I recently had the pleasure of attending a discussion and (double) graphic memoir release event at The Strand in NYC with cartoonists Ellen Forney and Julia Wertz, which took place in the rare book room on the 3rd floor.
Arriving a bit early, I didn’t mind waiting, as I got to make the following observations (N.B., these are by no means scientific): 1) the audience skewed females mainly in their 20’s and 30’s 2) Lisa Hanawalt was in attendance and 3) (see below)
Though they’d never met each other before, Wertz and Forney proved to be good co-presenters, explaining their pairing as such: “[the Strand] put us together because they figured ‘you guys are defective human beings.” When asked why they decided to draw their stories as a graphic memoirs (as opposed to merely writing them) they quoted Alison Bechedel’s response quipping: “Because we’re f**cking artist[s] and that’s what we do”–succinctly putting that question to rest.
Forney, of “I Was Seven in ’75” fame, spoke about her new book, Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me which recounts her diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and the struggle she went through between wanting/needing to get balanced, fear of losing her creativity, and reluctance to tell anyone (including her publisher) that she was working on such a book. She started by way of a brief primer about why she loves the comic medium “[It] marries words and pictures together” and further explained that the way in which a picture is rendered (ie it’s style) affects how the reader relates to it.
She showed us a few pages from her depression sketchbook, which she includes with Marbles...explaining how during the time in which she was in the throes of diagnosis, she would be overcome by the need to draw; whether in the middle of the night or after an appointment, this urge to draw what was inside her, how she felt, or what she was experiencing had to be done. Interestingly enough, she also gave us a window into her technique; she prefers to draw from photgraphic reference, so, throughout the process of doing Marbles she was constantly dressing up as her ‘old self’–almost in a sense, rebecoming who she once was.
Julia Wertz’s new book also deals with such ‘heavy’ topics such as depression, lupus and alcoholism, in her usual sarcastic and sardonic way. Actually 3 short stories in one volume, The Infinite Wait and other Stories not only covers her diagnosis and life with these aliments, but shows how it actually led to her rediscovery of and subsequent success in comics whilst chronicling her journey from the West Coast to the East Coast.
Wonderfully as snarky as her comic persona, but rather self-effacing, Wertz didn’t talk much about her technique (or herself that much), but discussed the sometimes downside of working with a ‘well-known’ publisher: she was actually told by her publishers at the time that, “no one [will want] to read book about systematic lupus”–which seems to be a common occurrence whenever someone wants to do a ‘serious’ graphic novel (ex: Nicola Streetan’s Billy, You and Me). Thankfully not one to take no for an answer she “retaliated” by switching to a small press, Koyama Press, and her newest GN is the result.
Like Forney, Wertz uses humor to keep her book from becoming too much of a downer, which doesn’t detract from the seriousness of the subject, but rather, makes it more approachable and relatable. In response to an audience question as to whether or not she views comics as a form of therapy, she said, initially she might have answered,’ yes,’ but now, she feels it might perpetuate the problem, since, “if you’re working alone and all about yourself, it creates a sort of hamster wheel.” Then apologized for giving such a bleak response.
Sad you missed the event? The Strand has put a video of it up on YouTube. Yay!