Please recommend Tangles for Canada Reads

This year the Canada Reads contest on CBC is limited to non-fiction. I’m really glad they are doing this, after last year’s focus on the novel. And it has been fun to see the reader recommendations for Tangles showing up in the daily roundups of recommendations on the Canada Reads blog. If you are so moved, recommendations are accepted until midnight Eastern Time October 14: http://www.cbc.ca/books/canadareads/2012/recommend/index.html.

Canada Reads 2012

Sarah goes to Toronto, Kingston, Montreal

Aargh, I am so bad at keeping a regular blog. I mean, not that it has ever been my intention to blog daily or weekly or anything, but this is a bit ridiculous. ALSO, there are things I want to tell you. So here it is, how I spent my summer vacation, part 2 of 3.

After that amazing Graphic Medicine conference in Chicago (that was summer vacation part 1), I came home for a little bit and then went to Toronto, Kingston and Montreal…

In Toronto, Julie Wilson hosted a conversation with me and Andrew Westoll at Ben McNally Books called “You Think You Know Me But You Have No Idea.” Andrew and I read from our work and talked about what it’s like to publish memoir, how the portrayal of yourself in your book is different from the Real You. The title of the event sounds a bit hostile, but really it didn’t turn out that way. Check out reports on the panel from Canadian Bookshelf and The Toronto Quarterly. Highlights of the evening included meeting the incredible Julie Wilson in person for the first time, and my agent Samantha Haywood, too! (Get a sense of Sam’s passion for publishing in this great interview on Open Book Toronto.) Andrew Westoll and I have written very different books but we think along the same lines when it comes to shaping narrative from life experience.

Julie Wilson, me, Andrew Westoll at Ben McNally Books, Toronto
Julie Wilson, me, Andrew Westoll: all of us are much more dynamic and smiley in person. 

In Kingston, the wonderful essayist and lovely friend Susan Olding and I did a version of the same event at the tiny Novel Idea Bookstore, and managed to cram an attentive (and patient) audience into the narrow spaces between immovable bookshelves and we stacked books and small tables creatively to make a perfect stand for the projector. I love doing readings in little bookstores where you have to figure out how to make everything work with the space you have — there is always someone in the crowd with good spatial sense and/or expertise with projectors and the experience of setting everything up together creates a sweet atmosphere for reading and talking and answering questions. Highlights included seeing the wonderful art and writing that Susan’s young daughter Maia has been creating, and being in the city where Alias Grace was set. I just read Alias Grace this spring and am somewhat haunted by Grace Marks and her murdering ways.

Last but not least, I took the train to Montreal (broken air conditioning on the train + worst day of heat wave = completely hideous arrival in the most aggressively stylish city in Canada, but oh well). There I did a reading at the Yellow Door Coffeehouse with a small but extremely smart audience who asked great questions and took me out for Ethiopian food. I lived in Montreal in the late 80s and early 90s. Things are different but that electric, crackling energy that I remember is the same (that energy that made me think the people in Vancouver were in a coma or something when I first moved here). My favourite night included walking by a park where Judas Priest videos were playing on a large screen, continuing on through the dancing crowds of the Nuits d’Afrique festival, and then running back to my hotel through a wild thunderstorm.

You can read a bit about my reading on the wonderful blog, She Reads and Reads, and I had a coffee in Old Montreal with Ian McGillis, who wrote a lovely review of Tangles back in December. You can read his interview with me on the Montreal Gazette blog. I also met up with my dad in Montreal!

We went to the D&Q bookstore! And found Tangles on the shelf! I bought Ivan Brunetti’s Cartooning and Hilary Chute’s Graphic Women and a bunch of mini-comics from the awesome Life and Times of Butch Dykes series. And more! Until I regained a semblance of self-control and frugality.

Sarah visits D&Q!
Montreal + summer + comics = HAPPY

 

Tangles on the shelf at D&Q!
Tangles on the shelf at D&Q!

Oh, were you wondering what my cute dad looks like? Well here he is!

My dad with our Montreal breakfast extraordinaire
My dad with our Montreal breakfast extraordinaire

Drawing Lessons

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be good at drawing. I really do believe that a good drawing is a drawing that either pleases the viewer aesthetically and/or inspires an emotional response. I don’t think that “good” equals representational or highly polished. So in that way I am OK with the fact that my own drawings in Tangles are kind of crude or unskilled. I know that they have pleased and moved people and that is great. At the same time, I want to improve my drawing, make it more confident, more intentional, have the control to be able to decide between simplicity and detail, rather than being limited to a certain style because of my skill level. So I am going to take drawing lessons — though I might be too sensitive to take lessons like the one I drew here. But come to think of it, my favourite writing instructors have been the tough ones who make me cry.

Drawing Lesson by Sarah Leavitt

Drawing Lesson 2 by Sarah Leavitt

Tangles comes to Toronto, Kingston and Montreal

Whirlwind tour coming up! Excited!

  • July 19: You Think You Know Me, But You Have No Idea, with Andrew Westoll, Stacey May Fowles and Julie Wilson, Ben McNally Books, 366 Bay Street, Toronto
  • July 20: You Think You Know Me, But You Have No Idea (Take Two), with Susan Olding, 6 pm at Novel Idea, 156 Princess Street, Kingston
  • July 21:  Tangles Book Launch and Reception, 6 pm at the Yellow Door Coffeehouse, 3625 Aylmer Street, Montreal

 

Comics & Medicine 2011: attempt at an articulate summation

I will now do my best to write a brief report on the Comics & Medicine conference without using “OMG,” “awesome,” or excessive exclamation marks. We’ll see how I do.

For months now I have been both looking forward to and completely stressed out about this conference. Here’s why I was looking forward: I kept thinking about how Comics & Medicine was not only (ha!) a gathering of cartoonists, doctors, nurses, academics, and other extremely interesting people; it would be my first time meeting Brian Fies, author of Mom’s Cancer, who has supported me since I emailed him in 2009 to get advice on publishing a graphic memoir about illness; a chance to meet MK Czerwiec, who writes and draws the Comic Nurse comics and who I could tell was awesome cool after just a brief email correspondence; and a chance to rub shoulders with people I had huge admiration for, like Scott McCloud, Paul Gravett and Phoebe Gloeckner. And here’s why I was stressing out: everything I just said! Plus, I was preparing for a panel presentation and a workshop, and I was convinced I had no idea what I was talking about. In fact, I had realized that I was a fake cartoonist, with no talent and nothing interesting to say.

So it was wonderful when not only did nothing bad happen, but, to put it mildly, the conference was a brilliant weekend of electric connections, artistic and intellectual stimulation, laughter (the kind that happens over drinks and shared stories of beloved parents with dementia) and  self-reflection. OMG OMG OMG!!!!!!

Here are some photos:

I arrived in Chicago Thursday evening and was late getting to my hotel because the traffic was crazy due to extreme thunder and lightning that ended right before our plane came in. I raced to the opening reception…

Meeting Brian for the first time, at the opening night reception. We became BFFs right away, which was a true act of bravery on his part, because I looked a bit crazy I was so excited!

Sarah Leavitt and Brian Fies at Comics and Medicine 2011

This is a page from Tangles at the art exhibit at the opening reception. Wine did not reduce my extreme, vibrating excitement.

Sarah Leavitt with art at Comics and Medicine 2011

This is part of a comic by Thom Ferrier, the doctor/cartoonist who started this whole thing. I love this bit with the brain deteriorating… Thom is great at combining humour and pathos. See http://thomferrier.com

Tough by Thom Ferrier

Then came the conference:

This is Phoebe Gloeckner. If you have not seen her work, go buy it and read it. This is a bad photo and does not adequately convey important info, such as a) she is ridiculously attractive, b) she presented a completely jumbled slide show that nevertheless captivated everyone, and c) the slides show the illustrations she did for Vogue Hommes in which she illustrated men’s fashions in interesting ways — the image on the right is a guy in a Dolce and Gabanna suit flashing a woman and her daughter in a park. See http://www.ravenblond.com

Phoebe Gloeckner at Comics and Medicine 2011

Brian introduced me to Scott McCloud, once I got over my shyness. Scott was very nice and chatty and normal, and even wore a checked shirt!

Scott McCloud, Brian Fies, Sarah Leavitt at Comics and Medicine 2011

One of my conference pals was John Swogger, an archaelogical illustrator and cartoonist from Wales. See John’s conference post here: http://bit.ly/iAp1Gl

John Swogger at Comics and Medicine 2011

These are just some of the photos I took. For more from the conference, see Brian Fies’s blog. And keep an eye out for updates on the Graphic Medicine website.

I went to all the panels I could, and they were great: using comics for health education with youth; looking in detail at Our Cancer Year, how the art both draws the reader in and pushes them away (by smartypants Mita Mahato of the University of Puget Sound), and more… Paul Gravett gave an incredible overview of the history of graphic medicine — I think maybe 1/1,000,000 of the comix expertise he carries in his head, Scott McCloud guided a worshipful crowd through a rapid-fire examination of comics and visual information, David Small talked about the torturous process of creating Stitches, and so on… I met Raney Linck, a nurse educator from Minnesota, Shelley Wall, an extremely talented medical illustrator from Toronto who is writing and drawing about her partner who has Parkinson’s…

Ultimately, I came away from the conference feeling like I had found my people. This group of smart, somewhat nerdy, compassionate, curious, generous people. It made me feel like they were all Jewish, or all lesbians, they felt so familiar. Especially, but not only, the cartoonists. Aside from my good friend Eve Corbel, I really had never connected with any other cartoonists. And now I have. And somehow, this experience of finding a place in the world of cartoonists is a super deep and meaningful moment. After a successful panel and workshop, and excited responses to my book, and especially after a stern lecture from Brian Fies, I even believe that I am real cartoonist. Don’t worry, I am still cynical and snarky. But this is serious. 🙂

If for some weird reason you want more after finishing this long post, check out the tweets I did during the conference (Twitter account link to your right), or the #comicsmedicine hashtag on Twitter, or stay tuned for my post about the workshop I presented, “From Diary to Graphic Narrative.”

I will end with two of my 100 architectural photos, from the delicious day and a half I spent wandering the city with MK Czerwiec and Paul Gravett after the conference was over.

The Aqua Building by Jeanne Gang.

Aqua Bldg by Jeanne Gang, Chicago, photo by Sarah Leavitt

Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor, amazing outdoor sculpture.

Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor, Chicago, photo by Sarah Leavitt

Random cats

I have drawn lots of comics about dogs, but not many drawings of cats. Lately I have been drawing at night before I go to bed, and all these cats are coming out of nowhere. No comics yet, but lots of little drawings…Declarative cat by Sarah Leavitt

Sleeping cat by Sarah Leavitt

 

 

Revelation: I can be a real cartoonist without a dip pen

My ongoing battle with keeping my own style but pushing myself to be a better artist with more tools available to me. Keep trying to get comfortable with a dip pen and ink so that I can abandon my technical pens, which I think of as amateurish. But then last month I met Pascal Girard at the book launch for Reunion, and he uses technical pens and he is definitely a Real Cartoonist. That meeting, combined with ongoing disastrous results from my own experimenting with pen and ink, has driven me back to the technical pen. As Lynda Barry says about her book Cruddy (I can’t find a link to the exact quote), she kept thinking she had to write it in a particular way that was not her own style. She couldn’t actually finish the book until she realized she could write it in her own way. So anyway, I am back to technical pens for now. And that’s cool. Technical pen celebration by Sarah Leavitt