It’s 2013, and headlines reading “Comics aren’t just for kids anymore” have been cliched for about 25 years. Art Spiegelman’s Maus is a classic, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is widely read and widely taught. The late Harvey Pekar’s name is, if not a household name, as close to one as those of most prose authors get in America. Thanks to Joe Sacco and Alison Bechdel and Jeffrey Brown and John Porcellino and Joe Matt and Chester Brown and dozens of other cartoonists, journalism, autobiography and memoir are successful, respected, even commonplace genres for the graphic novel, which, it’s worth highlighting, is a term that exists now.
In fact, autobiographical graphic novels are so mainstream that Jess Fink’s We Can Fix It reads like an outlier — a subversive, transgressive reversion to the good old bad days of comics. Her new memoir, with its fictive premise, is differentiated from most in the genre by the prominent inclusion of elements from the medium’s trashy superhero and humor past. Its protagonist wears a skin-tight bodysuit, she travels through time in a big, goofy time machine that goes ZIPPITY ZAP, and there’s a sixth-grade lunch period’s worth of scatalogical humor.
Despite the embrace of the low-brow aspects of comics history — We Can Fix It looks and reads like an autobiographical comic book, not an autobiographical graphic novel — Fink’s new work ultimately ends up in the same thoughtful, dramatic, epiphany-having place that the slicker, more obviously literature-focused comics works do. This is a very funny comic book that is functions as an effective piss-take on the autobio genre while, remarkably enough, simultaneously being one hell of an autobiography.
Oh man, this was an unexpected treat to find in my Google Reader today: A six-page preview of comics memoirist-cum-journalist Guy Delisle’s upcoming travelogue Jerusalem, courtesy of Drawn and Quarterly. Delisle recounts a trip to an Israeli checkpoint as Palestinians attempt to pass through to attend Friday services at the al-Aqsa Mosque, and the resulting pages are a gorgeous demonstration of how to convey controlled chaos with a handful of lines and graytones. The full book, Delisle’s longest to date, comes out in April 2012.
Because World War II is generally regarded as “the Good War”; because, even in the face of the firebombing of Tokyo and Dresden, the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the alliance with, and subsequent awarding of Eastern Europe to, the rapacious, murderous regime of Josef Stalin, it’s still pretty clearly a good thing that the side that won, won; because it marked the ascension of America as the free world’s undisputed superpower; because, Pearl Harbor and internment camps aside, it wasn’t fought on American soil. Because of all that, it’s easy to forget that it was the most massively, horrifically violent rupture of civilization in all of human history, and that like less favorably viewed conflicts such as World War I, Vietnam and Iraq, any such blow to the world’s societal and moral fabric is going to have devastating consequences for decades or more to come.
At least that’s my takeaway from Alex Dueben’s excellent interview with Farmer for Comic Book Resources — and given the book’s extremely intimate subject matter of the cartoonist caring for her aging parents as their health declined leading up to their deaths, I’m not surprised.
CBR News: What was it like putting together a graphic novel for the first time? You’ve made many comics in the past, but a project this large is something else.
Joyce Farmer: First of all, I didn’t know what I was getting into. Second, I didn’t really know how to write something like this. I don’t consider myself a writer. It was overwhelming, and because it was overwhelming, it took me thirteen years. I would work and get to a certain point and then get overwhelmed both by the problem of putting my parents on paper and by the problem of a book. Then I wouldn’t work for as much as a year and then I’d beat myself up that I’d figured out this wonderful book and should get going before somebody else thought of it or it wouldn’t be of interest. Because the book is set in a certain number of years, named years in the book, I couldn’t let it go on forever, although I nearly did.
It was overwhelming. I think these younger people who do graphic memoirs seem to use a lot of paper and ink to say very little and it takes them quite awhile [to say it]. I’m not saying what they say is not worthwhile, I’m just saying that they’re not as condensed as I intended to be. It was way more work than I ever thought. Every time I’d get the book to a certain point, like the first drawing, somebody would suggest something that would be so obviously needed, I would have to go through the whole book and fix it. Then later when I’m inking, the same type of thing happened.
The first thirty-five pages I threw away after they were inked. I started completely over.
Dang. Special Exits ranked #29 on CBR’s countdown of the Top 100 Comics of 2010, and as I said in my write-up, it made me cry. Please do check it out, and read the whole interview, too.
You’ll Never Know Book One: A Good and Decent Man
by Carol Tyler
Fantagraphics Books, 104 pages, $24.99.
You’ll Never Know is, for good or ill, going to elicit a lot of comparisons to Maus. They’re both memoirs. They’re both about World War II. They’re both about the child-parent relationship, and they’re both about how the war changed the people who got caught up in it and continued to affect the generations that followed.
Yet while Tyler’s work, the first in a projected three-volume series, certainly deserves any accolades it receives, it’s a much different book — warmer, more overtly affectionate and more personal to a certain extent as well. Maus is a presentation, an eloquent statement, not just on potential of comics but on the staggering injustice of a mind-numbing horror. You’ll Never Know is more like the sort of tales told during a family reunion when the subject of the conversation has left the room.
When I learned that IDW was publishing Bob Fingerman‘s newest project, From the Ashes, I’ll admit I was pleassantly surprised, given that it seemed outside of IDW’s typical market focus. So when he recently agreed to an email interview I was eager to find out how it landed at IDW in addition to his thought process on this speculative memoir (as well as his latest Fantagraphics release, Connective Tissue). The first installment of the six-issue From The Ashes miniseries hits the market this Wednesday, May 13. Here’s the official snippet on the miniseries from IDW: “Fingerman and his wife Michele find out the apocalypse isn’t the end of the world in this hip satirical survival romp through Manhattan’s ruins. Think The Road, only funny!” My thanks to Fingerman for his time and to Emma Griffiths and Martin Wendel for facilitating this interview, as well as Chris Mautner for his help in formulating questions. If you happen to be in New York this Friday, May 15, Fingerman will have an art show/signing at Rocketship at 8 PM.
Tim O’Shea: Why did you opt to do this series as a mini-series, as opposed to a graphic novel?
Bob Fingerman: It wasn’t my choice. I’d have preferred to release it as a book straight off, but that’s not IDW’s business model. Still, they put out classy looking comics on good paper. And it will eventually get collected as a book.
O’Shea: You consulted with your wife, Michele, throughout the development of this story. But before embarking on this project did you tell her you intended this to be an “open love letter” (as you describe it in your recent Huffington Post piece) to her? Anyway you slice it, she clearly loves you a great deal to support a work that aims to capture your relationship with her and features “mutants, cannibals, zombies”.
Fingerman: Michele is the center of my life. She’s very supportive of everything I do. “Open love letter” is pretty corny, I’ll admit. But it’s honest. My consulting with her basically entailed repeatedly asking her, “Is it all right if I have you doing this or that?” She got final approval.
Ah, the autobiographical comic. Is there a genre more maligned and misunderstood. Apart from superhero comics I mean.
It’s a genre that tends to get lumped together as “too much of the same thing,” a criticism I really don’t agree with. Two recent autobiographical diary comics — Little Nothings: The Prisoner Syndrome by Lewis Trondheim and American Elf Book Three by James Kochalka – for example are very similar in execution and style (both are diary comics) but very different in what they reveal and the ways they present themselves to the reader.