Empire: A How To". The Huffington Post. Retrieved June 15, 2014.
  22. ^ Croughton, Paul (July 18, 2010). This will get them interested in art. The Sunday Times, pp. 10-11. (subscription required)
  23. ^ Crabapple, Molly; Leavett, John; Howard Des Chenes (May 20, 2008). Backstage. Act-i-vate. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
  24. ^ Bissette, Elizabeth (Fall 2009). Molly Crabapple. Fine Art Magazine, pp. 60-61. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
  25. ^ O'Shea, Tim (August 24, 2009). Talking Comics with Tim: Molly Crabapple. Robot 6. Comic Book Resources. Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  26. ^ Newitz, Annalee (May 10, 2010). In "Puppet Makers," The Aristocrats of Versailles Are Cyborg Courtesans. io9. Retrieved June 15, 2014.
  27. ^ VanderMeer, Jeff; S. J. Chambers (2012). The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature. Abrams. ISBN 9781613121665. pp. 84-85.
  28. ^ Chamberlain, Henry (May 13, 2010). "Interview: Molly Crabapple - Illustrator Extraordinaire". Geekweek. Retrieved June 15, 2014.
  29. ^ Hofacker, Brian (2007?) "DF Interview: Molly Crabapple". Dynamic Forces. Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  30. ^ Collins, Sean T. (August 13, 2009). "Strange Tales Spotlight: Molly Crabapple Q&A". Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  31. ^ a b Honigman, Ana Finel (July 2012). "Interview with Molly Crabapple". ArtSlant. Retrieved June 15, 2014.
  32. ^ a b Mason, Paul (April 30, 2012). Does Occupy signal the death of contemporary art? BBC News. Retrieved June 11, 2014.
  33. ^ Zuckerman, Esther (March 11, 2012). Molly Crabapple On 'Shell Game,' Her Surreal Take On the Financial Crisis. The Village Voice. Retrieved June 18, 2014.
  34. ^ Penny, Laurie; Molly Crabapple (2012). Discordia: Six Nights in Crisis Athens. Random House. ISBN 9781448156849.
  35. ^ Kassel, Matthew (October 16, 2013). "At Home With Molly Crabapple". New York Observer. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
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  38. ^ Roose, Kevin (December 13, 2011). The Long Life of the Vampire Squid. The New York Times. Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  39. ^ Crabapple, Molly (September 23, 2012). "My arrest at Occupy Wall Street". CNN. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
  40. ^ Holpuch, Amanda (October 10, 2013). New York's Moma acquires Occupy Wall Street art prints. The Guardian. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
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  43. ^ Crabapple, Molly "Shell Game: An Art Show About the Financial Meltdown". Kickstarter. Retrieved October 25, 2013.
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  45. ^ Dean, Michelle (2015-12-01). "Molly Crabapple: 'We're just trying to use our art to consume the world'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-06-06. 
  46. ^ Catherine Thompson (2013-08-15). "Guantanamo Bay Through The Eyes Of Artist Molly Crabapple". TPM. Retrieved 2015-03-14. She recently visited the detention facility at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as only the third person allowed to draw the prison and court proceedings at what has become one of the most iconic and controversial plots of land in the world in the last decade. 
  47. ^ Crabapple, Molly (July 7, 2013). "It Don’t Gitmo Better Than This". Vice.
  48. ^ Crabapple, Molly (June 21, 2013). "Drawing Gitmo". The Paris Review.
  49. ^ Crabapple, Molly (October 6, 2014). "Scenes from Daily Life in the De Facto Capital of ISIS". Vanity Fair
  50. ^ Crabapple, Molly (February 5, 2015). "Scenes from Daily Life Inside ISIS-Controlled Mosul". Vanity Fair.
  51. ^ Crabapple, Molly (July 20, 2015). "Scenes From Inside Aleppo: How Life Has Been Transformed by Rebel Rule". Vanity Fair.
  52. ^ Unferth, Deb Olin (2015-12-04). "Molly Crabapple's 'Drawing Blood'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-08-29. 
  53. ^ Cavna, Michael (February 14, 2013). Artmaking, A Love Story. The Washington Post. Retrieved June 17, 2014. (subscription required)
  54. ^ Delany, Ella (June 12, 2013). Crowdfunding turns to large-scale outlets. International Herald Tribune. Retrieved June 13, 2014. (subscription required)
  55. ^ Crabapple, Molly. "Molly Crabapple's Week in Hell". Kickstarter. Retrieved October 25, 2013.
  56. ^ "Molly Crabapple". Fusion. Retrieved September 29, 2016.
  57. ^ "Slavery to Mass Incarceration". Equal Justice Initiative. Retrieved September 29, 2016.
  58. ^ Dean, Michelle (December 1, 2015). "Molly Crabapple: 'We’re just trying to use our art to consume the world'". The Guardian.
  59. ^ Lamb, Brian (July 2, 2015). "Q&A with Molly Crabapple". C-SPAN.
  60. ^ Goldberg, Steve; Schier, Aimee (August 23, 2012). "'Power': A digital election art gallery", CNN. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
  61. ^ Kiniry, Laura (June/July 2009). Art & Artifice. Inked, p. 36.
  62. ^ D'Isa, Francesco (November 25, 2009). "Erotic Burlesque Art: An Interview with Molly Crabapple". Scene 360. Archived from the original.
  63. ^ Von Rohr, Mathieu (April 7, 2014). "Politik? Yeah!" Der Spiegel. (15): 152-153. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
  64. ^ Alter, Charlotte (2016-10-06). "The Journalist Drawing the World". TIME Magazine. Retrieved 2016-10-07. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Salavetz, Judith; Drate, Spencer (2010), Creating Comics! 47 Master Artists Reveal the Techniques and Inspiration Behind Their Comic Genius, Rockport Publishers, pp. 40–41, ISBN 9781610601672 

External links[edit]