My first try at a book cover: Drawing from Life: Memory and Subjectivity in Comic Art. Not only was it fun to work on the concept and execution, but I am really looking forward to reading the book. Coming in the fall from Mississippi University Press. (The colour was added by the publisher; original was black and white — pencil and technical pen.)
I just got my author copy of the German edition of Tangles in the mail today, and here’s a mediocre iPhone picture! Unlike the Canadian, American and UK editions, this one is hardcover. Surprisingly thrilling to feel it in my hands. And the paper is heavier, too. And — most of the lovely hardcover books I’ve seen from Canadian or American publishers are done in China or another Asian country to save costs. But this was done in Germany. Pretty cool. Also my publisher, Beltz, made a mini-version, called a “leseprobe,” for promo. It is super cute. (And I try not to call it a “lezzy probe.”) It has just two chapters from the book in it. I am really happy to be publishing with Beltz. My editor, Petra Dorn, has been amazing, and the promotions team work crazy hard. And, there have already been some great reviews of the book…
Here are some links along with brief translated excerpts:
My publisher says: “A portrait of Alzheimer that is touching and makes you feel sad: of the slow disappearance of an impressive personality – and about the reactions of the people around her.”
Google translate says: “The book is a love letter that stirs one to tears.”
My publisher says: “The journalist says that your book is very moving, and that it tells of the great love for your mother. With excellence you manage to transfer overwhelming feelings, little misunderstandings and hurts in the family into pictures and words.”
Süddeutsche Zeitung (review not online)
My publisher: “They call the book very impressive and like it very much that it is kind of a diary which catches all the daily things that Alzheimer brings into families.”
Nido (review not online)
My publisher: “They call the book ‘sad, sensitive – and encouraging.’”
And here is an excerpt from my current favourite Google translation of a review:
“Six years takes the big mess up mother can finally run no longer, in a home comes and there died… The reading is therefore not really a fun thing, but this story has something very comforting for all involved. It tells of deep feelings of love and togetherness. And that’s just beautiful.” — “Farewell to Rates” (I know that can’t be a correct translation!) by Ulricke Schimming on the Lettera blog
It was interesting to work on the German translation of Tangles. I had to let go of some of my control issues and trust the translator, since I don’t read German. Most of Tangles is lettered with a font I created from my handwriting — which, incidentally, I don’t think I would do again. Hand lettering from now on! Anyway, I redid the font to include German characters, and relettered some of the handwritten parts, but the designer actually redid some of the handwriting herself or replaced it with a different font, which was a bit painful for me but I realized it was a necessary letting go. Or it felt like it to me, anyway. The Beltz team was really careful and respectful and the book looks awesome. One slightly odd thing — they included a glossary at the end, for terms like “reiki,” “chorizo” and “mezcal.” Do Germans not know these words? And, a little bit disturbing, they included the word “Chanukah” in the glossary. If anyone has insights into this, I’d love to hear them.
My friend has two hairless guinea pigs, also known as skinny pigs. I had never heard of such a thing before she got them, and even now that I have met them a number of times, I still am not sure that I approve of their creation. It seems like a weird use of human ingenuity. It does allow allergic people like my friend to have a pet to cuddle. But they are… well, some people find them cute. That’s all I will say for now. This is a photo of them that shows their cute fuzzy noses and does not show their disturbing naked spines or bulging testicles:
Anyway, my friend loves them and so I said I would draw their portraits. I started with sketches from photos:
Then I put aside the drawings while I thought about how to make them into portraits. I don’t know when I decided that one needed an Elizabethan collar and the other needed one of Henry VIII’s most famous outfits. But once I made the decision I couldn’t think of anything else to do. You see how deep and serious my internal world is. So I found these guys:
And I did these drawings…
Then I decided they needed a coat of arms… The motto is “Kale is in our hearts.” The symbols on the shield are a sunrise/sunset because guinea pigs are crepuscular animals, a cave for hiding, a wheel for exercise and a grape because it is another roundish symbol and these particular pigs like grapes.
And then I coloured them with Derwent Inktense pencils. Colouring is a new thing for me so I am not completely happy with the results. But here they are:
Now if only I could bring this sort of focus to my graphic novel in progress, that would be awesome.
Exciting! The new Eighteen Bridges is out, and includes my collaborative comic with Cameron Chesney! It was great working with Cam: we sent panels back and forth (and back and forth and…) and Curtis Gillespie provided sharp and insightful edits — not an easy task with comics. Really proud to have my work in this great mag (pg 18).
The latest issue of Poetry Is Dead just came out — the queer issue. There is lots to love in here, and I’m really happy about my collaboration with Jen Currin — maybe just because I sweated so much over it. When the editor asked me to choose a poem of Jen’s to illustrate, I was quite intimidated but figured I should give it a try. Since to be honest I am inexpert at reading poetry and at illustrating, but would like to be better at both. Jen sent me a number of poems and I chose One Virtue because of the crows and the boys and the rhythm. I focused on trying to find a way of illustrating the poem that wasn’t too literal, reading the poem over and over, finding more and more layers as I did. I wanted to find my own interpretation and at the same time honour Jen’s intent. She was lovely and trusting and just let me do what I wanted. So here is what I did (they’re designed for a spread, so the bottom line on the first page continues onto the bottom of the second):
Last summer I had the extreme good fortune to be part of a group of five writers that Shelagh Rogers took to Torngats National Park for a week. The goal: for us each to create a piece of writing (or in my case, illustrations with text) inspired by our experiences.
Northwords writers after a week in Torngat Mountains National Park: me, Rabindranath Maharaj, Joseph Boyden, Shelagh Rogers, Alissa York and Noah Richler
What she’s getting at is the essence of who we are and how we operate, of what underlies our neurons, what defines identity. “This is a hard thing to say,” her mother says after Leavitt shows her a few pages of this book, at the time a work in progress. “I’m not a real person.”
But what defines reality? That’s the central question, although “Tangles” doesn’t (can’t) provide an answer. And yet, in framing her loss and her uncertainty through the lens of love, Leavitt manages to find a fragile resolution: conditional, moving, rigorous and heartbreaking at once.
In her graphic memoir, Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me (Skyhorse), Sarah Leavitt tries to hold on to her beloved mother, Midge, and unknot the tensions that arise between friends and family. As she does, day by day Midge’s mind erases more of her past, and the future becomes less certain. Not only a spot-on portrait of the dark comedy and vast sadness that Alzheimer’s contains, the book is a fitting tribute to Leavitt’s mom.
Jane Eisner of the Forward:
I felt that way about the whole memoir; it works. At first, I wasn’t sure whether Leavitt could do justice to the confusing feelings and family dynamics that she aims to portray in “Tangles,” which she calls “a story about Alzheimer’s, my mother and me.” While the genre of graphic novels has grown ever more sophisticated, it’s still a challenge to turn comic book heroes into complicated human beings. But Leavitt is able to make her characters seem real with a few strokes of the pencil and fewer words. Read the full review…
Exciting times! Meanwhile I am finishing a couple of illustration jobs and working on my next book in bits and pieces. Thanks for checking in!