Wednesday, October 26, 2011

hit submit; the library; Shiga's Empire State

I submitted my first flash story to [redacted] today—my first fiction pitch ever. Though I know that I won't hear anything about it for several months, I still feel very excited about the whole thing. I know that the story will be a tough sell, but I am hopeful.
When it became clear that more time in front of the computer wasn't going to be good for me, I went to the library. I finally returned some books I've had for months and headed to Fiction for something to distract. As I wandered the stacks, composing a post about how browsing in the BPL Central branch is not pleasurable because there are so few books by the authors I am interested in and many, many copies of Lauren K. Hamilton novels, I ran across two small press books in the New Fiction section that I was drawn to: Isle for Dreams by Keizo Hino, published by The Dalkey Archive Press and Follow Me Down by Kio Stark, published by Brooklyn's Red Lemonade. I remembered that there was a Karen Joy Fowler story collection from the 1990s, Black Glass, which was of course not on the shelf in Fiction or SF, but in the basement stacks. After filling out the slip I sat down to read a comic and wait for it to appear on the shelf in the Popular Library.
I read Empire State by Jason Shiga.  The first thing I noticed was the book's color pallet, matte shades of red and blue, done digitally by John Pham. The story skips back and forth through time and the colors help place the reader in time. While this worked well as a narrative strategy, the colors felt drab to me and sapped the settings, such as the library, Lake Merritt(?), and NYC, of strength. Since this book is so much about the contrast between places, and the connection between where we choose to live and the way we live our lives, the coloring choice ultimately reduced the power of the story. The book begins in Oakland, CA and follows the main character, a homebody named Jimmy, on an impulsive, love-fueled Greyhound trip to New York to visit Sara, Jimmy's best friend and crush. He convinces himself that the trip is a step towards adulthood, but from the moment he arrives in New York, wide-eyed and Greyhound-stinky, it becomes clear just how much growing up he has to do. Overall, Empire State, while cute, felt too slight for the treatment—more like a mini than a book. More time spent fleshing out the days and nights on the bus and how naive Jimmy responded to them would have served to make the book more satisfying.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

old, in internet years, but good

The best comic shops in Paris, a list by Mark Burrier. I've been to two of them--Album and Boulinier--and spent much more money than was wise. My one Burrier print is away at the framer. When it is done, it will go to B's windowless office to act as antidepressant decor.


Here is a callback, I encountered Pinocchio by Winshluss at Album, right after it won the Angoul√™me International Comics Festival award. If I had known that it was about beetles in your brain, well then perhaps I would have picked it up. Depression (and other inaccessible brain things) is difficult to write about, and this review covers three comics that try. I want to give Bookslut review-writer Martyn Pedler a hug right now: "Why am I putting this in print? I don’t know. Maybe because the only way we’ll ever know what each others’ cockroaches look like is to try to explain our own, and pay close attention when others do the same."


Some terrible things that bosses have said. My entry: "Well, [your brother] wouldn't have died if the car had had airbags." This was about two months after it happened. I left for the day right after that.

"Still, it is hard to look at people the same way when they are so clearly putting a blanket of hatred over me, even if they didn't know I was standing there."  I like a blog post that talks about Burger King, disappearing, a small room under the stairs and why Facebook is a pipeline to hate.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Excellent mail day:
I've been waiting for this for several years. Now it is here and I am going to wait until the weekend to read it, as an incentive to get it together.

What I am trying to say is: HOORAY!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Please go check out my review of Passage by Tessa Brunton @ inkstuds.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Interview: Tessa Brunton

Tessa Brunton is a Bay Area cartoonist that I discovered through Twitter. If you are keeping score, this gives us Twitter:1, Bitching about Twitter: 0.

Carrie Try Harder: You say in the about section of your website that a failed attempt to write a novel turned you towards doing autobio comics. You recently made a hilarious flow chart on how to make such a comic that underlined the frustrations of writing about day-to-day life. What inspires you to continue to document your life? Have you thought about returning to fiction storytelling?
Tessa Brunton: I loved messing around with fiction, but I found it really difficult. With fiction you have to make so many choices, and when I made choices that made the story meaningful, it then seemed contrived. When I didn’t the story became tedious. With autobio stories I know what happened and why it felt meaningful, which keeps me from getting overwhelmed and spending five days obsessing about whether having my characters visit a haunted slaughterhouse is too obviously symbolic.

I think the main reason I keep documenting my life with comics is I find it incredibly therapeutic and empowering. I was in denial about some messy life stuff for a lot of my twenties, and dealing with that opened up this floodgate of reflection and comics happen to be a phenomenal way to explore all that. It’s like putting those experiences in a narrative makes them not just these messed up things that happened, it somehow makes them mine. However, making comics about daily life can get really old (exhibit a: the flowchart). I think I keep doing it because of the fundamental human pleasure of sharing your experience. It's like I can say things about myself and my life I wouldn't necessarily say to someone face to face.

That said, I bet that someday I'll get over going all Nancy Drew on my life with comics and will try fiction again...

CTH: In each of the three issues of In The Tall Grass you end the issues with "A Note to My Mom," basically reassuring her with messages like "besides that time on mushrooms [you] do not do drugs in public places."While this is obviously a joke, I wonder how you deal with the fallout that can sometimes come with writing autobio in a world that we share, for instance, with our parents and exes. Have you had to have explicit conversations with loved ones about their appearances in your work?
TB: I've had a couple of conversations where I’ve asked people if they want me to change their names and likenesses, and I asked my brother before I made a comic book about his coming of age experience, but no one’s gotten upset with me about their portrayal in my comics (yet). I think without realizing it I do omit more upsetting stories, for example by not making comics about that housemate that tried to steal my security deposit while descending into addiction. I’ve been told my comics are upbeat and sometimes I wonder if it’s because I’ve been leaving out the stories about people screwing each other over and having horrible break-ups in some weird unconscious attempt to not rock the boat?

I’m actually bracing myself to try to stop only looking at the funny/comforting/revelatory moments and start messing around with the more painful, less-flattering stories, where people are doing messed up things to each other, and I expect there’ll be some fall out when that happens.

CTH: Yes, let's talk about Passage, your recent, most excellent comic about your brother's coming of age experience. In it you mention your own "passage," as arranged by your parents, but the story focusses on your reaction to his. Why did you decide to make his story the framing device instead of your own? Better outfits? Wackier characters?
TB: I think if I had just focused on my story it would have been 32 pages about my buckets of shame. His story not only involved costumery, kidnapping and authority figures acting wacky but he didn’t seem ashamed of the experience at all which was in total contrast to my sense of gut wrenching humiliation. Given what a private person he was, I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t embarrassed by the manhood ceremony, but his experience presented this idea that maybe my reaction was symptomatic of deeper issues. I think his story enabled me to reflect on why I was flipping out and the fact that it was not totally normal that I would have liked to walk around with a paper bag over my head during those years.

CTH: In Passage, and in your recent online comics, you've been delving into those feelings of shame, and the experiences that lead to them, bit by bit. You have also been doing some comics about your chronic illness. What is the impetus to work on these two issues in your comics? Is it the same for each? Do you have any comic-memoir models you turn to when you are stuck?
TB: One thing about shame is that it’s really isolating and I think a lot of my motivation for making comics about being molested and having a chronic illness is how incredibly rewarding it feels to not be ashamed. It seems to be rewarding on lots of different levels – your comics become more interesting, they’re more honest, and (I think most importantly) you feel like you’re less alone in your experience. Whether or not anyone’s even reading it, it's still a way of embracing your situation and the cards you've been dealt, which can be liberating. There are definitely comic memoirs I go back to regularly to remind myself of what I’d like to do. Right now my staples are Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons and Craig Thompson’s Blankets, but I just read Gabby Schulz/Ken Dahl’s Monsters and I’m adding it to my heavy rotation.

CTH: I just reread One Hundred Demons and have been referring to it a ton, too! Someday I will finish my love letter to that book... How was the transition from self-publishing to working with Sparkplug? What was it like working with comics' powerhouse Dylan Williams?
TB: The transition was sweet, any way you cut it. The experience of having someone want to publish your stuff, especially for a cartoonist who doubts their technical proficiency and is toiling away in semi-obscurity, is of course positive. But really, Dylan was rare and wonderful and incredibly encouraging and that made it the best. To begin with, I think his offer changed the way I thought about myself and my comics. It's like the validation gave me permission to be very serious and work on something that would take two years. But part of it was just the pleasure of working with someone who genuinely cared. For example, he first e-mailed me the offer to publish a comic (If I made one) the same month I was diagnosed with my illness. I was flipping out and I never responded. He tried again a few months later and by then I had my head on straight. He said he suspected something was up, and when I told him what was happening he commiserated with his own health issues. I'd check in from time to time to tell him how the comic was coming and sometimes we'd talk about our health stuff, but even so I don't think I ever expressed to him how much the comic book kept me sane and kept my self esteem up while I was wrangling with my illness and other assorted stuff. When it was time to go over the proofs of the book I got a call from him from the hospital after he'd just had a surgery and he was, I think, in pain, just to confirm that I'd given the printers the go ahead. He loved comics and he loved people and his dedication to both really showed, and it changed people's lives. It definitely changed mine significantly for the better.

CTH: So, I somehow skipped asking you about my favorite part of your art--the patterns! How did you develop your style of using many tiny patterns to give depth to your panels?
TB: Well, I love how comics look when they're all cluttered with texture and detail, I find them very tasty looking (I know that sounds kind of weird). However I think I started adding more patterns to my comics at first because they seemed to disguise and compensate for my, ahem, lack of proficiency in some technical aspects of drawing. But then instead of just patterning the wood to try to hide how badly I drew a window frame I got absorbed by how tasty looking they are. Now of course it's a full blown compulsion. I cannot stop myself from obsessively patterning bed sheets. I'm want to curtail it in an effort to draw more "efficiently" and be smarter about creating a sense of balance and mood without indiscriminately adding patterns every which way, but it's hard because I love how it looks so very, very much.

And, well, I don't really have anything to add. Each of these questions made me think hard about what exactly I've been doing and why that is and so there has been an alarming amount of reflection going on in my apartment. Anyways, thank you for providing such thoughtful questions!

CTH: Well, thanks! It was great typing with you. I can't wait to see what happens next with you and your work.

Read my review of In the Tall Grass at Inkstuds. 

Thursday, October 06, 2011

reading ZAZEN and complaining

I am reading Zazen by Vanessa Veselka right now and it is making me edgy. I can actually feel the anticipation in my arms and legs, buzzing away while I am on the subway or getting into bed at night. Twitter made me read the book and it is very good so far. It is about a woman who is having "lifetime problems," as Zane and I might say to one another, and her problems are not being helped by the bombings that begin to crowd her imagination and then her reality. It also has many good vegan cupcake jokes.

I think my reaction comes from both the building dread in the book and the fear that it will stop being good. When you have a burnt out, kind of crazy, first-person, narrator, there is a chance of that their misery will overwhelm the action of the story, and just become repetitive. Each time Veselka veers towards that she pulls it back in nicely. But what if, next time, she doesn't? WHAT IF? I guess I have just been reading too many pretty good books--A Visit from the Goon Squad and Our Tragic Universe,* I'm looking your way--when I want to be reading great books.

Toting Zazen around confirmed my conclusion that the covers of these Red Lemonade books do leave something to be desired. Not the design, but the paper stock. They just curl and curl, making me look like a sloppy book mangler with pancakes for hands.

*Both of these were excellent airplane books, however. Except the part where there is a dead brother and I cry and cry.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

things about mail

### Yesterday was a bullshit day of no mail, just junk. Get on it people! If you are not writing me then at least write someone else.

### Two days ago was a good mail day. I got the last two issues of Papercutter sent to me by publisher Greg Means himself. Included with the issues was a nice note from Greg which simply said that he liked my blog and tweeting. I'm sure he didn't know this, but I've been feeling like tweeting is a monster waste of wrist strength and that blogging is better than that, but not when I do it. So so so, Greg's note made me feel great and do some reconsidering of why I do all this typing into the ether.

### Here is something that will make the mail better for you: Get all your catalogs and terrible junk mail, build up some righteous anger, take an hour and methodically call all of the companies that send it and tell them to remove you from their lists. Soon you will get much less crap and a real letter will be easier to spot. This does not work for bills, sorry.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Two things about Lynne Tillman's Some Day This Will Be Funny

1. In this book there are stories that include characters making tea, drinking tea and watching the things in your house move or not move ('That’s How Wrong My Love Is'). This is important to me. it is diffcult to write about thoughts and the spaces between them.

2. Sometimes Tillman uses words like "trousers" and "make love" and loses me ('Love Sentence'). But then, the perfect description of a feeling will pull me right back in. She writes about psychoanalysis and I don't care. It is too New York to be real, so I discard it. In 'The Substitute,' however, the character's time with the analyst, scraping away at him and herself, is part of an altered reality, so it works for me.