Review: Tomboy by Liz Prince

tomboyChildren tend to get reduced to the simplest definitions: Girls like dresses and princesses and boys like trucks and sports. It doesn’t matter how true these things are or not — the pressure from parents and peers (and certainly, society) forces children into pretty narrow roles.

So what happens when you know early on you don’t fit into that?

Liz Prince reflects on growing up as a girl who always identified more with the boys in her sweetly hilarious graphic memoir Tomboy (Zest Books, 2014), taking down gender norms along the way and making her own, more interesting path.

It’s not necessarily a rare story: as a child, Prince shunned dresses and preferred The Real Ghostbusters to playing dress-up. But this caused problems on both sides — elementary school boys rejected girls on principle and Prince didn’t really relate to too many of the girls.

Along the way, Prince makes some friends (boys and girls!), joins Little League and Girl Scouts (she has range!), develops crushes on boys and has her heart-broken a few times. But through some kind and caring girls and women, Prince discovers zines and punk rock.

The book’s pace is episodic and heavy on playful anecdotes and asides about society and growing up, often addressing the reader directly. There are a few darker moments that deal with bullies and cruel friends, but the tone is light overall. Prince has an incredible ability to find honesty and humor in her own life and it shines through in the stories she’s telling.

Her loose, casual art has an airiness to it, like a cool friend telling a funny story in an effortless way. As deceptively simple as her style is, Prince is a master at conveying emotion, movement and places with a few lines. This book is full of life as she jumps from cartoonish sequences to silent, personal moments.

One of the most touching parts of Tomboy comes toward the end, where Prince reads Ariel Schrag’s Definition and says “For the first time I saw myself reflected in a book.” I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to imagine this book doing the same thing for some other girl. This may be Liz Prince’s specific story, but it’s one many of us can see ourselves in.

Copy of Tomboy provided by the publisher.

Library Con at Petworth Neighborhood Library & Comics by Women

library-conYesterday, I was a speaker at Library Con at the Petworth Neighborhood Library. It was a small, mostly family-oriented event but well-organized and fun. I am always going to be a fan of events that make comics — of all genres and styles — more accessible to more people.

I first saw Jacob Mazer of Animal Kingdom Publishing discuss his work and the anthology of comics, prose, poetry and criticism he edits. It’s still a young publication, but I definitely think there’s room in the world for more things like this, allowing comics to reach audiences they may not otherwise. Not everything in the second issue is to my tastes, but there is some thought-provoking work in it.

Then I saw Gareth Hinds, whose adaptation of Romeo and Juliet came out last year. He talked about always loving to draw as a child and comics ended up coming naturally to him. He worked in video games for a long time before quitting to create graphic novels full-time. He broke down his process for each book and I was interested to hear he changes techniques and styles for each specific book. He also spoke about the challenges of adapting classic literature.

After that, it was my turn. I talked about comics by women (what else?) and I think it went well for it being such a big topic. My concept was not to give history but offer up titles that people can buy right now. I had a good discussion with the attendees too.

You can download my PowerPoint presentation or a PDF of it, but I’ve also created a list of the creators and titles I discussed below (with links to their websites where appropriate).

I have reviewed some of these books and written more about some of these creators. You should be able to find what you need through the tags.

History/background

 lumberjanesMainstream: Superheroes

Mainstream: Sci-fi/Fantasy

Children and Young Adult Comics

marblesAutobiographical

Manga

  • Kyoko Okazaki: Pink, Helter Skelter
  • Moto Hagio: A Drunken Dream, The Heart of Thomas
  • Takako Shimura: Wandering Son
  • Moyoco Anno: In Clothes Called Fat, Insufficient Direction

UK, Europe and Around the World

  • Mary Talbot: The Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, Sally Heathcoate: Suffragette
  • Isabel Greenberg: Encyclopedia of Early Earth
  • Julie Maroh: Blue is the Warmest Color
  • Marguerite Abouet: Aya series
  • Rutu Modan: Exit Wounds, The Property

strong-femaleOnline comics

Minicomics & cutting-edge creators

Through the WoodsPublishers, groups and events

Top Picks of Comics by Women for 2014

Special Guest Review: Molly on Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

Note from Eden: My friend Molly is a huge Raina Telgemeier fan, so when her father, Dan, told me they had found an advance reader copy of Sisters (Scholastic/Graphix, 2014) in a charity shop and Molly wanted to review it, I asked if I could post it when it was done.

They kindly said yes. I was delighted. It’s truly better than anything I would write about it and Molly even made a video!

sistersRaina Telgemeier’s new book, Sisters, is truly extraordinary, great and awesome. It tells the reader another story from Raina’s past. Raina always wanted a sister, but when she finally got her wish it was not as nice as she thought it would be. Raina and her sister, Amara, were very different and liked different things, which made things difficult between them at some points. Raina had wanted someone to play with, while Amara was the kind of girl who wanted to play by herself a lot. But they both loved drawing. Most of the story is about the family’s road trip and has several flashbacks.

The story kinda reminds me of me and my brothers. One of brothers and I do not get along that well and fight a lot (like Raina and Amara). One of my other brothers thinks that I steal the spotlight all the time, just like Amara accuses Raina. My brothers say things sometimes to get on my nerves, so reading this book kind of reminded me of me and them.

If you read Raina Telgemeier’s new book, you are going to love it. At the end you might still have some questions left about this or that, but you will still love it. I am a fan myself so you can trust me, Molly.

Buy Raina Telgemeier’s new book, Sisters! Coming soon.

Molly, 11, lives in Virginia with her brothers and parents. She likes to draw and make comics.

Review: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Through the WoodsIt can be terrifying to be a woman. Don’t get me wrong — there are so many great things about it, too. It’s not like all women live every moment in fear.

But there is an underlying current of danger for so many women. Is this street safe? Should I ride in the elevator with this man or wait for the next one? Is this person my friend or just waiting for an opportunity to take advantage of me?

Nevermind that women live in bodies that are often confusing. We ache, we hurt, we feel emotions we don’t always understand. We bleed and want. But women just live with these things for the most part. I know I don’t give them too much thought. It’s just part of my daily life.

I thought about these things while reading the gorgeous collection of Emily Carroll’s stories, Through the Woods (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2014). It’s not that all of these stories are about these specific issues, but even in the more horrific stories, there’s an undercurrent of this just being what life is like.

The five stories here (plus an introduction and a conclusion) take us deep into the world Carroll has created. It’s one part Shirley Jackson, one part Grimm’s fairy tales, one part Junji Ito, but so much more. Part of Carroll’s gift is how she transforms her influences into something completely new. In Carroll’s world, everywhere is haunted; everything means you harm.

Much of Carroll’s power is in what goes unseen. In the first story, “Our Neighbor’s House,” the protagonist narrates her sisters seeing a mysterious stranger before they each disappear, leaving her alone to face what’s to come. There’s no overt horror in this tale, but the tension is in the waiting, in the inevitable fate of our narrator. Carroll does creeping dread like no one else working in comics.

But when Carroll wants to show us actual horror, she’s unafraid, and her visions are as beautiful as they are terrifying.

In the elegantly paced “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold,” her twisting page layouts, poetic language and art saturated with bright blues and crimson reds lead the reader down a frightening path that turns in unexpected places. In the book’s final story, “The Nesting Place,” the quiet distress builds to outright horror. While Mabel’s distrust of her brother’s fiancée never feels out of place, the reveal feels both shocking and earned.

Carroll never feels like she’s pushing her metaphors about women’s bodies and lives being in control of forces outside themselves. The subtly of how she conveys her themes is skillful and lovely. Bottom line, these are all just wonderfully scary horror stories. That there is some subtext just feels like a bonus.

If you’ve read Carroll’s work online, you know she enjoys playing with form and format. Her layout switch wildly to suit her stories — unconstrained and open one moment, quiet and formal the next. Her unique style seems to be influenced by everything — children’s books illustrations, manga, indie and European comics, animation, video game artwork — but she filters it into a singular vision. It feels hauntingly familiar but also foreign, much like a nightmare.

The design of Through the Woods is also incredible. The full-bleed pages are engrossing and the glossy paper shows off the pure black and rich, vivid colors. It translates the power of Carroll’s online work into book format perfectly.

Emily Carroll is a comics creator people are going to study generations from now. She’s that good. Through the Woods is a masterpiece collection of comics. And I hope it’s only the first one of many.

Copy of Through the Woods provided by Big Planet Comics. Carroll is also one of Small Press Expo‘s special guests, so come tell her how awesome she is Sept. 13-14.

Comics & Medicine Conference 2014: From Private Lives to Public Health

comics-medicineI heard it a few times when I mentioned I was going to the Comics & Medicine Conference 2014 — “I’m surprised there’s enough about that for there to be an entire conference.”

I would always happily point out that one of the top-selling graphic novels in recent years is an autobiographical tale about a girl’s experiences with dental trauma.

I am, of course, talking about Raina Telgemeier’s Smile.

And after mentioning that, people do begin to realize just how huge the topic of comics dealing with health, illness and medicine can be.

In so many ways, comics are uniquely suited to communicating about health, whether it’s personal stories or instructive information. After all, comics marries visual elements with words and it becomes more effective than either one could be alone.

I attended Comics & Medicine as a guest of Small Press Expo (we were one of the sponsors) and while I was only able to attend on Saturday, I was so thrilled I got to go.

To be clear: This was, at its core, an academic conference. While many comic creators were involved, the focus was on presenting papers and sharing knowledge. This was absolutely reflected in the sessions I attended.

The presenters from Shared Experience: Time, Transformation and The Unknown

The presenters from Shared Experience: Time, Transformation and The Unknown

The first featured Nicola Streeten discussing a project she was involved in where she told a story from the perspectives of both the doctor and the patient. Army Capt. Joshua M. Leone presented his paper about how comics can help servicemembers heal from trauma through the closure they can provide. MJ Jacob shared personal insights into how creating comics — or being unable to — helped her deal with her depression in unexpected ways. (Henny Beaumont was scheduled but unable to attend.) All three presenters were discussing personal stories — whether they were their own stories or someone else’s — and how comics could provide different perspectives and connection to the world in an intimate and powerful way.

I then attended most of the Health Education and Accessibility presentations, which brought up topics I hadn’t thought much about. Two from Research Triangle Institute International discussed their process of creating two comics in partnership with Naval Health Research Center and Headquarters Marine Corps to help servicemembers with psychological stresses. Dana Marlowe then discussed accessibility issues when it comes to online comics.

Ellen Forney

Ellen Forney presents Marbles

The outreach to military servicemembers — both in terms of creating comics for them and helping them create their own comics — seemed to be a small focus of the conference. I was unable to attend it, but James Sturm did discuss some of the work he’s done with a VA medical center in Vermont. Overall, the therapeutic aspects of comics is one most people there seemed very excited about exploring further.

Ellen Forney was the final keynote speaker for Saturday. She presented in abbreviated form the first two chapters of Marbles, her honest, emotional and informative account of learning she had bipolar disorder and then learning to cope with it. It was book I’ve read and loved (it’s a tough read in places but also fun and often funny) but I didn’t quite realize until Saturday just how educational it was. She outlines not only her personal experiences with bipolar disorder but also offers a great deal of factual information about it and its treatment.

And I think that was really the best part of this experience — I certainly felt like I knew about the connection between comics and issues of health, illness and medicine, but I began to realize just how much comics had taught me about these subjects. Reading Marbles, I didn’t realize how much about mental illness I was actually learning. And I know that Smile often gets passed between young friends when they first get their braces. I also think about the delightful work people like Cathy Leamy (who it was great to see briefly!) when it comes to issues of women’s health (Mindful Drinking was one of my favorite comics from last year, period!).

crowd

Attendees shop in the marketplace after the conference presentations

I think more so than anything else, comics offer an easy point of connection. Maybe you don’t want to watch a graphic video of a surgery; maybe a medical text is too dry; but a comic can find the right balance of personal, informative and entertaining.

As someone who is not in the field of health or medicine, or even someone who really creates comics, it was incredibly inspiring to see what wonderful work all these people are doing. I know I left wanting to know more and how I can contribute to this field somehow.

(Special thanks to conference organizer Lydia Gregg and John Hopkins University for hosting.)