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Archive for ‘Graphic Novels’


“95% True”


Been reading and enjoying two very different autobiographical comics; Tracy White’s memoir GN How I Made It to Eighteen and Lea Hernadez’s Near-Life Experience entries at LJ.

White’s book delivers literally on the title, detailing her recovery from mid-teen traumas, and how treatment helped her to not die before becoming the successful and accomplished adult she is today. And like her webcomics at traced.com, How I Made It to Eighteen is “guaranteed 95% true.” She’s changed names and details, but you know you’re getting the facts that matter.

Hernandez’s NLEx also struggles with those 5% quandries, in her case because she’s not writing about events and friends from decades ago, she’s writing about stuff that happened Tuesday, and about a family that might be in the next room. You can feel the inner struggle as she writes about how much she’s willing to write about her son’s ongoing struggles to fit in to society’s limited expectations of him.

It’s a real open question whether any autobiography can ever be more than 95% true. Mark Twain stipulated that his memoir not be published until 100 years after his death (this year!), presumably so that he could be 100% honest—a full implementation of the Mystery Quote—but from what I’ve heard, the old guy doesn’t come across as particularly objective while ranting about his many late-in-life grudges.

Emotional honesty and factual accuracy aren’t the same thing after all. Twain may have thought he was hitting 100%, but maybe nobody can ever get past 95%. And maybe saying so upfront, as White and Hernandez both do in their own fashion, is the most honest way to start.


Three Down, One to Go

It’s been almost a year since I wrote about four upcoming books I was looking forward to after seeing sneak previews.

Two of them, David Mazzuccelli’s Asterios Polyp and David Small’s Stitches have already dropped to widespread acclaim. Now Hope Larson’s Mercury is finally hitting the stands. I highly recommend it; a riveting all-ages, multi-generational mystery.

Just one to go now: Vera Brosgol’s delightful Kristyna’s Anya’s Ghost. Like my own GN, Brosgol’s book is still in progress and could take a while, but I’ll let you know as soon as it’s available.


“3,856 Story Possibilities”

This book is going to be so, so, cool!

Many of us cartoonists already own Jason Shiga‘s original hand-printed version of this insane choose-own-adventure masterpiece (he even has a quote from me), but the idea of a full-out professionally printed version with tabs. Ah, be still my heart…

Best of all is the absolute certainty that whenever we see the number “3,856″ used to describe the many branching possibilities, it was Shiga himself that came up with the number and the number’s gonna be correct.

Learn more here and here.


WANT

Now this is what previews for comics should look like!

Jen Wang‘s Koko Be Good is a book I’ve been waiting for for a while.

I’ll get details soon on where and when you can do this trick at home.

[Edit to Add: Jen has more details here.]


Sarah Oleksyk’s Ivy

Just got the fifth and last installment of Sarah Oleksyk’s Ivy in the mail. Ivy sports confident storytelling and accomplished artwork that’s been getting better throughout the series. (Also gotta love the title, since it happens to be the name of the woman I love, but that’s neither here nor there).

I’ve been studying it for Oleksyk’s use of a middle tone with black and white artwork since I’ve been toying with similar approaches for my graphic novel. There’s something very warm and solid about the approach that I like. Seth does something similar in a lot of his books, though Oleksyk goes for more naturalistic contours to nice effect.

Each chapter of Ivy is available as a thick self-published “mini” (actually 8.5″ x 7″, folded-over legal sheets). You can contact the artist to buy the whole set of five books for $20 here. As a self-printed story clocking in at close to 200 pages, it’s a pretty good deal. You can also read an excerpt from the first volume here.

Oleksyk’s been at it for a while, but may be a relatively new name for many out there. Based on her continuing growth as an artist, I look forward to hearing the name with increasing frequency in the future.


Reasons to Smile

Raina Telgemeier’s graphic memoir for young readers Smile is set to drop a week from today. There’s a short excerpt here and you can even watch a youtube trailer for the book here.

Smile is a classic all-ages comic of a kind we don’t see nearly enough. Honest, funny, moving, and personal. And Telgemeier’s clear, smart storytelling rocks as always.

The potential for this sort of comic shouldn’t be underestimated. I’d wager that if you put copies of Smile in any orthodontist’s office in the country, they’d be read to pieces by that (admittedly captive) audience.

There are so many subjects that could benefit from this treatment. Of all the pleasures that fiction offers, few have had such a consistent track record of building reader loyalty as a sense of personal connection. It was one of the key ingredients in Manga’s meteoric rise in the late 20th Century. There were manga series targeted at virtually any job, sport, game, social situation, or personal trauma you could name. “Hey, there’s a comic about me!” is one hell of a selling point.

When I look at a class filled with would-be comics artists, I know that most if not all of them want to break into the market we have now. But not every new comic has to fit into a shelf that’s already there. Some have the potential to create a new shelves out of thin air. And we need new shelves.


In Praise of Mr. Steinberg

Comics critic Domingos Isabelinho recently took the comics blogosphere gently to task for not noticing a central influence on Mazzucchelli’s landmark Asterios Polyp: the art of Saul Steinberg.

It’s true. I failed to mention Steinberg in my own review of AP, but now that Isabelinho has pointed it out, it’s hard not to see.

I always loved Saul Steinberg’s work and was influenced by him myself at an early age, though it might be harder to spot in my work. Of all the cartoonists whose work I’ve enjoyed, no one else was as comfortable to wander the big triangle in search of a visual idea.

It was liberating for a draftsman with limited gifts (that would be me) to understand that art could communicate the way written language does, while simultaneously flirting with both resemblance and abstraction.

Steinberg’s art made the possibilities of the picture plane look near and accessible to anyone in the mood to pick up a pen. And so they are.


Climbing up the Picture Plane

My old pal Larry Marder just sent me images from the upcoming Beanworld Book 3—the first all-new Beanworld stories in fifteen years—and I was struck by how beautiful they were; even moreso than in the original series, which remains one of my favorite comics of all time.

Larry uses spot blacks, bold geometry, rhythm, negative space, repetition, and variation like no other cartoonist I know.

Beanworld accomplishes something very rare. To use my own goofy terminology, Larry manages to use pure cartoony abstraction from the lower right vertex of the big triangle but because of the pure graphic ingenuity on display, his pages are a riot of abstraction reaching up toward the picture plane vertex at the same time.

Look at any given element. Is it a symbol? A picture? A pure shape? It’s everything all at once!

Click on the thumbnails below to get a closer look at 6 out of the 186 pages hitting store shelves in early December. This one’s going to be a classic.


Water Discovered on Earth

Last week London, this week Portland. Two damp and wonderful cities (note Portland’s actual 10-day forecast as of Sunday night at left).

Saw some great old friends in London (while briefly in town for a session with the good folks at Skype) including “The Man at the Crossroads” Paul Gravett, webcomics innovator Daniel Merlin Goodbrey, and my old pal Ted Dewan, and had the privilege of meeting Pat Mills, Sarah McIntyre and Woodrow Phoenix among others. Sarah got a great shot of Paul, Woodrow, and me on her blog.

Woodrow’s 2008 book Rumble Strip made for some intriguing plane reading. It’s all “word specific” (i.e., without pictures, the words would still form a coherent text), and uses only images of inanimate objects to make its points as it mounts an all-out assault on car culture. An unusual and interesting book.

Here in rainy Portland I’ll be doing an in-class workshop at Reed College (not open to the public—sorry!) and will probably see about one in ten of the hundreds of talented cartoonists living in this lovable soggy city, but I’m sure I’ll be back before long.

After these two back-to-back trips, it’s non-stop drawing from here to February as I wrap up layouts on the graphic novel. Always fun to visit two of my favorite cities, but looking forward to getting back to work.


Aaaah! New Beanworld!

Larry checks in on his blog (and in yesterday’s comments) to report that he’s received advance copies of Beanworld Book 3, with the all-new stories we’ve been waiting 15 years for!

From the catalog description:

Fifteen years in the making, Remember Here When You Are There! completes the “Springtime” cycle of stories, in which the perfect harmony of the Beanworld is interrupted for the first time.

The official pub date isn’t until December 23, but DH says it’s available for pre-order here.

Can the completion of Big Numbers be far behind?

(Yes. Yes it can.)