#1 New York Times bestselling author and Eisner-nominated cartoonist Tom Hart has written a poignant and instructive guide for all aspiring graphic memoirists detailing the tenets of artistry and story-telling inherent in the medium. Hart examines what makes a graphic memoir great, and shows you how to do it. With two dozen professional examples and a deep-dive into his own story, Hart encourages readers to hone their signature style in the best way to represent their journeys on the page.
With clear examples and visual aids, The Art of the Graphic Memoir is emotive, creative, and accessible. Whether you're a comics fan, comic book creator, memoirist, biographer or autobiographer, there’s something inside for everyone.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||7.40(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
TOM HART is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and critically acclaimed Eisner-nominated cartoonist. He is the Executive Director of The Sequential Artists Workshop in Gainesville, Florida. He is the creator of Rosalie Lightning, Daddy Lightning, and the Hutch Owen series of graphic novels and books. The Collected Hutch Owenwas nominated for best graphic novel in 2000. He won a Xeric Grant for self-publishing cartoonists.
Read an Excerpt
To begin, why do we want to tell our story in comics? We don't really need an answer to this, but asking it might help us make better visual and sequential choices once we get going.
Comics are inherently visual, like cinema or animation, but they're also intimate, making a one-to-one connection with the reader as do novels or poetry.
Comics have in their history early glyphs and alphabets that communicate through pictures. Comics may be closer to runes than to movies. Some historians believe that even some cave paintings were meant to be read in sequence.
Or maybe comics are more like puppets — in both, we look at fake versions of people, whether made up of foam and cloth or made up of drawings. They don't move like real people; in comics they don't move at all.
Or maybe comics are like theater, the boxes and panels reflecting the proscenium and the stage.
Or maybe comics are a lot like music, the rhythm of the panels and pages reflecting the beats and measures in a song, and the directness of the drawings hitting our emotions like melody.
Or ultimately comics are most like comics, and every artist will bring his or her talents, drives, and eccentricities to it. Which is why we study them: to see what others have done, and to mimic and learn as we develop our own voice to tell our own story.
Since most comics are drawn (though they are occasionally painted, collaged, or even photographed), let's begin by looking at three artists who love to draw and whose narrative voices are inherently connected to their love of and facility with drawing.
SMILE by Raina Telgemeier
Raina Telgemeier clearly loves drawing. You can tell from her clean, exaggerated style. You can see the joy she experiences in stretching these faces and bodies to their limits.
Telgemeier's characters are consistent, expertly drawn, and very funny. Her readers are young adults and this is how they want to read her story. They want clean, easy-to-read cartoons that are elastic and occasionally grotesque. This distortion of the characters' faces and bodies reflect how childen and adolescents feel about their own bodies and appearances and owes a lot to the exaggeration in classic comics and cartoons.
HOW SHAPES FIT TOGETHER
Telgemeier talks a lot about drawing on her blog.
She talks about drawing as a child. "My earliest drawings are just scribbles and shapes, but they're all sort of rounded, featuring a lot of bubble-headed figures."
And then she talks about being inspired as a child by TV characters like the Muppets, Smurfs, Care Bears, and Mickey Mouse and about copying "how other artists fit shapes together."
Slowly she began to draw everything around her like cartoon characters: "I also drew myself, my friends, my teachers, my family ... anybody I came in contact with was likely a subject of my comics!"
In college, "I really enjoyed my classes ... especially figure drawing classes, learning about human anatomy and trying to capture difficult poses ... but, my faces were always cartoony."
And she talks finally about how in a cartooning style "your hand memorizes certain lines and shapes, and starts to simplify them."
Telgemeier has loved drawing since she was a child and clearly continues to love it years into being one of America's best-selling cartoonists. This delight in lines, shapes, faces, bodies, characters, and stories keeps her work warm, joyous, and infectious.
BAREFOOT JUSTINE by Justine Mara Andersen
My SAW (Sequential Artists Workshop) colleague Justine Mara Andersen is an artist like few others. She is a master of traditional light and shadow, anatomy and old-school comic book lines and shading. She draws the beautiful and the ugly with the same precision.
BEAUTY AND HORROR
In her memoir-in-progress, Barefoot Justine, which is about her life transition from one gender to another, she uses all of her skill and visual imagination to make the story alive, visible, and symbolic.
Idealized imagery pervades the book, for instance in the lush, decorative images on the left and right. But then when the need arises, Andersen uses different tools and renders in a more grotesque and humorous style, such as the image below of her asking her friend for some of his mother's painkillers. This image was inked with a toothpick as she renders herself lumpy and dissolving, a hopeless marshmallow.
She uses this idealized version of herself to imagine herself into existence. I'm moved by this panel where she, in the present, is holding tiny little past him up, meeting an artistic mentor for the first time.
In another panel, she draws her idealized self with such grace and beauty, and the internal demons and voices with such grotesque ferocity that you realize that the person telling the story has seen both sides of the imagination: the exalted, and the abased.
In her memoir, she tells about spending ten years drawing a comic about a girl in an adventureland full of space weapons, threats, and captivity. She says that she later realized she didn't merely love this character that she created, she subconsciously was trying to become her. And her memoir tells that story.
Andersen is an example of a person who, having studied hard to perfect her craft, now has the tools to make her dreams — and her own self — manifest.
THETH by Josh Bayer
Josh Bayer's Rom and Theth are memoirs that sometimes masquerade as revisions of other comics.
LOOSE, VARIED DRAWINGS
Bayer has a loose, inconsistent drawing style but his readers connect with its feral qualities. Bayer, too, loves to draw and it shows in him explosively trying new things on every page to get his story out. Characters brood, argue, fight, and strive for better situations while moving through this rich variety of coarse lines and radical marks.
Josh Bayer's lines do a lot of the talking for his characters. Theth doesn't speak much, but the lines he's drawn with are full of tension and intercoiled rage and resentment and fear.
A PHYSICAL ACT
In most cases, the creator of the memoir loves the art of drawing. That act of drawing is a way to relive the story, to put yourself as a creator back in time with new eyes and new tools.
Along this line, Alison Bechdel (Fun Home, 2007, Mariner Books) shoots reference photos of herself in virtually every scene in her stories. Having done the same thing myself at times, I can only imagine that Bechdel experiences the story even more deeply in a physical way because of this restaging, allowing her to inhabit the story in order to make fuller sense of it in context. Body, emotions, and intellect all work together in Bechdel's powerful work, which we'll see more of in future chapters.
So if the question is "Why comics?" I hope I've given you some ways to think about answering it by connecting it to drawing.
The process of drawing is a fabulous one, markedly different from traditional writing, talking, or thinking. Drawing is more animal, maybe more childish. It's challenging, but it's mesmerizing, surprising, and rewarding when it goes well.
But know, too, that it's okay to not know the answer to Why Comics? If the impulse is strong enough, follow it and it will reveal the answers later.
Why Comics? MY STORY
DRAWING THROUGH EMOTION
In my own case I have always used comics to explore my emotional landscape.
The montage of drawings to the left shows the manner in which I've drawn myself or variations of myself for twenty years.
The style, even when crude and inexperienced, is always emotive. The characters wildly express themselves with their faces and their gestures, expressing, I suppose, my sort of high-strung nature.
It was with drawing and writing that I dealt with and maneuvered within the emotional world for most of life.
So then when tragedy hit me, I had nothing to turn to except that same writing and drawing.
Though I've always loved drawing, the act of creating my book reminded me that in my case, the writing comes first.
I did tons and tons of preparatory writing. And then I drew through those written notes, the process of which became a way to revisit the experience while applying my more reflective and alert brain to it.
A PHYSICAL ACT
One of the ways of drawing that I turned to was the use of shading film — little mechanical dots on transparent sheets of sticky film. I turned to this partially because it was how I first learned and longed for the familiarity of it, but also because it caused me to draw with a knife. The tragedy of losing my daughter left me so raw and enraged that carving into film and into the paper was cathartic. Drawing for me needed to be a more solid, three-dimensional process.
EXAMINING THE CRAFT
I too have a profound love of drawing, but in fact it's often quite difficult for me. Drawing things "right" is usually a battle (though one that I enjoy engaging in, like a sport). Even while drawing silly cartoons, which is most of what I did for twenty years before my memoir, I had to fight to get body language, anatomy, and expressions right.
But in the case of Rosalie's book, I had a much more difficult series of challenges. I had to tell the story, engage with the material, and express something dark and sometimes scary. Not the usual thing I drew.
Early on in the book, I came upon this image by Jack Davis from an old 1950s EC The Vault of Horror comic (right). I was never a fan of genre comics, but this picture captivated me. I could identify with this horrific imagery for the first time in my life.
But I realized that I also liked looking at the craft of it.
So to draw the difficult parts of this book, I started there, with these horror comics. I examined the brushy way Johnny Craig built up the layers of ink to create this muddy pit (right), and carved away at it to create rain, and also the way Davis used ink to create the sticky, murky goo above.
I used these techniques as guides toward the type of representation I was aiming for.
FAMILY AS CHARACTERS
One thing I especially needed to do in order to understand and relate to this ordeal was turn my wife and myself into cartoon characters.
Because I have drawn so many cartoon characters for so long, it seemed I had to develop versions of my family in this same language.
At this cartooned distance, I was able to see us as travelers in a journey. And there was something moving to me about rendering my wife and myself in cartoon form. I especially felt that this panel below both felt like us and felt like genuine characters in a cartoon book. The melding of the two was something I was shooting for.
THE STRUGGLE TO DRAW
Why Comics? DO THIS
For this first section, just get inspired. Read some comics! Lots of them.
Read any of the twenty-seven memoirs listed in this book. Those books, along with other great examples, are organized here loosely by subject matter. Start by reading some of them, firing your synapses, and getting primed to tell your own story.
This list below is highly subjective, accidental in many ways, and sadly incomplete. I hope you'll use it merely as a starting point.
SOME RECOMMENDED GRAPHIC MEMOIRS
Smile by Raina Telgemeier
Theth by Josh Bayer
Kampung Boy by Lat
NonNonBa by Shigeru Mizuki
Total Trash by Jen Sandwich
Perfect Example, by John Porcellino
We Can Fix It! by Jess Fink
100 Demons by Lynda Barry
Why I Killed Peter by Alfred and Olivier Ka
Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary by Justin Green
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
The Playboy by Chester Brown
I Never Liked You by Chester Brown
Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life by Ulli Lust
Over Easy by Mimi Pond
Couch Tag by Jesse Reklaw
The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf
Alec: The King Canute Crowd by Eddie Campbell
Freddie & Me by Mike Dawson
Chicago by Glenn Head
Blankets by Craig Thompson
My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
Escape from "Special" by Miss Lasko-Gross
Drinking at the Movies by Julia Wertz
The Quitter by Harvey Pekar and Dean Haspiel
The Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner
STORIES ABOUT PARENTS
To the Heart of the Storm by Will Eisner
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole J. Georges
Soldier's Heart by Carol Tyler
Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
Fatherland by Nina Bunjevac
Displacement by Lucy Knisley
Special Exits by Joyce Farmer
All the Answers by Michael Kupperman
Grafitti Kitchen by Eddie Campbell
David Chelsea in Love by David Chelsea
Dance by the Light of the Moon by Judith Vanistendael
Silly Daddy by Joe Chiappetta
My New York Diary by Julie Doucet
Clumsy and Unlikely by Jeffrey Brown
Invisible Ink by Bill Griffith
ILLNESSES AND GRIEF
Monsters and Sick by Ken Dahl (Gabby Shulz)
Epileptic by David B.
Marbles by Ellen Forney
Our Cancer Year by Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner, and Frank Stack
Billy, Me & You by Nicola Streeten
The Story of My Tits by Jennifer Hayden
Cancer Vixen by Marisa Acocella Marchetto
Stitches by David Small
Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer's, My Mother, and Me by Sarah Leavitt
Things to Do in a Retirement Home Trailer Park ... When You're 29 and Unemployed by Aneurin Wright
How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden
Pyongyang by Guy Delisle
Follow Your Art by Roberta Gregory
Red Eye, Black Eye by K. Thor Jensen
But I Like It by Joe Sacco
STORIES ABOUT NOW
Make Me a Woman by Vanessa Davis
July Diary and The Voyeurs by Gabrielle Bell
American Elf by James Kochalka
American Splendor by Harvey Pekar
Whatever by Karl Stevens
Miseryland by Keiler Roberts
The Fate of the Artist by Eddie Campbell
Need More Love by Aline Kominsky-Crumb
Stop Forgetting to Remember by Peter Kuper
STORIES ABOUT WAR AND HISTORY
Maus and MetaMaus by Art Spiegelman
The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefèvre, and Frédéric Lemercier
We Are on Our Own by Miriam Katin
A Sailor's Story by Sam Glanzman
Darkroom by Lila Quintero Weaver
Full Body Scan by Miki Golod
March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
A Game for Swallows by Zeina Abirached
Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa
Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths by Shigeru Mizuki
Escape from Syria by Samya Kullab, Jackie Roche, and Mike Freiheit
Vietnamerica by GB Tran
American Widow by Alissa Torres and Sungyoon Choi
The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
STORIES ABOUT JOBS AND OTHER EXPERIENCES
Turning Japanese by MariNaomi
Doing Time by Kazuichi Hanawa
... and many more!CHAPTER 2
Maybe you want to tell the story about your childhood, and it's got lots of great stories and anecdotes but you haven't begun to structure it. Or maybe you want to tell about a particular ordeal, in which case you know the path of events and you need to elaborate it, or even edit it down to what is essential.
Assuming you know some of the story but not all of it, or that you know all of it but want to make sure you're prepared to start, let's look at the process of gathering material.
Let's review three memoirs that started as series of explorations and were later brought together into a whole unified package.
PERFECT EXAMPLE by John Porcellino
John Porcellino's King-Cat is an autobiographical series of stories that has been coming out since the early '90s. Many of the early stories are ones about young adulthood or adolescence — stories about jobs, love, art, friends. Porcellino's stories are simple and often short but honestly observed and detailed. His books have been collected in many large collections. At least two of his larger series of stories have been collected under unified covers: Mosquito Abatement Man, about his time killing mosquitoes for a living, and Perfect Example, about his summer between high school and college.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Art of the Graphic Memoir"
Copyright © 2018 Tom Hart.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART I: GETTING STARTED,
FINDING A VISUAL STYLE,
PART II: GOING DEEPER,
CHANGE YOUR LIFE,
Also by Tom Hart,
About the Author,