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!
I just finished teaching a course at UBC Creative Writing — Introduction to Graphic Narrative. It’s the first time the course has been offered, and my first time teaching a full-term class! Most of the classes in the department are small workshop classes, but this is a lecture class with 45 students. It was a combination of theory and practice — lectures, in-class writing and drawing exercises, assignments that included writing about comics and creating comics. Huge learning curve for me, many moments of wanting to throw up before class, many late nights. And in spite of that (because of that?) I loved it. Loved the earnestness and determination and creativity and excitement of these awesome students. And, by doing massive amounts of research to teach the class, I really improved my own understanding of comics. I am hoping this filters through into my future work…
As a follow-up, with a small group of fellow cartoonists, I am working my way through all the exercises in Ivan Brunetti’s Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice. Very hard, very valuable.
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.
And Maxi, a German magazine, published a three-page feature on Tangles, with a translated excerpt and an interview with me. I am working on getting someone to translate it for me! The article isn’t online, so here are a few photos from the print copy…