A week from today, I’m getting on an airplane and flying off to my first San Diego Comic-Con in eight years. Unlike my other two conventions this year, I won’t be tabling but will be roaming around, introducing (or re-introducing) myself to the world at large, and generally having a good time.
So if I haven’t seen you in a while or we haven’t gotten a chance to talk, I wanted to provide an update on what I’ve been doing and thinking about comics-wise lately.
Form of a Question: out everywhere!
From what people tell me online and in person, it seems like it’s being received well, which as you all might imagine I’m grateful for—every bit as much as feeling overjoyed it exists at last. My greatest hopes are first, that people feeling really conflicted about themselves might read it and feel inspired and emboldened to lean into who they are, and second, that other people in comics who’ve read it might be interested in taking a flyer on one of the WIPs I’ve developed since we began work on the darn thing; the release was the clearest reminder of how much I love comics and want to keep making them. This is more important than any financial gain I might have; not even close.
I tabled for the first time at two different conventions, Emerald City and C2E2, accompanied by the wonderful Shaun Manning (whose work you can find HERE). C2E2 was delightful since I was part of a hometown crowd and our table got a lot of attention…more importantly, I got to sign books at the ALA table and give many copies to public and school libraries. Getting this book in the hands of its target audience is so important to me, and I’m really thankful Boom! and the ALA set it up.
Emerald City…Seattle is a beautiful place that I saw almost none of, the hours were long, and you haven’t lived until you’ve both been to a Kieron Gillen dance party AND closed down a classy hotel bar at 1:30. This is an atmosphere designed to welcome creators and give people opportunities to meet, so I’m all for it and hope to be back one year!
I was interviewed on War Rocket Ajax about FOAQ and it was a long, in-depth, and really fun time. Chris and Matt are platonic ideal podcast hosts, and if you aren’t listening to War Rocket Ajax, you really need to check it out. In non-comics podcasting, I also was welcomed on Fuckbois of Literature, hosted by my longtime friend Emily Edwards, to plunge into the problematic parts of David Foster Wallace’s oeuvre…a different sort of blast but a blast all the same! (It’s weird for me to listen to myself on podcasts because I think I’m pausing too much, but apparently no one else hears this.)
And otherwise…well, my time in Chicago (where I’ll have lived for ten years come September) continues apace. I could talk about little happenings and shifts in my personal life, but I think you got more of me than you asked for in FOAQ so we will currently cast that aside so I can talk about a few things I’ve been reading and experiencing as of late!
After attending CAKE, the finest indie convention in the Midwest, looking at the wares and listening to conversations reminded me that one of my greatest comics blindspots of the last couple years has been the work of the Tamaki sisters. Knowing it was time to rectify that, I read in short order Jillian Tamaki’s Boundless and Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s This One Summer. To say these are two of the finest graphic narratives of our time is an understatement.
As of right now, my favorite motion picture of 2019 is Joanna Hogg’s indescribably great The Souvenir, a film that brought back the excitement I felt when as a college student my professors showed me the works of Wong Kar-Wai and Chris Marker. I mention Hogg and the Tamakis in the same breath because they both take a similar approach to storytelling…which works even better in comics than in film.
A lot of the power of The Souvenir comes from Hogg’s ability to surprise; her focusing on certain details, angles, and cuts, her emphasis on when conversations start and end, both kept my interest at a peak level and made me consider the story from perspectives I wouldn’t have thought of on my own.
The Tamakis, especially in This One Summer, use the same technique but with important differences. Hogg, working in the language of film grammar, uses plenty of establishing shots to orient the viewer. The Tamakis are able to transition from one image to the next without establishing or hinting at what will happen, and thanks to the print medium can juxtapose dialogue from different voices and perspectives over seemingly unrelated images to create even more meaning, all the while focusing on a variety of unexpected plot points; an obsession with scary movies, a visit to a historic village, intrusions from relatives. In doing so, Jillian and Mariko find a perfect representation of the confusion felt by their heroine Rose and her best friend Windy over this adolescent summer. Rose ultimately figures out the secret her family is hiding, the nature of the relationships at play in the beach town they have a cottage in, and comes to strong value judgments about herself, but this arises from a swirl of information and emotion that at first doesn’t make sense. The Tamakis visually represent order emerging from chaos so well.
And Jillian’s art is beautiful. Her ability to create impressionistic light and shadow in single panels or in imagery that spans one or two pages, her gift at drawing the body in motion, and her surreal recreation of the ebbs and flows of water make for a book more visually arresting than one with the most varied color palate imaginable.
Jillian’s solo book Boundless, a collection of short stories, is extraordinary in its own way. Her style grows simpler and more complex all at once, as light and bold strokes collide into art with the quality of faded photographs, as if memories pulled from your brain, mixed with other images done with such straight concentration that they pop off the page demanding your attention. But this is also a book for which I would compare Jillian Tamaki to Jorge Luis Borges (one of my favorite writers ever of fiction) for her gift at thinking up ideas no one else ever could have considered. Be it a meditation on a sexual history in the context of a cult sci-fi classic, a sitcom with hardcore pornography scenes, a music file that drives people into wild desert pursuits, or the discovery of a Facebook where another version of you is posting, Tamaki’s imagination takes the uncanny and makes it feel real with the right amount of detail. Her work is neither scary nor impenetrable, but it challenges you to think and feel all the more. I want to read everything both sisters put out from now on.
A final thought for right now. 2019 has unexpectedly been a year of Marvel movies for me, thanks to both Blank Check With Griffin and David chronicling the MCU and the one-two-three punch of releases this year.
Now, I could say that Captain Marvel is a film that has one of the worst opening half-hours possible, then starts picking up steam, and in the end achieves a level of greatness that makes the whole picture come out even. Or that Avengers: Endgame is a rarity in that it lived up to every bit of the hype. Or that Spider-Man: Far From Home is better than Captain Marvel, but it drags so much and has an annoying structure that made me want the movie to get on with it, already!
But I don’t think these things matter (The point about Endgame may matter since it’s that good).
What matters is how some of the most badass and inspiring women I know broke down in tears during Captain Marvel, and how my audience cheered at the inevitable resurrection sequence before the mother of all battles in Endgame, and how a different audience cheered every bit as loud at a scene in Far From Home that didn’t involve a battle or a joke.
There’s a lot to criticize about the MCU, but the reason these films keep getting made is that they can create a communal experience where a diverse crowd can see a story get told and be moved to share in feeling the same strong emotions beyond, say, the laughs of comedy or the screams of horror. They tap into a part of us that thirsts for something on the largest scale, give us lessons in heroism in a time where real heroes seem to be in short supply, and provide endless discussion of pros and cons.
As someone who loves comics and films as entertainment for the masses that when done right can transcend everyday life in unimaginable ways, I can’t ask for more.
And in San Diego I’ll be looking for an opportunity to get another shot at telling stories of my own that could move people.
Hope to see you there!