Local heavy-metal musician and artist Christy Kane is accustomed to doing things for herself. She arrives for an interview wearing a dress she'd sewn dress-tape measurers onto, and hair she'd dyed lavender. As lead singer and guitarist for Hazard County Girls, Kane writes songs, designs album covers and handles band merchandise. Most recently she wrote, took photographs for, and designed her first "humorously macabre" children's story, Tales of the Sisters Kane (Baby Tattoo). She even stitched together incarnations of the book's curious characters.
In Kane's story, a gaggle of sisters embark on fanciful adventures that often lead to tragedy. "It's in the tradition of kids' stories that are tragic but teach a lesson," explains Kane. "Like Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales for Children -- my dad's favorite book -- and the stories of E.T.A. Hoffman, who wrote the original Nutcracker and The Sandman."
Take, for instance, Lily, who does not heed her mother's warning about the sewing machine: The thread wound round her finger tight, / for she had not laid the fabric right. / She quickly drew her hand away ... / But to her dismay, / wound in the thread her finger lay. / Sewing machines are not for play.
This was, incidentally, the ninth finger Lily had lost in this same manner.
Another of the Kane sisters, Polly, gets lost on what accidentally becomes an eternal roller-skating adventure: "You see, she was a bit of a daydreamer," reads this non-rhyming section of the book, "and it did cost her on occasion."
The sisters themselves are actually large cloth dolls sewn by Kane. "My dolls all tell me who they are as I make them," Kane says on her Web site. "It is simply beyond my control ... and I am thankful to them for allowing me to be involved in their happenings."
Kane studied photography at New York University (NYU) and photographed her dolls in black-and-white, in what could be described as "gothic" settings. "I'd say Southern Gothic," Kane qualifies, "since the South is my stomping ground, where my influences are. In fact, my aunt and, now-deceased, uncle are docents at Flannery O'Connor's childhood home in Savannah. And when I asked if I could take pictures of the dolls in the home, my aunt dropped me off there. I ended up not only taking pictures for the book, I wrote the first half of the girls' story in Flannery O'Connor's house."
To achieve "the look of old silent films," Kane forwent digital equipment in favor of, "the kind of big camera where you crawl under the cloth. I like the natural flaws of Polaroid Positive/Negative film," Kane says. "The scars and burn marks on the film better match the time period." When asked which time period it is she's trying to capture, Kane pauses. "Uh, long ago ... days gone by," she says evasively, reflecting an overall desire for timelessness in her art. Her approach may have seemed less timeless last month, when she returned to NYU to speak about her book to new students: "Everything's digital now." Kane says. "It's not even the photography department anymore, it's 'Photography and Imaging.' The students looked up my Web site and had it projected on a wall and I was like, 'When did they invent that?'"
While Kane has recently pedaled her book at several horror conventions, she says, "It's not horror. People in the horror community are just very accepting, and a lot of them are into (children's author) Edward Gorey. My book has tinges of horror -- Calalilly slams her hand in a piano and loses it, and some people would find that horrible, sure. But it happened because she was impatient and had a bad temper." Or as Kane writes in the book: She realized on that fateful day, / she should have behaved a different way. / So that, dear reader of this book, / is why Calalilly has a hook.
Kane's journey to publication began at a California showing of her dolls, in conjunction with the work of her friend Gris Grimley. "Gris illustrates and publishes lots of books, mostly wicked nursery rhymes with watercolors," Kane explains. "'Little Bo Peep Eats Her Sheep,' kind of thing. He has books out with Baby Tattoo." Grimley's publisher, Bob Self, loved Christy's dolls, and suggested she create a book -- a book Kane had already begun concocting. After two more years of working on her photos and doing layout, Kane sent the book to Self. "Bob's a really artist-friendly publisher," says Kane. "He's really interested and supportive. He encourages the artist to make whatever they want, and he tries to get as close as possible." And thus, Kane's diminutive finished book is bound in elegant black hardcover. "I like the idea of it being like a little crazy journal you found," Kane says, "or something hidden under your pillow."
Poet's Gallery is currently running its third showing of her dolls to coincide with the book's release. Along with the dolls themselves, the show features prints of photos from the book, taken on infrared film, and hand tinted. While perusing the show, visitors will also hear a toy-piano soundtrack Kane composed to accompany the book: "One song to go with each girl," she says. One hundred homemade copies of the soundtrack with songbooks inside are for sale at Poets, along with the same type of merchandise one would find at a Hazard County Girls show: Sisters Kane stickers, postcards, patches, T-shirts and hoodies, all designed and paid for by Kane herself. "My father always says, 'He who fails to toot his own horn, the same remains in a state of untootedness,'" she says. "I try to do it in an inoffensive way; not verbally, just visually."
Kane is now devising a filmed puppet version of Sisters Kane, as well as working on the second book in what she expects to be a series. "The first one is a cliffhanger," she says, and explains, "My little 10-year-old niece who loves it, she thought that because she was related to me that I'd give her the inside scoop on if Wisteria was going to be OK. I told her, 'Well, I can't tell you officially, but let's just say she's one of us. She's strong-willed like us. And my niece was like, 'That means she'll definitely be OK.'"