A very small ferryboat departs Anacortes intermittently throughout the day, shuttling handfuls of people and cars to an island I have never heard of. The five-minute journey costs $2 roundtrip. Jessica Lynch, a person I have never met, greets me with a hug. "I'm used to hugs," she says. I've just arrived on Guemes Island, a tiny, woodsy place at the tail end—or maybe the nose tip—of the San Juans. A seal and an otter (an actual otter!) roll about in the harbor, visible from Anderson's General Store, Guemes's solitary grocer/gift shop/soda fountain. The island was named in 1791 for Don Juan Vicente de Guemes Pacheco de Padilla Oracasitas y Aguayo, second count of Revillagigedo, viceroy of New Spain. It is 7.92 miles in circumference and has approximately 600 full-time residents, swelling to 2,000 in the summertime. It is "kind of shaped like a thumbs-up," explains Lynch.
She moved here seven years ago, after college in Oakland, California, to take a printmaking job—producing "crap I couldn't stand looking at, like herons and shit." A year later she abandoned the world of fine-art waterfowl reproduction to screen-print her own designs full-time under the label Slow Loris. Lynch's illustrations—a combustion engine (diagrammatical), an eagle (nonplussed), a nail clipper and its crescent-moon offspring ("I bite," it says)—are both technical and organic, rendered in funny, wobbly detail. "If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they have a really great shirt idea," she laments. "It's usually, like, a cat smoking a joint or something."
Lynch prints Slow Loris shirts in batches of a hundred or less, usually until she gets bored with the design, and sells them online (at www.slowshirts.com) and in boutiques nationwide. At the moment, though, she's hoarding most of her output for the upcoming Urban Craft Uprising (www.urbancraftuprising.com, December 2 and 3 at Seattle Center).
The slow loris, an Asian primate with venomous saliva, inhabits a bizarre evolutionary niche somewhere among monkey and panda and Keane painting. Lynch saw one on PBS once and liked the name. "It's a little guy in Indonesia," she says. "Looks like a Popple. Sometimes [people] think my name is Lori, and I'm maybe handicapped. You know, slooow. Or they'll call and say, 'I SAW A SLOW LORIS AT THE ZOO! DID YOU KNOW THAT THAT'S REALLY A THING?'" She has never drawn a slow loris, and isn't sure that she cares to.
Currently, Lynch works out of "the bottom of a drafty barn" while completing construction on her permanent home/studio. She's on Guemes to stay ("It's like an extended family, but without all the harsh judgment"); her property perches on a magnificent bluff overlooking the channel. She's been camping out next to the construction site in a 144-square-foot shack with two dogs and no plumbing for the past year: "Everything in my life is dirty, wet, and/or ruined." Outside, it is pitch black. I ask if she's ever afraid of the forest. She looks at me like I'm crazy.
Driving around the island in her truck with her dog Basil Rathbone (also known as "Handsome Tendencies"), Lynch proceeds to say about a million funny things. For a Fantagraphics book about mythical beasts, she tells me, she tried (and failed) to draw "this Inuit woman with no body who just rolls around, but she has, like, tits and a vulva... a rolling boobied head thing." A recent Mad Libs session yielded the phrase "a pickle in the penis is worth two in the nut," which Lynch and her friends regard as wise catchall advice. She's determined to introduce "unbelliable" into the lexicon ("you know, you can't stomach it—unbelliable!"). Her childhood nickname, for reasons not divulged, was Cock.
Lynch is going into town for dinner with some friends, and I end up in their car on the ferry. The driver, Laura, is warm and sisterly and gives me a keychain named Wingnut, which is made of some wing nuts. It hardly seems fair, I think, that some people get to live on a magical island with their friends and earn a living being funny and fun and making the world's most adorable handicrafts. We should all move to the country, I decide.
"You look like the Gorton's fisherman!" hollers Laura at a ferry worker. "I want FISH AND CHIPS!" Lynch adds. They deliver me to the terminal and Lynch hugs me again, awkwardly but matter-of-factly, across the seat. I get out of the car and I miss them.