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C. Tyler‘s graphic memoir (the first book of three), You’ll Never Know (Book 1): A Good and Decent Man, has been getting a great deal of praise as of late. Our own, Chris Mautner, noted (in his review of Tyler’s book) that it “certainly deserves any accolades it receives”. The memoir (as described by Fantagraphics): “tells the story of the 50-something author’s relationship with her World War II veteran father, and how his war experience shaped her childhood and affected her relationships in adulthood. ‘You’ll Never Know’ refers not only to the title of her parents’ courtship song from that era, but also to the many challenges the author encountered in uncovering the difficult and painful truths about her Dad’s service — challenges exacerbated by her own tumultuous family life.” Even though she’s quite busy, she was generous enough to recently entertain a few of my questions via email.
C. Tyler: Before we get started, I have to say this first: Bill Murray, I love you and I’m ready to go on that date, so please call.
Now what were those questions?
Tim O’Shea: Are you annoyed, pleased or indifferent when reviewers of the book liken it on some level to Maus?
Tyler: Maus is such an important work. To be likened on some level to Maus: unbelievable. However, my answer comes more from a personal place.
When I first read the New York Times Review by Douglas Wolk, I was ready to bust out cryin’ with joy. You see, Art Spiegelman was one of the first official cartoonists I met. I was part of the fan team that helped with the first Raw promotions, hanging up fliers all over Manhattan. This was 1982 maybe? It felt so cool to be part of his inner circle and close to the early excitement he was feeling about Maus. I remember we were in a cab once on the way back from a Raw party and I was thinking how my Dad was over there, too, as part of the armed effort that eventually liberated his Dad. And his Mother. But I never believed that I could ever produce a work that would be mentioned in the same sentence.
Right after hanging up those fliers in New York, my life changed dramatically. I moved to the West Coast and didn’t see Art again for 25 years. Our lives never intersected. My life has been so very different than his.
I would like to kiss the reviewers because those comments uplift me during the weed pulling, wheelchair pushing, dog poop picking up moments that pepper my life.
O’Shea: The book signing (August 6-8) at the Ernie Pyle Firemen’s Festival. Is this your dad’s first book signing event? How did it come together?
Tyler: Shake-It Records in Northside was our first signing. June 2009. Shake-It is an awesome, authentic record store. One of the best things about Cincinnati. Justin (Green) painted their front facade with signs and portraits of musicians. I drag my students over there every term to get their graphic novels and comic books. Joe Kuth who works there is a cartoonist and comics lover, and I make him do a presentation. He’s the best.
Ernie Pyle’s home is near Mom & Dad’s little town. A cute place with Jeeps and Quonset huts, out in the middle of nowhere. So last month while visiting my parents, I went over there and said “Hey, this fits” and they agreed. I will be wearing a 1940s apron, with veggies in a basket on the porch, like a Victory Garden babe. Dad will wear his VFW shirt. We make a cool duo. To get there, turn left at the wall of corn.
O’Shea: Given where you were at (emotionally, not physically) when constructing this story, would you say the storytelling process on this particular volume was harder on you or your father?
Tyler: Me, baby. Oh how I have suffered! You can read all about it on that page I did for the Ergot 7. And here’s something that’s true – I don’t think I’ll do another 300-page epic trilogy. A few long stories, some short ones maybe.
Crumb did Genesis. I’d like to try one of those Bible stories. Wouldn’t that be cool if the entire Bible was done by cartoonists from Weirdo and Arcade and all those other UG classics. Wow. Working in straight black & white would be a delight.
O’Shea: In a recent review, my associate Chris Mautner wrote “I was impressed with how she could move from a rigid structure — the scrapbook-like pages that make up her father’s narrative for example — to sequences that literally break through the borders in order to convey the emotional turmoil of the individual characters.”
How challenging was it to execute transitions like these?
Tyler: You are right to use the word challenging. But I have to try new things and push myself to change the dance moves every few steps or I go crazy. Constantly gotta try something new. I try to be awake to what needs to be expressed and how to set it up structurally. It’s like custom carpentry, sort of. I think. I like doing woodwork, indoors and out.
Rulers, oddly, play a critical role, as much as ink and pen points. I’ve worn the numbers off of my best ruler. Can’t find another one to suit me. This is a problem.