How To Be Happy

How To Be Happy

by Eleanor Davis

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This is the first collection of literary short comics stories by an award-winning cartoonist.Eleanor Davis’sHow to be Happy is the artist’s first collection of graphic/literary short stories. Davis is one of the finest cartoonists of her generation, and has been producing comics since the mid-2000s. Happy represents the best stories she’s drawn


This is the first collection of literary short comics stories by an award-winning cartoonist.Eleanor Davis’sHow to be Happy is the artist’s first collection of graphic/literary short stories. Davis is one of the finest cartoonists of her generation, and has been producing comics since the mid-2000s. Happy represents the best stories she’s drawn for such curatorial venues as Mome and No-Brow, as well as her own self-publishing and web efforts. Davis achieves a rare, subtle poignancy in her narratives that are at once compelling and elusive, pregnant with mystery and a deeply satisfying emotional resonance. Happy shows the full range of Davis’s graphic skills — sketchy drawing, polished pen and ink line work, and meticulously designed full color painted panels— which are always in the service of a narrative that builds to a quietly devastating climax.Named one of NPR's and Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2014.Shortlist, Slate's 2014 Cartoonist Studio Prize for Best Print Comic of the Year2015 Ignatz Award Winner: Outstanding Anthology or Collection

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Douglas Wolk
Eleanor Davis's stylistic inconsistency is one of her greatest strengths, and How to Be Happy, a collection of her short pieces, shows off the breadth of her artistic range. It encompasses science fiction, absurdist doodles and diaristic observation…
Publishers Weekly
★ 11/10/2014
The excellence and variety of the art in this short comics story collection is matched only by the painful incisiveness of the stories, most circling around attempts both foolish and sincere to find happiness. Some of Davis's art styles are reminiscent of her children's books (Secret Science Alliance, Stinky)—simple supple black and white line drawings—others resemble Little Golden Books, bright blocks of colors and button nosed characters, but only as if written by Raymond Carver. In "In Our Eden," a bunch of back to nature enthusiasts rebel against a delusional ex-bass pro shop manager who spouts trendy bromides about the paleo diet while fashioning himself as the new Adam. In the futuristic "Nita Goes Home," the juxtapositions are more complex, as a woman who lives in an artificial dome where plants still grow has to return to Earth— a toxic, polluted megacity—when her father is dying. In many stories, happiness is projected on outside forces, a new baby, a lover, yoga, but the answers are rarely that simple and usually backfire horribly, as in "No Tears, No Sorrow," where a woman's emotional breakthrough proves all too complete. A powerful collection that resonates with all the ills, real and imagined, of our modern life. (Aug.)
Sean Rogers - The Globe and Mail
“Davis’s brightly coloured, melancholic short stories catalogue different approaches to the form — here a science fiction tale, there a glimpse of suburban young love — all featuring lost souls desperate for happiness.”
Michael Cavna - The Washington Post
“Davis is rightfully a rising talent, and one of her greatest gifts is her ability to build narrative momentum. She creates suspense, mystery and come-hither curiosity by never overtipping her artful hand.”
Paul DiFilippo - Barnes & Noble Review
“The art of Eleanor Davis sits proudly and comfortably on a continuum with the celebrated work of David Mazzucchelli (Asterios Polyp), Jeff Lemire (The Underwater Welder), and David B. (Epileptic). Cartoony yet naturalistic, her art limns a world that can shift from very real to utterly surreal, sometimes within the same story. ... Like the body of a dead fox as depicted here by Davis in all its gruesome magnificence, these stories hide thick raw sinews beneath their glossy pelts.”
Douglas Wolk - The New York Times
“Eleanor Davis’s stylistic inconsistency is one of her greatest strengths, and How to Be Happy, a collection of her short pieces, shows off the breadth of her artistic range. … Almost all of her characters are casting about for ways to fight off despair... They’re doomed to failure, of course, but they keep trying.”
Zainab Akhtar - Comics & Cola
“I could praise what Davis achieves in this book all day — it's as fine comicking as you could hope to come across: the enmeshing of wonderful art with good, strong narrative that naturally prompts and drives discussion and thought without it feeling overt or jaggedly superficial, is superb. Exceptional cartooning is when those elements come together in a cohesive manner, and Davis' work is on that plane. I haven't come across any comics that raise similar themes and ideas and yet How to Be Happy is widely, deeply applicable and resonant. It works and works and works some more. For many people this volume will be their introduction to Elenaor Davis' work; I can't imagine anyone coming away unimpressed.”
Rob Clough - The Comics Journal
“This collection is astounding because of how hard Davis works to sequence each story and provide appropriate interstitial material. Seeing all of these stories at once provides a remarkable and surprising sense of cohesiveness, as many of them are about restless, lost, and sometimes doomed people. The drawings, the use of color, and the overall packaging all fit into this feeling of reading almost a hand-made item.”
Seth T. Hahne - Good OK Bad
“I appreciated my time in Eleanor Davis' worlds. She offers plenty of food for the hungry of thought—even if thought may ultimately be the root of our troubles. She invites readers into realms of nostalgia and of mystery and of existential terror. The portholes through which we can view these kingdoms of hope and pain are small and smudged, but we see enough. Enough to apprehend them, enough perhaps even to judge them. And certainly enough to enjoy the experience of their lessons.”
Cameron Hatheway - Bleeding Cool
“Davis plays with different styles, while simultaneously mesmerizing the reader with the color choices. Her watercolors in particular are beyond gorgeous, and funny enough, the reader can feel a rush of happiness after reading the book in its entirety.”
Amber Hage-Ali - Columbus Alive
“...How to be Happy [is] an imaginative collection of graphic literary short stories... Don’t be fooled by the title, though; you won’t find the key to happiness in these illustrations. Instead, the story that emerges from them forms a cryptic play on society’s expectations for happiness.”
Françoise Mouly
“Imaginative and funny and fanciful, but it's also very thoroughly worked out. She's not afraid to be clear.”
James Cartwright - It's Nice That
“It's a stunning body of work that brings together loosely personal and wholly fictional stories about joy, anguish, fear and loneliness — emotions all motivated by that essential quest to be the best you can be.”
Dan Kois - Slate
“...[How to Be Happy] is an inspired and inspiring collection of short work clearly establishing Davis as a leading cartoonist of the Tumblr era.... Davis' clever and sometimes jaw-droppingly beautiful artwork makes [these] stories feel real.”
Sean T. Collins - The Comics Journal
“Sad or happy, Davis is one of the greats. So is this book.”
Tim O'Neil - The A.V. Club
“Eleanor Davis’ breakthrough short story collection How to Be Happy… is a gorgeous book filled with exquisite cartooning. Davis switches between styles and subject matter with each story, flitting between melancholy, heartbreak, and nostalgia with a casual virtuosity.”
Chris Mautner - Robot 6
“This collection of short stories about people desperately trying to suppress or embrace or just somehow deal with all the difficult emotions careening around in their brain just underscores... that [Davis] is a tremendous talent, and one of the smartest voices working in comics today.”
Etelka Lehoczky - NPR Books
“Lies! Deceit and rank mendacity! Eleanor Davis promises what current pop music insists is perfectly possible — that you can be happy — and then she doesn't deliver. Instead she draws comics full of hilarious surrealism, gut-tugging tropes and eloquent despair. How dare she? ... In her roundabout way, she dramatizes not the prospect of happiness, but the promise of it. Her natural territory is found in all the funny and tragic effects of that promise.”
Paul Arrand Rodgers - Heavy Feather Review
“How to Be Happy is an argument for empathy, but not of the call-and-response kind. The stories here know the world is often heavy and intolerable. And also worthwhile; sometimes touched by light, sometimes full of music. Empathy is knowing both sides of the world, shouldering them and carrying on, searching for the still unblemished parts of the soul.”
Karen Sandstrom - The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“The book contains about 12 strange, beautifully drawn short stories, depending on how you count them, as well as several short vignettes. None of the stories is especially linear. Each feels almost like a sketch from experimental theater: disturbing, and emotionally pungent.”
Gordon Flagg - Booklist
“The success of this collection suggests that short pieces are likely Davis' métier, but what's here is so accomplished that it's natural to hope for a book-length work next time out.”
Carolina A. Miranda - Los Angeles Times
“Though Davis' tales can be wildly different in look and narrative, they are united by themes of yearning, of characters searching for the thing that will make their lives better. ...Remarkable ... exquisite ... How to Be Happy left me wanting more.”
Hillary Brown - Paste

…[Davis's] stories often feature tremendous longing and sadness, but they also lushly suggest what a blessing it is to be alive and in the world. She presents, in short, a more realistic picture of what it means to be a human, with our ever-present mind/body tug-of-war, than almost anyone else out there making art. And what art it is: there may be nothing Davis can’t beautifully illustrate. …How to Be Happy is fearless and fantastic, unafraid to break rules or to make new ones.
Zack Smith - Newsarama
“The book’s a unique showcase for Davis’ range, combining everything from minimalist, sketchy cartoons to lushly-illustrated full-color pieces and extended works — tales that explore the simple-yet-sometimes overwhelming problems of being human.”
Alex Dueben - Comic Book Resources
“Whether she's working in ink or in color, in longer or shorter stories, from slice of life to science fiction Davis shows herself to be a gifted and versatile storyteller.”
Library Journal
In these 20-plus parables of the human condition, Davis (The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook; Mome contributor) riffs not on happiness but on its opposite. An exquisite color woodblock-style introduces a settlement of neopaleo moderns, attempting to recreate Eden but still in conflict. Cheery painted art tells of Nita, living in a nature-rich gaia dome but visiting her sister's "normal" city where holoscreens erupt everywhere and people keep their toxoff suits zipped. Simple black-and-white drawings show an "Emotion Room," where emotions are slimy black ropes emerging from the body that can be washed away with a warm shower. (Wishful thinking? Totalitarian fantasy?) A thin-line black-and-white documentary depicts skinning a roadkill fox—finally the pelt and the body, joined now only at the nose, seem as two foxes kissing. VERDICT Each vignette in this emotional yet intellectual collage strikes a familiar chord but in a way that disquiets. Fantasy and sf elements lend texture and variety as well as evocative metaphors. An elegant, sophisticated smorgasbord for lovers of literary comics, high school-age and up, and for those still doubting the power of the medium.—M.C.

Product Details

Fantagraphics Books
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Product dimensions:
7.60(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Raised in Tucson, Arizona, Eleanor Davis lives in Athens, Georgia with her husband, the cartoonist Drew Weing.

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