Tag Archives: graphic novel

The Diverse Books Tag #diversebookbloggers

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The Diverse Books Tag #diversebookbloggers

Naz over at Read Diverse Books has challenged everyone to read more diversely. If you have read a book that fits into the category, share it! If you haven’t, go find a book that fits into the category with the goal of reading it. Here we go:

The-DiverseBooks-Tag

Find a Book Starring a Lesbian Character:

I’ve got this one in spades. Books with lesbians come to me easily — or perhaps I seek them out? — but mostly, I look for excellent stories, and I never shy away from those stories if the protagonist is a lesbian. In fact, in some instances, the leading lady being a lesbian is what drew me in!

Checking out the following:

Find a Book with a Muslim Protagonist:

Okay, my reading is not as great in this area. There is one book that I have read probably half a dozen times and taught each semester for several years now: The Autobiography of Malcolm X with Alex Haley. This book surprises my students because Malcolm is a Muslim minister for the Nation of Islam, which is a different branch of Islam than what you would encounter in the Middle East. After Malcolm did his pilgrimage to Mecca, he disavowed the N.O.I. and went Orthodox.

Looking at Goodreads, I would like to check out Ms. Marvel, a new comic book series. I also want to read Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah, which I saw in Barnes & Noble.

Find a Book Set in Latin America:

This is another category with which I have more experience. I’ve also seen Junot Diaz twice; the dude has stood two feet away from me (he likes to wander auditoriums when he talks). And my god, does he swear a lot (I love it). The last time I saw him, he asked where the Latino/as in the audience were. Then he asked where his Africans were. Very few people raised their hands, and he said that wasn’t his fault, but the college’s (we were at the University of Notre Dame). Here is my list:

  • Ayiti by Roxane Gay (Haiti)
  • Unaccompanied Minors by Alden Jones (Costa Rica)
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Dominican Republic)
  • Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War by Deb Olin Unferth (Nicaragua)
  • Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros (Mexico)
  • Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work by Edwidge Danticat (Haiti)

I have a number of books I’ve read by Latino/a authors who live in the U.S., such as Lolita Hernandez, Salvador Plascencia, and Desiree Zamorano. I’d like to read The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara (Mexico).

Find a Book About a Person with a Disability:

This is a tough one because I feel awkward reading a book about a person with a disability written by someone without a disability. I’ve noticed that most of the books with people who have disabilities I encounter are on the mental health spectrum as opposed to a physical disability, so I’ll keep my eyes open for more books with people who have disabilities.

  • Half Life by Shelly Jackson (conjoined twins)
  • American Genius by Lynn Tillman (mental illness)
  • Bogeywoman by Jaimy Gordon (self-harm, anxiety)
  • Sweethearts by Melanie Rae Thon (deaf)
  • Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulemia by Marya Hornbacher (mental illness)
  • Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher (mental illness)
  • Annie’s Ghost by Steven Luxenberg (disabled legs and mental illness)
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (mentally disabled)
  • Lily of the Valley: Chateau of Flowers by Margaret Rome (blind)

Find a Science Fiction or Fantasy Book with a POC Protagonist:

I don’t read a ton of sci-fi or fantasy, but when I do, it tends to have POC in it. Perhaps because I find that when an author who is a POC writes sci-fi or fantasy, he or she includes deeper messages of race and gender than a white writer may.

  • Soul Resin by Charles W. Cannon
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  • Bald New World by Peter Tieryas
  • The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez

I have Kindred by Octavia Butler on my list. She wrote so many sci-fi/fantasy novels with POC; she is ultra prolific.

Find a Book Set In or About An African Country:

Find a Book Written by an Indigenous/Native Author:

  • Ledfeather by Stephen Graham Jones (Blackfeet)
  • Demon Theory by Stephen Graham Jones
  • It Came From Del Rio by Stephen Graham Jones
  • The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones
  • After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones
  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie (grew up on Spokane reservation, but has heritage with several tribes)

Okay, so I’ve read a lot of Stephen Graham Jones. Technically, he would fit really well into sci-fi and fantasy starring a POC because he writes lots of mind-bending horror with time warps and craziness. I’ve read essays by Leslie Marmon Silko and Joy Harjo, and I would like to read Louise Erdrich soon. I’d also like to read Ojibwe authors, as I grew up on the Saginaw Chippewa reservation.

Find a Book Set in South Asia:

  • Palestine by Joe Sacco (Israel-ish, depending on your viewpoint regarding what to call this territory)
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Iran)
  • Love in a Dead Language by Lee A. Siegel (India)
  • The Question of Bruno by Aleksander Hemon (Sarajevo)
  • Currency by Zoe Zolbrod (Thailand)
  • The Girl on the Fridge by Etgar Keret (Isreal)
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (India) I incorrectly remembered which book this was! It is mostly set in the United States and focuses on Indian-American families. My mistake 🙂
  • Of Marriageable Age by Sharon Maas (India, British Guyana)
  • Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (India)
  • Dragonfish by Vu Tran (Vietnam) This book is half set in Vietnam and half in Las Vegas.

Find a Book with a Biracial Protagonist:

  • Sweethearts by Melanie Rae Thon (Crow/white)
  • The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss (almost every person in the book is biracial)
  • Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evens (black/white)
  • Quicksand and Passing by Nella Larsen (black/white)

Find a Book About a Transgender Character or that is about Transgender Issues:

  • Cloud 9 by Carol Churchill
  • Woman’s World by Graham Rawle
  • Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite

I also have Janet Mock’s memoir on my to-read list, of course!

The-DiverseBooks-Tag

#DiverseBookBloggers

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Recently, the hashtag #DiverseBookBloggers has been uniting book bloggers across Twitter who want to see not only more diversity in books, but in those who read and review books. The hashtag was started by Naz, a Texan book blogger who identifies as a male Latino. Read the story of how and why Naz started #DiverseBookBloggers.

Since most of the book blogging world consists of straight white women, I was sure that I didn’t count as diverse. Later, book blogger Darkowaa from African Book Addict tagged me on Twitter as an “awesome” diverse book blogger, and I wondered how that label held up. Yes, I only review books written by folks who identify as women. No, I don’t really limit what people send me (though I don’t take Young Adult lit; I am not the reviewer for this genre). Yes, I prefer to review books by women of color and who fall on the LGBT spectrum.

Yet, when I have submissions open, it’s almost always straight white women who are self-published. These authors’ requests flooded my inbox. I thought I could include diversity by accepting people who were too “edgy” or marginalized to be published through traditional means, but I soon learned that “self-published” can mean anything — from an author who wanted full control of her book, to those who have grown impatient with editing, submitting, and revising and put the book out into the world far too soon (editors do serve a purpose).

I promptly closed my submissions and started asking authors or publishers for books that sounded bold or diverse. Or, I would seek out books by marginalized authors from my library. I started Grab the Lapels because I wasn’t reviewing diverse books when I worked for magazines. If a book by an author who identifies as male grabs my interest, I publish that review on another fantastic blog — the blogger is great about letting me review what I want, so long as it’s from a small press.

But.

What does Naz from Read Diverse Books blog consider “diverse”? Do I live up to the label? Here’s what he says:

What do we mean by “diverse”? Who qualifies as #DiverseBookBloggers?

#DiverseBookBloggers are not white, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied bloggers who write predominantly about authors of that same description.

They ideally blog about #ownvoices authors and advocate diverse reading habits for all. This includes white bloggers who write about diverse literature regularly.

They find themselves in the LGBTQ+ spectrum or are people with disabilities and blog about books that represent them when possible

The hashtag more generally includes any person who is LGBT, a person of color, or a person with a disability who also is a book blogger. But diverse reading is preferred.

Well…I’m pretty sure I don’t fit. I’m a straight, married, able-bodied (though a bit lazy and totally out of shape), middle class women. However, an examination of my Goodreads “read” pile for 2016 shows that 12 out of 27 books I’ve read are from diverse voices! I include books from victims, people of color, those on the LGBT spectrum, non-Christian religious, and authors who are not from the United States. Here are some of those books:


The Rabbi’s Cat and The Rabbi’s Cat 2

  • Graphic novels by French author Joann Sfar
  • Explore Judaism and Islam in Africa
  • Comments on colonialism
  • Translated from French
  • Wicked funny

The Rabbis Cat 2 - Gator go Boom (Optimized).png


Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary and Bogeywoman and Blue is the Warmest Color

  • Star lesbians as the main character
  • Have strong women as secondary characters who help the main character
  • Explore coming out as lesbians

best lois lenzBogeywoman Covermaroh book cover


Powerful Days and Between the World and Me

  • Examine racial tension in the United States between black and white communities
  • Give anecdotal evidence of how violence against black bodies happens insidiously.

moorecoates


Missoula and PHD to PhD

  • Both books examine sexual assault and what it’s like (as a result, both books can be very upsetting).
  • Describe how sexual assault victims are not taken serious because of the context of the assault, such as the victim was drinking, a prostitute, a drug addict, or friends with the perpetrator.
  • Explore how victims are ignored or not believed when facing their perpetrators due to their gender or race.

missoulaPo Ho on Dope


Explosion and A Decent Ride and The Normal State of Mind

  • These books are by individuals from countries that are not the United States (Russia, Scotland, and India, respectively).
  • Examine contexts that affect the characters, such Soviet Russia and the lack of human rights, the drug and HIV epidemic aftermath in Scotland, and the rights of women in India
  • Each book taught me something new about a country and culture I did not learn from reading books by authors born in American.
  • Note that Zabrisky and Welsh both live in the U.S. at this point in time.

zabrisky explosiondecentTNSOMfinal


I want to thank Naz for starting the conversation about diverse bloggers! I made the comment on his site that I often try to avoid book bloggers who only seek out characters with whom they can relate. To me, “relate” is another way of saying “just like me.” If you are a blogger and you feel that you sympathize or empathize with a character, make sure you aren’t accidentally saying “relate” — empathy and sympathy shows growth in a reader and helps your audience know that you are open to and accepting of new ideas and different cultures.

Little Fish

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Little Fish

 

Title & Author: Little Fish, written and drawn by Ramsey Beyer

Published by: Zest Books in September 2013

Note: I pointed out recently that I will be using page numbers in my reviews to “practice what I preach” to my comp students, but this book does not have numbered pages!

Little Fish Beyer

Although the cover is in color, the rest of the book is black and white.

I decided to check out Ramsey Beyer’s work because she was recommended during a Grab the Lapels “Meet the Writer” feature with comic artist Liz PrinceLittle Fish is a graphic memoir that looks at the author’s first year of college, starting with the summer before she leaves in small-town Paw Paw, Michigan, and ending just as summer begins after her spring semester at an art college in Baltimore concludes.

In the first few pages, the author introduces herself in the present. She says she’s Ramsey, 28 years old, and lives in Philly where she makes comics about her own life. I like this introduction, as it shows readers that Ramsey Beyer became a “successful adult.” Liz Prince started in a similar way in Tomboy. Prince’s adult self would jump in the narrative of her childhood to add insights she’s gained since she was a girl. Ramsey Beyer’s adult self never comes back, and I wasn’t sure why not. There were many times I wanted more reflection of what freshman-year Ramsey felt.

The majority of Little Fish is told through lists that Beyer wrote while she was in college. I didn’t like these. They add very little insight and could have served as reminders to the author of how she was at 18, or the author could have commented on the lists and how sometimes her feelings changed really fast (like from depressed to bouncy, for example, in a matter of days). Some lists provide better insight, such as the one that talks about why she wanted to go to a school in the city. Here are a few reasons:

“–i need to push my boundaries in every way

–i’ll make better art if i’m uncomfortable and inspired

–i don’t want to be able to fall back on my friends and family. if i lived nearby, i don’t think i would end up pushing myself”

Some of the other items include immature observations, like “the East Coast seems so cool!” but there are moments where Beyer shows us she was a deeply reflective 18-year-old. It just that most of her lists don’t demonstrate that, and lists consume the pages of Little Fish.

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Two lists on one page. Many pages look like this.

What I did appreciate about the lists is that they were constructed in a visually appealing way. Many were cut up and placed on top of textured back grounds, like strips of duct tape, bubble wrap, or knitted fabric (Beyer was in knitting club in college). These textured backgrounds are made of materials popular with teenagers, but also demonstrate Beyer is thinking about the composition of images.

Little Fish is also told through Livejournal posts the author made when she was 18. Ramsey Beyer graduated high school and went to college the same year I did, so I could relate to how popular Livejournal was at the time. Also, Beyer and I both grew up in small-town Michigan. I frequently drive past her hometown of Paw Paw on my way to visit relatives! I’m not sure that the Livejournal posts will add much for all readers, but to me, they added a level of nostalgia for 2003-2004.

livejournal beyer

Beyer writing a Livejournal post on the airplane.

 

Since this is a graphic novel, there has to be some panels like we normally think of in comics. I liked these the best, as the author drew herself asking questions and thinking about what’s going on during her first year at college. She worries that she’s not political enough, and her new friend Daniel prods her to consider her position on topics like feminism and animal rights. This was the interesting material; the conversations with her friends and subsequent reflections on the conversations are rich. The drawing style is simplistic–a bit like the cartoon Doug–which keeps the attention on the ideas and not the drawing details.

Overall, Little Fish is a slice of life story that begins and ends arbitrarily: with the start and conclusion of Beyer’s first year of college. Although she expresses frustration with her art classes, readers are never shown any of her art projects or actually see her struggling. Classes are often mentioned on a list. For instance, on the list titled “school is hard sink or swim” she writes, “–my very first assignment in drawing class was to draw 100 hands and 100 feet by the following week. thats a lot of drawing (!!) and that was only one class out of four that i had for homework that week”. I wanted to know how that week went! Was she constantly drawing? What did the hands look like? The only point of reference readers have for Beyer’s artwork is the book they hold in their hands. She also changes majors to animation, a form of art she’s never done but ends up loving after taking one class. What do they do in that class? What are her projects like? Beyer leaves readers hanging.

Instead, Beyer mostly focuses on what “kind” of friends she has and how having people who know everything about her affects the depth of her feelings for those individuals. Beyer’s friends from Paw Paw, MI, knew her since she was five. Her new friends in college are totally different. Yet, readers don’t get to know anyone well. They’re mostly described in lists! More lists! For example, “Olivia likes: activism, films, going on dates, trying new food, and veganism.” The lists don’t help the reader, but they seem to help Beyer think about what friends are and where they can come from. After living together and talking intimately for 2 semesters, Beyer’s new friends earn a place in her heart because they know so much about her. As a result, when she’s at college she wants to be home, but when she’s at home, she often misses college! This is good stuff that would be helpful for new high school grads. That is the best audience for Little Fish: high school graduates off to college.

I felt like it was refreshing to read about someone who represents straightedge life, even though Beyer hates that term–because she’s the kind of person I was at her age. Everyone wants to see their story told in media, to see themselves represented and identify with the people depicted. But, this book doesn’t push the author. It’s a lot of cut and paste (literally) from 2003-2004, causing the book to tell readers quite a bit of information without showing it, and without trusting readers to pick up on visual ques in a visual medium.

Blue is the Warmest Color

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Blue is the Warmest Color

Title: Blue is the Warmest Color

Written & Drawn By: Julie Maroh

Translated by: Ivanka Hahnenberger

Originally published: in 2010 as Le bleu est une couleur chaude by Glenat Editions

English Version published: in 2013 by Arsenal Pulp Press

maroh book cover

*NOTE: I teach my comp students how to write book reviews, and I always emphasize using citations for their work. This past week, I started to feel like a hypocrite for not using page numbers, so I will be doing so from now on!

I remember noticing when the movie Blue is the Warmest Color came to theaters. I remember thinking that I liked how it was about two girls who fall in love, but I also noted that it looked like it was for high school students. As much as I try, I really struggle to watch movies about high school kids because nothing about them seems authentic. I don’t remember people who look, act, or think like the teenagers I see on the big screen (and possibly because many “teenagers” in American films are actually actors in their late 20s). I didn’t know Blue is the Warmest Color was originally a French graphic novel.

The story’s beginning is a bit confusing. A young blond woman rides a bus. She looks sad, and the pages are washed out water colors; definitely sad. She twists a plain gold wedding band around her finger. There are narration boxes: “My love, when you read these words I will have left this world” (5). Already, I’m thinking about suicide notes. The woman arrives at an apartment, rings the bell, is given a letter by a sad-looking middle-age woman who points up, and thus the blond lady goes up the stairs ends up in a bedroom (6-7). The reader learns that the letter is addressed “To Emma” and that the writer has left Emma the most precious possessions: diaries. The diary from the speaker’s adolescence is blue, thus “Blue has become the warmest color” (7). Finally, readers learn the speaker’s name: Clementine (8). I purposefully did not use feminine pronouns in this paragraph because the whole time I was thinking the letter would be from a man (heteronormativity makes me see wedding rings and think husband and wife, which I am trying to not think. My brain can be more open minded).

Through the diary readers learn that a very handsome high school senior named Thomas thought sophomore Clementine was cute. They date, and even after 6 months, Clementine cannot bring herself to sleep with him. Thomas is patient but confused (21). One day, while on the street, Clementine notices two women, one with blue hair and one with a shaved head, walking together. They are obviously a couple, but the woman with the blue hair and Clementine share a moment…and then Clementine can’t stop dreaming about her. These are highly sexual dreams that at first scare her, but then she accepts them (16-19). Clementine breaks up with Thomas (31). It took me a while to realize that Emma (blond in the beginning/present of the book) is the girl with blue hair. The story doesn’t tell readers that Emma is mid-30s in the present, but about 23 when she has blue hair. It also took me a while to realize that the apartment Emma went to was the home where Clementine grew up and where her parents still live. Why in the world would Emma be at the apartment alone, I asked. The father clearly doesn’t want her there, and the mother looks defeated. It slowly comes together than Emma has been instructed, in the note the mother gives her, to read Clementine’s diaries while she spends the night in Clementine’s old room. Why this set up? Why not just give Emma the diaries and let her leave? Without more clues, the beginning seems unnecessarily complicated.

Author Julie Maroh uses color beautifully in this graphic novel. The majority of the pages are grey colors. In the present, the pages are in color, but they all look like they have a dishwater lens over them–sort of washed out and dirty. There is also more color near the end. But, for the most part: grey. While many think of blue as sad or dark, blue in Maroh’s story means warm and love. Blue appears, sticking out greatly in those grey images. It’s not surprising that Clementine’s diary–the one with all of her memories from high school–is blue. Thomas’s shirt is always blue, leading the reader to believe he is the source of warmth, but then enters the blue-haired woman: Emma. Whenever the reader sees blue, it’s a simple sign to guide the way readers feel about people.

Maroh passing by

Their first “meeting”–passing on the street (13).

Maroh’s images are gorgeous, and not just for their color. She draws some of the best love making and physical affection I’ve seen. She’s not afraid to let the scene linger, to let readers really enjoy the sexual images that are hard-earned after waiting so long for Emma and Clementine to be physical. After seeing Carol this past weekend with my husband, I realized images of LGBT people making love are often hinted at: a door closes and in the morning everyone is putting on their shoes near the bed. But both Carol and Blue is the Warmest Color let these scenes expand fully and naturally.  We see hetero loving making all the time, and exposing audiences to what they’re not used removes the impression that what they’re seeing isn’t “normal.”

maroh love making

This is one of many pages with love making (96).

American readers may struggle a little with this graphic novel. It’s set in France, and so the things people do at different ages is not typical in American culture. For example, Clementine finally meets her blue-haired beauty in a gay bar. At this point, Clementine is a junior preparing for her entrance exams (she’s just shy of 17), and Emma is in her 4th year at art school (56). Little descriptions like this will be surprising or unusual for American readers, but it doesn’t interfere with story line.

Blue is the Warmest Color is a complicated story because Emma already has a girlfriend, and Clementine’s never loved a girl before. She’s new to her feelings, and so she denies them, doesn’t understand them, and has to work through them by talking to Emma and her best friend, Valentin. Emma believes, “We do not choose the one we fall in love with, and our perception of happiness is our own and is determined by what we experience” (77). Sometimes these lines felt a bit cliched to me, but I’ve also never had to be reassured that me loving someone is okay, because I’m straight.

Clementine isn’t the only one who’s confused: Emma stays with her girlfriend Sabine because Sabine shaped Emma’s life. Emma explains, “Sabine and I met at art school…it’s thanks to her that I live the life I live now. She really helped me to accept my sexuality, and my work too. And she introduced me to the gay culture, and her friends have become my friends. I don’t know what would have happened to me if she hadn’t been there” (77). Maroh uses Sabine and Emma to show that relationships that help us create who we are make things more complicated in a way that isn’t trivial. Maroh could have said that Emma simply didn’t want to break up with Sabine and hurt her (an excuse I hear all the time in American books and movies), but making the relationship a pivotal one in Emma’s life emphasizes the situation is harder and more realistic.

Of course Clementine’s parents find out that she loves Emma, and she is thrown out of her house when she is 17 (129), creating a rift between Clementine and her parents that she cannot heal. She feels their absence deeply, even when the narrative skips ahead to when Clementine is about to turn 30 (132). This point in the graphic novel was confusing to me. I’m not sure why the author chose to skip so many years. Based on the images, readers learn that Clementine becomes a school teacher (137). But she’s not happy. She writes in her diary, “Emma has been there for me with more and more love to give. But something I cannot control in me keeps creating a bigger and bigger distance between us. For Emma, her sexuality is something that draws her to others, a social and political thing. For me, it’s the most intimate thing there is. She calls it cowardice, but all I want is to be happy (131). What exactly are these conversations? Is Clementine now “out and proud” the way Emma is, the way Sabine taught Emma to be? Does this mean that the couple cannot be happy together? I had more questions than Julie Maroh has answers.

Since the first page reveals that Clementine is dead, it’s not much of a spoiler to say that she was using some kind of drug that wore her heart out. The doctor does that all-too-familiar “It’s too late” speech (149). The pills–we’re never told what they are–that Clementine was taking did damage over a long period of time and then makes worse the “arterial pulmonary hypertension” she dying from (148). I thought Maroh could have done much better. The whole death seems quick; readers never get the true downfall of Clementine. It’s all hinted at over a page or two. The goodbye letter from the beginning also suggests Clementine would have cut her wrists or taken a large number of painkillers to kill herself. I get the feeling Maroh didn’t want to be cliched, but the result felt a little over dramatic–heart damage for years! From prescriptions Emma never saw! (148). This speedy ending also makes it harder to believe that Clementine wrote letters and last diary entries for Emma to read after she’d died. There’s even a scene in which Clementine in her hospital bed hands her mother a letter, and the mother says she promises (152). Obviously, this is the letter that Emma is reading at the beginning of the book. Why make it all so dramatic and complicated? I felt Maroh could have handled the sharing of the diaries in a much more simple way. If you feel confused by my descriptions of the timeline, I’m not surprised. They’re hard to explain because they’re unnecessarily difficult.

Blue is the Warmest Color has gorgeous drawings, and the love between Emma and Clementine is believable, but some of the set up and the conclusion were unnecessarily dramatic which served to confuse me more than anything.

Syllabus

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Syllabus

Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor

written and illustrated by Lynda Barry

published in Oct. 2014 by Drawn & Quarterly

Lynda Barry is best known as an illustrator who created Ernie Pook’s Comeek, a comic strip that ran for decades. It featured Marley, and I typically think of it as the Marley comic. Later, the strip was collected in a book called The! Greatest! of! Marlys!, so it’s easy to see why I think of it as the Marley strip. I was somewhat charmed by the book, but it was when I discovered Lynda Barry’s novel Cruddy that I absolutely fell in love with the author. Cruddy is the darkest yet most beautiful book I’ve ever read. Reading Cruddy is like driving just a bit under the influence and wondering what will happen if you push the accelerator just a bit more and then a little more and then you went off-roading and your car caught fire. I identified with the raggedness of the narrator, the bare-your-teeth-to-show-you’re-crazy nature she possesses. The narrator is a teenage girl unlike any you’ve ever met. Seriously, I would not compare her to anyone.

But I’m here to review Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor. Barry explains that her former teacher, Marilyn Frasca, taught her how to keep a black and white comp book and to use it every single day to explore the world and what an image actually is. These comp books are the “most reliable route to the thing [Barry’s] come to call [her] work….” Barry has been carrying these notebooks for 20 years now. Syllabus is “a collection of bits and pieces from the many notebooks [Barry] kept during [her] first three years of trying to figure out how to teach this practice to [her] students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.” I wanted to see how this innovative woman approached the classroom to perhaps learn something for my own teaching. One main difference I must note is that Lynda Barry is so desired as a professor that students must submit applications to be in her class, and I teach freshmen in college.

Syllabus is a rare book whose physical form matches its content. Barry shares pages from a standard black and white marbled composition book. In pictures, you can’t tell but Syllabus is bound like a comp book, and its pages are thin like a comp book. Here is a large picture so you can see the cover better:

barry cover

However, the book itself feels a bit delicate, and I was worried my new present (I got this gem for Christmas (thanks, Mom!)) would get easily banged up or have pages torn–much like a comp book. I liked that the design made me feel like I was peeking into Barry’s personal unpublished work, but I didn’t like that I fretted over damage.

Upon opening Syllabus, I immediately felt overwhelmed. What had I asked for?? The pages, if you flip through, look chaotic and unorganized, and I was worried that the book would have no direction and would consist only of pages scanned from Barry’s personal comp books. You’ll see things like this:

chaotic page

Whoa! I mean, is she really just going to photocopy things out of her notebook, or will there be more to it? To be honest, I was fairly hesitant to start Syllabus. It is a book that takes a little bit to get into. Even the copyright page is handwritten and disorganized, but I can definitely see how it adds to the aesthetic to make the form and content match.

Syllabus starts with Barry explaining how she wasn’t even sure how to make a syllabus at first. Some of her friends who teach had 30 pages, and others had one sheet of paper with information on the front and back. Barry ended up drawing her syllabus to explain what she expects from her students, which is neat to see.

My fears of unclear messages and images were assuaged when I realized Barry would explain what she was up to in many places. The reason it looks chaotic on the page is because she is a comic artist who isn’t using panels (those nice, neat squares that typically contain images and words). Good comic artists will lead you around the page carefully so that you don’t get lost, and Barry is a master at getting your eye to follow her words and images where she wishes. Panels are cool, but she doesn’t need them.

That Barry is an encouraging instructor comes through clearly. She reassures students that to be in the class they do not need to be able to draw. In fact, when she goes through the applications for her class, she choose a variety of students from the arts and sciences departments so that she doesn’t get a bunch of people who already draw. The best are people who used to draw (like, when they were children) and have not done so in a long time. There are interesting exercises, like spend 60 seconds drawing a robber. The images are all a bit “childish” but interesting, and Barry writes, “In a classroom of students with varying levels of drawing experience, this way of drawing brings us to a common starting place that is like the starting place we all share: our first drawings of people made when we were little.”

bad robbers

My excitement for this book perhaps stems from my background: I had a fantastic art teacher in high school who emphasized history, technique, style, etc. so that students built up a knowledge of art and didn’t just move from one project to the next with no strands to connect them. I also love graphic novels (I’m not as big into comic books because it’s really an endurance game that costs a lot of time and money). I have three degrees in fiction writing, so I am very interested in where ideas come from and why we like some better than others. Barry points out that we made art before we had a word for it, but why? She asks big questions that blew my mind, like is there a biological function of art. So much of my interests in creativity are shallow compared to what Barry poses! Here is an example:

“How do images move and transfer? Something inside one person takes external form–contained by a poem, story, picture, melody, play, etc.–and through a certain kind of engagement, it is transferred to the inside of someone else.”

She also points out what it means to like or not like art (especially in the context of the rudimentary drawings students make):

“Liking and not liking can make us blind to what’s there. In spite of how we feel about it, it is making its way, from the unseen to the visible world, one line after the next, bringing with it a kind of aliveness I live for: right here, right now.”

Barry addresses my question about where creativity comes from. Ever had writer’s block? Barry makes an interesting point:

“We know that athletes, musicians, and actors all have to practice, rehearse, repeat things until it gets into the body, the ‘muscle memory,’ but for some reason, writers and visual artists think they have to be inspired before they make something, not suspecting the physical act of writing or drawing is what brings that inspiration about. Worrying about its worth and value to others before it exists can keep us immobilized forever. Any story we write or picture we make cannot demonstrate its worth until we write it or draw it. The answer can’t come to us any other way.”

Wow. I mean, wow, right? For all those who suffer from not knowing what to write or who lose interest in their art because they don’t know what to make–will it be unique? cool? liked? important? timeless?–these are all questions that hinder us, and until Barry said it in just those words, it didn’t strike me that writing is a physical act. You can say duh, sure, but Barry doesn’t allow tech devices in her class; it’s all pencil, pen, and paper (and crayons, colored pencils, and water color paints). The idea is to get people back to the physical act of writing in a specific way. The more I read Syllabus, the more it made sense, and not in a grumpy “kids and their technology! humph!” sort of way.

The one criticism I have of Syllabus other than the delicate construction of the book is that I wanted much, much more. I wish Barry had added more about her intentions with each assignment. For instance, in the beginning, students must color with crayons on different types of paper, completely filling the whole page. Just… scribbling, not images. Next, students color pages (I think she means pages with images that are on a variety of styles of paper?? The instructions say that students should choose 3 pages from those pinned to the wall. Is Barry bringing the pages in?) and the rule is that no white can show through. The students must use up their crayons. What is the purpose of this? I think part of it is getting students to notice what it means to use (and wear out) their hands, to focus on one task for a long period of time. The students get frustrated, and Barry notes that crayons are a hard medium to work with.

hate crayon

But what is her theory about the value of this exercise? The author does mention several times that certain activities are modified versions of other people’s ideas, and she lists the books so that readers can go find them. Perhaps I’m just greedy and want more Barry.

The one thing I especially wish Barry explained better was the use of the comp book. Sometimes there are what she calls “X” pages. Then there are diary pages. What is the difference? I felt jealous; Barry’s students are ridiculously privileged to be able to work with her, and the rest of us are left trying to figure it out ourselves. I am going to Google around and see if I can find interviews with Barry during which she talks more about the comp books.

Aside from my wishes to know more, I cannot recommend Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor by Lynda Barry enough. She asks pivotal questions about art and its function for humans and gives enough ideas to get your brain heated up and ready to think differently about your own creativity (and teaching).

Favorite Graphic Novels & Comics of 2015

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I’ve been reading graphic novels and comics for a long time, but this year I turned to the form as a way to keep up on book reviews when I was bogged down with work. But once I started, I had a hard time turning away! There are sure to be many more reviews of graphic works at Grab the Lapels. Here are a few of my favorite graphic novels and comics from 2015!


Lisa HanawaltMy Dumb Dirty Eyes

written and illustrated by Lisa Hanawalt

From simplistic crayon or pencil drawings to intricate water color or colored pencil designs, Hanawalt uses the full range of her talents and demonstrates that, like Picasso, if an artist learns the rules, she can break them, too. The book has no chapters or anything like that, as it is mostly pieces of small works–comics– such movie reviews, images of animals wearing hats for fashion week, small comic strips, and large two-page spreads of things like lizards wearing clothes hanging out in some sort of Keith Harring meets Hieronymous Bosch. Themes include nudity, sex, lizards, dogs, and horses.

She makes me remember that play and playfulness are good things when she remembers her love of love of Breyers plastic horses. Really, adults don’t seem to get it because we’re so repressed; the questions and observations that we have daily are shoved away because they’re too strange. Hanawalt lives in the strange and indulges in head space; it’s not a vacation for her.

Read the full review here!


pond coverOver Easy

written and illustrated by Mimi Pond (read our interview here)

Over Easy begins May 23, 1978. Margaret is the only character in a diner called The Imperial when the manager, Lazlo, comes spinning into the scene. At the time, Margaret is an art student, and the world of blue collar workers fascinates her. She exchanges a drawing for a free meal, but the restaurant is about to close for the day, so Lazlo gives her an IOU. The story then jumps back to how Margaret wound up at that diner and why she is interested in drawing.

Over Easy was a fascinating read. I always wanted to know what bitchy waitresses Martha and Helen would do next, and I wanted to see in what way the cooks were trying to be smooth poets and cool guys. Lazlo held the whole thing together with his whimsical personality and strange rules. I didn’t want to befriend these people, but I liked being the outsider peeking in.

Read the full review here!


Jillian TamakiSuperMutant Magic Academy

written and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

A fantastic look at intelligent teenagers and their hopes, fears, and disappointments. Tamaki treats that age group with dignity by allowing them to be themselves. The students care about relationships, death, the meaning of life, systems that oppress them to make them better consumers, and whether or not to go to prom. Almost the entirety of the book is set up in one-page increments until you get closer to the end. This book was a great one to engage me and also give me space. You can easily pick up and put down SuperMutant Magic Academy thanks to the short nature of its design.

 


Marie PommepuyBeautiful Darkness

written by Fabien Vehlmann

illustrated by  Kerascoët (the pen name of co-illustrators and husband and wife Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset)

I never include books written by men at Grab the Lapels. In fact, there is no full review of Beautiful Darkness on GTL. But, the illustrations are so vital to the story, and those are done in part by Marie Pommepuy, so I’m including this bewildering fairy tale in my favorite graphic novels of 2015.

It’s easy to read this book quickly (in less than an hour). The water color images have a sort of innocent look about them, which is emphasized and shattered when the characters do awful things! There is a Lord of the Flies feel to the story, though the characters aren’t on an island; they are for some reason released from the body of a dead girl that’s rotting in the woods. Keep in mind that this book is a work of conceptual fiction, so you won’t get the full resolution you seek in traditional fiction.

An exquisite collection that you have to experience to believe.


 

Step Aside PopsStep Aside, Pops!

written and illustrated by Kate Beaton

This comic book had me in stitches. Beaton’s collection is entirely in black and white. The drawings are what some might call “cartoony” or haphazard, but the style fits the content in a way that emphasizes the playfulness of the messages, and the speedy nature of today’s society. Everything is fast and on a deadline, thus Beaton’s drawing style reflects that.

Beaton explains, “When I get asked to describe my comics, the easiest thing to say is that it is historical or literary or pop-culture parodies.” Most pieces are only 3-6 frames long, making it easy to pick up and put down this book if you only have a minute. I had a lot of fun reading Step Aside, Pops!

Read the full review here!


This One Summer coverThis One Summer

written by Mariko Tamaki

illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

This One Summer is the story of fifteen-year-old Rose heading to Awago Beach for summer vacation, just like they do every single year. Rose meets up with her summer vacation friend, Windy, who is a year-and-one-half younger. But trouble starts brewing when Rose sees her parents argue and pull apart from each other.

Though This One Summer is a slice-of-life story that takes place over about ten days, it is full in the way that it captures the entirety of the difficulties of being a teenager.This One Summer took me back to my younger teenage years. I could relate to the difficulties that Rose faced when her parents argued the whole vacation and the isolation she experienced as a result. Some of what Rose thought she knew was changed as she watched different scenarios between her parents or the older teens, or even discussions with Windy, unfold to prove her preconceived notions wrong.

Read the full review here!


My first comics pick for 2016 is Lynda Barry’s newest book, Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor, published October 2014 by Drawn & Quarterly. How I didn’t know about this book earlier is a mystery to me, but I’ve had many individuals say it will change my professional and creative life. I got this book for Christmas this year. It seems to actually be printed on one of those black and white composition notebooks that you’d use in school. Here’s the description from the publisher:

For the past decade, Lynda has run a highly popular writing workshop for non-writers called Writing the Unthinkable – the workshop was featured in the New York Times magazine. Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor is the first book that will make her innovative lesson plans and writing exercises available to the public for home or classroom use. Barry’s course has been embraced by people of all walks of life – prison inmates, postal workers, university students, teachers, and hairdressers – for opening paths to creativity. Syllabus takes the course plan for Lynda Barry’s workshop and runs wild with it in Barry’s signature densely detailed style. Collaged texts, ballpoint pen doodles, and watercolour washes adorn Syllabus’ yellow lined pages, which offer advice on finding a creative voice and using memories to inspire the writing process. Throughout it all, Lynda Barry’s voice (as author and teacher-mentor) rings clear, inspiring, and honest.

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Favorite Memoirs of 2015

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Memoirs really grabbed me this year. There was something about reading real lives, real reactions, real people that got under my skin in 2015. It didn’t help that NPR’s Fresh Air show often features memoirs (I have many on my TBR list). Here are some memoirs that sucked me in!


Cheryl StrayedWild

by Cheryl Strayed

I finally got around to reading this book in January of 2015. I had a disastrous time with the audiobook, but loved the film. It’s worth the time to read Wild. Strayed doesn’t romanticize her mother (in fact, she admits the reasons she could hate her mother, too). She doesn’t over-exaggerate her hiking accomplishments (Strayed admits she’d been lucky for most of her journey, that she was helped by many, and that saying she was ill-prepared is a massive understatement; she always seemed inches away from being another Christopher McCandless).

Wild also isn’t a heavy reflection; sections about her mother are smoothly transitioned into the story, so the focus is on the hike, but the motives for the hike are not lost. Though she thought she would spend the 1,100 miles thinking about Bobbi, Bobbi’s death, and the resulting poor choices, Strayed admits she thought little about those things. Instead, she is physically and emotionally broken down and rebuilt by the inclines and declines of the mountains, predators (man, animal, and weather), and the literature she reads and writes.

Read the full review here!


cover chastCan’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

by Roz Chast

Roz Chast’s graphic novel examines the dying process (my choice of words, not the author’s) of Chast’s extremely old parents, George and Elizabeth. George and Elizabeth were born a few days apart in 1912 and only a few blocks apart in Harlem. Their parents were Russian immigrants who came to the U.S. with nothing but misery.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is a moving memoir from the perspective of an aging daughter who details what it’s like to deal with parents who are so very elderly, and also so very stubborn. Chast is honest in her portrayals, including how she abandoned most of her parents’ belongings for the super of the apartment to deal with, and how using money to house her parents in assisted living was cutting into her inheritance, which did and did not concern her. This graphic novel also takes a realistic, deep look at anxiety and the effects parents have on their children.

Read the full review here!


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Hamlet von Schnitzel, actual taxidermy mouse the author owns.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened & Furiously Happy

by Jenny Lawson

Lawson grew up in a tiny town in Texas with her younger sister, lunch lady mother, and taxidermist father. Living in relative poverty and having a father who constantly brings home animals, both dead and alive, makes for an influential childhood. Then, Lawson meets a college student in a book store named Victor, who is from a wealthy family, and the two marry. After much heartbreak, Victor and Lawson have a child named Hailey, and they live happily ever after in Texas. The end…sort of!

I found myself eager to return to Lawson’s life, and I appreciated that she kept the focus of the book on her. As soon as she had a baby, I worried the memoir would turn into one of those books about how funny moms think their kids are. It didn’t.

Read the full review here!

furiously-happyWith Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson spent ten years composing a single memoir. With Furiously Happy, she got it down to somewhere around three. As a result, the stories are contemporary and do make reference to current cultural markers. Again, Lawson include fights with head-shaking husband Victor (I’m so glad they didn’t divorce; I was sure they would), and there are mentions of daughter Hailey, but Lawson respects her child’s privacy and mostly leaves Hailey out of it. Furiously Happy is a much more introspective book.

Read the full review here!


cover fun homeFun Home

by Alison Bechdel

Bechdel focuses on her father, a man who obsesses over appearances, including that of his house, children, and personal clothing. The house looks like something out of a Victorian novel. He also forces his children to look nice, encouraging–and then belittling for not obeying–the author for not adding feminine touches, like pearls, to what he considers a dowdy outfit. Alison Bechdel confesses that she would rather dress like a boy, and readers discover that her father would rather dress like a girl (and has). The two exchange clothing advice in a surreptitious fashion for years, living vicariously through the other.

If you’re up for a bit of a challenge, you’ll love Fun Home. The weaving of past and present, psychology and action, is complex and reveals a person who has extracted meaning from a complicated, lonely childhood. Even better, the images as all professional looking–no cartoony images, no bright colors, no squiggly-doodly pictures.

Read the full review here!


Tomboy CoverTomboy

by Liz Prince (read our interview here)

31-year-old comic artist Liz Prince shares her history as a tomboy. All through elementary and middle school, Prince is tormented. No one wants to play with her, she hates all things girly, and classmates begin to question her sexuality. High school is a huge problem area until Prince finds a group of friends who are more open-minded. Tomboy is a graphic memoir that will have readers nodding along in recognition as Prince analyzes what it means to be a tomboy in a society that tells men and women how to be from birth.

If you read this book, you may find yourself experiencing some intense emotions you hoped you’d forgotten upon high school graduation. Yet, the analysis Liz Prince includes will help you think about why children were so cruel, perhaps why you were cruel, and that we all share a universal terrible time in grade school (even the popular kids are hiding something awful). Tomboy is a powerful memoir.

Read the full review here!


Sarah leavittTangles

by Sarah Leavitt

This graphic memoir that recounts 8 years of turmoil in her life beginning with when she suspects something is wrong with her mother, Midge, and ends with Midge’s death. Leavitt’s father, Rob, cares for Midge at home for as long as he can. Meanwhile, Leavitt, her younger sister, Hannah, and Midge’s sisters, Debbie and Sukey, help Rob support and care for Midge while her brain deteriorates from Alzheimer’s disease. Tangles refers both to the complicated relationships in the family caused by the disease and the very curly hair that both Leavitt and her mother possess.

Tangles really would be impossible to finish if Leavitt didn’t balance the challenges of Alzheimer’s with small moments that Leavitt and her family treasure.

Read the full review here!


In 2016, the first memoir I plan on reading is a book I picked up at a conference called PHD to PhD.: How Education Saved My Life by Elaine Richardson. The cover explains that PHD stands for “Po H# on Dope.” Published in 2013 by Parlor Press, the synopsis of this book reminds me of why I went into teaching. Here’s the description from the publisher:

“There was a time when Elaine Richardson was one of ‘the Negroes everybody pointed to as the Negroes you didn’t want to become.’ The title of this book is no metaphor or allusion, but a literal shorthand for a remarkable, unpredictable journey. She inherits a plain way of talking about horrific pain from a mother who seemed impossible to shock. The way too fast way she grew up was and is too common, but her will to remap her destiny is uncommon indeed. To call her story inspiring would be itself too plain a thing, hers is a heroic life.”–dream hampton (writer and filmmaker)

Po Ho on Dope

 

This One Summer

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This One Summer coverTitle: This One Summer

Writer: Mariko Tamaki

Illustrator: Jillian Tamaki

Published: by First Second in 2014

This One Summer is the story of fifteen-year-old Rose heading to Awago Beach for summer vacation, just like they do every single year. Rose meets up with her summer vacation friend, Windy, who is a year-and-one-half younger. But trouble starts brewing when Rose sees her parents argue and pull apart from each other. Though it seems strange to have everything resolved by the time the vacation is over, This One Summer uses many common events adolescent girls will experience to navigate growing up to relate to the audience.

One key aspect of This one Summer that makes it so good is that Mariko Tamaki is able to capture accurately what it’s like to be an adolescent girl. Right away, Rose develops a sort-of crush on the boy who works at the local convenience store. It’s one of those rustic shops near beach vacation spots that have everything from marshmallows to DVD rentals–anything vacationers would require. That boy–“The Dud”–randomly nicknames Rose “blondie,” a highly unimaginative choice. Yet, Rose’s face lights up and blushes at “The Dud’s” remark.

Readers may question why Rose would have any feelings for “The Dud.” He seems pretty typical for an eighteen-year-old boy, and even a bit unmotivated. Rose never flirts with him, nor does she make an effort to get to know more about him. Yet there is that category of good girl who knows that she has a little crush but is too shy to do anything about it. Rose behaves like a regular adolescent girl when she makes excuses to get things from the convenience store just to see this boy who paid her a small bit of attention.

The Tamaki cousins also accurately represent adolescent girls by carefully choosing what activities the girls do. To distract each other from a difficult topic, Rose and Windy decide to play M.A.S.H., a game every young girl has played. Players ask fate if they get to live in a Mansion, Apartment, Shed, or House, and to whom they are married, and how many kids they have. Rose chooses the president, Justin Bieber, and Mitch (a.k.a. “The Dud”) as her potential life mate, so including “The Dud” is another insight into her feelings for the older boy. When they aren’t playing games, the girls can be found renting R-rated horror movies, a sign that they want to be grown up, but which demonstrates that they can’t really handle the screaming, slashing, and blood squirting.

In their younger teenage years, girls want to grow up, but they may not be fully prepared to handle their choices. Watching scary movies is one thing, but paying attention to older teenage girls is another. Rose and Windy watch as the local girls, who are around eighteen, flirt openly with the boys at the convenience store, which of course makes Rose jealous. Rose decides older teen girls are so dumb that she calls them “drunks” and “sluts.” Really, Rose isn’t sure of what she’s saying, but she’s trying to understand older teen girls to figure out why she’s different from them. Watching older girls has long been a big part of learning for adolescent girls. This is not to say that older teens are the pinnacle of intelligence. Rose and Windy accidentally overhear an older girl ask her friend, “Hey, Sarah, was it you who said that sperm can live, for like, three weeks in your stomach?”

Since Mariko Tamaki writes teen girls so well, it’s important that Jillian Tamaki illustrate in a way that complements the words. Each character is very specific looking, meaning that they’re easy to identify. While some graphic novels make characters less detailed, which allows readers to insert themselves into the story, the people in This One Summer are not meant to be anyone. Many of the images are highly detailed:

Uncle Daniel Tamaki

Uncle Daniel

The beautiful detail in the drawing makes This One Summer almost read like snapshots in a photo album of a lovely vacation.

Yet, Jillian Tamaki is an artist with many styles, and readers will notice that some other styles slip into the graphic novel. Windy and Rose, most noticeably, often border on a manga look:

Manga Windy Tamaki.png

Windy with exaggerated features, but no distinct mouth.

Manga Rose Tamaki

More exaggerated features, such as the mouth, but Rose doesn’t have the meticulous features of Uncle Daniel’s picture.

I was a bit confused about why Jillian Tamaki would chose to lean toward a manga style in some of her pictures when she is so capable of drawing realistically, like she does with Uncle Daniel. It might be that since Rose and Windy are drawn the most often in the book, Tamaki chose a simpler image for time’s sake. It might also be that we’re meant to insert ourselves into Windy’s or Rose’s characters, since the book is about adolescent girlhood. The less specific the face, the more likely readers are to see themselves in the character.

Despite my puzzlement over the manga style, I found all of the illustrations of the characters appealing. Windy is especially adorable. I was worried that her 18 month age difference from Rose meant this would be a story about Rose outgrowing Windy, but the girls challenge and enrich each other. Windy is constantly eating and drinking soda like a thirteen-year-old girl, and she’s not afraid to dance in a way that makes me love her:

Windy Dancing Tamaki 2.png

Windy dancing takes up two full pages. Her enthusiasm for fun is infectious.

Jillian Tamaki does just do people well; she’s also brilliant when it comes to scenery. She incorporates grass, water, siding on the houses, trees, and beach sand, all in great detail. Furthermore, J. Tamaki makes use of space in a way that makes This One Summer seem expansive to the point of never ending:

summer-beach

Rose thinks about her family’s problems on the left while Windy run towards the blue stormy-looking mass on the right. Notice that my other images don’t have this deep bluish tint. This One Summer appears to have two editions: one in the blue and one without.

This two-page image can be twisted and turned in different directions: the lake on the bottom, the lake being in front of the girls, the lake on top looking like an ominous cloud that matches Rose’s concerns noted on the side.

Another thing Jillian Tamaki does that I don’t see as much in other graphic novels is she adds lots of little words in her images, just bits of onomatopoeia. In some scenes, the words simply made the image more dynamic in an otherwise wordless part of the story, like when Rose’s dad is on the grill and Rose is taking photographs:

Words and Images Tamaki.png

Sound effects everywhere!

Readers may wonder why they need these words. Isn’t it obvious that a grill sizzles and a camera clicks? But, on pages that have no dialogue or thought captions, the words give the reader with which to engage and view the scene as active, as in something is taking place and these characters are truly moving around. In other places, the onomatopoeia helped me understand what was happening, like this scene with “The Dud” and his bike:

The Dud Tamaki

The Dud carelessly dumps his bike on the ground.

Because he’s texting and biking, and Rose is also biking while holding an object, I thought at first that the distracted bicyclists crashed. However, the small “DUMP” by boy’s front tire made me realize that I was supposed to see him as a careless kid who doesn’t take care of his things. Instead of putting down the kickstand, which would keep his bike out of the filth, he just dumps it on the ground and leaves it–a clear sign that he doesn’t care about much, which is part of his personality.

Though This One Summer is a slice-of-life story that takes place over about ten days, it is full in the way that it captures the entirety of the difficulties of being a teenager. This One Summer took me back to my younger teenage years. I could relate to the difficulties that Rose faced when her parents argued the whole vacation and the isolation she experienced as a result. Some of what Rose thought she knew was changed as she watched different scenarios between her parents or the older teens, or even discussions with Windy, unfold to prove her preconceived notions wrong.

 

Meet the Writer: Mimi Pond

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Meet the Writer: Mimi Pond

 

Mimi Pond

Photo from the Village Voice

Today I got a chance to speak with author Mimi Pond. Pond is a cartoonist who started working in the 1980s, with work in National Lampoon, the Village Voice, and The New York Times. She won the PEN Center USA award for Graphic Literature Outstanding Body of Work, with a special mention for Over Easy. Pond has written for television, including the pilot episode of The Simpson’s entitled “Simpson’s Roasting on an Open Fire.” You can follow her on Twitter or check out her website.

At the end of October, I reviewed Pond’s graphic novel, Over Easy, and praised the marvelous characters and greenish-blue water colors to capture the feel of an era now gone. Mimi Pond was kind enough to answer my questions about Over Easy below:

Whom did you picture as your audience when you were writing Over Easy?

pond coverI really didn’t consider the audience. I really just wrote the book for myself. It was an absolute compulsion. If there was any audience at all, perhaps it was my co-workers. I just hoped that I was capturing the way things were, and, very gratifyingly, most of the folks I worked with way back when have responded very positively to it. Also, it seems to have resonated with many people of my generation who found themselves in similar situations.

At first, I was thrown off that Over Easy is described as a fictionalized memoir. What led to that decision?

Although truth is often stranger than fiction, reality is much more slow-paced than fiction. I wanted, as I said, to distill the essence of the experience without being literal. I did not want to be hindered by the day-to-day facts. I also didn’t want anyone to sue me.

I found many of the characters in Over Easy a bit repulsive, but I really loved them, too. I never had trouble keeping them apart because each is unique. How did you find that sweet spot?

Thank you! Well, so many people came and went through the restaurant that if I’d done it as non-fiction it might’ve read as a Russian novel. I had to make composites of multiple cooks and waitresses. It’s important in telling a story to make each character unique and serve as a counterpoint to the other characters.

ding dingWhat’s the deciding factor when choosing between simple square frames or a more dynamic page, such as the dinging bell that consumes the middle of the page on Margaret’s first day as a waitress?

It’s purely instinctive. Sometimes you want something big and splashy to break things up.  It’s also all about pacing. Watching movies has been probably more educational to me than looking at comics. You can learn a lot by studying the way films are edited.

On your website, you write, “Reading Over Easy, I hope you all have a sense of just how different things were in the late 1970s and early 80s.” I didn’t always agree with the choices people in Over Easy made, but I loved that it is an intimate look at a specific period and accepted the 40 year difference in time as a factor. Has the response from your readers been one of understanding, or are they holding the characters to today’s standards?

It’s kind of fascinating how many young people are completely SHOCKED by the characters’ behavior. For those of us who lived through that time, it’s just the way things were. Mostly, however, people seem to see it as a window into a different world.

You also mention on your website that your daughter Lulu is a comic artist, too. Can we expect any mother-daughter collaborations in the future?

That would be nice. Lulu isn’t a cartoonist per se, but she is fully capable of doing comics. Both she and her brother are very gifted artists. Her brother has done some comics. I would like to see both of them do more at some point, if the spirit wills them!

Thank you so much to Mimi Pond for stopping by! You can get your hands on a copy of Over Easy at Drawn & Quarterly.

Meet the Writer: Liz Prince

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Please be sure to check out my review of Tomboy on Grab the Lapels!

In Tomboy you depict yourself as a child drawing comics. When did you realize comics were something you could do as a job?

I’ve been pretty solely focused on drawing comics since I was 9 or 10 years old; before that I wanted to be an animator, (and before that, as referenced in Tomboy, I wanted to be a cartoon character), so cartooning in some fashion has always been a goal of mine.  It’s pretty cool that I actually did manage to be a cartoon character when I grew up, by drawing comics about myself!  3-year-old Liz would be in awe (or she would insist that it doesn’t count—who knows with 3-year-old logic).

Artist Liz Prince

It isn’t until you’re a teenager and you attend an alternative school that you find people who make you feel like you can be yourself. Do you think people who struggle with fitting in should try alternate education facilities? Or should teens look for a group within their own schools?

I think the benefit of alternative schools is that they tend to have a smaller student body, which means that there is less chance for there to be an overarching status-quo that kids are expected to conform to.  Not having organized sports and that culture of hierarchy definitely seems to keep an even keel in terms of who is valued as a student, but that isn’t to say that positive social situations don’t exist in larger educational institutions!  I feel like it really is wholly dependent on the student and the situation.

You note in Tomboy that having a boyfriend makes things easier because people aren’t questioning your sexuality. Help us all out: what is it that makes finding someone to date so darn hard? Are we just looking for that validation from our peers?

Well, that was a very specific to me situation, in that because of the way I dress and present myself, people have always assumed that I date women, when in actuality I have always been romantically attracted to men (or in the case of Tomboy, boys). It felt important to point that out, because it is a very damaging side effect of our gender stereotypes, that we have stereotypes for folks who don’t fit the stereotype!

I do think that a lot of what we consider to be romantic conquest in our teenage years is based more on what we’ve gleaned from pop culture, and less on what we actually want from a partner, but that’s totally understandable because dating gets easier with experience, and most people’s experience level when they’re 15 years old is very low.  Basically, I look back on my romantic experiences in my teen years as a total facepalm: it doesn’t mean I didn’t genuinely like the boys that I dated, but most of those relationships weren’t really all that beneficial to me beyond having someone to make out with (and hey, sometimes that can’t be discounted as a total PLUS).

Do you have many lady friends in the graphic novel/comics scene? What are they like?

Yes!  Nicole J. Georges (Calling Dr. Laura, 2013), Corrine Mucha (Get Over It!, 2014), Whit Taylor (Madtown High, 2013), Ramsey Beyer (Year One, 2012), Raina Telgemeier (Sisters, 2014). They are all totally inspirational to me, and it’s a bummer that most of them don’t live in the same city as me, because my favorite times of the year are when we’re together at a convention.

Whom did you picture as your audience when you were writing Tomboy?

Tomboy is the first book that I’ve written where audience really came into play, since I was writing it for a publisher that specializes in books for teens.  At first I was pretty stunted by the idea that this book had to conform to some sort of code of what is “acceptable for young adult readers,” but I pretty quickly decided that I would just write the book the way I wanted to write the book, and worry about what was or wasn’t “acceptable” if it came up in the editing process, and surprisingly, nothing ended up on the chopping block!  That book is pure Liz, no pandering, and I’m really proud of it.

The first comic you drew that you were really proud of: what was it about?

Haha, if you ask me now, I’d say it’s called Tomboy, and it’s a memoir about my childhood and gender stereotypes.

Ok, I’m halfway kidding, but Tomboy is definitely the most important book I’ve written, but I’ve been drawing, and I’ve always felt at least semi-confident about the results.  I think that I’ve probably been proud of my output all along, otherwise I might not have found the energy to keep going.  Of course, in the case of some of my earliest published comics, which were in a local zine in Santa Fe, NM, when I was 13-years-old, they make me cringe now, but I was totally stoked to have had comics printed in a magazine when I was in the 7th grade: not many other kids can say that!