Last week I went to New York City for a few days. In between eating (Stinky Brooklyn, Shelsky’s Smoked Fish, Eataly — oy vey!) and visiting my lovely American family, I managed to get to this great symposium where I’d been invited to talk about Tangles: Talking About Jewish Women and Comics. What a thrill to see Diane Noomin and Miriam Katin in person and hear them talk about their work! Not to mention the Graphic Details exhibit that was the basis for the symposium — original artwork by Noomin, Katin, Trina Robbins, Aline Kominsky Crumb, Corinne Pearlman and more… sigh. Felt like a fan girl — albeit one with grey hair creeping in and smoked fish breath.
These are some drawings I did of the speakers — Noomin, Katin and unnamed academics.
My last event in England was a conversation with Nicola Streeten at Orbital Comics in the West End… The store is awesome, especially the side room full of small press comics and graphic novels where we did our presentation. Thanks to the lovely Camila at Orbital for posting a podcast that includes our slideshow! Watch it below or download the podcast and open it with iTunes or QuickTime to see the accompanying images. Thanks to Paul Gravett, Corinne Pearlman and Camila for making the event happen. And thanks to Donimo, my saviour, for procuring enough cold medication to enable me to hold myself upright and be semi-coherent. (In case you wonder while you’re listening to the podcast, I’m not crying, just congested.)
As I’ve mentioned earlier, Nicola wrote/drew Billy, Me & You, and is also co-creator of Laydeez do Comics. So amazing that I got to meet her and talk to her! And even make fun of her silly version of a Canadian accent. Long live traumatic autobiographical comics by Laydeez!
Donimo captured us being serious artists and total dorks…
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.
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: 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.
Oh, were you wondering what my cute dad looks like? Well here he is!
Thanks to Ian McGillis for the promo for my Montreal reading this coming Thursday at The Yellow Door Coffeehouse, 3625 Aylmer, on Thursday, July 21 at 6pm. Admission is free….
Ian wrote a great review of Tangles in December, as he notes below. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to put as much stock in words like this as I do in rejection letters that say I can’t draw, but oh well. 🙂
The first work of Canadian graphic literature to be short-listed for a major mainstream prize (the Writer’s Trust of Canada Non-fiction Prize), Tangles is exactly what its subtitle says it is. I reviewed it in The Gazette last winter. (Here’s a link.) The review was a rave and I stand by every word; if anything the book has grown in my estimation, rooting itself in my memory where many books I’ve read in the interim are already gone. Its greatest strength is its tacit acknowledgement that subject like Alzheimer’s, if it’s going to be tackled at all, is best dealt with head-on. Leavitt spares nothing of her mother’s suffering, nor of her own complicated response and handling of it, and in so doing does all who have been and will be involved in such struggles a great service. It’s not hard to imagine that things could get emotional at a reading from such a book, so bring a few tissues.
An article in the New York Times about the Comics and Medicine conference highlights a number of presentations, including my talk with slides about the creation of Tangles, as part of a panel called Bearing Witness to Illness, with Thom Ferrier and Shelley Small. Read the article here: A New Therapeutic Tool in the Doctor’s Bag: Comic Strips, by James Warren.
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!
This is a page from Tangles at the art exhibit at the opening reception. Wine did not reduce my extreme, vibrating excitement.
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
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
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!
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
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.
Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor, amazing outdoor sculpture.
This is going to be great! I’m going to Chicago for the second Graphic Medicine conference: COMICS & MEDICINE: The Sequential Art of Illness, June 9-11. First of all, I will finally meet the wonderful Brian Fies, who has been extremely kind and supportive since I first contacted him when my agent and I were shopping Tangles around. Cannot wait! And, hello, I get to go to a conference where Scott McCloud is a keynote speaker. Scott McCloud! And Phoebe Gloeckner! Anyway, I am going to deliver a paper (!) “Documenting a family’s struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease: from sketchbook to graphic memoir,” and lead a workshop, “From diary to graphic narrative: finding the story in your personal experience.” It is all going to be ridiculously awesome. And check out the conference graphic, from Brian Fies’s book Mom’s Cancer.
In just over a month I’ll be heading for beautiful Banff, where I haven’t been since the summer of 1977, when my mom and dad packed us all into our maroon station wagon and drove from Maine to Washington. Instead of going on a guided horseback ride and holding up the entire group by bursting into tears because my horse scared me, I will be delivering a workshop for my fellow non-fiction writers about graphic memoir. It might be a little less scary.
Tangles will be given as a gift to keynote speakers at this conference and promoted to attendees. Just reading the program — it’s a whole fascinating world of academia that I never knew about… I wish I could check out some of the workshops!