My comic for Canada Writes: naked man, bathtub, flowers

So much fun! The nice people at CBC’s Canada Writes asked me to create a comic for their latest challenge. I would draw a three-panel narrative without words, and contestants would submit a caption for each of the panels. It was a challenge for me, too: create a three-panel comic that is open enough for people to create their own story, yet with panels that are connected enough to suggest a narrative. Canada Writes will be posting an interview next week about the process of creating the three panels — it involves lots of back and forth and lots of drafts — but in the meantime, please participate in the contest. It’s open until June 7.

Sarah Leavitt's comic for Canada Writes


Tangles in German: Das große Durcheinander

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…

Das Große Durcheinander (Tangles in German)

Here are some links along with brief translated excerpts:

Die Welt
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.

Guinea pig portraits

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:

Sir Christopher Hatton, artist unknown, from Wikipedia

Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger

And I did these drawings…

Guinea pig as Christoper Hatton by Sarah LeavittGuinea pig as Henry VII by Sarah Leavitt, after Holbein

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.

Guinea pig coat of arms by Sarah Leavitt

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:

Guinea pig as Sir Christopher Hatton by Sarah Leavitt, coloured and framed

Guinea pig as Henry VII by Sarah Leavitt, coloured and framed

Guinea pig coat of arms by Sarah Leavitt

Now if only I could bring this sort of focus to my graphic novel in progress, that would be awesome.

Illustrated poetry

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):

One Virtue by Jen Currin, illustrated by Sarah Leavitt, page 1 of 2One Virtue by Jen Currin, illustrated by Sarah Leavitt, page 2 of 2

Northwords project is online

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
Northwords writers after a week in Torngat Mountains National Park: me, Rabindranath Maharaj, Joseph Boyden, Shelagh Rogers, Alissa York and Noah Richler

The journey was captured in Shelagh’s award-winning radio documentary, and the documentary film by filmCAN premiered this past August; it will be on CBC TV later this month. And… the interactive site is now live! It contains lots of audio and video and photos and a link to the ebook from Anansi that contains all the writing that we did during the week. I’m so full of excitement and gratitude and thrilledness! interactive site


Some illustrations for Geist magazine

The nice folks at Geist magazine got me to do some spot illustrations for their Summer Reading Issue. It’s a great issue all around. I think my favourite part of Geist is the Findings section, a collection of excerpts that usually leads me to a delightful new book. This time it was some fantastically strange drawings from The Codex Canadensis and the Writings of Louis Nicolas, A natural history and illustrations of the New World in the seventeenth century, and a laugh-out-loud sample of Anakana Schofield’s Malarky. Here are the three drawings I’m happiest with.

Books provide shadeBooks provide shade for patio drinksDogs love books

Tangles released in the US: great reviews!

The US edition of Tangles came out from Skyhorse Publishing May 1. It’s been a great first couple weeks. I feel very lucky.

So far there’s been the Kirkus Starred Review and a slideshow of images from Tangles on the Huffington Post, and amazing Vanity Fair and Jewish Daily Forward reviews…

Elissa Schappell of Vanity Fair says:

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!